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The True Cost of a Miserable Commute

11:01 AM EDT on April 2, 2010

433958378_5814fc6a88.jpgWhat is your commute taking out of you? (Photo: Stewart via Flickr)

Earlier this week, David Brooks wrote a column in the New York Times about the real roots of personal happiness that got a lot of attention. Among other things, it contained the news flash that commuting makes us miserable.

That is certainly true for many, although much less true, in my observation, of people who are able to commute by bike. And many people who commute by transit find ways to make their rides pleasurable and productive, whether by reading a book or taking advantage of mobile technology without worrying about distracted driving. Heck, some people even enjoy their car commutes.

But there's no question that for many of us, the time we spend commuting is a dead and even toxic part of our day. Today on the Streetsblog Network, the author of member blog Suburban Shift writes about how commuting was sucking the life out of his family -- and what he did about it:

About four years ago we moved [from the more expensive Austin area] to the Dallas area, to an inner-ring suburb. We have made it a point to live close to our jobs. At first, this meant an apartment, and later we purchased a home in the same area. One of us is 5 minutes from the office, the other 15. By moving to a less expensive city and living close to our jobs we have regained 40 hours of time a month -- time that was once spent behind the wheel. In those four years, my wife has used that extra free time to get a second masters degree. I have used it to take art classes, Spanish classes, and three years of martial arts study. We’ve started growing our own veggies. We have time to cook our own meals. Best of all, life is less stressful because we don’t have to rush around all the time.

Normally when discussing commuting and our car culture in relation to sustainability, we focus on the environmental impacts. Fossil fuels burned, roads required, etc. But on a personal level, excessive commuting is even more destructive in people’s lives.

This is a complicated issue, of course. In today's job market, it's not as if we can just pick and choose
where we are going to work for our personal convenience. In many parts of the country, housing that is close to jobs is incredibly expensive -- although, as the excellent data-mapping work done by the Center for Neighborhood Technology demonstrates, those housing costs are in many cases offset by reduced transportation costs. 

All of this got us wondering: Have any of you made changes in your lives specifically to shorten your commute? What would you be willing to give up to live closer to your work? If you do have a longer commute, have you found any ways to make it a source of happiness? Let us know in the comments. And enjoy the weekend.

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