Week Six: The Insanity of Commuting by Car

2014ccwk6 Two more posts left in the Clutter Cleanse. Wrapping things up tomorrow so we can all celebrate or ignore Valentine’s Day on Friday. Please remember today as you read: don’t shoot the messenger.

This is going to scare a lot of you.

You will leave comments telling us that you are the exception to these statistics. You will extol the virtues of your car commute. You will say that children should be brought up with backyards and quiet streets.

I get it. We all get it. But some of the numbers don’t add up.

It is ridiculous to commute by car to work if you realize how expensive it is to drive, and if you value your time at anything close to what you get paid. – Mr Money Mustache

If you can, go read this article in The Guardian titled The Secrets of the World’s Happiest Cities. If you have a bit more time go check out this post on the personal finance blog Mr. Money Mustache The True Cost of Commuting.


Do you need to declutter your commute? I know this is a challenging question because for a lot of people commuting doesn’t feel like a choice. It just is. It’s what we do for the jobs and the homes we want.

But today let yourself imagine a life without a car commute. Perhaps you walk or cycle to work allowing you to get some exercise and fresh air. Or you take transit for 30 minutes and it’s a good 30 minutes where you can read or get a few work items out of the way so that you can head home a little earlier in the evening. Imagine how that would change your life if you’re currently commuting by car.

Now, read the following statistics taken from The Guardian article which is an excerpt from the book Happy City: Transforming Our Lives Through Urban Design.

  • A person with a 1 hour commute has to earn 40% more to be as satisfied with life as someone who walks to the office.
  • People who endure more than a 45-minute commute were 40% more likely to divorce.
  • People who live in monofunctional, car‑dependent neighbourhoods outside urban centres are much less trusting of other people than people who live in walkable neighbourhoods where housing is mixed with shops, services and places to work.

Need a few more shockers to help shake you out of the commuter mindset? From Mr Money Mustache:

  • The 40 minute car commute for a couple driving separate cars is conservatively costing them $125,000 over 10 years and 1.3 years of worth of working time each.
  • Think it’s too expensive to own a home closer to work? MMM says each mile closer to work saves you enough money to take out $15,900 more of mortgage.

Wait, wait, I already know what you’re going to say. Just like we’ve heard about the sheer insanity of car commuting before we’ve also all heard all the reasons why people want/need to live far away from their jobs.

I can’t find a job close to home. Then move closer to your job. If you have to take a smaller salary to do that keenly examine the true cost of your commute (see MMM’s post for more on that dilemma).

I love my big house. Then accept that you will lose hours, weeks and days of your life for that house. Accept the hidden costs of commuting that will impact your health and well-being.

I need to live outside the city to get away from it all. Maybe you won’t feel the need to get away from it all if you can walk to work in fifteen minutes instead of spending two hours in your car.

Yes, you can have a long car commute and still be healthy and well and have time for the good things in life. But you are an exception to the rule if you are able to make this a reality. We always want to search out for that one case that defies the odds. And there is always one. But these people are not the rest of us. The rest of us don’t want to cook a dinner from scratch every night after sitting in traffic for an hour or we don’t feel like getting up at 4am for that run before starting our 90 minute drive into the city.

Look, I know it can’t be perfect.

We can’t ‘have it all’ where we live either. But we’ve chose to live an equal distance between town/amenities, my husband’s job and the school my older son will attend in the fall so that we can spend less time in a car and more time on things we like. I still have to drive to my Crossfit gym and no matter how many maps or rental listings I look at, there is no area or home that meets every single one of our needs and wants.

But the home and location we’re in is pretty good. Fifteen minute walk to town (groceries, library, playground), corner store two blocks away, my husband has a spectacular 18 minute walk to work along a sea side path and when the weather is decent I can cajole my four year-old into walking up a pretty steep hill to get to his gymnastics class. The beach is across the street for days when it’s not raining sideways. We drive a few times a week at most.

Yes, we don’t have a yard. Yes, we live in an apartment. I can hear my neighbors speaking French in the hallway as they go out. But is an hour in the car everyday and becoming a two car family, not to mention more rent and more house work, worth it to live with no wall adjacent neighbors and a back yard? Not for my family.

I want to hear from those of you with no commutes and short commutes and long commutes. How does it impact your life? Do you think there are other options that would give back to you in time, money and health? What’s holding you back from cutting your car commute?

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  • I live only a mile from work but I still “car commute”. I need a car to drive to my parents’ house on the weekends, and when it’s 5degrees and blizzarding in Boston I don’t even want to walk the one mile to work. In the summer I will walk if I wake up early enough and it’s nice out. Often times I am too rushed to take the 20-30 min to walk (uphill) at 8am though–I am decidedly not a morning person.

    Having a 4 minute drive commute is awesome though!

    • I live a mile from my job as well and still drive… I have to be there at 7 am most days and it’s usually still dark out. I’m not a morning person either! I usually get out of bed 20-30 minutes before I have to be at work… 4-minute commutes rock!

  • I have gone from a full time job with a 30min car commute each way to a part time job with a 25min walk each way. I am earning less, but spending lots less on fuel (haven’t got rid of car for various reasons, but the other costs are negligible compared to the savings on fuel.
    With the regular exercise I have lost about 1 stone, and got fitter- my 5K time has dropped from 33 mins to 30, with no other training than walking.

  • My husband currently has around a 30 minute commute, and we also commute about 15 miles 3 days a week for the preschool we like. In our situation, the housing issue is an epidemic. Living farther and driving IS actually cheaper than living closer and driving less. We spend around $250/month on gas, but it would cost us $900+/month to live close enough to the preschool and/or the current fire station my husband works at. And that extra $900/month is for the same square footage and still living in a duplex. Financially, it just doesn’t make sense to us. Plus, I’ll admit that I like to drive. It doesn’t bother me. Since my husband will be moving to different stations through out his career, it doesn’t make sense to move every time he switches. Since I’m a professional organizer, I have no one set location I work out, thus also making commuting necessary. Some days I work 5 miles from home, others 30.

