The Denver Business Journal featured an article today about a study from EducatedDriver.org that finds that the average Denverite “spends 427 days commuting during his or her life” and that this makes Denver “one of the worst in the U.S. for time stuck in transit.” The article goes on to say that the study evaluated almost 1,000 cities nationwide to calculate the average number of days that a person “can expect to lose commuting during a lifetime.”
Viewing a commute to work or school as time you “lose” and being “stuck” in that commuting experience is a very automobile-centric view of commuting, but it is also an accurate view if your commute does involve you piloting a 90-square foot machine on city streets. The intro paragraph from the EducatedDriver.org’s webpage on their study says it best:
“Commuting is the most stressful part of the day for many people. It’s like a recurring nightmare — day after day, week after week, year after year spent sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic, stuck behind the wheel instead of spending time with family and friends doing the things you love. It takes a serious toll on the mind and body and on relationships. Not to mention, it can be seriously damaging to your health, leading to headaches, backaches, sleep problems, fatigue, mental health problems, and more.”
What’s interesting is that the Denver Business Journal never actually says commuting “by car” in their article. They just make the assumption that this hellish commuting experience is one that everyone experiences because, duh, everyone drives to work.
Except that’s not the case, of course. According to the latest (2016) data from the US Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, 25% of workers in the City of Denver (16 years of age or older who do not work at home) commute in some way other than “drive alone” such as walking, biking, or taking transit. That leaves 75% who do “drive alone”—yes, a majority—but still, it seems to me that the 25% of the population that doesn’t commute by driving alone is a significant enough percentage to at least warrant some acknowledgment from our local media. They are apparently the “invisible 25%” to the Denver Business Journal.
And for our region’s largest employment center, Downtown Denver, where over 130,000 people work, the number of non-“drive alone” commuters is substantially higher. In their 2017 Commuter Survey, the Downtown Denver Partnership found that only 39% of downtown workers “drive alone” on their commute, with 61% commuting via other means.
Commuting by car in Denver can suck, and some people have few options but to drive alone. But for the hundreds of thousands of people (myself included) in the Denver area who don’t drive to work, our commute is not the traffic-clogged nightmare the mainstream media assumes it to be. A non-“drive alone” commute can actually be enjoyable “found” time, and for me as a walk-to-work commuter, I am certainly not “stuck” anywhere on my commute. Quite the contrary: I have a lot more freedom to spontaneously move around downtown than I would if I were encased in a 4,000-pound metal box.