Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Two interesting articles on commuting

1.  While I argue it has to do with the increased dispersal of employment centers and flexibility in scheduling, the number of single occupancy vehicle trips to work is increasing.  See  "More Commuters Go It Alone: Americans Increasingly Go Solo or Work From Home; Carpooling Now Below 10%" from the Wall Street Journal.  From the article:
Last year, about 76% of workers 16 years and older drove to work alone—just shy of the all-time peak of 77% in 2005, according to data from the Census Bureau's American Community Survey. Driving alone dipped slightly during the recession, but it has been ticking back up as the economy revives.

Meanwhile, just about every other way of getting to work has either languished or declined. Carpooling has tanked—falling from about 20% in 1980, when gasoline prices were soaring from the oil shock of the late 1970s, to under 10% in 2012. Public transportation accounted for just over 6% of daily commutes in 1980 and is now 5%. A category the Census calls "other means"—which includes biking—stands at 2%, largely unchanged over the past decade.
I don't think this should be a surprising finding.

In places where the spatial structure and concentration of employment centers supports transit as well as walking and biking, and the infrastructure is in place so that people can take advantage of those modes, people will use those modes.

2.  On the theme that your ability to get to work sustainably is derived from spatial structure, the value of short trips versus longer trips, and the impact on quality of life is "driven" home in the column, "Commuting's Hidden Cost," by New York Times health writer Jane Brody.

From the article:
But workers are not the only ones driving for hours a day. The mid-20th century suburban idyll of children going out to play with friends in backyards and on safe streets has yielded to a new reality: play dates, lessons and organized activities to which they must be driven and watched over by adults.

In “My Car Knows the Way to Gymnastics,” an aptly titled chapter in Leigh Gallagher’s prophetic new book, “The End of the Suburbs,” she describes a stay-at-home mom in Massachusetts who drives more than her commuting husband — 40 to 50 miles each weekday, “just to get herself and her children around each day.”

Millions of Americans like her 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.

Suburban sprawl “has taken a huge toll on our health,” wrote Ms. Gallagher, an editor at Fortune magazine. “Research has been piling up that establishes a link between the spread of sprawl and the rise of obesity in our country. Researchers have also found that people get less exercise as the distances among where we live, work, shop and socialize increase.
It's interesting that many researchers on transportation behavior (as well as anti-transit advocates such as Randal O'Toole) justify single occupancy vehicle trips as being responsive to people's preferences, because:
Many people "relish the time to be alone," said Alan Pisarski, a transportation consultant and author of "Commuting in America," a series of commuting studies for the Transportation Research Board, part of the National Research Council.  (from the WSJ article)
Just as many people get "decompression time" from reading on a train or from walking or biking. 

Certainly the cost of providing the road network isn't justified by providing the means for "people to be alone."

There is a Suburu commercial running these days where the mother says of her daughter, "the back seat of my Suburu is where she grew up," and while the company obviously thinks that's a good thing, it's a double-edged sword. Compare spending all that time in a car with the alternative of being outside.

See Free Range Kids for an alternative to growing up in a car.

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At 8:04 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

Also more women working. It is almost impossible for a couple to both work near their place of employment.

I think you underestimate a bit the pleasures of a climate controlled car with comfortable seats and your choice of music. Again in a city walking or biking might be quicker -- as I have argued up to 2 miles. You'd argue for a bit more, but anything longer a car really wins.

(reminds me of bloomberg's insistence on riding the subway)

There is a lot of noise in that data, but the basic trend is clear -- car pooling loosing out. I do think smartphones may change that.

At 11:49 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

I think the problem with carpooling is more about the continued dispersal that you write about.

E.g., I looked into ridesharing when I worked in Towson. Someone "around here" worked at Towson U and in theory, I could have ridden in with her. The U was about 1/2 mile from my work.

But the lady lives in White Oak, north of the Beltway. By bike it would have taken so long to get there, at least 45 minutes, plus I don't think she had to leave that early. It just didn't make sense to pursue it.

2. But yes, I absolutely agree that two worker couples make the ideal very difficult to achieve.

The point is to just encourage through planning more centralization of job centers, and a bit less dispersal. And to make it more and more attractive to want to locate your business in the city, to fit it onto the existing sustainable transportation network.

At 11:57 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The problem with carpooling is not so much about dispersal as predictability. Carpooling is great in the olden days of factory work or straight 9-5 jobs. Everybody is done work at a set time, you leave work behind, then you go home. Today we are in a 24/7 work culture, either by necessity or choice, and not everyone has the predictability of coming and going at set times. Trying to coordinate with another person or people is even more challenging.

At 1:50 PM, Anonymous Richard Layman said...

you make a good point. I would say it isn't either-or about dispersal and predictability (same schedules) but and-and.

There is a reason that a lot of people working for the federal govt. in DC carpool (really vanpool). One there is an infrastructure to facilitate it. two lots of people have similar schedules. Three they are going to the same general area.


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