    As for the whole divorce figure, I hope people realize that it is a mere correlation and nothing more. Just as there was a mere correlation that ice cream sales and murders went up the same summer. It didn’t mean eating more ice cream caused more murders, just as it means commuting more doesn’t exactly lead to marital issues. It just means that these two things happen concurrently statistically more than chance.

    I really think this comes down to perspective and importance. I want 1. better schools, 2. trees to look at 3. space to think without having to walk/drive somewhere and 4. lower cost of living. All of these can happen if we choose to stay in the ‘burbs. My sanity is worth more than anti-commuting rhetoric 😉

  • We have one car, and i still take transit to work. it is about 45 minutes door-to-desk, but i read, etc, and my monthly metropass means i can get anywhere in town at no additional cost any time i want. my husband does drive to work- but he works in the suburbs and we live in the city (being as we work in different cities, it’s tricky). we decided to pay more for smaller housing to live in an urban setting where we could walk most places, be closer to friends, culture, life. We live in an inexpensive (for Toronto) condo, that backs onto a park.

    before we had the car, i used to take cabs when it made sense and i *never* felt guilty about it. even if a took a $10 cab, every single day (which i didn’t), it would never add up to gas/car payment/repairs/insurance/parking. not even close.

    people forget about costs like tires (the more you drive the sooner you need new ones), maintenance, brake pads, *their time having value*, parking. i am firmly in the camp of not wanting to live somewhere where i need to drive just to pick up milk.

  • We have one car, and my husband drops the kids at daycare and drives to work. I get to walk or take the bus to my office. I love it! His commute isn’t too bad, either– it’s about 30 minutes. We bought a much smaller house that we could have if we lived further out of town, but we have a small yard as well as a playground down the street. We can easily walk to shopping, restaurants, and the grocery store, and we do. Although sometimes I lust after large houses in the suburbs, I really love our neighborhood and think it’s worth it for us.

    At my last job, I had a 45 minute commute by car. It wasn’t great, but I had a carpool buddy and was intentional about not spending a lot of time in the car on weekends. I think it balanced out pretty well, but I am much happier walking to work.

  • We made a huge move a couple of years ago and everything you said in this post played a part. We sold our house and moved into an apartment closer to my work. In the house I had an hour commute each way along a very congested highway full of stop and go traffic.

    Now I am fifteen minutes from work by car and an hour by bike. I typically bike to work on good weather days. Our apartment is also closer to other things like shopping and dining. Making this move from house to rental apartment has been great for us.

  • Currently we live where we live based on my husband’s commute to work. He refuses to spend more than 20 minutes driving to work. Right now he is a mere 10 minutes from work and it’s great. He can come home quickly if I need him to, he can ride his bike to work in good weather….it’s so convenient.

    Even though we would prefer to live just a little bit further out, with a little more land, right now this is what works for us. And we’ve been making it work for over 3 years.

    It’s convenient for me, too….I’m a mile from the library, post office and grocery store. It’s a 1/2 mile walk to a gorgeous park with a lake for swimming. And a mile from the river where we like to sail. And our neighborhood is fantastic for walking and running and biking.

    It wasn’t our dream, but it’s been a blessing in disguise.

  • I love this post!
    I hate being in a car. In addition to motion sickness, I also find it boring and can never get comfortable. We choose to live in a small (but charming, old and lovely) home in the actual city. My husband bikes 20 minutes to work every day. If there is ice, he’s injured or his bike is broken, he can take a 25 minute bus ride. When another mom in the neighborhood and I were discussing schools for our children, she was shocked to hear that we weren’t even considering schools more than 3 miles away from our home. I just knew that I didn’t want to add our van to the mix of morning commuters, no matter how great the school. We ended up at a wonderful little school less than a mile away and we bike or walk there every morning. My five-year-olds even biked in the snow last week. Our van (that we own outright) is used about once a week – to visit grandparents an hour away, camping or skiing trips, the occasional doctor’s appointment in the suburbs or if I have to interview someone for my job more than five miles from home.

  • I couldn’t agree more. My husband and I both walk to work (15 min for me, 25 min for him – we walk halfway together). I took a slightly lower paying job so I could be closer to home. Our residence is a 10 min walk to two grocery stores. We barely use our one car. Walking to work together gives us time together to talk about the day, our plans, thoughts, etc. Walking home alone allows me to put an end to my workday mentally. Let alone the built in daily exercise!! We couldn’t be happier with the setup. To be honest, we picked a radius within which we would buy a home (yes it’s a little more expensive) but totally worth the time/opportunity cost. Highly recommended!

  • Before our son was born, I worked about 10 miles away and the commute usually took 20 minutes on a good day. I quit my job when he was born to stay home and we are very happy with this decision. My husband works from home and until our son was born, we owned (outright) and maintained two cars so I could use one for my commute and my husband could have one for his occasional out-of-the-house meeting. Since then, we’ve sold one car, keeping the one with better mileage and plenty of space for our family of three.
    When it isn’t subzero temps in Michigan, we walk a lot in our unique neighborhood. We live close to the city center of a small city just outside of a major one. Nightlife and excellent restaurants are less than 10 minutes by car but small, local places, several fun antique stores, the library, post office, and a great park are an easy walk from our house. We’ve been very fortunate in our choice of our home.

  • I grew up in a house in NYC and didn’t learn to drive until I was nearly 24 and living in the suburbs, where we live now, in an apartment. We live close enough to the elementary school that we are zoned as “walkers” i.e. no school bus service provided. We can walk to the bank, the library, the coffee shop and a the railroad to NYC. I hate being in a car, too, and I enjoy walking. HOWEVER, the cost of having 2 cars is still cheaper for us than living in NYC would be. I wish isn’t wasn’t so, but it is. Certain cities are just ridiculously unaffordable these days, even with modest expectations for your home & discretionary budget. And school zoning can be complicated – you might be zoned for a school that isn’t even in your neighborhood. For a few years we worked around having one car, with me riding the bus. But the public transportation in our suburb is lacking – mostly because the only people who use it are those who can’t afford a car, so not much support from car-driving taxpayers to improve the system. We are looking for a smaller, more affordable city to live and work in. I would love to be able to bike-commute or walk!

