An Appeal to Megacommuters

commute time 2

Average commute times, WNYC map.

There was an excellent piece in the Slog on Monday, based on both NYU work and a US Census graphic, showing that the Seattle area both ranks 10th in longest commutes, and that we have the 3rd fastest growth for long commutes.  The census piece introduced me to the term megacommuter, someone that commutes over 90 minutes and 50 miles each way.  One out of every 122 full time workers in the US is a megacommuter, and 10.8 million in the US commute more than an hour each way.  With so many megacommuters out there, I’ve decided to address them directly.

Dear Megacommuter,

I don’t know your situation.  I can think of at least a few tragic life situations that would keep me commuting with over 20% of my waking, non-working life(1).  But if you’re similar to a friend of mine that commuted this far just to have a large home, I’d like to make sure you have really thought through your choice.

Let’s take a look at the money you’re spending on this commute.  Looking at only tangible vehicle costs, ignoring softer numbers like the increased number of accidents you’ll be in, the cost of your reduced health from increased hours of sitting, etc., you’ll spend around $220,000 over the length of a 30 year mortgage by driving 50 miles each way(2).

Now let’s look at these 15+ hours a week you’re spending commuting.  If you plowed just half of those back into work by living close by, and made the median income in Seattle of $61,000, over those same 30 years you’d make an extra $229,000 after taking a third out for taxes and assuming no bonus for overtime or promotion for all of your dedication(3).  But rather than working those hours you could spend time with your family, start a hobby, or go to school.  Or you could take 293 extra weeks of vacation(4).

I won’t even try to persuade you with greenhouse gas numbers, or try to convince you that owning a home in the far suburbs helps destroy farms and forests and that everything from the roads that bring you home to  your water treatment to the power lines that serve your home have a much larger impact than they would near a city.  You either aren’t interested in these arguments, or they come second to other factors in your life.

If knowing all of this doesn’t change anything, you still want your large house at any cost, that’s fine.  This isn’t a “wrong” choice, and you’re welcome to it.  But if you’d consider another way, might I propose a new strategy?  Consider moving as close to your work as you can afford, even if it means living in a smaller home for a while.  Use the money you save in your commute to pay off your mortgage faster, build up equity in your home, and trade up to a larger home in a few years.  As a bonus, if you use that $220,000 you’d waste commuting over the 30 years on home, you’ll convert it from an expense to an investment and much of it will be available when you retire.

Thanks for listening,

-Matt

(1) 40 hour work week, 8*7=56 hours of sleep a week, leaves 72 hours a week.  A 90 minute commute each way eats up 15 of these hours.  Note 72 hours doesn’t represent total free time – I didn’t count eating, brushing teeth, shopping, etc.

(2) 26,000 miles/yr /30 mpg car * $4 gal = $3,467 in fuel a year.  Assuming a lifespan of 200k miles you’d go through a $20k new car every 7.7 years ($2,600 a year).  Estimating $600 in insurance and $700 in maintenance a year (probably low for this many miles).  Total = $7,370 per year * 30 years = $221,000.

(3) $61,000 / 52 weeks / 40 hrs = $29.33/hr.  Time wasted commuting = 15 hrs/wk * 52 weeks/yr * 30 years = 23,400 hours wasted.  Using half of that: 11,700 hrs * $29.33/hr = $343,000.  Reduce that by a third and you get $229,000.

(4) Assuming your work is somewhat flexible, allowing you to work overtime in exchange for time off.  That’s 23,400 hours of comp time you’d rack up over 30 years, and you only need 40 for each week off.  I’ll cut that in half as well to adjust for your new commute.  That said, I’m guessing you won’t be able to take them all at once.




Comments

  1. says

    My first thought on this is there may be a new market for bringing back old-fashioned residential hotels – people who live so far away from where they work that staying in a room near work Monday through Thursday nights and only commuting home for weekends may not only save time and aggravation but money too.

  2. djw says

    This comes across as fairly condescending; I suspect most supercommuters know all this (they’re living it, after all). I would also assume that you can’t really tell a story about supercommuters in 2013 without addressing the role of the bursting of the housing bubble: people get a new job far away, but can’t move b/c they’re underwater. All but one of the people I know who qualify as supercommuters fit this story–stuck in a home they can’t sell without writing a huge check to the bank. In such a situation, waiting it out until the recovery + increased equity allows you to move without defaulting seems like a plausible way to address a very less than ideal situation.

    • Matt Gangemi says

      I could absolutely see that Megacommuters know the time impacts – they’re hard to miss. But I don’t imagine most have done the cost calculation. This post stemmed originally from someone with a 100 mile commute, and I ran the numbers that worked out to $500k+ over 30 years. This was surprisingly large, and I thought I’d share.

      • Flotown says

        I’m pretty sure the commutes are the result of logical economic choices. All told, transportation costs are not all that expensive relative to the cost of a cheaper house or the value of a better job. You can argue whether we as a society price the externalities of travel well enough, but don’t assume people are acting illogically.

    • Lack Thereof says

      None of the megacommuters I work with are doing it by choice. They all were reassigned to our Central District location by a district/regional manager, and told to take it or leave it. They hate/resent it, and are very vocal about how much time/money it’s costing them (commuting in their body-on-frame SUV, of course) but the reality is that Seattle is where the open jobs are, not Lakewood or Snohomish.

      They have no interest in moving (and the ones that do get sticker shock and never consider it again, ever, ha ha), and always say this is just temporary, until they find work closer to home, but then they stay, and stay, and stay. And drive, drive, drive.

      • Bernie says

        Where did they park themselves that they are more than 50 miles from your Central District location? Lakewood to Seattle is only 40.6 miles. Even Dupont sneaks in at 47.2 miles.

      • Lack Thereof says

        A half-hour outside of Lakewood, that’s where. We’ve had a couple of guys from the Eatonville/orting area, some guys from around Sultan, and one from Stanwood. At my last job there were a couple people from Mount Vernon, as well.

      • Bernie says

        How is locating in Eatonville or Stanwood not a choice? I can’t imagine anyone moving out there to look for work. And there are plenty of places with comparable housing costs much closer. BTW, Sultan is only 40 miles from DT Seattle. Stanwood sneeks in to the megacommute range at 53 miles. Bring up the map and look at the area encompassed by a 50 mile radius.

      • Lack Thereof says

        A typical example would be like this: Employee X is living on a big lot in Eatonville and working in Lakewood. A totally reasonable commute (to most).

        Then the company expands and opens new locations, mostly in and around Seattle where the economy is strongest, and/or locations in Seattle need to staff up to handle increased business. Employee X is already trained and experienced, so he’s transferred from his current position in Lakewood to the new or expanded location in the CD, and told he can either take the position or take a walk.

        This situation is exacerbated by the low wage nature of the work – the highest paid positions on-site are only about $35k/yr, with most in the low 20′s, and there are approximately zero applicants from the Seattle area who are willing to accept these wages, so the vast majority of the full-time positions are filled by transferring employees from outer locations (where an empty position can be much more easily filled with a new hire).

        Basically, it’s all because corporate is cheap and not willing to pay a wage that will pay for a King County rental.

      • Charles says

        Bernie, has it ever occurred to you that someone might just be from the place you’re dismissing as no where? That the land/house they live in may have been in their family for generations? That some of these places may have been “settled” long before what is now the big city was the big city? There was a time when places like Port Townsend or Tacoma held more cache than Seattle does now.

