The joys of not driving to work


At around 5PM each day, I look out the window of my office building. Across the street is a parking garage, one of those brutally functional structures whose slanted sides always brings to mind Donkey Kong. What I see is an endless row of headlights, unmoving, all trying to leave the garage and, presumably, head home.

I often think about that as I walk to the bus stop.

Where the masses go

There are lots of places where public transit is not great, and I’m not just talking about rural areas. There are transit deserts even in big cities, places where transit either doesn’t run, or runs so inconveniently as to preclude practical use. And this is to be expected. The first word in mass transit is “mass”, meaning multitudes. Mass transit only works where the masses are going.

If you work in an office park on the edge of town, or in a school that’s oddly sited away from where people live, or in any place that’s not really the center of anything, it not be feasible to take public transit there, no matter where you live. (The discussion on whether you could bike there is another issue.)

But there is one place that transit is ubiquitous and plentiful, where by definition, the masses go. That place is downtown.

Similarly, if you need to travel places at odd times, such as really early or really late, public transit may not work for you. Again, the masses won’t be using the system, so it’s understandable that the system may not be optimized for your situation.

But there is one time of day when public transit excels, when the majority of lines and vehicles run. That time is rush hour.

The drive to not drive

For pretty much all of my working life, I have not needed to drive to work. I have elected to on occasion, but this was either when I was working non-standard hours or when I had some kind of special situation.

Am I lucky or fortunate? A bit of both, really. I originally got jobs near train lines or near home, true, but I also moved to New York City (and later Portland). This was in part because I knew that they were places with extensive public transit systems, and so therefore fostered a dense, urban, walkable environment, as opposed to the strip-mall land and cul-de-sacs that are such a depressing (both in the psychological and economic senses) part of our landscape.

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Because I chose where I lived, I was better able to take jobs that didn’t require driving.

The drive to drive

But you live where you live right now, and let’s assume that you’re not moving anytime soon. If you work downtown during normal business hours, why would you drive?

You don’t live anywhere near public transit. If the nearest bus stop is three miles away, that doesn’t sound very practical to use. But even in this case, you may not be stuck. Many areas have “Park-and-rides” where you can drive to a parking lot and take the bus/train the rest of the way in.

You don’t think you live anywhere near public transit. You may think you live far away from a line, but you actually may not. Bus stops are not always well signed, and you may not know what your options are. I recently learned that there was a bus line within a mile of my childhood home that ran 24 hours a day, and I lived in that area for most of my life (and keep close track of these things).

It takes too long. Yes, transit can be slow; it stops to pick up and drop off passengers frequently. It can require transfers. And sometimes, in poorly designed systems, it gets stuck in the same traffic as you would in your private vehicle.

But while you’re on board, you can read, sleep, do work, chat, play games on your smartphone, daydream, plan world domination, or pretty much anything else that you could do in mixed company. And you certainly wouldn’t get stuck in a parking garage. Nor would you have to pay for parking, which costs as much if not more than a monthly transit pass would anyway.

(There are other arguments I can think of for not taking transit, but many of them seem too nakedly racist/classist/xenophobic to deal with right now. As for the perceived expensiveness, that will be covered another time.)

Don’t be a drag

Traffic delays are an economic drag, because of the money value of everyone’s time. But aside from economic arguments, not dealing with traffic will reduce your stress. Traffic saps vital energy levels and makes it harder to fight The Tired. Finally, even better than that, not dealing with traffic will give you fewer reasons to complain, which can only be a good thing.

It has always seemed ironic to me that some people don’t take transit because of its perceived slowness, and then complain about how long it took to drive to work (because of the traffic). As someone with more wisdom than me once said: “You are not stuck in traffic. You are traffic.” See you on the bus.

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But enough about me: Do you drive to work? If so, why?

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