  • My husbands’ commute went from 1 hour and 15 minutes to about 4 minutes this past August. TOTAL MARRIAGE GAME-CHANGER. He can ride his bike to work, pick our son up from preschool with the bike trailer…I feel like we’re living the dream:) Especially when I think back to how unavailable he felt when he was over an hour away every day. That’s hard in the small-kids stage that we’re in.

  • When we moved here, we chose the smallest house we could to get as close to the school my hubby works at and the kids go to. It’s in the suburbs, so we couldn’t have both proximity to school and other ammenities. With one car, my hubby bikes to school every day. I usually drive the mile, as most of our kids are too small to bike or walk the distance. We have found that while we have to drive to church, grocery, or library, we’d much rather be close to the place we take 10-15 round trips to each week.

  • My husband’s commute is six miles, and takes 15 minutes from his desk to our living room. I think it’s reasonable. Several of his coworkers live in the next town over because Clinton public schools are the very best in the state. The trouble is that the next town over is 35 miles down the highway. Yes, the schools in my town are… sketchy. This is Mississippi. Still, I don’t think the difference in schools is worth having parents gone for an extra hour and a half a day! More time with family should more than cover the difference in schools.

  • I have a short commute – 8 minutes from door to do unless an accident on the bridge stretches it to an hour. Before kids and the importance of that extra 40 minutes to hang out with them everyday, I used to ride my bike or the bus (30 min) and I was so much healthier and happier with my commute!! I envy my husband’s 30 minute walk to work. We live near downtown – high-density, mixed use… but my office is in a crappy industrial park outside of town. At home, we walk everywhere and I LOVE IT. I think we have a very high quality of life, rich social life, and our two little kids have walking access to libraries, pools, friends, parks, museums, events… maybe no backyard or designated play room in the house, but they also have their parents time. High mortgage for a small house, but no second car payments/maintenance/gas! Having grown up bored in suburbia myself, I know that its not a great place for kids… bored kids get into trouble. So ya. Stop driving everywhere, dummies. And stop wanting crappy big houses with big lawns.

  • At first I was a little hesitant to read, cause we lived in Vancouver and had a commute over an hour. each. But that was skytrain, express bus, etc. It was brutal (over time) but I really enjoyed finishing up homework, reading, sudoku etc, Sometimes it was a social time if I saw friends on the bus etc. I also did half of the commute with my husband who continued to downtown.

    We actually couldnt afford to live any closer, and if we were looking to buy, we would of had to move to Langley probably, as there really was nothing in our price range within an hour commute. For us it was a short term thing, we knew we’d live in a smaller community eventually. And now we do. ITs a max 10 min drive to anywhere in town. 25 min walk to work for hubby, or 5 min bus ride. We drive to school half the time (carpool 50%) cause its out of town. And I drive to work because my kids are in daycares and schools far apart from each other. But at the end of the day the max commute I have really done is 30 minutes total.

    It always did pain me how unused the carpool lane was… like traffic backed up a 1km or more, and then an EMPTY carpool lane. crazzzy!

    Sometimes though to get much needed experience for your job, you just need to commute. For us it probably saved time to take transit, but I can understand that sometimes in the short term if its necessary to get better pay to afford move closer, or to get experience to get a job in a smaller area closer to home. Its fine to say that you could save 15,900$ on gas in a year and put that towards a mortgage, but when actually applying for a mortgage it might just not be an option (if you are at the 30% gross income towards mortgage cap)… But we are young and this may not be an option for older couples who have larger incomes, or downpayments etc.

  • We live about 1 mile from my husband’s job and I stay at home. We like the commute but we hate living in the city. Our dream is to live on some acreage in the country and expand our family. We already have three children and find that city life with a growing family is too stressful for me.

  • We do not own a car. When we bought the house we made sure there was a train station nearby. This we use for our 50 min. commute to work a few times a week and to go shopping or for visits with relatives. My husband is a musician (double bass) and has been using public transport since forever. In a pinch, we can book a mobility car, but this hardly ever happens, as we use bicycles or our small motorbike to transport stuff – or have it delivered. Or don’t even buy it…
    Had to smile when you bought a car specially to get to crossfit! Of course you are an athlete and I am sure there is also a social aspect in it for you also! I say grok on!

  • I love this idea.
    Interestingly, I have always dreamed of living car-free – in fact it was on my bucket list – but I have four young children and live rurally. Public transport is not great here.

    On Christmas eve our car died. I felt both thrilled and grumpy as we trodged up the steep hills with the kids and our Christmas day fare. I think it was probably by New Years Day I realised it was going to be really difficult to get by without one. We finally got our car back last week and I am actually really grateful for the piece of junk :) I have only used it once since then and that was to rush to the doctors when my toddler developed a bad fever Tuesday afternoon.

    I have heard about {proposed} car free cities and this would be a dream for me, but right now I am resigned to the fact that while we live here, we need a car, lest we walk the very hill-y 10km walk to the Dr’s in the severe heat of summer.
    On a brighter note, we are a one car family :) {my husband does have a work van, but minor details :) }
    When my children have grown, I am totally going car free again though :)

    Love, Love your website by the way :)))

  • I used to have a 45 minute commute. I hated it. After 5 years I couldn’t take it anymore and found a job 4 miles away. My dh works 1 mile away and bikes most days. I only bike when I don’t have to take the kids to school, which is rare. Their school is on the way to my work, so things run fairly smoothly.