        More generally, there are many factors that lead one to the “choice” to super-commute. The fact that jobs are scarce is the bigger one. Not all choices are made by strict accounting reasons. The sense of where home is regardless of where one works is a rational choice even if it isn’t a dollars and cents one. Where family is anchored, attachment to community (and yes, despite Jane Jacobs scoffing, community does exist outside of big cities)

        On a personal anecdote My current commute by public transit is between 1hour 5 and 1 hour 40 minutes depending on route choices and traffic. That’s to go 7 miles! I could make that trip in 20 minutes or less in a car. And the best I could expect when other parts of Link is completed would be a 40 minute commute.

      • Bernie says

        That the land/house they live in may have been in their family for generations?

        Second generation is why we chose to buy our house out in the middle of nowhere. I know somebody that has kept the family homestead, honest to gosh real homestead land out past Orting. But they don’t live there because commuting to Seattle would be foolish. There are people that moved their families to Phoenix and “commute” to LA but that involves maintaining an apartment and flying home on weekends. Commuting over 50 miles in the Puget Sound region is rare and involves exceptional circumstances. It’s not a choice people make because they can’t afford to live somewhere closer.

        My current commute by public transit is between 1hour 5 and 1 hour 40 minutes depending on route choices and traffic. That’s to go 7 miles!

        That is exactly my situation exactly. I’d use transit more if it was consistently 65 minutes. The not knowing if I’ll be home at just past 6PM or almost 7PM is a deal breaker. And FWIW 1:40 for 7 miles isn’t much faster than walking! Metro has the ability to fix this and save money doing it. But instead they cry for more tax dollars so they can continue to prioritize crappy coverage everywhere above decent service anywhere.

      • Bernie says

        Employee X is living on a big lot in Eatonville

        Eatonville to Lakewoood is a 45 minute commute. That’s a little beyond “perfectly reasonable” (double the norm) and if they’re willing to do that the hour and 15 to Seattle isn’t much of a stretch. But they’re spending at least $5k a year just on the direct marginal expenses of driving not even counting the fact they are driving a new vehicle into the ground in 8 years. $30k/8 is another $3,750 a year but leaving that aside they’d still be money ahead taking a minimum wage job at the Walmart in Roy than commuting to Seattle for a $25k/yr job. If they are choosing to drive to Seattle then they presumably have their reasons but it’s not because they can’t afford to live closer to work. Living in Eatonville is costing them more! They also save money by driving to Puyallup or now Lakewood and taking ST Express or Sounder. But it sounds like their reason is they just love driving. To each their own.

      • Lack Thereof says

        If they are choosing to drive to Seattle then they presumably have their reasons but it’s not because they can’t afford to live closer to work. Living in Eatonville is costing them more!

        Ah, but none of these guys has been willingly choosing to drive to Seattle. They’ve been doing it under duress, to keep their preexisting job. And they’re not remaining in the countryside because they think it’s cheaper, they’re staying because they refuse to double-down on a job in Seattle they didn’t want in the first place! These guys tend to spend their entire duration at my location jockeying for a transfer out, not figuring out how to make the commute more reasonable.

        Most of them either end up quitting unannounced, or getting a transfer out of the Puget Sound area entirely, to Idaho or South Carolina or some rural region.

        They also save money by driving to Puyallup or now Lakewood and taking ST Express or Sounder. But it sounds like their reason is they just love driving. To each their own.

        How does the Sounder schedule mesh with a 7:15a-6:15p workday, or a 10:15a-9:15p? Because those are the shifts these poor saps typically end up getting stuck on. And jesus, on a rush hour drive it already works out to close to 2 hours, they’re not going to tack a time-sucking multi-leg transit trip onto that. Any I-5 backups skipped by Sounder will be paid back double, waiting for the 30-minute headway bus to slog its way out of downtown and up to the CD.

      • Bernie says

        Most of them either end up quitting unannounced, or getting a transfer out of the Puget Sound area entirely, to Idaho or South Carolina or some rural region.

        And there you have it. Eatonville was as close as they could come to their own private Idaho. They love driving their pickem-up truck and living where they can shoot guns. Nothin’ wrong with that at all; just not goin’ ta happen working in liberal bleeding heart Seattle. They’re not moving closer in because they’re living for the chance to move farther out. As for using transit, yeah, the idea of sitting on a train is worse than being in your truck. Especially when said train is full of nerds using their laptop, reading books or napping. It’s all about choice.

  3. says

    Reasons I could imagine that one would mega-commute:

    1. Their job does not pay enough to live closer to their work (ie, they work in the downtown core, and live in the suburbs).

    2. They are using public transportation, which can take a very long time to get to places (probably due to financial pressures). To be honest, I’ve met a lot of folks on the bus doing some epic-ly crazy commutes that take 2 hours plus because their jobs are minimum wage and they cannot afford a car.

    3. They want to send their children to public schools which are better run that the Seattle public schools.

    4. They have a spouse who works in the opposite direction at a job that is just as fulfilling as theirs.

    5. There are a lot of very very very tiny houses in Seattle which are very very expensive. If you are half of a DINK, it doesn’t matter that the house is small or expensive – your income is spent on yourself. You don’t need a lot of space. If you’re a parent, you have financial and space pressure pushing you out to the suburbs. I’m stunned at how many houses I see have effectively the same amount of square footage as my Greenwood 2 bedroom apartment. And I could afford none of them.

    • djw says

      People in your category (2) don’t really count as megacommuters (not supercommuters, as I erroneously referred to them above) because they’re generally not travelling sufficient distance. They’re “victims of our crappy public transportation system” for the most part. (see the 50 miles rule–I’ve known people who have 10-20 mile commutes that take 90+ minutes on the bus because their two (or more) seat ride takes them well out of their way.

      As for (5), I think the point of this post is to expose some assumptions about cost that lead to that calculation, but are erroneous. Many of the costs of commuting long distances are hidden but real. But also, people pushed out of the city into the suburbs are not megacommuters, for the most part. Our suburbs aren’t distant enough. My friend just bought a 3 bedroom, 1500 SQ foot house in a not particularly nice part of Lynnwood for 150K for the reason you cite, but neither her nor her husband, who work in Downtown Bellevue and SODO, respectively, will be at all close to qualifying as megacommuters. Heck, I know someone who commuted from Tacoma to Bothell for a while, but a quick look at google maps tells me she wasn’t a megacommuter, because it was only 48 miles not 50.

      • Chris Stefan says

        I ran into someone who commuted to Seattle from Port Townsend via public transit every day. I thought he was crazy, but Seattle was where he could find a job and Port Townsend was where he had a free place to stay with his mom.

    • Butch says

      Add that they want to live in a safe, affordable neighborhood without a high regulatory burden.

  4. Tonrix says

    I live in Seattle proper and own a townhouse two blocks from the light rail line (but .75 miles from a station). You’d think I’d have this awesome, short, transit-based commute, right? Nope. Even when I was working in SLU, my transit commute took an hour, one way. When the economy encouraged me to take a job in Bremerton, that was 1.5-2 hours one way. Now that I work in Bellevue, transit can take no shorter than an hour.

    So it’s a bit much to push everyone who commutes for an hour into one group of environment- and life-hating suburbanites. Life (and the ecomony) has a way of forcing compromises.

    I prefer taking transit, but I understand why folks (including myself) drive.

