Slog: News & Arts

RSS icon Comments on People Love Biking, Hate Long Commutes


People SAY they hate long commutes, but the way they vote with their feet says otherwise. People are commuting greater and greater distances, and it's NOT because they "have to" or "can't find housing near work" or whatever.

Posted by Fnarf | May 8, 2007 2:03 PM

And for god's sake make the fucking buses run on time once in a while (you know, if they bother to show up at all... #24, I'm talking to you!)

Posted by monkey | May 8, 2007 2:03 PM

Or we could all stop being such fucking babies. I am all for better, more frequent transit, but we live in a big city. Every time I hear someone justify driving to work because a bus was late or someone was ill behaved it comes off as after the fact rationalization.

Posted by tiptoe tommy | May 8, 2007 2:03 PM

"People SAY they hate long commutes, but the way they vote with their feet says otherwise. People are commuting greater and greater distances, and it's NOT because they "have to" or "can't find housing near work" or whatever."

Sometimes it _is_ those things, but you're right that those reasons don't apply to lots of drivers. I think that driving has so inherently embedded in the American public consciousness since the 1950's (when public streetcar systems started disappearing) that it honestly doesn't occur to a lot of people that another kind of commute would ever be possible.

Posted by tsm | May 8, 2007 2:11 PM

I take the 545 everyday and let me tell you it is faster than driving and MUCH more fun.

Posted by Transit Man | May 8, 2007 2:17 PM

IF you building transit people will ride on it, that;s been shown repeatedly, as in the orange line in LA, or the light rail in Sacramento.

I will bet ANY amount of money that the Link light rail they build will hit its projected 2020 ridership before 2015, and it's 2030 ridership before 2020.

Posted by Transit Man | May 8, 2007 2:19 PM

Wait, if bike-riders are the happiest, then why are ECB's knickers so twisted?

Posted by Transit Man | May 8, 2007 2:20 PM

I'll tell you what I hate worse than commuting (mine is five terror-wracked minutes long): the new Slog comment style.

Posted by Fnarf | May 8, 2007 2:25 PM


In big cities, normally, buses will come more than once every fifteen minutes. Or will stick to a schedule. Or transit would make it easier to get between neighborhoods, so that one is never needing an hour to get between them (between transfers and waiting). Waiting for buses, particularly if I have to transfer, is the most frustrating part of it to me. The rides themselves are decent, but I've had ridiculous wait times just on the 49 alone. And trying to get to, say, Fremont from Capitol Hill is a nightmare, particularly on a Sunday. In a big city, these things would be addressed...

Posted by Abby | May 8, 2007 2:26 PM

Never mind; turns out what I hate is fucked-up Javascript installations. My bad.

Posted by Fnarf | May 8, 2007 2:28 PM

I wonder how happy everyone would be if EVERYONE rode bikes. i see the pictures in Asia w/ thousands of biker riders all slowly making their way to work, barely pedaling.

would our glee in a bike commute be the same if there was just as much gridlock with bikes as there currently are with cars?

and a shout out to #7--well put my friend, well put.

Posted by ddvelin | May 8, 2007 2:31 PM


I have lived in big cities all over the world. The problem isn't Metro, it is the lack of rail in this city. Metro has limited resources and does as good a job as any major bus system.

If you want transit to mimic the convenience of a car you will always be disappointed. If you have a wait for a bus--bring a book, smoke a joint, make a call, stare at funny people--you are really not in that big of a hurry.

Posted by tiptoe tommy | May 8, 2007 2:34 PM

my number one commute dissatisfaction as a bus rider is that someone ALWAYS has chicken on my route. even before i was pregnant it made me wanna gag.

Posted by dissatisfied | May 8, 2007 2:39 PM

I must be lucky, because my 40-min sit-down express bus ride, with my EDGE-enabled laptop, Nintendo DS, and books and magazines available, is a lot more enjoyable than my old 60-min, barely moving, hands-tied-up highway drive.

Posted by K | May 8, 2007 2:40 PM


Except if I, say, need to be in class? Or work? Or not want to take an hour to get to Fremont? Sure, they're as good as any bus system, but it's still frustrating if you don't have a car and need/want to be in another part of town, and I can completely see why transit isn't as appealing to people as driving is. And driving will always be more appealing until buses are reliable and come more often. There are days when I've waited at a bus stop for an hour, only to have three of the buses I need to take come by in a row. Not exactly an enjoyable way to spend an hour, with a book or not.

Posted by Abby | May 8, 2007 2:41 PM

Yes, and I will bet there are days when you have sat on a freeway for a half an hour, moving 5 mph, polluting the planet, getting more and more irritated.

Like I said, big city, big city problems.

I got it, cars are better than buses.

