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Gray Lady Joins the Attack on the Commute


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]

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  • S.C. Schwarz

    It’s a fantasy, but it’s a fantasy you can expect the USEPA to be pushing for. And with CO2 declared a pollutant they have the power to do it.

  • crabtown

    Unless you actually produce stuff.

  • gerald

    What? No mention of automated driver-free cars?

  • Jane the Actuary

    Ah, yes — Generation Y (generally too young to have kids, if they’re middle-class), empty-nester Baby Boomers, and childless couples, in general, favor urban settings. Good for them. Short commutes are certainly a good thing, and I paid a premium for the location of my house, within easy walking distance of the suburban “downtown” district and commuter train station. But it’s not going to work to try to get families to live in condos and other dense housing that’s needed to get mass transit to work (most middle-class families want to give their children a back yard to play in) — and what “works” for a simple commute to the office doesn’t when you have to drop the kids off at daycare, or take them to their after-school activities.

    Sure, there are plenty of families who do live in urban areas, whether by choice or the limitations of their pocketbook. But at the same time, it’s no coincidence that the countries with the lowest birthrates are generally the ones that are an urban planner’s dream in terms of mass transit and density.

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