Big Idea 2011: Road Warriors
How to ease the stress of commuting by having fewer wheels on the road.
Illustration by Graham Roumieu
Unlike low wages and divorce, the job commute is a modern stress. Think about it: Your great-grandparents, and maybe grandparents, probably didn’t have to ebb and flow, halt and go, and occasionally dodge 2,000 kilograms of fast-moving steel for 62 minutes a day, five days a week. They’ve never felt the sting of driving past a pedestrian on 109th Street, then watching that same person stroll by them on the High Level Bridge 30 minutes later.
The connection between happiness and commuting is Chevy tough. A new study from Sweden’s Ume University says that Swedish marriages are 40 per cent more likely to end in divorce if one of the partners has a work commute of about 45 minutes or longer. And, University of Zrich research says Germans who are commuting 23 minutes one-way or more – what we might consider a jaunt – would have to earn 19 per cent more income to be happy with their jobs.
Edmonton leads the nation in car commuters. More than 77 per cent of us drive to work. At 62 minutes a day, average Edmontonians are lucky to have the shortest job commutes of Canada’s six biggest cities, according to a 2005 survey, but it is getting longer by about a minute every year and it’s about to balloon.
By 2040, Edmonton’s population will be 1,150,000 – 50 per cent larger than today.
So where will those other people live? More importantly, where will they work? The same areas where we work today.
We have to look for solutions to help shorten commutes, and lower our stress, not to mention, our carbon footprints.
The simple answer is to have fewer cars on the road.
The Sao Paulo Way
How does one of the biggest cities in the western hemisphere deal with long commutes? It forces car owners to take a driving break one day a week, depending on the last digit of their licence plates. So if police on Monday, during morning and evening rush hours, catch a plate ending with 1 or 2, that car owner will get a hefty fine. The system forces drivers, going to or from work, to take public transit, bike or carpool one day a week. In Edmonton, where 625,000 vehicle commutes are made every day, according to Transport Canada, that would decrease car usage by 20 per cent every day.
Off the Road and Onto the Rail
Forget the park ‘n ride – buy or rent a home near an LRT station and use the train. When the City conducts public consultations about new LRT lines, an oft-heard concern is the train will devalue residents’ homes, but the opposite is true. In London, England, a tube station within 500 metres of a house can add close to CDN$33,000 to its value. Though it’s too early to call the jury in on Edmonton’s Empire Park, home to the new Southgate Station, it did have the sixth highest value increase in the 2010/2011 average assessment report.
Workin’ 7 to 3, or 11 to 7, or …
We can mitigate long commutes by spacing out the travel times. Though not every job will let you keep unusual hours – manufacturers and retailers, for instance, usually have locked schedules – many of the 480,000 service jobs in the metro area will. If you have one with flexible hours, make a deal with your employer to let you come in earlier or later than others.
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