WHY IS THIS MAN SMILING? How the state’s chief traffic engineer keeps his cool in gridlock.
By Billy Baker
Neil Boudreau, like anyone who has spent too much of his life commuting, is well aware that the simple task of getting to and from his office is an event that can go in two wildly different directions. The first is the “on a good day” time, that rarest of accomplishments, which for Boudreau is still a solid 45 minutes, because he lives in North Andover and works 24 miles away in downtown Boston. That means a bad day can be very bad, like those long-weekend Fridays and rush-hour storms that destroy schedules and souls and grind the entire traffic system to a halt.
Boudreau is in charge of that system in Massachusetts, the state’s top traffic engineer, the guy responsible for the 2011 project that replaced 14 bridges on Interstate 93 in just 10 weekends while keeping the road usable for the 200,000 vehicles driven on it each day. In the traffic engineering world, that feat made him a star.
As Boudreau started his way down I-93 early one January morning with me in the passenger seat, it felt good to be cruising. For a little while, at least, he was making good time.
A bad commute for the 44-year-old Boudreau can approach two hours, and what makes the traffic tolerable — he might dare say even enjoyable at times — is to view it as a student participant. “The shock waves are always different in traffic, because every person that taps their brakes causes [one],” says Boudreau. “It is the variables that are so interesting.”
Boudreau is a one-lane guy. He gets in either the second or third lane of the four-lane highway and stays there, because that’s the most efficient contribution he can make to the larger system. He’s learned that incessantly hopping among lanes just creates shock waves of traffic behind you, yet rarely gets you to your destination faster.
Boudreau hits the first wave of traffic as the city comes into view and he relaxes into his normal routine, which means flipping back and forth between sports radio and traffic on the 3s on WBZ and picking a car in each lane to see how they fare in the dash to town.
Near the lower deck, the traffic becomes stop and go, and people around him start doing stupid things to advance an extra inch. It’s the point where the system goes from logical to emotional, where “driver entitlement” comes into it, Boudreau says. Human behavior is tricky to engineer for.
“If there’s one thing we could change about driver behavior, it’s that when you’re getting to an exit point, fall in line,” he says. The most infuriatingly entitled of all are the people who cut a long line. Boudreau never does, but his wife is not above it. It drives him nuts.
On this particular morning, the traffic was relatively well behaved: an hour and change to his office at the Transportation Building on Park Plaza. As Boudreau exited his car, he was feeling pretty good about himself. Whenever it happens, you just have to thank the traffic gods and say, as he does now: “We made pretty good time.”
Billy Baker is a reporter for the Globe.
Minty fresh mood
Methods Participants executed a driving-simulation task while sniffing peppermint, cinnamon, or nothing at all.
Results After fake-driving for two hours, peppermint-sniffers were more alert and felt less exhausted, anxious, and frustrated. (Cinnamon helped with everything but anxiety.) Could a stick of gum or a thermos of herbal tea take the edge off your commute?
> “Effects of Peppermint and Cinnamon Odor Administration on Simulated Driving Alertness, Mood and Workload,”North American Journal of Psychology
— Robin Abrahams
HAPPINESS: It isn’t much of a stretch
By Rebecca Pacheco
Over time, yoga practitioners’ bodies become limber and strong. They can bend over more easily to tie a child’s shoe, twist farther while parallel parking, or appear more confident, thanks to better posture. But these changes are just the beginning. With enough practice, the mind also becomes flexible, focused, and clear. Today’s research confirms what yogis have believed for centuries: Happier people do not necessarily lead easier lives, they are simply more grateful and engaged in what’s positive about life (this is called santosha, or contentment). In short, yoga can help you make your mind a happier place to live — and that’s a benefit that will last long past the end of a 90-minute class.
> To view meditation prompts and poses, click here.
Rebecca Pacheco (omgal.com) is a Boston-based yoga instructor whose first book will be published in 2015.
LOVE, FACTUALLY: Lessons from a year of the Globe Magazine’s Dinner With Cupid.
By Jessica Teich
In the last 12 months, 375 daters have applied to go on a blind date for the Globe Magazine’s Dinner With Cupid column. We combed through the applications as well as the last 50 dates. In addition, about half of the participants responded to an informal follow-up survey. To see what we learned, click here.
WHEN SPARKS GO OUT: Tips for a happy marriage from divorce lawyers who see thousands of unhappy ones.
As told to Melissa Schorr
Hindell S. Grossman
2,000 clients since 1985
“Each person should be allowed the freedom to change. There should be something called Marriage University, to teach people how to have conversations about finances, child rearing, whether a stay-at-home mom should return to work. Unfortunately, as much as people talk, they may still disagree. You don’t have a tiebreaker.”
Donald G. Tye
1,000 clients since 1976
“I would bet you nearly half of my clientele, when I ask, ‘Are you still intimate?’ they say, ‘We’ve been in the same bed for 12 years but haven’t touched each other.’ That’s a major cause of problems. In today’s world, there are medical answers to sexual problems . . . Viagra.”
1,000 clients since 1994
“There needs to be not only a commitment to making a life together, there needs to be some separateness, too — for each of them to stand on his or her own feet. Too much dependence can engender unappealing images of the other: ‘They don’t even have a life, and they expect me to find them interesting?’ ”
Methods Harvard researchers looked at what makes people happier in marriage: being similar to your spouse or being mindful of your differences.
Results Spouses who were mindful--defined here as being willing to change their opinions, take in information, and seek out new experiences--reported higher levels of marital satisfaction. Change is inevitable in life and in relationships--try to enjoy it.
> “Mindfulness and Marital Satisfaction,”Journal of Adult Development
— Robin Abrahams
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