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June 5, 2005

Informal poll: how many minutes away from work do you live?

-- by Thomas Leavitt

Or alternatively: if your car died, would you still be able to get to work (somehow - by foot, bicycle, bus, etc.)?

Dave sent me a link to a Stirling Newberry essay on BOP News. Very interesting structural analysis of the nature of the conflict we're immersed in.

His comments on the need to placate and ensure the financial security of a important "conservative" segment of society (homeowners) in order to recruit them to the progressive side in the fight against the forces of monopoly/incumbent rent and to overturn the status quo prompted this train of thought:

We all know that the whole "red state"/"blue state" dichotomy is a gross, gross, gross oversimplification which obscures how the country is actually split along the lines of ideology and geopraphy... when you break down the electoral result in a more finely granulated fashion (feel free to suggest a better source of graphs - I just picked the first one I could find), you see that the split is really more of an urban vs. suburban/rural one... the less urbanized a county is, the more "red" it is, and vice versa. Gore and Kerry won many urban areas by overwhelming majorities (and Bush many rural areas by similar margins).

Stirling's analysis has many elements, but the one I want to zero in on is his point that the biggest asset that most Americans have is the equity in their house, and that the value of that equity is very much dependent on the fact that cheap oil makes long distance single occupancy vehicle commutes and the infrastructure that supports them economically viable. His theory is that somehow, despite the progressive community's distaste for urban sprawl, we need to develop some alternative mechanism that maintains it's economic viability, in order to win these forces over to our side.

O.K. There's the set up... now here's the punch line, the thought that was inspired by the Newberry article:

Perhaps the real conflict here isn't between "red state" and "blue state" voters, or even "urban" vs. "suburban/rural" voters (these being co-related factors), but between those with a stake in the status quo, whose livelihood and equity is dependent on cheap oil vs. those who don't. "Sprawlites" ("oilers?") vs. "sustainables" (need a catchier name for our side).

Thus the question in the subject line: where do you live, relative to your place of work?

I'll start off by saying that the office that my wife and I maintain for our small business is within walking distance of our home, and even closer (midway between) to the two schools (elementary and middle) that our daughters attend, and is also located directly across from a super-market and drug store (most of our shopping is done on foot).

This is not to say that we don't have two cars (we do), or that having only one car functioning (as is the case at the moment) is not inconvenient, or that having no car is a realistic option (boy would I love to cut that expense out of our budget)... while there are reasons other than economic for our dependency on ownership of an automobile, it would unquestionably be difficult to operate our business and earn a living without a car. The public transit system in this county is very limited (due to the general lack of population density) and difficult to use for general transportation purposes. Nevertheless, if somehow we had to abandon the use of automobiles, I believe it could be managed.

It should also be said that, at the moment, we are renters, so we have no equity stake in our home, and aren't tied down by a mortgage.

Perhaps not coincidentally, my wife and I fit the theory outlined above (we both could be termed radical progressives). I'm curious as to how many readers of this blog do so as well (or don't).

Posted by Thomas Leavitt at June 5, 2005 12:40 AM

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Comments

i walk to work. my office is just eight blocks away. and there are three great cafes between my house and work. and it's on my street... i'm lucky.

Posted by: arjuna at June 5, 2005 2:00 AM

I got a 30 mile commute each way. Mornings it's about 40 minutes. Afternoons, I set my all time best at 18 minutes door to door. Being in the auto business, breaking down ain't an option. Fortunately, waiting for a tow truck isn't as big a hassle for me as it is most folks.

Posted by: The Fixer at June 5, 2005 2:14 AM

Driving, 15 minutes to work, by bus, 20 minutes, and I choose that. I don't want to live in an area that I can't bus to work, if my car were to suddenly die on me. But that's how I look at it, because I've been car-less many times in my life. I have one now, but will I later? I don't know. I live in an area where gentrification is taking place, and rents are going way, way up, and they keep building condos, which they can't sell (some "condos" have switched to apartments for rent, because no one will buy them, when they can buy a house for the same price). I can't afford either, so I rent, but I don't want to live too far from work (I work in downtown Milwaukee). And if I could, I would live close enough to work to walk or bike, but the cheaper rents, I feel, encourage people to live in outlying areas, and not in the city. Otherwise, I would live very near where I work. I just wish the rents encourage that. But here, they don't. It's odd.

