Studies on the costs of commuting have been making their way into academic journals with increasing regularity, and the mainstream media is starting to take notice. The average American commutes 25.4 minutes each way to work, suffering strains on mental and physical health, relationships, civic engagement, wallet, and carbon footprint. The New York Times reports on the toll:
Millions of Americans…pay dearly for their dependence on automobiles, losing hours a day that would be better spent exercising, socializing with family and friends, preparing home-cooked meals or simply getting enough sleep. The resulting costs to both physical and mental health are hardly trivial. […]Dr. Richard Jackson, the chair of environmental health sciences at the University of California, Los Angeles, says demographic shifts are fueling an interest in livable cities. Members of Generation Y tend to prefer mixed-use, walkable neighborhoods and short commutes, he said, and childless couples and baby boomers who no longer drive often favor urban settings.While there is still a long way to go before the majority of Americans live in communities that foster good health, more urban planners are now doing health-impact assessments and working closely with architects, with the aim of designing healthier communities less dependent on motorized vehicles for transportation.
This anti-suburb, anti-car screed in the NYT makes some useful points about the dangers of commuting, but the idea that everybody can move to Manhattan and eat locally sourced fair trade arugula is a fantasy. Urbanization can cut commute times, to be sure, but good policy should attack commuting as a drain on life and a public health menace in the suburbs as well as in the cities. To that end, telework is a far more holistic solution.[Telecommuting image courtesy of Shutterstock]