  • My husband and I had basically this conversation this morning. We have a three year old with #2 on the way. He has about a 30 minute commute, and mine is just over an hour, up to two with evening traffic if I leave early enough to get our daughter at daycare. Our big problem is that my highly specialized job with very good pay and benefits is really not near the city or near any job he would ever get, and we work in opposite directions. So unless I leave my position, the best we could do is a half hour commute each, which would be a huge improvement. But this requires selling our house, and buying a new house, which makes it tough to take the plunge. Plus we know next to nothing about the potential places we’d be moving to, which further drives us to inaction. Probably the baby will be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. On the plus side, the place we live now is close to everything and we can do minimal miles in the car on weekends, or walk places. But it doesn’t make up for the workdays. I am curious to hear how other dual-income families make this work.

  • We live in Houston, where the rush hour traffic is pretty crazy. My husband works from home (in his pajamas, lucky!) and we now live abt 30 miles away from my office. We used to live barely 5 miles from my office, and it always took me 10 mins to drive to work, and 30-45 mins home depending on what time I left my office after 4pm. Now that we are living further away I am part of a vanpool that only takes 25 mins each way. I never have to drive, and my company subsidizes my portion of the vanpool. The only downside is that I do start work really early; to avoid rush hour traffic, my vanpool leaves at 545am to get to the office by 610am, which means I wake up at 440 am every morning. I leave my office by 350pm though. Frankly, I love this arrangement vs living closer to downtown because traffic is always always bad no matter what time it is. Walking to the office in Houston summer heat…hmm no thanks.

  • I live alone, in an area of the city where I walk to the shops, church, the public transportation system is blocks away, even decent restaurants and a cinema are a ten minute walk from home. I pay more to live in this area for such conveniences. Yet my budget will not allow for a car itself – fuel, the insurance, the added costs to get a parking space in my building. I would love to have a car for major trips to the grocery store and to go visit family more often who live well outside the city – otherwise it’s a three hour train trip each way to visit. Or to have a car for a family emergency.
    I do not need a car but if I could afford one, I would seriously consider one. Actually, more like a little security blanket for an emergency…but the price may not be worth even such. (Rental cars are not an option for me.)

    • Maria – does your city have a car share program like Zipcar? Autoshare? That sort of thing. I have friends who love it. They use it for exactly the reasons you mentioned. Large grocery trips, out of town for a weekend, picking up that table at Ikea. They aren’t expensive and you don’t have the headache of car ownership.

  • I use my car daily. I don’t like the fact that finding parking is very hard, but thats the only reliable way to get to work. It is a 15 minute drive to work, I usually hear music and thats what actually fully wakes me up before getting to work, and sometimes I just drive in complete silence and enjoy looking at the city I live in, and try to notice everything around me. I think sometimes I drive and get so caught up in getting to the destination that I forget to enjoy the movement. And in the weekends, it is the only easy way to get around with my kids, I use the car to go and do laundry, groceries and for fun. But I do wish I lived in a place where I could walk and get things done without needing the car.

  • I don’t have a commute, because I stay home with our kiddos, but my husband does. I would love for him to be able to walk to work and walk home for lunch, but it is literally NOT POSSIBLE! We could never afford to live in the area near where my husband works. He works in the suburbs– in an expensive suburb. I suppose his commute isn’t considered long though, which is very nice. it is 13 miles and about 20-30 minutes to get there, depending on traffic.

  • We are a one car family. We live in the city (not a big city, but the wonderful city of Madison, WI) and my husband bike commutes his 3 miles in 98% of the time. He gets exercise, and is fully awake and refreshed by the time he walks into work. The other 2% has been the minus 50 degree days we’ve been having (with windchill) and we’ve noticed a huge increase in expenses at his forced car commute of 1-2 days a week (gas, parking, etc) this Jan & Feb. Typically one tank of gas lasts all month long, now we are down to 2 weeks. Because of the city we live in it’s a 30 min bike commute and a 25 min drive so it isn’t really saving time to drive. We move again in July 2015 (job) and don’t know where but we are definitely thinking about being within 3 miles of his work again, if at all possible.

  • I’ve done both–before marriage/kids I lived downtown and had a 5 minute walk to the skywalk, then 10 minute skywalk to work. Once married with kids, we moved to the suburb….but I also changed employers and my employer is only a 15 minute car drive. I can’t imagine driving 45 minutes each way….I’m fried enough when I get home now! Huge downside to suburbs it that we can’t walk to a grocery store…..or any store, for that matter. Things out here are definately set up for cars. Luckily there are nice bike trails to parks etc. for recreation. But we’d have to get off the bike trail and go quite a way on a major thoroughfare to reach any shops. (with 3 kids…..2 on their own bikes…this is simply not an option.)

  • My husband has a 45-60 minute commute, and it takes a toll on our marriage and our mental health in general. He’s gone 12-13 hours a day while I’m alone with 3 small kids that he rarely sees. We are trapped though. We bought a very inexpensive small town home before we had kids…. And before the market crashed in the US, leaving us with a seriously underwater mortgage, even though we’ve been responsible with our finances, cruddy stuff happens that’s out of your control sometimes and we just can’t afford to sell. Plus my husband works across the street from one of the busiest airports in the world… So a walking/close commute is amost not an option anyways, at least not at the sacrifice of noise/air/traffic pollution. He has an excellent job with benefits we need; so our eventual solution is to transfer to another city.

  • I lost my car in an ugly separation from my common in law husband years ago, and walked to work for 7 years, during extremely cold winters in Northern Ontario Canada. Then I walked to the grocery store and carried my groceries for myself and my young daughter in a packsack because we were so broke, I could not waste money on a cab. After I dug myself out of that mess years later, I rejoice that I have my own vehicle & the freedom to go anywhere I want in the city, not depending on crappy bus service, or what I can carry on my back, or begging for rides from friends, as I had no family in the city. I love the freedom of having my own car, and I earned that freedom and paid cash for my car. So proud.