    • Eric says

      You can see from the map that average commutes in Seattle are around 20 minutes, and get pretty uniformly longer as you get farther away from the city center. Based on that I think it seems fair to say that most of the hour-plus commuters live in the suburbs. Certainly there are exceptions such as yourself, but I don’t think it’s wrong to use the majority of long commuters as the intended audience for this post.

      • d.p. says

        The average commute for residents of the city proper is that short because less than 20% of city-proper residents commute by transit. Almost no one in this city has a commute that fast via transit.

      • David L says

        Depends where you are. Lots of the people in some of the neighborhoods where transit ridership is the heaviest (Fremont, the CD, inner Capitol Hill) have commutes that short. Some lucky people further out even have commutes that short (raises hand). But what is accurate, and sad, is that very few people have commutes that are shorter by transit than they would be by car. About the only ones are folks along Link and those who take I-5 express buses from the north end that can use the bus/carpool exits from the express lanes.

      • d.p. says

        Capitol Hill and C.D. service is so awful that the 20-minute-commute demarcation line is about at 12th Ave East, or even closer if your destination is more than a block or two from where the route hits downtown.

      • d.p. says

        Also, the commute includes the walk. So unless your 522 trip is literally door-to-door, you’re already exceeding the in-city average.

      • asdf says

        During evening rush hour, the 520 HOV lane allows get to get home from Microsoft faster than in a single-occupancy car (~35 minutes, door to door). But that’s only because I get off the bus as soon as it reaches 520 and Montlake and take a kick scooter the rest of the way. Making the entire trip using nothing but bus and walking would require an extra 10 minutes when the 542 is running, or an extra 15-20 minutes when it is not.

        The morning commute averages out to be about the same as driving, although the comparison can very each day, depending on how long I need to wait for the bus and how bad the traffic is getting on the freeway (because I ride my scooter all the way to the freeway, whatever traffic there is around there, I bypass it).

        Really though, the transit commute is not really about which mode is going to be 3-5 minutes faster on a given day. It’s about not being stressed out when the freeway is bumper to bumper, getting exercise during my commute each time I got to work, and saving a ton of money.

      • asdf says

        Here is my calculation of what Tonrix’s commute time to SLU would be with Link + kick scooter:

        1) Ride to station – 4 minutes
        2) Wait for train – 4 minutes (assuming 7.5 minute headways during peak)
        3) Ride train to Westlake – 20 minutes
        4) Walk up stairs to street level – 2 minutes
        5) Ride scooter to workspace in SLU – 10 minutes (including time spent waiting at stoplights)

        Total door to door travel time: 40 minutes

        Only if you walk or bus to Link and wait for the SLUT on the Westlake end does the time blow up to an hour or more.

        By contrast, while driving all the way could, in theory take under 15 minutes with no traffic, during peak commuting hours, in practice, there will be traffic. Add in 5 minutes for the usual slowdown through downtown, 10 minutes to get through the Mercer St. exit ramp, and another 10 minutes driving through the parking garage looking for a space and walking in from the parking garage, you are now up to 40 minutes each way.

        If done right, this commute can be accomplished just as quickly by transit as by car, under actual rush hour traffic conditions. If you choose to do it in a way that adds 15-20 minutes to your transit trip on top of this, that is your choice, not a choice imposed on you by the system.

      • Butch says

        It takes about an hour to get to Amazon from the heart of Mt Baker. 10-15 minutes to walk to light rail, 10 minutes to wait for a train, 21 minutes to get to Westlake, 10 minutes to change/walk to SLUT, 10 minute SLUT ride, a few minutes to walk to Amazon.

    • d.p. says

      …two blocks from the light rail line (but .75 miles from a station).

      Yeah, but isn’t it awesome that tourists can get to the airport and park-and-riders can get to the soccer game 35 seconds faster while you have to walk 15 minutes or take a bus to the station!? Totally makes sense, right?

      • asdf says

        With a bike or kick scooter, those 0.75 miles can be easily traversed in as little as 4 minutes, as MLK is extremely flat. (I personally prefer the kick scooter for riding transit with because you can fold it up and stick it under your seat). Unless you have some sort of disability, there is really no reason to waste 20 minutes out of your life waiting for the #8 to take you there.

        With the right attitude, being 0.75 miles away from a station is really not a big deal. I routinely ride my scooter much further than this to access a useful transit line that takes me where I want to go.

      • d.p. says

        This whole “wheeled transit to access in-city mass transit” thing that Seattleites endorse or defend absolutely drives me up the wall.

        It’s bullshit, plain and simple. If your starting point or your destination is within spitting distance of a mass-transit line, you shouldn’t have to use an entire additional transit mode just to get on it.

        That’s how simple trips turn into very laborious trips. That’s how people wind up back in their cars.

        There is only one word to describe mass transit systems that are built without understanding this: FAILURES.

      • asdf says

        No. A transit line that is designed for everybody along the line to be able to walk right out of their house and be on the bus/train in 5 minutes is a transit system that stops every few hundred feet which is, by necessity, a very slow transit line. Wider stop spacing is a big reason why Link will get you from Othello station to downtown in half the time that the 7 would take.

        And wheeled transit to reach the station is really not a big deal. You can buy a very good kick scooter online for about $200. When you’re on a bus or train, you can fold it up and store it under your seat. Folding and unfolding the scooter takes me about 10-15 seconds. Then, when you get off your bus or train, your scooter is right there, available for your transportation needs on the other end. This may not seem like a big deal if your commute is from Ranier Valley to the middle of downtown. But if you work in South Lake Union, it is a very big deal because having the scooter available and ready to go the instant you get off Link means you don’t have to stand around for 10-15 minutes waiting for the slut to show up.

        Yes, you can complain loudly that, including access time, Link takes too long. But that is simply a matter of your personal choice in how you reach the station. 15 minutes to reach the station is your choice, not anything imposed on you by the transit agency. And if you don’t like it, where you live is also your choice – there are apartments available right next to Link stations. (Although, for the premium you would have to pay to live there, you could buy yourself a brand new scooter every couple of months and still come out ahead).

      • d.p. says

        ASDF, you’re wrong.

        And every transit system on earth that tries to follow your model is wrong.

        On the other hand, every rapid transit system that stops every 1/2-7/8 mile in order to balance speed and access in urban areas is successful.

        [expletive]

      • d.p. says

        And by “every transit system on earth that follows your model”, I mean all the empty ones with nobody on them.

      • d.p. says

        Wider stop spacing is a big reason why Link will get you…

        And this is bullshit. Exclusive ROW and absolute signal priority makes the train faster.

        Extra stops add 30-45 seconds each. I never said there should be stops “every few hundred feet”, but way to straw-man me.

        But I guess it’s okay to cause a fatal wound to your walkshed and thus the utility of your entire system to save a few seconds here and there… because everybody can just carry fucking scooters everywhere!

        That is idiotic, ASDF.

      • David L says

        d.p., it is possible to argue against a point without descending into hyperbolic absurdity.

        Would Link serve the RV better with a Graham Street station? Of course.

        Is it unrealistic to ask people to rely on bikes to reach transit? Yes, especially in our climate.

        Does that mean Central Link is “empty”? Of course not, and claiming it is just hurts your credibility. Unless you define “empty” as anything that doesn’t resemble the B Line on a drunken Friday night.

      • d.p. says

        David, when the other party to the conversation has strongly advocated that mass transit at accessible walking distances is not needed because we should all just get scooters, I can hardly be accused of being the one to “descend into hyperbolic absurdity”.

