If you hate traffic, get ready for more sustained road rage and anxiety. IBM released its annual Commuter Pain survey, and while commuters report traffic congestion in some cities is improving, complaints and "pain" are at an all-time high.
Why? Beginning about five years ago, more people around the world began living in metropolitan areas than not. Economic opportunity is driving people closer to cities, especially in China, Eastern Europe and Brazil, and the rush happened before adequate transportation infrastructure could be built.

With 8,042 commuters in 20 cities surveyed, the IBM data-mine serves as something of a tool for urban planners, as well as a barometer for the emotional frustration felt from behind the wheel. How does inefficient commuting impact people these days? Sixty-nine-percent of people surveyed said that commuting has negatively affected their health in someway--with 42% complaining of stress and 35% anger.

How does that translate in real-life? As Annie Lowrey points out in Slate, longer commutes can increase the likelihood for divorce, obesity, and general malaise. How? People who are stuck commuting for hours a day have less time to exercise, tend to eat in their cars more often (fast food), miss family events and appointments, as well as family dinners. All that puts a mental, as well as physical, strain on the commuting worker, spouse and or parent.



U.S. Improving, but not for good reasons

Of the twenty cities around the world surveyed, the three U.S. cities--Los Angeles, New York City, and Chicago represent descending amounts of "pain" felt by commuters. That's good news until you figure that part of the improvement is due to fewer people commuting due to the Recession and high unemployment.

When the economy was humming and unemployment was down to less than 4%, it was not uncommon to find swells of people in New Jersey and Connecticut spending 90 minutes to two hours a day commuting into New York City by car, bus or train or some combination of all three. The same has not been uncommon for Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston and Washington DC. The commuters are still grinding it out in those cities, but amidst fewer of their rivals for HOV lanes and seats on the train.

The forecast is for things to get worse: By 2050, IBM predicts as much as 80% of the world's population will live in urban environments, with China and India predicted to boast hundreds of cities with 1 million residents or more. Transit fluidity will be increasingly of the essence.

"Transportation is the most important coping infrastructure within cities to contribute to economic vitality," says Vinodh Swaminathan, director of intelligent transportation systems at IBM.

Did you say "infrastructure?" That has become a dirty world in U.S. politics. Democrats want to spend more on it to improve commuting and put unemployed construction workers back to work, while Republicans say the debt-plagued U.S. can't afford it.

With commuters reporting stress and frustration related worldwide, 41% of commuters globally surveyed by IBM said improved public transportation would reduce stress. If you're living in a major city other than Nairobi, where 48% of commuters report that roadway traffic has not hurt their health, chances are that the majority of your commuting population has a low tolerance for transportation struggles.

"Commuting doesn't occur in a vacuum," said Naveen Lamba, IBM's global intelligent transportation expert. "A person's emotional response to the daily commute is colored by many factors – pertaining both to traffic congestion as well as to other, unrelated, issues. This year's Global Commuter Pain survey indicates that drivers in cities around the world are much more unsettled and anxious compared with 2010."

IBM's focus, not surprisingly, boils down to finding technological solutions to deal with the grave realities the statistics reveal: the crankiness and hair-pulling of bottlenecks.

"What can we do about people feeling lousy sitting in traffic?" Swaminathan put it.

IBM's Smart Traveler predictive technology may have the answer. Smart Traveler, developed by IBM in cooperation with the California Department of Transportation (CalTrans) and University of California, Berkeley, is a pilot program to provide San Francisco Bay Area drivers with predictive commutes. The technology combines CalTrans road sensor data along and other historical data it has collected about those roads to send messages to drivers about what might be happening when they arrive a few minutes later.

By pooling cell phone data, toll data, GPS location markers, city loop censors and video footage, Smart Traveler can provide information that's more relevant to motorists. Check out this video about tech solutions to gridlock: