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November 18, 2009

On Becoming a Road Warrior

Donald Pittenger writes:

Dear Blowhards --

I sort of realized it at the time, but now I know for certain that I was a pretty fortunate commuter during most of my working life. That's because I'm now on the road the better part of three hours a day on those days I commute to Olympia from Seattle on notoriously crowded Interstate 5.

Door-to-parking-garage distance is about 65 miles, and I avoid absolute peak traffic hours on the return commute simply because I don't reach Tacoma until after 5:30 and Seattle until nearly 6:30. Plus, going north-south and then south-north, I'm mostly going against the main flow (though the counter-stream can be pretty heavy in spots too).

For many years I either worked at home or else had a five-mile small-city commute to work, so you probably can understand how spoiled I was. Still, I can be something of a stoic, and do what I have to do -- even though my work days chew up 11-12 hours and leave me pretty well shot once I get home. It helps that I enjoy driving except when there are significant delays.

There are no practical alternatives to my long commute. Car pools, buses and trains aren't in my picture. Moreover, were these conveniently available, time traveling would not be any less.

This brings to mind an acquaintance from grad school days, a Ph.D. physicist who morphed into a Wall Street "quant." He lived in Yardley, Pennsylvania, caught a train someplace near Trenton, rode the thing to (I'm guessing) Newark and switched to the PATH train to get to Wall Street. Or he might have gone from Trenton to Pennsylvania Station and then caught a subway for downtown. I used to think his commute was ghastly, and it still might be worse than mine even though he didn't have to drive those trains.



posted by Donald at November 18, 2009


I've been using the time spent in my car for language study since they now have lanuage courses which are 99% audio.

Posted by: sabril on November 18, 2009 3:05 PM

Like most of the problems we have come to accept as a inevitable aspects of routine life, congestion is just a symptom of bad government. Setting up a comprehensive toll system or (if you feel bold) privatizing the roads would quickly and efficiently reduce traffic and smog to sane levels. Also, selling 1/3 of the US government's assets might take a load off the debt.

Just sayin'

Posted by: Zdeno on November 18, 2009 5:32 PM

For a year I made a slightly less onerous commute. 41 miles from that city you get to at 5:30 but instead of going to your destination turning off onto that much worst Interstate (though sometimes it saved time just to take the bridge across). It was only 41 miles, but until my sympathetic boss let me shift my hours it was easily three hours a day.

Audiobooks saved me. I would not have my sanity without them. Language books are also a good idea. There's also the TTC audio series, which is a collection of college lectures.

A couple cities back I had a 55 mile commute (each way) in the rural mountain west. But 55 miles is a lot easier to handle when you're moving the whole way. Still, wish I'd had audiobooks back then.

Posted by: Trumwill on November 18, 2009 10:29 PM

I'm putting these links in a separate post just in case it's considered too much self-promotion, but I actually several posts about my commute:
Six Miles to New City - An introduction to the awful commute.
Nine Miles to New City - About how the commute managed to get worse.
My Own Snickers Commercial - Following the snow storm at the end of last year, I endured 5.5 hours on the road making that commute.

Posted by: Trumwill on November 18, 2009 10:36 PM

Despite the many variations on the argument that conservatives take things (and man) as they are while liberals want changes to bring about improbable ideals, utopian fantasies come in all flavors. From the days of the King's Highway to the Post Road to I-95 major transportation corridors have been one of the common goods provided for by government and ultimately paid for by the public through taxes, tolls, and fees.

One of the simplest and easiest answers to road congestion would be for private companies to stagger their work hours. Nothing required to accomplish this except management deciding on new hours for various departments, branches, or individual employees; or, in our Internet age, embracing computer-commuting options. These ideas, which could have a very beneficial impact on highway congestion, require nothing more than private enterprise and individuals changing their habits.

This, however, is apparently seen as a missed opportunity to privatize something. Would Acme Highways, Inc. (a wholly owned subsidiary of Mega- Megalo Construction Corporation) be allowed to determine speed limits on their private highway? Would they use a private security force to enforce rules of the road (rules presumably subject to shareholder decisions rather than government legislation) instead of the police? Are these enough questions to point out the plethora of worms that might be loosed by opening the can of privatizing the highways?

Posted by: Chris White on November 19, 2009 12:51 PM

The toll roads in France seem to work. You swipe your credit card and drive on.

Posted by: dearieme on November 19, 2009 4:01 PM

To go with CW's point, I'd be pissed if, after 50 years of designing cities and towns around the highway, forcing us to have to drive everywhere to get anywhere, we suddenly started getting charged to use them, above and beyond taxes. Toll roads work in places like France because the urban landscape was built around public transit.

Posted by: JV on November 19, 2009 10:08 PM

The fact that so many put up with long commutes for decades is testament to the weight of inertia in how most live their lives.

Posted by: ricpic on November 20, 2009 9:42 AM

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