        The truth is that walkshed-hobbled transit systems of the American variety — Denver, Dallas, the Bay Area, Miami — max out at usage rates that are in each case pathetic as a portion of trips even over the area directly served. Usage is low… because the lines are not particularly useful! Largely because they’re a pain to access, and there’s a pretty good chance your destination will be equally a pain to access on the other end.

        The full build-out of ST2 anticipates a couple of hundred thousand boardings per day, mostly in the form of commute trips to work. That makes it better than America’s worst systems, but in a region of a couple of million, with a city of 600,000 at the core, it’s not great either. But when viewed against the Sound Transit marketing push that spoke of a million possible newcomers to the region over the next 50 years, a couple hundred thousand one-way trips seem positively inconsequential.

        Lousy urban coverage will keep most urban trips off of transit in perpetuity. Mistakes like these are utterly indefensible, no matter how many scooters you throw at them!

      • Bernie says

        Nothing saying everyone has to carry a scooter. People who want front door service can buy it. People willing to work a little harder can live farther away. When those living farther away reach critical mass then transit expands. It’s a means to an end. In the interim it enables Metro to consolidate to routes it can serve effectively. I wouldn’t suggest that everyone should have to start and end their transit trip with a 10-20 minute walk (up hill both ways I might add :^). I can and consider myself luck to have it so good since it was my choice to live out here in my little house on the prairie. Ironically, in ST’s schizophrenic way of doing HCT in 10 years I’ll be within a mile of a light rail station :=

      • d.p. says

        Bernie, that’s a fair statement when regarding the suburbs (or the parts of Seattle that feel and act like suburbs): there’s no way to thoroughly serve the sprawl, which is why you put truly quality corridors where you can and rely on P&Rs for many others.

        But for actual urban movement — in an environment dense, consistently-built, and walkable enough to potentially serve with all-purpose transit — the calculus is different.

        And what’s steaming my knickers here is that yet again some Seattleite, this time ASDF, insists on re-litigating the measurements behind that calculus. Measurements that are known, understood, and accepted the world over.

        People will walk 10-15 minutes to reach exceptionally good transit (fast, frequent, grade-separated, gets them most anywhere). They’ll walk 5-8 minutes to reach pretty good transit (a reliable, frequent, but perhaps not terribly fast bus line). They might not be willing to walk more than 2 blocks for something laborious and offputting; thus the tyranny of Seattle’s one-seat rides!

        But crucially, that “exceptionally good” calculus does not allow you to start placing stops 20-30 minutes apart (1 – 1.5 miles) from one another. Because then your walkshed would look like this, and those even a block or two off of the line, like Tonrix, wind up without access to it.

        This is why it is well-accepted (in cities that don’t try to reinvent the godforscooting wheel) that your rapid transit line should have stops 1/2 – 7/8 mile (10-17 minutes walk) apart. If someone’s starting point is halfway between the stops and a few blocks laterally, they will still be able to reach the line in less than the comfortable maximum walking threshold.

        Again, these measurements are well-established. You violated them at the considerable risk of making your system a fringe mode of transit in your city! Sadly, Central/U-/North Link violates them repeatedly!

      • asdf says

        Each extra is stop is not just an extra 30 seconds. It’s 30 seconds with the doors open, plus additional time to accelerate and decelerate. The total time penalty is actually about 1 minute per stop at least. Convert the Ranier Valley from stops every 2 miles to stops every half mile and you add a total of 12 stops, increasing travel time by 12 minutes. This would double the time from downtown To Ranier Beach or increase travel time by 25% between downtown and the airport. This is not insignificant. Also, longer travel times mean you have to either increase your operating budget or cut frequency. Are you prepared to have the all-day frequency of Link cut from 10 minutes to 15 minutes to accommodate all your extra stops? And to pay back the capitol cost of constructing all those extra stations, maybe cutting back to 15 minutes isn’t enough – maybe you’d have to cut frequency back to 20.

        You may not like systems whose access require either a 20 minute walk or some form of wheeled transportation, but the fact of the matter is transit systems that are based on people using wheeled transportation to access them are significantly more efficient to operate than transit that tries to serve everybody’s front door. And they get people where they are going faster.

        You seem to dismiss any form of human-powered wheeled transportation as a means to access transit as unreasonable. But why? It is really not nearly as cumbersome as you make it out to be. If the need for spontaneous one-way trips is a concern, that is what a city bikeshare program is for.

        Obviously, there is a balance here. For instance, if Link were to have only one stop in the entire Ranier Valley, I would agree that the stop spacing is too much. But given that MLK is flat and has a smooth, wide sidewalk, I don’t think the existing stop spacing is a problem.

        The SLUT is a perfect example of transit that tries to operate on the scale of distances that compete with human-powered transportation, rather than motorized transportation. For far less money than what it cost to build and operate the SLUT, the city could have built a cycle track on Westlake, then given each and every person who lives or works in South Lake Union a new bicycle to ride it with.

      • says

        Link in the RV has stop spacing that’s a little too long; the SLU streetcar has stop spacing that’s way too short (though it hardly matters because it spends so much time stuck in traffic and at stoplights).

        I might not drop stop spacing all the way down to a 1/2-mi. in the RV, but I’d at least put a stop at Graham. It’s easy to build regional transit service that works well with wheeled transportation using buses since major office parks aren’t that far from freeways by kick-scooter (I nearly bought a kick-scooter when I worked in Canyon Park, a mile from the P&R, but the CT120 at the time had basically the same frequency/span as the 535 and took a similar amount of time to 535+scooter); grade-separated transit should be for bigger/harder/more impactful things!

      • Bernie says

        But for actual urban movement — in an environment dense, consistently-built, and walkable enough to potentially serve with all-purpose transit — the calculus is different.

        If Seattle was a dense, consistently-built and walkable environment things would look like your beloved Beantown. It’s not. It’s not going to be for a long long time and Metro’s policy of sub-mediocrity to everywhere assures that. In the mean time we fall back on what makes Seattle it’s own special snowflake; Goretex, lycra and human powered transit. Look on the bright side. It’s a uniting force between Seattle and suburbs like Bellevue, Lynnwood and Ballard :=

      • d.p. says

        It’s 30 seconds with the doors open, plus additional time to accelerate and decelerate.

        Why in the bloody hell would the doors ever need to be open for 30 seconds?

        The total time penalty is actually about 1 minute per stop at least.

        By that math, the current line would be spending 18 minutes stopped or stopping out of its 35-minute journey from Westlake to SeaTac.

        Do you really want to stick with that ridiculous claim?

        Convert the Ranier Valley…and you add a total of 12 stops.

        Again, math much? 16 stations on a 4-mile corridor would be just slightly closer than every 1/2 mile!

        The SLUT is a perfect example of…

        …of abusing strawmen. Because no one who has ever paid attention to my rantings on this blog would ever claim I thought the SLUT was good. But as Al says, even the SLUT loses far more time to lights between stops than to the too-close stops themselves.

        Argue all you want. But Graham residents and East Capitol Hill residents and Maple Leaf residents won’t be scootering to the train any time soon. They’ll be driving.

        (Even Lower Capitol Hill and North U-District residents will be wondering why the hell we spent so much money for something that proves less-than-convenient much of the time. Of course, someone will probably offer them another SLUT as a feeder line. It’s a grand cycle of waste!)