Posted by: Sporkey at June 5, 2005 2:30 AM

I have it easy - I have 17 steps from my bed to my office. Working at home has some distinct advantages. On the other hand, travel to clients does require motorized transportation.

Posted by: PSoTD at June 5, 2005 7:03 AM

I work about 75 miles away from my house, so there would be no way I could walk to work.
dave

Posted by: dave at June 5, 2005 8:14 AM

The real problem are the freeways. Cheap gas means noting if one has to drive 80 kmh.

Posted by: chris at June 5, 2005 9:23 AM

17 minutes walking, which I do every morning. I sold my car last year, not because I don't need it for shopping, but because I was not driving it enough to keep a charge on the battery.

That being said, I live near downtown, I work at the city core of a medium sized city and there is no significant retail, for example there is no where within walking distance that I could buy socks, and the only bookstore is the one in the Safeway.

The Mall killed retail in downtown Everett and despite a tremendous revitalization of the central core there are no signs of it coming back. Many of the people who work in the courthouse do not know the names of streets two and three blocks away. It is very much still a car based town.

Posted by: Bruce Webb at June 5, 2005 9:54 AM

About two miles of nice, easy flat walking (much of it through our riverside park) to catch the campus shuttle for a ride up the half mile or so six percent grade to my office. My stepson's school is midway, and my wife's employment in essence across the street - they bicycle it together in good weather (which of late - thank you Global Warming - has been surprisingly good). When I was a starving single-parent student my sons and I walked it for three years. However, my stepdaughter's school is two miles (sort of) in the other direction and starts an hour earlier. Not a safe walk at all, the majority along a forty-file mile an hour (that means fifty-five around here) thoroughfare punctuated by three traffic circles. From there I can triangle a backdoor onto campus and end up at home in the evening at six miles for the day (@~15MPG).

However (again), the district is over ten-thousand square miles (larger than Vermont; hell, one of the 'towns" in the district is larger than Rhode Island, and we don't even want to talk about the Rez) and I have installations that need visits at least once a month, more oft than not once a week. I don't think I could hit every installation in a single day and actually do something. I do have a fairly economical company rig, and have proposed that the campus convert all vehicles to either (especially in my case) hy-bred or bio-diesel (I'd love to, but we own our vehicles, and don't have the forty or fifty grand to run right out...).

There is no 'public' transportation what-so-ever, and we have become the epitomy of suburban sprawl (we were never really 'urban' to begin with). When I was a kid one could walk across town in about thirty minutes, today it is virtually impossible to drive across town in that time. In the fifty years I've had the pleasure to live here, the region has grown from the less than fifty thousand of my youth to over two hundred thousand, and the city itself has grown from about fifteen thousand to a crowded yet sprawling sixty-five thousand with urban growth boundries pushing outward every five years. We anticipate a quarter million just in the urban centers ten years from now.

I don't know about this 'radical' stuff. I certainly identify myself as 'progressive', though until only recently (five years) I was non-participant (a whole 'nother story in and of itself, of living the late seventies and early eighties on the High Cascade in school bus with guns and dogs and kids and goats and a three year supply of beans and dried bacon), and am registered as No Part Affiliation. I am more comfortable, I think, with the label Pissed-Off Pistol-Packing Progressive.

Posted by: Thomas Ware at June 5, 2005 10:14 AM

I own a detached house in San Francisco, which I bought in 1999, and my office is 50 miles down the peninsula in Cupertino. I've worked there since May 2001.

This turns out to be about an hour drive one-way, now that I'm driving 60 MPH to conserve fuel. If I take public transit, this generally adds up to about a one-way commute time between 2.5 and 3 hours. My wife and I have been getting by with one car for the last six years in order to afford the house payments. When the car is in the shop (it has 290,000 miles on it, so it's in the shop a lot), I take public transit.

The transit route for me is like this:

+ five minute walk down the hill to the MUNI station;
+ five minutes waiting for an inbound train;
+ twenty minutes ride to a market street stop;
+ up to ten minutes waiting for N-line train to Caltrain station;
+ ten minutes ride to Caltrain station;
+ up to 30 minutes wait for southbound Caltrain;
+ 70 to 90 minutes (depending on train) ride to Sunnyvale;
+ up to 20 minutes wait for bus to Cupertino;
+ 15 minute ride to Cupertino;
+ 5 minute walk from bus stop to office;

The return trip can be worse if I have to work late into the evening, which often happens. This is because Caltrain runs only every two hours after about 8:00 pm.

