My Musing Space: July 2006

My Musing Space

Friday, July 07, 2006

Gridlock vs traffic jam

Here is a growing beef of mine. In the last few years there has been a gradual increase in the use of the word "gridlock", when in fact they mean "traffic jam". I have the impression that they choose it, maybe because it sounds more trendy, more with it, while the newer generation simply doesn't know better any more.

Well, here is how things actually are!

What is a GRIDLOCK?

If you look at maps, you will see that city streets form a grid. When two main arteries get clogged up at an intersection to the point that all movement stops (the city grid gets locked down) for a long time, that's gridlock. For example: imagine that right at the Yonge and Bloor intersection (two major thoroughfares in Toronto) there is a big fire, and fire engines have to be positioned in such a way that no cars can pass them by. Soon there is a buildup that stretches miles in all directions. On top of it, it is the middle of winter with snowbanks, so cars can't even make a U-turn. They have to sit there all the way through the incident until the fire is cleared up. Now THAT is gridlock! A smaller version of it is when cars inconsiderately push into an intersection during rush hour just before the lights turn red, but traffic is still standing in his direction, so now the cars cannot get across the intersection in the other direction, even though it is green for them, because that inconsiderate driver blocked their way. That would be a short term gridlock.

What is a TRAFFIC JAM?

Traffic jam is simply the a slowdown of traffic due to too many cars on a particular artery. It may be just slow moving or downright stop and go. Think of the Don Valley Parkway during rush hour. Or think of lots of other such clogs due to the wisdom of our city elders that cannot make the extensions of the Allen Expressway or that of Hwy. 400 happen, even though the size of the city would have warranted it decades ago, so now we have to live with delays on the roads almost all the time.

Yes, we have to deal with a lot of traffic jams, but actual gridlocks are rare. So I ask you, why do we have to use the word gridlock for every minor traffic problem? What if an actual gridlock, an actual lockdown of the city grid, will occur? How can we tell the difference? Should we come up with a new expression for it? Or maybe just clean up our language usage and return to the good old traffic jam instead of the trendy gridlock!