Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Americans Adapt Creatively to Long Commutes

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Americans Adapt Creatively to Long Commutes

Article excerpt

Well over a million commuters rush through Atlanta every day. Driver Lance Helms has catalogued a few tactics for staying alive.

Avoid SUVs and trucks from Clayton County, and definitely from Cobb - they drive as if they own the place. If you have to cut someone off, make sure to target a person driving a Mercedes S- class, who will cede the road. And if the downtown connector bogs down under Spaghetti Junction, pop in a podcast with comedian Bill Maher or catch up on calls to some old friends. In other words, enjoy the mayhem.

"I'm happy with my commute," concludes Mr. Helms, an advertising representative for the Gwinnett Daily Post, who braves Atlanta rush hour for up to 90 minutes a day. "I've settled into the whole thing."

For all the concerns about road rage, environmental costs, and up to $78 billion in lost productivity, it's becoming evident that the American commute -- growing ever longer and more extreme according to a new report -- is a sophisticated personal, even philosophical, journey as well as a testament to the lengths that Americans will go to chase their dreams.

"There's the philosophy that people buy houses on Sunday and discover on Monday that it's a tough commute," says

Alan Pisarski, a travel behavior consultant in Lake Barcroft, Va. Yet "it's really astonishing to me how much people are willing to give up for the perceived benefits that obviously are very real to them."

It's a thickening jungle out there in sprawl city, according to the Texas Transportation Institute's "2007 Urban Mobility Report," released Tuesday. The ranks of Americans with steel coffee cups, photo IDs, and backpacks packed as if on a hike to Mount Katahdin are increasing, while the nation's asphalt rivers sag under the weight of the killer commute.

Despite high gas prices - $2.66 in Atlanta on Tuesday - 9 of 10 Americans still drive to work each day, the vast majority of them alone, according to census figures released in June. What's more, the average commute in America has lengthened by a minute a year since 2000, now topping out at 38 minutes, according to the report.

"The big picture is we see congestion increasing in cities of all sizes," says Tim Lomax, an author of the study.

It's not just cars that have wear and tear, experts say. Robert Putnam, a political scientist at Harvard University, found that every 10 minutes added to a person's commute decreases by 10 percent the time that person dedicates to their family and community.

The killer commute mostly stems from a design problem, having less to do with workers' decisions to drive than by unruly and often nonsensical development patterns that undermine communities, some critics say.

"Everyone says it's their choice to [commute], but, in a way, there's no choice at all," says Dean Terry, creator of "Subdivided," a documentary about suburban disconnectedness. …

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