Posted by tiptoe tommy | May 8, 2007 2:48 PM

I'm honestly just thinking about moving around the city of Seattle itself. Not even trips that I would need to go on the freeway for. I wish that was easier on mass transit, and it should be. The mark of a big city is the ability to do that.

Posted by Abby | May 8, 2007 2:52 PM

My commute is 18 minutes, door-to-door. I'm one big pile of sea-foam green on that bar chart.

Posted by Dougsf | May 8, 2007 2:56 PM

... I'd also like to add, the use of the cities entire public transit infrastructure costs me a whopping $45 a month.

Seattle, you'd be so sweet with a system like that. I'm sorry you keep getting fucked over.

Posted by Dougsf | May 8, 2007 3:02 PM

Biking is the form of commuting with the the highest level of preparedness. You need to buy a bike, you need to change your clothes once you get to work, you need to ride on the oil-slicked slicked streets in the rain. People who are willing to commute by bike are pretty hard core compared to everyone else their cars. Of course people who do it love it. Otherwise they'd drive, take the bus, or walk.

Maybe the headline should be: "People who go way out of their way to be able to bike to work, love it."

Posted by John | May 8, 2007 3:07 PM

12, Transit can be way better than driving. Have you been to Tokyo, Seoul or London?

Try driving through one of those cities. Beyond the insane price of fuel and congestion fees, the traffic is a joke.

In Tokyo, anything you need to have delivered can be, and the trains go practically everywhere, and buses go where those don't. I bought a scooter and eventually got rid of it because it was slower than the train.

Posted by Transit Man | May 8, 2007 3:16 PM

Popular? Maybe most favored per capita, ECB, but popular is a complete misnomer. The population that bikes and walks already had a strong desire to do so, so of course they're gonna think favorably of their commuting choice.

'People don't like long commutes' is like saying bears shit in the woods. NOBODY likes a long commute.

Funny how Grist didn't provide a direct link to the actual study, nor does vtpi make it easy to find. Make it hard to reach, and people will be lazy and more reluctant to question your generalizations, I suppose.

I did find it with Google Fu, though, though, and a) it's clear from the intro to the study that VTPI entered this study with an obvious bias and a desire to reach a particular conclusion, which casts into doubt the validity and integrity of his methods, and b) it turns out that the study is simply a glorified high school research paper, quoting a wealth of generlizations and charts without specifying the sample population and testing methods by which these results were reached... at least for anything beyond stupid-simple questions like, "Hey, would you like a 120 minute commute or a 20 minute commute?"

Also, needless to say, living far away from town is in large part a byproduct of real estate and rental prices.

Posted by Gomez | May 8, 2007 3:24 PM

One interesting thing from the graph that may not be to the liking of commenters here: apparently the people surveyed HATE transit, much more than they hate driving commutes.

Posted by Fnarf | May 8, 2007 3:35 PM


They only hated Transit as much as it was longer. The reason transit's dislike is higher is because it is on average longer. When you control for the length of commute, Transit, Walking and Driving are all actually very similar. If you read the study, you will see that.

If you want the link to the study, Gomez, here it is :

Posted by Transit Man | May 8, 2007 3:50 PM

In other news, people like food and sex more than they like their jobs.

Posted by Steve | May 8, 2007 3:52 PM

Hi Transit Man. Welcome to Slog. It’s nice to have another transit fan lecturing us about how great transit is in cities with at least a dozen rail lines. Please stop. We already know. And repeat after me: This is not London. This is not Tokyo. This is not Seoul.

And no, riding the bus is not “fun.” That said, I do appreciate you not lecturing us about how great transit is in Paris, Barcelona, New York, etc, ad nauseum.

And yes I ride the bus. It is not fun.

Posted by Sid Vicious | May 8, 2007 4:05 PM

Read my post, dude: I already found it.

Posted by Gomez | May 8, 2007 4:21 PM

yeah most people hate their cars. just like most people who have personals ads exercise every day.

Posted by wf | May 8, 2007 4:24 PM

Who the fuck are the ~20% who "like" a 120+ min commute?!

Posted by High-Rise | May 8, 2007 4:26 PM

Transit in Paris is ass-shit. Last time I was there, I rode some train three hours until it got stuck in some piece-of-shit ghetto, and I saw two guys kick the shit of out some girl and the whole thing was just awful. So paris sucks.

Posted by Transit Man | May 8, 2007 4:30 PM

Sid Vicious , your whole sentiment is fucking corny. People in those places didn't just sit around bitching about how much shit sucked, they built something. If the bus sucks, fix it you lazy complaining piece of shit, don't just talk shit on me.

Posted by Transit Man | May 8, 2007 4:32 PM

Bull, Transit Man. I've been to Paris at least six times, usually staying there for 10 or more days, and transit there ROCKS!