Still, I fit into Stirling's theory pretty well. When cheap oil ends, I won't be moving to Cupertino. I'll be moving my office to San Francisco.

Posted by: s9 at June 5, 2005 11:01 AM

2.8 miles. I drove a truck and didn't consume much fuel because I didn't go far. This year, I got the Prius after a year-long wiat on the list. Yes, I could walk and yes, I should. No, I don't.

Posted by: Michael Miller at June 5, 2005 11:15 AM

I commute in by train but it costs about $10 a day. If I drove, I would probably spend more than the $10 to park, not to mention other auto expenses such as fuel. I do drive to the train station, but if really necessary it is walkable (2 miles).

Posted by: InsultComicDog at June 5, 2005 11:35 AM

Next room down the hall. But I'm about to lose my current gig. Zero commute though is always my number one priority in finding a job. My last "workplace" job, five years ago, involved a reverse commute across the Golden Gate Bridge from SF to Sausalito by motorcycle. Actually something I now do for pleasure. Guess I've been lucky.

Posted by: richard at June 5, 2005 1:10 PM

I have a 6-mile, 15-minute drive, all on city streets (30mph). I could easily bike, and sometimes do. Sadly, living in the Upper Midwest makes that pretty arduous about half of the year due to weather. Transit is completely inadequate. I would have to take a bus, the train, and another bus or two different buses to get from home to office and either trip would take an hour each way.

Of course, the pertinent question in all of this is: Why don't people live closer to work? It sounds simple but it's not as simple as it used to be. My grandfather lived in the same house and worked at the same place for 35 years. Now it's not at all unusual for people to change jobs (willingly or not) every few years. Do you sell your house every time you get a new job? That wouldn't make sense for many. I have sympathy for people made unwilling commuters by circumstances largely outside their control.

The people I have no sympathy for are the ones who gladly buy the exurban house 40 miles from work. (Not to mention a mile from the nearest store with a loaf of bread and 5 miles from the grocery and school.) The reasons I've heard for this are usually cheaper housing, "safer" neighborhoods and/or better schools. I guess I just attach a higher price to having to drive 30,000 miles per year than they do.

Posted by: Joe Bob at June 5, 2005 1:12 PM

OK, I answered the question. But I don't buy the thesis. First, nearly all Americans are vastly too shallow thinkers to recognize that peak oil is an issue and that it affects the value of their houses.
Much more importantly, suburbia = cars + racism. You can never explain suburbia by looking only at the first term on the right side of that equation.

Posted by: richard at June 5, 2005 1:32 PM

The original push towards urban sprawl came from government incentives to spread out the population in case of nuclear attack, but most people don't remember that. The second came from integration, which inspired the white population to leave the cities. The latest trend is to move back into the city, and the price of gasoline is going to accelerate that, pushing real estate costs beyond the reach of anyone but the super-rich.

I haven't owned a car for 30 years. I moved to NYC right after the first big oil scare in the 70s. I've never regretted not having a car. The big factor is that NYC has good public transportation, although even that's getting expensive. The immediate problem for me is that, because of the push to move back into the city, it's getting so expensive here I'm getting priced out.

Posted by: MJ at June 5, 2005 2:09 PM

I live in a small university town and my office is five minutes away from my house on foot. The post office is about a ten or so minute walk. That's the good news. Unfortunately, with minimal businesses and services available in my town, it's at least a 10 mile drive to get to a grocery store, doctor, or semi-competent mechanic.

Posted by: James at June 5, 2005 2:49 PM

Right now, I teach at two colleges. One is very temporary -- just one summer term. That one is a little over a mile from my home. The other is about three or so miles away. Where I live, the bus system is adequate, but my car is unfortunately just too tempting.

I've viewed suburbia as a parasite on society. They get low tax rates, and depend on the central city for services and employment, but don't have to pay the costs. They guzzle down fuel and give us most of our polution. Sometimes, the police force of the city views itself as there to protect the suburbanites and views the city residents as animals to push out of sight.

Posted by: John H. Morrison at June 5, 2005 3:53 PM

I have a 10 minute walk to work. It's professional work which I'm very fortunate to find, since I cannot drive a car (eye problems). Not much retail in my downtown (Salem, MA) so I have to take the bus for groceries and the train into Boston for the occasional seminar. Most people in my field (IT) need transportation and if I ever lose my current employer, I'm probably screwed.