  • I live in Ottawa. When my husband and I purchased a home in 2012, living close to work and public transit to keep us living car-free. We ultimately bought in a central neighbourhood with plenty of bus routes and a daily commute of appx 45 min walk/20 min on public transit. I am fully living the lifestyle you are advocating for in this post.

    However, you hit the nail on the head when you said “there is no area or home that meets every single one of our needs and wants.” This is entirely an argument about priorities, and personal priorities to boot. If we had young children, we would not have bought in the area we did. If we had young children, we would prioritize bigger spaces, proximity to schools and parks and community amenities. When house hunting, we always joked that each house had everything we wanted except for one thing. For a lot of people, a commute would probably be a price they are willing to pay to feel like they have everything else they want. Everyone has to figure out their own priorities.

  • This is always a tricky one. We live on the outskirts of the GTA and are lucky that we don’t have to commute into Toronto to work. My husband commutes either 5 minutes or 25 minutes depending on which site he’s working at that day and my commute is 15-25 minutes depending on whether I’m dropping off or picking up the kids from daycare, which is on the way to my work. I actually don’t even really consider these “commutes” as such, compared to what most people in and around Toronto have to contend with.

    I think a huge problem is how cities and towns are designed, particularly smaller/suburban communities. I really don’t think its conducive to my quality of life to try and live in the more walkable neighborhoods of Toronto, given the cost of housing there compared to where I live (my 230K mortgage would easily be double, if not triple that, for a small fixer-upper in the city). We are fortunate to live within 5K of our community centre, schools, grocery stores, the doctor and dentist, our yoga studio, etc and we’ve started to make a concerted effort to walk and bike more often. I’d really love to get down to one car in the future. But most of the surrounding areas are not built this way and people are car-dependent as a result. We need to build and design communities to be more walkable and bikeable, because its just not that simple for many families to move to a big urban center. Its often a case of it simply being out of their financial ability.

  • I live about a 10 minute drive from the office. Depending on which bus I take, it’s a 10 minute walk with a 10-, 20- or 30-minute bus ride (the longer routes take more city streets).

    I’ve been car-free since July. We have multiple car-sharing services here, and Enterprise is down the road if I need something for a weekend. So far, it’s worked for me – I spend less per month on autos/taxi than I would on a car payment and there’s no added fuel or maintenance costs to worry about. Added bonus – not being able to hop in the car makes me think more about if it’s worth the time to get to the stores, so I’ve been doing a lot less boredom shopping.

    I’m hoping to move by year-end, and I’d like to live closer to downtown/work – where I’ll have more bus options, more car-sharing options, and be closer to the things I want to do in my daily life.

    Also, I’ve found walking to the bus during Minneapolis winters isn’t so bad – it takes me just as long to walk as it does to warm up the car and scrape the ice off – sometimes walking was quicker!

    I’m single now, so things may change in the future when I have a family, but ideally they wouldn’t change too much. I’d still want to be within walking distance of some things, close to public transit, and use car-sharing (maybe as the “second” car)

  • We live in an inner city neighbourhood in our city and we love it. My husband has a 15 minute bike ride to work. my 14 year olds activities are right downtown with either a 30 minute walk or a 10 minute bus ride. My 4 year old swims at the local pool. We can walk to restaurants and bus to theatres. We have playgrounds nearby. This is a very culturally diverse neighbourhood with people from many different countries. It is a tough neighbourhood and you have to have your wits about you, but where better to show my children that life isn’t easy for everyone. They have compassion for the street people and regularly give up their mittens or sandwiches. I wouldn’t change this for anything.

  • We live in a condo with two young boys, but my husband has a five minute commute by bike. It is always about priorities, and right now I’d rather living in a smaller space and have my husband close by (not to mention only one bathroom to clean) than to live in a large home but with a longer commute and the need for two cars. Where we live there are lots of grey days in the winter, so getting outside to walk places helps that ‘low’ feeling that doesn’t seem to go away when there is little sunlight.

  • The only thing preventing us from going car-free is daycare. My husband has to be at work at 7, and I have to be at work at 7:15, so our elementary- and preschool-ages kids (x4) are in care before school. Before-care doesn’t start until 7:00; it’s a tight time squeeze, so I drive even though I only live a mile from work. My husband has a 45-minute bus/train ride that lets him read, so he doesn’t mind it at all. As soon as the kids are old enough to get themselves to school without supervision, we’re ditching the car and I’m going back to my bike. I’m counting down the days!

  • I miss my 20 min walking commute when we lived in another part of the state. It allowed me time to connect with my town in a way that driving does not; sounds, smells, sights. It allowed me time to mentally prepare for the day and wind down after work. I wasn’t into calculating savings in gas and all at the time. But, the health benefits were obvious and treasured.

  • Oh, we certainly learnt this lesson the hard way!! My husband works away so we used to live within a 1/2hr bike ride from my work and 15min drive from the airport. We were 6km from the CBD, within easy walking distance to shops, restaurants, movies and surrounded by the beautiful Swan River on 2 sides (10min walk one direction – 1/2hr walk in the other). We had gorgeous parks to exercise our dog in and friends close by. The only problem was that we were living in a townhouse. When we were expecting our first baby, we decided that a bigger house by the beach may be a better idea so rented out our townhouse and trialled living in the beachside suburb. It was a minimum 50min commute each way for me (5 days a week 1hr 20min each way when I used public transport) and around 45mins to the airport for my hubby. We found that our stress levels increased dramatically, our civic engagement dropped, our general happiness declined and even our marriage came under more pressure (in spite of having the gorgeous Indian Ocean within 200m from our front door. As you rightly say, the commute was ridiculous and since we have dramatically downsized our stuff, in hindsight it was completely foolish! Thank goodness we trialled it rather than made an outright commitment! We have now moved again and my husband catches the bus to work and I walk almost everywhere. Much, much happier! Thank you for the links, they made for very interesting reading.