      • d.p. says

        And for the record, I’m not seriously suggesting adding three stations to the Rainier Valley, much less twelve.

        The 1.2 miles between Mt. Baker and Columbia City is 50% further than ideal, but given the paucity of cross-streets (or anything one can easily reach from MLK) between the two, it’s at least understandable.

        The 1 mile from Othello to Henderson is the very, very upper limit of what is acceptable under normal circumstances. That stretch has a grid, but is sparsely populated nonetheless, so the spacing is defensible.

        But there is no way to defend the 1.7 miles between Columbia City and Othello. This is a continuously populated area, with well-used cross streets that reach even more continuously populated areas. The omission of Graham is utterly egregious!

        I bring up the ideal 1/2-7/8 mile range again (and again, and again), in the hope that we’ll stop making this mistake every time we build something in the future. Your coming out of the woodwork with your Scooters For All campaign is a mind-blowing expression of ignorance and self-defeating anti-urbanism.

      • d.p. says

        p.p.s. I can’t begin to tell you how much I love bikeshare. It’s a world-changing option in cities where it operates. In even moderately nice weather, I use it constantly. I pine for it in Seattle, even though I know the helmet brigade will never allow it to succeed here.

        But bikeshare, like carshare, is not a mass-transit system. And suggesting it for the sake of last-mile access is a recipe for ensuring substandard bike availability: you’d have everyone riding the bikes one way in the morning and the other way in the evening.

        Bikeshare works when people move in various directions using them, for many types of trips, at many times. Last-mile-to-train-stop usage is the precise opposite of that.

      • Bernie says

        @d.p. The “scooters for all” campaign exists only in your own mind. asdf only offered it as his personal solution. I grant that the Graham Station holds as much merit as any of the other RV locations. I have a close relative that lives next door to Viet Wah. That neighborhood basically got screwed by Link. But none of the RV stations come close to the demand that warrants the billions wasted on light rail. Beacon Hill station cost as much as Capitol Hill and it’s an art museum in the middle of nowhere. Double down on stupid isn’t the answer.

      • Bernie says

        bikeshare. It’s a world-changing option

        Gimme a brake, world-changing??? Buying a bike is dirt cheap. How many people in the last say ten years have been arrested for “riding without a helmet” if they weren’t doing anything else wrong. I’ll bet the number is zero. Bikeshare works where, the terrain is flat and the charge is zero; which is zero percent of Seattle. Maybe you could put a 1,000 pink bikes available for free on the UW campus and they’d get used but it’s not “world-changing”.

      • d.p. says

        And I personally love getting over to RapidRide on my pogo stick.

        But if someone said this to me:

        I live in Seattle proper and own a townhouse two blocks from the light rail line (but .75 miles from a station). You’d think I’d have this awesome, short, transit-based commute, right?… My transit commute took an hour, one way.

        …I would never in a million years tell him that his concerns are invalid, because:

        With a pogo stick, those 0.75 miles can be easily traversed in as little as 4 minutes! Unless you have some sort of disability, there is really no reason to not to pogo stick everywhere.

        With the right attitude, being 0.75 miles away from a station is really just an excuse to pogo!

        ASDF wasn’t just offering an anecdote; he was offering a prescription. And he doubled down on that by claiming that all mass-transit lines should have r e a l l y w i d e stop spacing because, heck, most people really should consider pogo sticking biking or scooting as part of their everyday routines!

        It was a profoundly asinine response and deserving of the thorough debunking it has been given.

      • d.p. says

        From experience, Bernie, bike-share is quite liberating for certain types of spontaneous trips, in certain conditions, over certain distances.

        It is not a “last mile” solution, because such trips are unevenly weighted in a single direction, which is unscalable and unsustainable.

      • Bernie says

        It was a profoundly asinine response and deserving of the thorough debunking it has been given.

        Only in your own mind. It’s actually a prescription to make the best of what was a poorly considered route from the get go. Never in a 100 years should the first Seattle subway have been built from DT to Beacon Hill and a light rail line that’s supposed to be forward thinking bypass Boeing Field. But that’s where we are.

      • Bernie says

        in certain conditions, over certain distances.

        Which don’t exist in Seattle and certainly aren’t “world-changing”. If your inclined to ride a bike and it’s a great solution… you’ll own a bike. Not buying the helmet law excuse and neither are real bike riders.

      • Chris Stefan says

        Bernie,
        If you think Link ridership doesn’t justify the expense now, the situation would have been much worse if Link had been built through SODO and Georgetown instead. Sure it might have sped things up a bit for Airport or Federal Way riders but that is the same mistake BART and Denver have made.

        All that said the RV line has been built and is very much a sunk cost at this point. For the benefit a Graham St. station would provide, the rather minor cost can very likely be justified.

      • Bernie says

        Yes, the Central Link route is all water under Beacon Hill at this point. Ridership on the airport way/Georgetown segment would likely have been lower but the cost would have been so much less that we’d have been able to build two or three stops south of SEA. Seattle seems dead set against ever allowing commercial flights out of Boeing Field but if that ever changed terminal to terminal light rail would be huge. The Boeing Access Rd. infill station doesn’t really cut it, for anything; bus transfers, walkshed, TOD, you name it.

      • d.p. says

        Oy. Really, Bernie?

        You’re actually chastising Link for even attempting to serve a part of the city where people actually live, use transit, and walk where possible, rather than serving a now-minor Boeing facility and an airport that will never have passenger service (because SeaTac isn’t particularly overtaxed)?

        If that’s the case, then you really are just another [ad-hom] ignoring all fact and precedent and trying to rewrite the rules of basic transit geometry, just like ASDF with his every-stop-takes-over-a-minute-so-delete-them-all-and-buy-a-scooter thing.

      • Bernie says

        @d.p. You missed the part about the extra billion being used to extend into South King which also has very high transit usage. Of course it’s not quite as simple as that because of sub-area equity but DT to SEA was built with loans from east sub-area and during a period of generous federal grants. As for RV packing the light rail it hasn’t happened. The major demand is/was on Rainier not MLK which manages to miss Columbia City too. A line that connected to East Link and went to Renton (another one of those minor Boeing plants that produces Washington’s largest source of export dollars) would have been infinitely more useful. But hey, for that billion the handfull of RV residents that can walk or scooter to Link can now access the Beacon Hill jobs center and enjoy some really cool art along the way. And yeah, SEA is pretty much a ghost town and diverted flights because of weather never happen during the holidays in the PNW.

      • d.p. says

        DT to SEA was built with loans from east sub-area…

        You keep making this claim over and over, especially when you try to make the case for Seattle funding parts of East Link directly (no loans, no payback, ever). Sadly for you, there’s no evidence whatsoever to support your version of history. You’re just making it up! Just like your insistent (yet repeatedly disproven) claim that suburban tax collections subsidize Metro’s Seattle service: 100% not true!

        during a period of generous federal grants.

        Listen, we both agree that the real demand was on Rainier, and that Link should have served that corridor directly. Of course that certainly would have meant going underground, so then you’d be complaining that it was even more expensive. MLK ridership, meanwhile, would certainly be better without the massive gaps making it impossible to walk to laterally and therefore a less-than-desirable option for most of the valley.

        That said… there are reasons that Central Link was eligible for federal money and East Link isn’t. Part of it is the expense, which was far lower per mile and far lower per potential rider. Part of it is the existence of walksheds of any sort in the city; lousy walksheds on the Eastside guarantee little off-peak usage. Part of it is the speed differential; Central Link is indisputably 2x or 3x faster to SE Seattle than any pre-existing option, including driving a personal vehicle. Aside from the counter-commute direction at the height of rush hour, East Link will be only slightly faster than the bus.

        The federal algorithms aren’t perfect and are sometimes counterproductive — I happen to believe that East Link is necessary given the counterpeak bottleneck and 405/Bellevue Way congestion — but they do have their own rational-basis reasoning, and East Link doesn’t meet them. Maybe if East Link’s station-plotting weren’t so awful, it would have the estimated ridership numbers to actually earn some funds from the fed.

        Boeing plants that produce Washington’s largest source of export dollars)

        Yes, you’ve made very clear that you’re an old-school Puget Sounder who takes sentimental pride in our aerospace industry. Sadly, Boeing and its industry peers don’t give a shit about transit, never have, and never will. They don’t care if their employees can get to work without a car; they don’t actually care about their employees at all, which is why they’re always going out of their way to dick over their labor unions and to scam tax dodges from the state.

        The first rule of building transit is that you don’t go out of your way to serve places that don’t want it in the first place.

      • Chris Stefan says

        Bernie,
        BTW Boeing Renton really doesn’t have that many people working at it anymore, certainly nothing on the scale of the UW or Microsoft.

        Also I think there are all of about 500 Boeing workers left at or near Boeing field.

        Boeing needs far fewer people to build a plane these days, Of the ones left they’ve shifted around the various Boeing facilities a bit over the past 20 years or so.

      • Bernie says

        Boeing Field is much more than just Boeing:

        Boeing Field ranks among the most successful public investments in state history. The airport’s economic impact is $3.2 billion in terms of local business sales that support 12,618 jobs and create $804 million in labor income in the county. The airport’s 150 tenant businesses also directly support 4,900 jobs in the local economy.

        Boeing Renton is running 3 lines around the clock. There’s also KW and all of Renton City employees, major retail, industrial supply, tons of new housing. But no, it’s not UW or Microsoft or the Pentagon so let’s just all sink back into reality disconnect mode where no references required.

      • d.p. says

        Those co-located businesses still don’t give a crap about transit. They simply have no interest in it. At all.

        Also, the King County airport claims to support 12,618 jobs. Many or most of those 12,619 will be secondary jobs (supplier, freight, etc.) located nowhere near the airport.

        SeaTac airport moves 33 million passengers a year. There’s a reason why people find it regionally desirable (sometimes at great cost) to connect their airports to mass transit, while few general-aviation airfields and even fewer sprawling (read: low jobs-per-square mile) industrial areas require the same intensity of transit-service attention.

        You’re really straining on this one, Bernie.

      • Bernie says

        After looking though all the ST budget documents I could pull up online from 2002-2004 where they talk about inter-subarea loans it came to me that the billion dollars savings from not tunneling wouldn’t and shouldn’t have been put toward extending south from SEA. It could have been used to complete the original Phase I plan of SEA to UW. Yes, the $1.1B “savings” ST claims from changing the scope from SEA to UW to SEA to DT would have meant UW would be operating now. Take ST ridership numbers and divide by the real world fudge factor of 2 and we’d have Central Link running today with 50-60k riders per day and Northgate opening in 2016. And now back to your regularly scheduled alternate reality sponsored by the great taste of ST Kool-aid.

      • Mike Orr says

        “The major demand is/was on Rainier not MLK which manages to miss Columbia City too.”

        What about will be? The fact that Link is on MLK and there’s underdeveloped land on MLK means that it will eventually densify. Already Othello is becoming a new neighborhood. I don’t know whether MLK’s population or trips will ever match Rainier’s but it’s possible, and even if it doesn’t it’s likely to grow enough to make MLK-Link look more reasonable. And it’s not like ST didn’t consider putting Link on Rainier. That was its first choice, but it determined that Rainier was too narrow and congested to support a surface line, and that building a tunnel there would be too disruptive.

      • d.p. says

        Of course, it could do that much better if it served the corridor and its environs continuously and accessibly, rather than isolating arbitrary nodes 1.7 miles from each other.

        And though I somewhat agree with you here (certainly over Bernie’s lust for serving industrial sprawl with nothing but a handful of regimented-shift-change jobs), I can’t begin to express how much I’d love to see you stop taking

        but it determined that…

        at face value.

        Sound Transit is an agency that responds more to political conventional wisdom (both expressed and presumed) more than to service needs. It has largely, through much of its existence, been a reactive presence, often to all of our detriment. And it has a history of citing one rationale for a decision (“soil conditions”) when the truth is another (fear of political fallout, even when no such fallout has been threatened).

        “It determined that…” is frequently followed by a series of words that are not to be believed.

  5. Mike says

    You made a false comparison assuming that there was a zero minute commute to be had by living closer to work. I would use. 30 minutes as a base line and redo your math.

    • Matt Gangemi says

      I used a 50% time savings when calculating how much extra you could earn by working, since the new commute won’t be zero. The others were not comparisons, and were simply calculating the cost of your commute. I know people are commuting 90+ minutes currently – I don’t know what their new commute will be.

      That said, I don’t believe I used only half the time for the vacation calculation. I’ll fix that.

  6. Zach Shaner says

    In my own case it was miserable but worth it. When I worked at Pierce Transit, commuting 40 miles each way for 1.5 years gave me my first real transit-related job experience and opened me to hundreds of new professional connections. My wife worked in downtown Seattle, and in our case staying in Madrona and having one megacommute while staying close to family and friends was far superior to splitting the difference (living in Kent, Puyallup, etc) just for the sake of reducing commute times. It was still a huge strain on our relationship, and I hope to never do it again, but it was worth it.

    I always knew it’d be temporary, and I suspect a lot of megacommuters are in similar situations of being on contract work or some other scenario not worth upending their lives for. In a tough job market beggars can’t be choosers, and the tradeoff of accepting a long commute is worth having a job. Demonetizing the value of one’s time isn’t ideal, but it can be done while keeping the bills paid and keeping one’s career path on track; stubbornly refusing to commute only works if you have enough capital to make the initial investment to live closer in; even though it might be cheaper in the long run, from a cash flow perspective it might be prohibitive.

    • Bernie says

      commuting 40 miles each way for 1.5 years gave me my first real transit-related job experience

      There’s some real irony in that. Not the least of which is that driving 40 miles likely took you less time than my 7 mile commute using transit.

      • Zach Shaner says

        Actually I rode deadhead 59x buses for free, so it was a 50-minute, 40 mile ride. Compare that to my current 2.5 mile commute that takes 30 minutes by bus.

  7. Will Douglas says

    The problem with this post is it assumes there is a free choice, and as with most situations, there is not.

    Seattle is not really an affordable city in which to live for people trying to raise a family unless your combined household income is $100,000 at minimum. Even that is probably not enough to comfortably afford the median single-family home of about $400,000. The median income of $61,000 is certainly not enough to afford purchasing a home, and increasingly is not sufficient to afford renting a home particularly if there are children in the household. With lower housing prices further out that is a compelling draw especially in a time where jobs do not last for decades and where wages are not rising over the course of a career like they used to.