Now, what I want to know, is why you couldn't answer Bike and Transit or Walk and Transit? I tend to do mostly walking to work, sometimes transit and walk (the nearest bus stop is 6 blocks away), and maybe one day a week I drive to work.

I used to commute from Ballard to Issaquah (or Redmond or Crossroads or other eastside) but the commute that started as 20 minutes (yes, I am NOT joking) went up to 45 minutes to an hour and I gave up on working over there.

Now I live close to where I work.

Posted by Will in Seattle | May 8, 2007 4:34 PM

Maybe they assumed anyone who uses walking or biking supplements with transit. Not very throughout indeed.

And I love my 15 min biking commute. I get to wake up 5 mins before I leave and eat breakfast at work. Though for some reason Broadway between James and Boren cars are mean. I've been buzzed in that section so many times- and I'm going downhill pretty fast. Cars just seem to hate me only in that stretch.

Posted by Enigma | May 8, 2007 4:41 PM

Sorry I went a little overboard with that last comment.

Posted by Transit Man | May 8, 2007 4:50 PM

The more I look at these online debates about Seattle commuting, the more I realize it's really Seattleites who don't need to drive that should be the first to stop driving. Too often, these discussions become commuters from outlying areas and obscure corners of Seattle versus hardcore anti-driving fanatics like myself. People from the suburbs and hard to reach places can at least make an argument based on time and perceived resources.

But what I really have to question is driving from Ballard or Capitol Hill or Wedgwood or Wallingford (or even Northgate) to the downtown area. I've dished out some abuse to the suburban and West Seattle commuters, but the real question is why the hell are Ballardites driving to Sodo or downtown everyday? Now granted, bus stops mostly service central avenues, but I find I can get around fairly quickly by bus in any one of the neighborhoods I mentioned.

The real cloggers are probably people in the city itself driving everywhere. I recall the NY Times report of a traffic study conducted in Manhattan and the Boroughs that basically showed that contrary to popular belief, most of the NYC gridlock was caused by commuters in the city (sometimes due to lack of rail service) rather than suburbanites.

Perhaps, the people who could use the most encouragement to drive less are the people who live the closest to their destination points. Just an idea.

Posted by JMS | May 8, 2007 5:29 PM


You make a pretty astute point there: people who commute by bicycle are somewhat self-selected to enjoy it.

I started commuting by bicycle shortly after 9/11, starting with a pleasant and flat 15 minute commute almost entirely on the Burke. Honestly, it was infinitely more pleasant than taking the bus or driving. Aside from the occasional near-death experience, typically from an inattentive driver on a cell phone or a homicidal maniac, it's one of the more pleasant aspects of my day, even as the commute has gotten longer and steeper.

Given how miserable people look in their cars (and almost everyone really does look miserable), I suspect a decent minority would find themselves happier, healthier and home more quickly if they simply tried riding a bike.

Posted by golob | May 8, 2007 5:39 PM

@35 - perhaps. I get annoyed when mass transit/biking elitists people rag on all drivers, as if everyone living in the poorer industrial neighborhoods way south of downtown are morally inferior for not spending hours a day commuting. But if you live in the U District and work downtown? Then it'd be less costly by just about any measure (money, time, etc.) to take the bus. If there are lots of people in this situation driving instead - then, well, stop it, you dumbshits.

Posted by tsm | May 8, 2007 5:51 PM

that should read "I get annoyed when mass transit/biking elitists rag on all drivers, as if everyone living in the poorer industrial neighborhoods way south of downtown is morally inferior for not spending hours a day commuting by foot/bike/bus."

Damn. I need to proofread.

Posted by tsm | May 8, 2007 5:53 PM

Erica, if you haven't already, check out the "Journeys" issue of the New Yorker that came out April 16th. Great summary of the tons of research on this topic (mostly in line with this study), along with some interesting accounts of actual commutes.

You should ride along with a few people on their daily drive to and from work and write something about it. Might make for an interesting read and help you branch out a bit.

Posted by Sean | May 8, 2007 6:42 PM

"making transit more appealing relative to driving alone."

No kidding? Did you think this up by yourself, Burnnet? Perhaps we should put cocktail bars on the buses.

Posted by Bacchus | May 8, 2007 8:27 PM

#40: New York commuter trains have bars. I wonder what it would take to get them on Sounder here?

Posted by Steve | May 8, 2007 8:37 PM

Hey, have you all checked out the light rail construction progress? I was on MLK south yesterday and damn, that shit is coming along. Not to mention the tons of new and affordable housing popping up along the line. Very cool to see. There's hope for our troubled city yet.