Posted by: David Moisan at June 5, 2005 4:18 PM

I haven't owned a car since 1975. This has limited my employment opportunities, but it's saved me $200-400 / month which I've spent on other things.

I've always been a sort of hermit so not being able to get around hasn't bothered me so much. I use taxis when I need too -- expensive per trip, but per year, not really. Not being able to get out of town does bug me at times, though there are ways to work that out.

Politics aside, I just don't like cars or driving.

Posted by: John Emerson at June 5, 2005 4:26 PM

Car-Free is my only religion. If I can't take public transportation to my job and/or a combination of public transportation and walking - then I don't have job.

Posted by: Anonymous at June 5, 2005 4:27 PM

I live about 3 hilly miles from work in San Francisco. My company currently gives me parking, so I actually drive (a Prius, though). Could use public transit instead (average time of 45 minutes, with a transfer involved. If I had to, would take bus to work and generally walk back home.

Posted by: EdSez at June 5, 2005 5:21 PM

I agree with the rural/urban split, but it's not quite finegrained enough.

I live in a very, very rural area, and feelings run fairly strong here against this admin. If you added the age dimension, it would probably show that, here, older people (over about 65) are Bush supporters, as are many younger people (19 and under), while many in the middle don't support the admin and its policies. Except, oddly, drinkers and druggies (STG).

I also own my place, but I own it lock, stock and barrel - no mortgage here. That's not uncommon here.

And I commute, twice a week, 60 miles each way.

I've heard people say when oil gets high enough, everyone will just start riding their horses around. That's a very real possibility. We have no public transportation and it's doubtful we ever get it because we're just so far out there. And most people are riding their horses around anyway, so making that transition wouldn't be that big a deal.

Posted by: cookie at June 6, 2005 7:32 AM

BTW, the analysis is on mark about suburban areas, at least in this region. They're positively noxious with W stickers on big shiny Hummers and SUVs.

But the urban areas aren't much better --- but this is oil and gas country, so it's fairly easy to guess why that might be.

Posted by: cookie at June 6, 2005 7:49 AM

I drive 35 to 40 minutes to work. I live in a rural area and there is no bus service and no one at work lives nearby. If I was 20 years younger I might try to use a bike but since I live on top of a mountain, going down the mountain in the morning would be alright except for the traffic but I would find the ride home (back up the mountain) very, very difficult and altogether impossible in the winter. I have a little Honda Civic which is dependable and a gas saver but the cost of my "fill-ups" has doubled in the past few years.

Posted by: Jane Algozzini at June 6, 2005 12:54 PM

I live about five to seven miles from my job. I could walk or bike it if I absolutely had to, but I'd probably just take the bus as a last resort. I work at a satellite network hub, where I might spend the entire day doing more physical work one day and spend the next manning the phones.

Posted by: Jeffrey at June 6, 2005 5:52 PM

I have 7 miles to work.Early am, would have to be on my way by at least 5am to bike the distance as part is over gravel roads.Not a viable alternative.Wouldn't be safe either.Husband drives a pickup...simple half ton,6 cyl.,not a gas guzzeling SUV or anything and living where we do, the pick up works for it's living.Very few SUV's do.My day's off I stay home.Try to do my shoping etc. when in town on my days to work.Husband is not so conservitive with the trips as I am.I don't know one other person out here to do any kind of ride shareing with.Not at the time of day that I go to work.Public transit simply does not exist.

Posted by: Kay at June 6, 2005 7:14 PM

Since I just got my 30-day layoff notice from IBM, I guess my answer is, "I have NO commute!"

Welcome to the Bush Economy! Here's your Wal-Mart ID Badge....

Posted by: The Spoiler at June 7, 2005 7:40 AM

I have a 90 minute commute and my wife has a 40 mincommute. But I only go in 2 days a wsedek (she goes in 5). My office is moving close to hers, so we will carpool soon, but I will stgill go in 3 days only and work at home the rest of the time. We have 2 cars and need them because of all the other things we do. we do live in the burbs because it it close to her 80 year old parents. I like the city, but we have to get my daughter out of high shcool (bike ride) first.

I agree nwith the theory, butg oil prices may have an impact

Posted by: Anonymous at June 7, 2005 10:37 AM

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