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The True Cost of a Miserable Commute

8:17 AM PDT on April 2, 2010

433958378_5814fc6a88.jpgWhat is
your commute taking out of you? (Photo: Stewart via
Flickr)

Earlier this week, David Brooks wrote a column in the New
York Times
about the real roots of personal happiness that got a
lot of attention. Among other things, it contained the news flash that
commuting makes us miserable.

That is certainly true for many, although much less true, in my
observation, of people who are able to commute by bike. And many people
who commute by transit find ways to make their rides pleasurable and
productive, whether by reading a book or taking advantage of mobile
technology without
worrying
about distracted driving. Heck, some people even enjoy
their car commutes.

But there’s no question that for many of us, the time we spend
commuting is a dead and even toxic part of our day. Today on the
Streetsblog Network, the author of member blog Suburban Shift writes
about how commuting was sucking the life out of his family — and what he
did about it:

About four years ago we moved [from the more expensive Austin area]
to the Dallas area, to an inner-ring suburb. We have made it a point to
live close to our jobs. At first, this meant an apartment, and later we
purchased a home in the same area. One of us is 5 minutes from the
office, the other 15. By moving to a less expensive city and living
close to our jobs we have regained 40 hours of time a month — time that
was once spent behind the wheel. In those four years, my wife has used
that extra free time to get a second masters degree. I have used it to
take art classes, Spanish classes, and three years of martial arts
study. We’ve started growing our own veggies. We have time to cook our
own meals. Best of all, life is less stressful because we don’t have to
rush around all the time.

Normally when discussing commuting and our car culture in relation to
sustainability, we focus on the environmental impacts. Fossil fuels
burned, roads required, etc. But on a personal level, excessive
commuting is even more destructive in people’s lives.

This is a complicated issue, of course. In today’s job market, it’s
not as if we can just pick and choose
where we are going to work for our personal convenience. In many parts
of the country, housing that is close to jobs is incredibly expensive —
although, as the excellent data-mapping work done by the Center for Neighborhood Technology
demonstrates, those housing costs are in many cases offset by reduced
transportation costs. 

All of this got us wondering: Have any of you made changes in your
lives specifically to shorten your commute? What would you be willing to
give up to live closer to your work? If you do have a longer commute,
have you found any ways to make it a source of happiness? Let us know in
the comments. And enjoy the weekend.

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