    Some will rightly ask “well why do these people need a single-family home?” The problem, as the Seattle Planning Commission has identified, is that there are very few 3BR apartments and/or condos being built in Seattle. I currently live in a 2BR apartment in Wallingford and like it a lot. If my wife and I had a child we would probably stay here for some time. But if we had a second child this would be totally unworkable. We would like to stay in the neighborhood but don’t make nearly enough money to afford Wallingford prices, there aren’t very many new townhomes being built, and 3BR apartments are nowhere to be found. So we would probably have to join others our age and move to suburban Seattle – places like West Seattle or the areas between 85th and 145th. Those are less urban and less desirable but the existing housing stock in the more urban areas isn’t affordable.

    At that point, a lot of families decide “well hell, if we’re going to have to live in a suburban-style neighborhood, why not buy something we can more easily afford?” It’s an entirely reasonable thing to decide because, and this point is key, the cost of housing is more important in terms of deciding where one lives than the cost of commuting.

    When people are looking at how to make ends meet each month, a higher rent or mortgage payment becomes a serious challenge, whereas a megacommute does not have nearly the same impact on a month-to-month basis. Matt’s point about the long-term savings is important and accurate, but it’s also too abstracted and unreflective of the daily lived realities of most families. If you can’t afford to write a check for a mortgage or rent in a neighborhood with a shorter commute, then you simply cannot live there. A megacommute may eat into other spending, but it’s not going to make you broke at the end of the month and it’s not going to risk you getting a foreclosure or an eviction notice.

    The solutions here involve structural and policy choices, not individual choices. Cities need to more actively promote townhomes and apartment/condos with 3BR options. Subsidies and/or tax breaks may be required for that to happen. The “gated city” problems of anti-housing planning rules that people like Ryan Avent have identified also need to be addressed. Wages need to rise, and that involves policies to tax capital gains as well as corporate and CEO profits so as to incentivize companies putting profits into worker paychecks rather than into the pockets of the elite. New sprawl should be strictly banned, but existing suburbs need to see policy changes so they become more walkable and better served by transit that connects them to job centers.

    You can tell people “you’re making a bad choice” all you want to, and even though you are right that a megacommute is not smart financially, it exists because our wage and land use policies currently make it the only “choice” many people have open to them.

    • Matt Gangemi says

      “You can tell people “you’re making a bad choice” all you want to”

      Hey now, don’t be putting words in my mouth. Lives are far too complex for me to judge other people. I’m just offering some numbers.

      “This isn’t a “wrong” choice, and you’re welcome to it.”

      • Jack says

        Matt, it’s disingenuous to say you’re “just offering some numbers” when the title of the article is: Appeal to Megacommuters. It’s obvious your bias just looking at the math.

        Fact is for about $7500/yr and an extra 10 hours a week someone with a $61K job can have a sizable home in the suburbs and raise a family with decent schools and amenities.

    • Bernie says

      The fallacy here is that you have to be able to afford a median price home. Not everyone can, or needs to live like a Microsoft millionaire. A quick search of Zillow for 3+ bedroom homes at $250k or less brings up 114 current in city listings. And this at a time when market inventory is near record low. All the whining about how expensive Seattle is just doesn’t wash when compared to other cities in the US. A recent survey of rental affordability had Seattle as only the 49th most expensive city for renters.

      • Will Douglas says

        Where in Seattle are those places located? In my experience they’re usually in less transit-friendly areas such as far northern Seattle (above 85th). So you wouldn’t have a megacommute but you would probably still have to drive to get to work.

      • David L says

        Most of those listings are in teardown condition. The few that aren’t are in the following areas:

        - Delridge
        - Poorer portions of the Rainier Valley
        - Pigeon Point (valley)
        - White Center

        For a three-bedroom house in livable condition anywhere north of the Ship Canal you are looking at $325,000-$350,000.

      • Bernie says

        Right, sure wouldn’t want to buy a 1st home anywhere near Seattle’s light rail. Sorry, affordable doesn’t mean you can afford a big new home in any neighborhood you want. But if you can bear the burden of only having two bedrooms you can buy a $250k home in Greenwood. You have to put some sweat equity into it? Oh the horror.

      • David L says

        If you’re near the light rail, you can’t buy for under at least $300k.

        The affordable SFH in the RV are far away from the light rail and close to crime hotspots (Rose, Cloverdale, Orcas).

        And sweat equity is one thing, but every SFH I’ve seen in the north end for those low prices is in teardown condition. That’s not something you can deal with by spending a few weekends doing DIY. It costs real money.

      • Possibly ignorant says

        Bernie you are completely ignoring one key factor: value.

        Who cares if you can buy a house for 330k in a desirable part of city if you don’t feel that you are getting your money’s worth?

      • Bernie says

        The market determines value. Doesn’t matter if you think it’s not worth it when there are 10 other people lined up to buy it. You don’t get to reshape the market to match your values. Very few people buy the “perfect home”. You accept a compromise on what you think is most important at a price you can afford or you don’t buy. If nobody buys then the seller lowers the price.

      • Possibly ignorant says

        You completely missed the point. I was referring to individuals. You are the one placing values on others, by telling them where they should live based on your values.

        If someone feels they get better value by having a longer commute, then that is on them.

    • Eric says

      When people are looking at how to make ends meet each month, a higher rent or mortgage payment becomes a serious challenge, whereas a megacommute does not have nearly the same impact on a month-to-month basis.

      How do you figure? You pay rent or mortgage monthly, and you pay to put gas in your car even more frequently than that if you’re doing a long commute by car. Suppose you move 20 miles farther from your workplace. That’s about 800 extra miles of commuting a month. If your car gets 30 MPG and gas costs $4.00/gallon, that’s over $100/month extra. Add in an extra oil change every four months and whatever other additional car maintenance, and you’re probably at $150/month extra without even considering depreciation on your car.

      Now, you may well find that you save more than $150/month in housing costs by moving farther away. In that case, making that move is the perfectly rational thing to do if you value quantity of living space more than commute time. If our gas tax more accurately reflected the cost of road maintenance and environmental damage caused by driving, and our zoning code allowed for the creation of more dwelling units at a lower price within the city, moving to the suburbs might not be rational quite as often.

      You say two children in a two-bedroom home is “totally unworkable.” Is it, really? Kids sharing bedrooms is somewhat rarer these days, but I know my mom grew up in a house with seven people, four bedrooms, and a single bathroom. She and her siblings somehow turned out fine. My two sisters shared a bedroom for most of their childhood as well. They also survived. Do you suppose that your hypothetical kids might benefit more from having an extra hour each day with their parents than they would benefit from having their own bedrooms? Just a thought.

      • asdf says

        Megacommuters don’t necessarily need to drive the entire way, especially if the work in the city and live in the suburbs, rather than other way around. Yes, they might have to drive 10-20 miles to the nearest P&R lot with fast, regular service to the city, but that is still better than driving all the way into the city every day.

    • djw says

      Seattle is not really an affordable city in which to live for people trying to raise a family

      Again, this explains why some people choose to have long, obnoxious commutes from the suburbs, but not megacommutes. A megacommute to downtown Seattle means you have to be further away than Lakewood, North Bend, Gig Harbor, Arlington, or Buckley. No one who works in downtown Seattle has a megacommute because Seattle is expensive.

      • RossB says

        Yes, this has nothing to do with megacommutes. Megacommuting is a bizarre, but ultimately less meaningful segment of the population. I am far more interested in folks that do a bad, long commute instead of a reasonable commute from the city.