Posted by Sean | May 8, 2007 10:14 PM

@42 shh, don't tell anybody

Posted by Anna | May 9, 2007 8:45 AM

Keep in mind that essentially NO ONE is biking or walking 120 minutes each way. So there is a strong association between mode of transport and length of commute, which makes the individual tabulations not so useful.

Posted by Daniel | May 9, 2007 9:25 AM


"The solutions, at least for transit, are expensive but not particularly complex: Reduce the number of transfers required to get around by transit; reduce headways (the time between trains or buses) and improve reliability; make trains and buses easier to board and more comfortable; provide real-time information about when transit will be arriving; integrate fares between transit systems; make stations comfortable and dry."

I trust you've noticed that every one of these improvements are implemented, along with many others, by Personal Rapid Transit (PRT):

1. Reduce the number of transfers required to get around by transit

Travel on a PRT network requires *zero* transfers.

2. reduce headways (the time between trains or buses)

Headways in a PRT system are measured in single-digit seconds rather than minutes (or tens of minutes)

3. improve reliability

There are two sorts of "reliability" you might be referring to: 3a) how closely that vehicles adhere to their schedule, and 3b) how often the system breaks down.

For PRT, 3a) there is no schedule -- travel is on demand, like taxicabs. Mostly, vehicles will be waiting for you rather than you having to wait for the next vehicle. This is a vast improvement over *any* conceivable mass transit schedule. And 3b) it's tough to beat buses for system reliability: for rail and PRT, guideways are dedicated, and when a vehicle breaks down, the entire system stops. For a train, that outage will likely last hours. For PRT, some vendors design their system so that vehicles can push each other to a siding within minutes if one becomes disabled.

4. make trains and buses easier to board

I assume you mean 4a) make the transit vehicle floor flush with station floors so that no ramps are necessary for the wheelchairs you have "expressed" such issues over in the past, and 4b) require that payment take place somewhere besides inside the vehicle, which causes delays while people in line to board wait behind the person who's paying.

4a) PRT, like passenger rail, has vehicle floors flush with the station floor.
4b) I haven't seen a PRT vendor design that works with anything other than off-vehicle payment.

5. more comfortable

PRT is designed so that *all* passengers are seated. Hard to beat that for comfort.

6. provide real-time information about when transit will be arriving

This is not usually necessary with PRT: the vehicle will already be at the station, waiting for you to hop in. For those times when one isn't already there, it's easy enough to display when the next one will arrive: exact monitoring of vehicle location is required for system operation

7. integrate fares between transit systems

This is no harder for PRT than for any other transit mode

8. make stations comfortable and dry

Ditto, except that PRT stations are significantly smaller and less expensive than for passenger rail, and can also be much closer together, making it far easier for more people to walk or bike to them.

All of these benefits, plus many more like genuine cost-effectiveness (stations and guideways are far less massive and expensive than other grade-separated transit, and vehicle operations are automated -- no driver!), energy superefficiency (no stops and energy-hogging reaccelerations + high passenger/vehicle weight ratio = green, sustainable transit), no transfers needed on a PRT network, nonstop operation at a nearly constant speed that is much higher than the average for any other urban transit mode, can carry 50-60 times more bikes as buses or passenger rail, and don't require passengers to share a vehicle with anyone they don't want to, add up to the reason why PRT systems are now being built in England and Sweden (which not coincidentally lead the world in their commitment to greenhouse gas reduction), have been recommended for Finland, Poland, Dubai, Kuwait, Korea, and even Seatac (among others), and are being closely studied (and funded, in some cases) in California, New Jersey, New York, UAE, and West Virginia (again among others).

Even the Puget Sound Regional Council agrees that we'll get PRT in Seattle before much longer, the only question is when. But the answer will be measured in years rather than decades.

Check out the March 10, 2007 edition of The Economist for an article entitled "Beyond the stagecoach", which lays out the issue facing any local politician in advocating for the kind of quantum leap in convenience, cost, public safety, speed, and sustainability that PRT represents. Money quote: "The European Commission has studied four potential schemes, and concluded that hesitant local authorities are the only significant obstacle.",com_docman/task,doc_view/gid,15/Itemid,37/

When the first true PRT system opens in London next summer, and people get a chance to see how well it works, the logjam of local politicians dragging their feet PRT should be largely removed.

In the meantime, Puget Sound officialdom ought to be closely studying how best to use PRT right here, starting with how it could best be used in a low-risk fashion to connect our existing transit infrastructure with the places people want to get to/from: First Hill, Northgate, West Seattle, the Microsoft campus, UW, the list goes on.

John C. Todd, Jr.

Posted by JohnCToddJr | May 9, 2007 6:20 PM

Comments Closed

In order to combat spam, we are no longer accepting comments on this post (or any post more than 45 days old).