It’s the way the overwhelming majority of people get to work in the US: the single-occupant private automobile. Where workplaces sit on high-speed, crowded roads, far from neighborhoods where people live and without frequent or reliable transit available, driving can be the only option. I’m glad I have more transportation choices.
For the first eight years of my career, I drove to work exclusively. Even after I started dabbling in bike commuting I still drove alone 90% of the time, until a few years when I took a job five miles away. When the car trip takes 10-20 minutes vs 20-25 minutes by bike on a quiet neighborhood streets, it’s easy to make the switch.
My current job in San Jose is 11 miles from home in Mountain View. By car, it’s an 1.5 easy miles to the freeway, 9 miles on the freeway in the reverse commute direction and 1/2 mile from the freeway exit to the office. There’s little traffic in the morning and only moderate traffic in the evening, so it’s short by Silicon Valley standards: only 20-30 minutes.
The Advantages: My car commute has many advantages: I can leave when ever I want, I can wear whatever I want, and since we have a parking garage that connects to our building I don’t even have to bring an umbrella. I can listen to the radio and have my own private space. I can also do errands at lunch and before and after work.
The Disadvantages: In the car I can’t work, read, text or safely talk on the phone. Even with hands-free I find the phone conversations too distracting to be safe. Errands before or after work or at lunch are often not as convenient as expected. Due to bad traffic near the main shopping areas, even basic errands add an extra 10-15 minutes. Driving times are unpredictable. What’s usually 20 minutes can easily become 40 minutes with an accident on the freeway or extra traffic from a concert or other large event. Driving isn’t cheap either, which is why the US government sets mileage reimbursements at 56.5 cents per mile for business travel.
The Upshot: Driving is very convenient and comfortable with my short commute, but it’s not as cheap as it seems and I have to take other time out of my day to get exercise or read.
Next up in the Anything Goes Commute Challenge is bicycling to work. Can you guess how it will compare?