  • You haven’t included an important reason for a long commute: I and my partner work in different cities and there are no cities where we could both work without it being detrimental to our careers. I’m a government economist. My husband is training to be a priest. There are no suitable theological colleges near where I could work. If we want to live together one of us has to commute. That’s why I spend over three hours a day on my walk/train/cycling commute four days a week.

  • My husband and I have made the choice to keep our family in his “bachelor pad” condo because our neighborhood is so walkable and we prefer to avoid driving. He has office space two blocks from our home, I work from home and occasionally “borrow” his space or go to a coffee shop when grandma comes to entertain my daughter. We have one car, it’s used to get to work meetings occasionally and to visit friends and grandparents in the suburbs or in nearby cities from time to time. About 3-5 times per year we’ll have conflicting car-necessary meetings and we supplement with Zipcar. We also use Zipcar when we need a larger vehicle for home improvement projects. We also have great public transportation in Chicago. My daughter and I use that a lot for our adventures at this time of year, although we often choose to bike instead during the summer.
    We LOVE that we’re not car dependent. Although my husband works long hours, we have breakfast, lunch and dinner together most days. Additionally, he’s generally available to my daughter and I if we need him. When she was a newborn, I called him home several times for (perceived) emergencies… what a luxury that was for a nervous new mom!
    I’ve done the long commute and I would avoid doing that again at all costs. Being in a smaller home in a walkable neighborhood is absolutely the right trade off for our family!

  • House sharing is a way to share a large space with a yard. Especially when you are used to living in a small space with very close neighbors. We have decided to buy a large house and move Grandma in with us. Our family (two adults, one child) will live upstairs and use the side three season porch as our “front door”. Grandma will live downstairs with the actual front door as her front door. A very close cousin along with his wife and child are seriously considering finishing the basement (he works in the trades) and using the basement door as a “garden apartment” to escape the dangerous area and REALLY expensive (over 15k) private school they have to pay for now. They could live for less than half than they do now (including “rent” and their portion of utilities) in our house than in the tiny expensive apartment they live in now. This would allow them to save up for their own huge house in the safe ‘burbs. There is one major reason we can’t all live in the city in quaint walk-able neighborhoods. Frightening physical danger.

    My Husband used to walk to work (he left 45 min. before he had to be there but got there in a little under 30 minutes). We pay over $1,000 plus utilities for a 700 square foot apartment (rental) in a “safe”, high demand neighborhood. Zip code 60647 (google those average home prices and note the annual taxes).

    We have committed to leaving our “walk -able” city and are thrilled to move to the ‘burbs this Spring. This will force my Husband to endure a commute and force my child to commute to and from school weekdays. I will likely have to buy groceries at Wal Mart rather than the farmers market a mile from my house, pulling my child in her wagon to and from. However, it is worth it not to get hurt or have something bad happen to my daughter or have my husband killed.

    My Husband used to walk to and from work for a little over 8 years. This last summer he switched to taking the bus to work and a cab home. He is a sturdy man in his early 30’s who can no longer safely walk on a busy street in the late evening. He can’t take the bus at night as he was informed by several other adult men on the bus point blank that a white man riding the bus in the late evening will be”dealt with” (the bus drivers now sit in bullet proof locked glass boxes to drive the bus and will not intervene). There have recently been severe beatings a few blocks from our home. The alley two buildings west of ours was where a mugging\beating\groping happened to our neighbor across the street – while she was walking her little dog.

    Anything that isn’t (literally) locked or bolted to the ground gets stolen at night: picnic tables, bags of potting soil, doors – yes doors are literally stolen off the exterior thresholds. If your car isn’t secured in a garage, it gets broken into a few times a year. The across the hall neighbor had her tires stolen… twice last year! The police no longer respond to property crime – only crimes in progress (maybe) and it takes hours for them to show up. Let me reinforce the fact that we live in a “safe” expensive area. Watch a few youtube videos of what happens to the poor suckers on the Gold Coast who paid over 100k for one bedrooms.

    Sorry to be Debbie Downer but if small city living was reasonably safe, most people WOULD live closer to where they work. We are more than comfortable living in a small space – just not in a dangerous place.

  • This has actually been a big talking point for my family since we moved to Houston. Like Sarah, there is no way we would even consider living close to my husband’s work because of safety issues. He works halfway between downtown Houston and the suburb we ended up choosing, so either way would have required a commute for him. We chose the suburbs because, surprisingly, it made my life much LESS car dependent. I know we are lucky to live in a suburb that is also pedestrian and bike friendly. Most of them are not. But we chose our house because I can walk my kids to school, I can walk or bike to almost all of the services I need, and if I do end up working out of the home in the near future, I will most likely be able to find a job close enough as well. But that is the dilemma. It is PERFECT for me. I fill my gas tank once a month at the most. But my husband commutes 45 minutes on a good day without traffic. We know someday we have to find a solution that works better for both of us, but this is where we are right now.

  • This is fascinating. Though as a few other people have mentioned, it is correlation and not necessarily cause and effect, indeed cause and effect could be the other way round. For example, I lived in the city for quite a long time, 30 minutes walk, 10 minute cycle or a 5 minute drive from my work, with my husband. We got so stressed out by the noise of neighbours, people and general hussle and bussle that we spent as many weekends out of the city as we could. This cost us a lot of money and meant we were tired after a weekend because we weren’t in our own homes. The day we moved out of town we slept better, felt calmer and enjoyed life more than ever before. I’m naturally anti-social and hearing other people does really stress me out. Now I have a 50 minute drive to work, luckily I work in the same location as my spouse and we share the drive. But I am calmer. That is just my personality though.

    Maybe the people who commute are more likely to put their job before other things, creating stress and a divisive relationship. This is not necessarily a bad thing, just needs more accommodating from both partners.

  • My family (husband, 2 kids) moved from Melbourne, Aust to a small rural town 2 years ago. Fortunately my husband’s city firm kept him on so now he works remotely (drives the 3 hrs to the office to ‘check in’ about once a month) He has so much free time to potter around his shed and vege garden and spend time with me:-) We can walk everywhere (grocery store, library, post office, primary school, butcher) and my daughter catches the country bus from the end of our street to the local high school. Mind you, we still have 2 (paid for) cars.

    When I worked in Melbourne I used to drive THREE kms to work and it took me 1/2 an hour. Craziness. I never even considered walking (which would have taken me less time!)

  • About seven years age my husband and I clarified our priorities. This included moving into the city. we have a 100sqm house with a small garden. However, we are a few minutes walk from the kids’ school, from work, our local park, shops and a few bus-stops away from the City Centre, from theatres, cinemas.
    Yes, I would like a biggr house and a bigger garden, but for our family, these arrangements work. We prioritise location over house/garden size. And later, we might be able to move to a bigger house in the area we live now.

  • I struggle with this one. I have a very short car commute (less than 10 min with no traffic, maybe 20 on a very bad day) that would take me about an hour to walk, 45 min. door-to-door if I used public transit (but well over an hour if I was on daycare drop-off/pick-up). Moving to a more manageable walk would easily double our housing cost and likely reduce our (already small) square footage. The struggle is that of course, I could give up my car and it would be the right environmental (maybe financial) choice but I feel like I’d be miserable with that longer commute. Add to this, the only reason my commute is so short is I pay through the nose for downtown parking across from the hospital where I work. The other options are leaving half an hour earlier to hunt for street parking, or pay a little less for a more distant parking spot. Call me a humbug, but the walk to and from my car was not please that early in the morning, nor after a full day working on my feet.

    I think part of the issue for me is that my husband and I both came to our relationship with cars, so to even go down to being a one-car family would be a major shift. Although I hate driving, the convenience makes me so happy. If I walked/bussed to work I’d be spending my evenings “borrowing the car” to go do the errands I usually fit in on my way home.

    Despite all this, I’m definitely not pooh-poohing the idea. I like that you’re encouraging people to look at it critically. My husband’s office has recently relocated closer to mine, and we’ve agreed that once kids are out of daycare we may be able to re-evaluate our car needs.

    Also, although I drive, we did still choose our neighbourhood in order to have that short commute and we definitely gave up space and privacy to make it happen. I do still miss both of those things, but I also saw in one of Gretchen Rubin’s books that a better job or home doesn’t make up for the misery of a commute. Rings treu for me!

    • Christine – you bring up some really good points here about convenience and that different stages of life can require different commuting choices. Daycare is not forever, kids grow up and to me, a 20 minute commute by car isn’t that bad. When I read about people driving an hour or more each way, that’s when I think that there has to be a better choice out there.

  • We have lived in or near downtown Sacramento for 15 years (right now in the city but a more residential part, although not suburban). We have each had so many different job sites that I can’t imagine moving each time one of us had a new place of work. I am a teacher, and one year I was sent to 3 different schools (in 3 different parts of town) in the first 5 weeks of school before I finally got to stay put at one for 2 years, before moving yet again (6 school sites in 12 years of teaching). My husband has had jobs 2 blocks from our house and 30 minute commutes. We were able to live with one car for about 6 years when my husband could walk or bike to work, until he started working at jobs in suburban areas. Luckily we have chosen a centrally-located place to live that seems to keep his commutes to 30 minutes or less and mine to 15-20 minutes or less (unless traffic is bad), no matter when our work takes us. So living centrally just outside of downtown has been key for us.

  • I think Sarah’s points are quite apt. As wealthier people prioritize walkable cities and urban density, they often push poorer folks out. Race and class tensions arise or are exacerbated, and physical safety can become a real issue. School districts matter, too. We live a mile outside Philadelphia where the public schools have imploded. I would dearly love to live in the actual city, but we’re committed to public education for our son.

    I appreciate people who point out that walking is better for you, your health, the environment, and possibly your relationships. These things also exist in a larger context, though. What if you are also driving up prices in walkable cities–whose great restaurants and cool boutiques I admit to absolutely loving!– and pushing truly affordable housing out to the suburbs?

    • Catherine,

      I wanted to clarify –
      We are not wealthier people prioritizing walkable cities and urban density, often pushing poorer folks out. Our family and entire neighborhood was (and to some extent still is) very solidly upper working class and lower middle class. It is racially diverse (mostly White and Hispanic with a smattering of other races, predominantly Catholic). The families that have lived here for generations never pushed any poorer folks out. Our great grandparents, grandparents, and parents were the poorer folks who worked two jobs (each) and raised families. Their money and sweat equity built the parks, churches, and homes. Their lifestyle of thrift and “going without”and helping each other increased property values by creating a community. The exact opposite of your post is true. We are not creating or exacerbating “race and class tensions”! On the contrary.

      With the exception of a very few schools, school districts in Chicago have a non issue for decades (note the number of private schools in each neighborhood). No one but the most desperate or least concerned dump their children at a public school. The Church plays a large role in education here. Even in the suburb we will be moving to, we will not send our child to the public school. She will commute to the private school she has attended since she began school.

      I don’t mean to get so defensive, but the truth is almost always misunderstood. There is this general feeling of “rich people pushing out those hard working salt of the earth poor people” so families like ours are considered to be reaping our just rewards for “taking over” a neighborhood. The opposite is happening. The hard working salt of the earth people are being pushed out by a rising criminal underclass who aggressively and strategically is attacking residents and destroying the community.

      Housing prices in the suburbs are much higher than where we live now and the amenities fewer in addition to long commutes. That was the point of my previous comment. It would be really nice to stay here – small homes, high taxes, private school tuition, and all. However, without timely police response or a baseline number of people willing to NOT rampage uncontrollably beating, mugging, sexually assaulting, and stealing it is literally UNLIVABLE much less walkable.

  • I live AT my work, and it is amazing. In a five minute walk, I am in my classroom with no rushing necessary. I absolutely love it, especially compared to me 35 minute+ commute last year.

    We are having a baby this summer, and I’m already dreading needing to drive to drop the baby off at daycare. I’ve thought about staying home, but both my husband and I love our jobs (we both work at the same place). The better daycares are 20 minutes away, and we’ve decided we will do some compromising to only have a 5 minute drive to daycare rather than do 20 minutes, each way, twice a day.

  • Oh, the irony. Your banner ad at the top of this blog entry is for Chevy CARS.
    It made me laugh.

    But just a quick add-on. My dh was commuting 45 minutes, with a 7am arrival time.
    Last week he began a new job, only 15 minutes away, with an 8am arrival time.
    Huge life improvement.

  • I just found your blog and it is great! Started cleaning out my closet this weekend!

    I suppose working in the city and living in the suburbs is a typical commute, but I have the opposite situation. I live in town and can walk to almost everything i need/want to do, but I commute 40 – 45 min to work in a very rural area. Every once in a while we think about moving closer to my job (my husband works out that way too, but not as far – he can bike), but then, even though my commute would be shorter, we would have to drive everywhere else! Most people think I’m crazy, as we could get a much “better” house out there. Every once in a while I am tempted, but now I have your blog to help me stick to my priorities! And hopefully one day I’ll be able to work closer to where I love to live.

  • I completely get what you are saying in your post but I have to disagree. Closer isn’t always better it just depends on your modes of travel and efficiency. I have a small home in a small city that is a 5 min walk from my kids school and city library. We have a park about 4 blocks away and the grocery store is a 5 minute car ride. I could walk, but I only go once a week to the store and get everything I need for my family of 6 in one go. I do encourage my family to walk to the places near by, school, the park, maybe getting a slushie at the corner store 5 blocks away.
    I would love to rely on public transport, but it sucks out here in the western US. I drive 45 minutes one way to work. It is long, but having 4 small children I enjoy the quiet time, plus I have a coworker that I carpool with a few times a month. I’m a RN so sometimes our schedules aren’t always aligned properly. I also have an advantage because I work twice a week for 12 hours each time.
    We did live very close to my job at one time, a 5 minute drive, but public transit when you work night shifts is actually less efficient and more of a hassle. Also the apartment we rented was further from stores, libraries, etc in the big city. If I had a 9-5 day job in the big city, I would totally rethink my commute time or where I live.
    Everybody is different and has different needs.
    I do appreciate the thought provoking questions! Awesome blog.

  • I have had a commute of 1.5hrs each way (3 hrs total daily) for the past 6 years. At first, I didn’t mind it as I would consider it my “alone” time. I would just blare my music and mentally prepare for the day and/or wind down at night. After a while, it started taking a toll on me. My commute was so lengthy because of TRAFFIC. If there was no traffic, it would only take 35 minutes each way. Sitting in traffic is honestly one of the most stressful and frustrating things anyone can experience. And to experience this on a daily basis was horrible. I began to lose motivation, stopped working out, didn’t want to put time into cooking dinner, etc. all because I had/wanted to make up for time lost in other areas like cleaning my house, doing errands, and sometimes even just allowing myself to relax. After about 4 years, I asked my boss if I could switch my hours and she agreed! I only wish I had asked sooner… I made it so I worked earlier in the morning and got to leave earlier in the day, all of which allowed me to miss peak traffic times. (So, if you’ve worked at a company for a while and get along with your boss, it never hurts to ask).

    But then, I got another job offer and the good thing about this job is that it was 10 miles closer to home than my current job at the time. So I accepted (based on other factors, too, of course). Now, I am currently at this job and my commute is still 1 hour each way due to being thrown back into peak rush hour times. I can’t win. It’s been 5 months and even though I got this new job, I would still casually search for open positions closer to home … and I finally found one! They offered me the job and I am pretty sure I am going to accept tomorrow. This job is a 20 minute drive from my house and I don’t even have to get on a highway. I am already thinking of all the stuff I will be able to do with the time I will be getting back in daily life! I can’t wait.

    It is true that most available jobs are in the city, however, housing and apartment prices are obviously so much higher when you’re closer to the city, as well. I know that people have the argument that “you should just move closer to where you work”, but what about the people who aren’t the city-living type? I bought a house with over an acre of land that is extremely quiet and private and I love it. It is very true that you can always change your job but you can’t always change your house, so it almost doesn’t make sense to move to a place where you don’t want to live just so you can have less of a commute … and I am a prime example of that seeing as I’ve finally found a job close to where I love living. It may have taken a while, but it happened!

  • I can see how a lot of this makes sense, but I don’t know if it can be applied everywhere. My family lives in the Silicon Valley. We measure out commute in hours, not miles. When we first moved out here, we grudgingly signed a lease for an apartment for way more than seemed necessary but all of the apartments we saw were similarly priced and it put us within less than a mile of my husband’s work. Owning a house here is t even a question with something smaller than our apartment going for over a million dollars close to work and something passable being just under 1mill before bidding wars. And the insane apartment rent had no cap so when the lease was up they wanted to raise it by 500$. So now we live an hour from work in rush-hour traffic (good traffic it’s 20 minutes). But we have a house that we are renting and it’s so much cheaper…. And if you go further out you’re looking at a huge difference in cost of housing–mortgages would be cheaper but then again it could balance with how much you spend on gas. Mass transit unfortunately does not run close enough to be an effective option for us either. Still, like I said, this does point out things I had not thought of.

  • Thisi is a great post!
    My husband works about 10-12 minutes away from our home – and he LOVES it. He knows exactly the value of having more time for what matters.
    I, on the other hand, have a 45+ minute commute to and from a not-so-great area for work. We don’t have many options for public transportation – and carpools are not currently set up that work with my schedule. Believe me, I’ve looked. Very frustrating.

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