        My guess is that most of those folks do so out of ignorance. Think about it. You come from Detroit (a very big city) or L. A. (even bigger) and arrive in Seattle, just given that $60,000 a year job. Where to live. Oh, Greenlake looks nice. Yowzer, $450,000 for a three bedroom. Out of my range. Hmmm, Rainier Beach, huh. $300,000. That sounds pretty good. Oh my, black people. I know what that means. I guess I have to head out of the city. Shoreline here I come.

        I’m not suggesting this is white people who hate black people. I’ve met plenty of black people who make the same assumptions. They are used to cities that have horrible slums, and they assume that we do too. They don’t know that our slums are basically laughable to someone who has spent time in L. A., Saint Louis, Detroit, etc. The Seattle Times ran an article about someone who considered moving from Portland to Seattle, thought about moving to West Seattle, but read about some crime there and freaked out. West Seattle! These places are not scary, but if you encounter crime there, you assume it is the neighborhood. But in Lynnwood, it is an aberration.

        This article is good because it does the math and puts some things into perspective. It is easy to assume that because you can buy “more house” in the suburbs, that it pays for itself, even if you have a nasty commute. But people don’t do the same math when it comes to safety. They know of places that are bad (perhaps they’ve seen too many episodes of “The Wire” or remember the 70′s far too well) and assume that every city is like that. They don’t realize that living in the suburbs is more dangerous (more driving). More importantly, they don’t even do the numbers.

        Of course, some people do. These are the folks that ran the numbers thirty years ago, and now they sit on a house in the C. D. worth three times what they paid. Somewhere someone is doing the same thing in Rainier Valley and laughing at the guys who commutes from Lynnwood.

      • says

        City vs. suburb is an outmoded distinction in this case. One can live very affordably within Seattle city limits (Delridge, Rainier valley). One can spend a fortune on housing in the suburbs, such as Bellevue or Woodinville. Or can can live cheaply in other suburbs, such as Tukwila or Auburn. At any particular distance from downtown, you can find cheap places or expensive places to live.

      • Bernie says

        City vs. suburb is an outmoded distinction in this case. One can live very affordably within Seattle city limits (Delridge, Rainier valley). One can spend a fortune on housing in the suburbs, such as Bellevue or Woodinville.

        Very true although the urbanistas when push comes to shove don’t want to live in any of the affordable areas of Seattle even though it has great schools, transit and we’re to believe safer than the ‘burbs… go figure. But to put a finer point on it, you can still buy in Woodinville for well below the median price in King County (Bellevue, not so much). I have a house in Woodinville, 910 sq-ft 3 bdrm 1 bath with 600 sq-ft drive-in basement/shop on a shy 1/2 acre I’ll sell you for the current median of ~$311,100. It could use a new roof which I’d include with a cash out offer. It’s not a fixer upper and has a current stable renter. Full disclosure, that $311k price tag is $100k more than the assessed value.

      • djw says

        the urbanistas when push comes to shove don’t want to live in any of the affordable areas of Seattle even though it has great schools, transit and we’re to believe safer than the ‘burbs… go figure.

        Is urbanista some sort of term of art I’m not familiar with here? I would assume I’m one (I strongly prefer urban life to the available alternatives) and when faced with this choice, I elected to live in what was then a pretty affordable (and very diverse) part of Seattle. Many of my neighbors were similar to me in this regard. Are we not “urbanistas”?

      • Bernie says

        Obviously may people do choose to live in all parts of Seattle; true urbanists. Urbanistas on the other hand find some reason to make most of the city, too rich, too poor, too not exactly this very moment just like the ideal they have of urban living. They’ll celebrate diversity but don’t want to be part of it.

  8. mic says

    The comparison is not as purple and white as the graph indicates. Every time/distance problem has a speed component, which is left out here.
    Look at four typical urban bus routes in time to get to downtown at ~8am:
    MT3 = 49 min
    MT7 = 34 min
    MT18= 39 min
    MT71= 45 min
    Now look at all the mid-purple areas on the map between 30-45 min average commute.
    The line is more blurred than simply saying living in the city is better than living in the suburbs because…
    Bus operation are measured in time spent ($$/hr operating cost). Brent has had some good observations on the two zone system, and what can clearly pass the duck test on what a premium service would be (peak only, no stops, exurbs to CBD, etc)
    It’s worth considering the time spent on transit (ie resources deployed), and not just say the distance from A-B is shorter, therefore better.

    • David L says

      You’re badly exaggerating to make your point.

      First, your 3 number is totally wrong. Downtown is in the middle of the 3, not at the end. It takes 23 minutes from the extreme north end of the 3 and 26 minutes from the extreme east end.

      Second, you’re assuming that everyone is traveling from a terminal to the very farthest end of downtown. Most people are traveling from high-volume stops to the middle of downtown.

      Using myself as an example, the 522 takes 59 minutes to get from one end of the route to the other at that time of morning, but my commute (125th/LCW to 4th/Union) typically takes about 17 minutes.

      • mic says

        Nit-Picking doesn’t change the premise. Yeah, my MT3 number is way off (I added instead of subtracting, I think), but the other times aren’t even from the extremity, like MT7, where I used Henderson instead of Prentice.
        Let’s take the MT4 from Judkins to 3/Pine. That’s 32 minutes.
        Now look at Issaquah Highland TC to Union. That’s 32 minutes.
        That’s the whole point.
        and, why many choose to locate somewhere else, other than Seattle.
        At least acknowledge that much before defending “Seattle Good, everywhere else Bad”.

      • David L says

        You’re still missing the point. Why would anyone take the 4 from Judkins Park when there is the 7X (or a few blocks’ walk to Link)? People are getting on the 4 along Jefferson Street, where the commute isn’t that long, not in Judkins Park.

        This isn’t to say the 4 (or anything in its area) is a good bus line, just that you’re exaggerating the problem.

    • d.p. says

      Best to make the transit not awful over short in-city distances, and to stop encouraging long commutes by giving the boonies significantly better service at cut-rate prices.

      • Bernie says

        The whole reason that happened is because Seattle Transit (don’t have the grammatically correct name) was failing. Metro was formed so that money from the ‘burbs could bail out Seattle Transit. In exchange about 80 cents of every tax dollar collected from da ‘burbs went back to da ‘burbs and Seattle got it’s 20% surcharge to stay alive. And there you have the genesis of massively inefficient yet ubiquitous public transit in King County.

      • d.p. says

        Yes, I’m aware of the history.

        Of course, then I-695 happened and Metro cut the shit out of city service.

        And then 40-40-20 happened, so all through the booming 2000s Metro never got to restore anything in the city.

        And then the 2008 crash happened, so all of our TransitNow funds got sucked into the status quo black hole.

        And so the goings-on of 1973 are not terribly relevant to the current predicament.

      • Bernie says

        You’re missing the history entirely. The 80/20 split was the deal with the devil from the get go. Seattle has actually gotten more than their 20% kickback from suburban service since day one.

        the 2008 crash happened

        The reduction in the assumed rate of increase in revenue is very relevant to today’s problems. Seattle’s bus service was based on the idea back in the 70′s that Seattle would remain the center of the job universe. Then shit happened.

      • d.p. says

        None of that changes the fact that Seattle has less service presently than it had in 1973, when the county took it over. So A) you can’t claim the shrunken system would still be insolvent under the city’s separated purvue today; and B) thanks to 695, Seattle has been, in the aggregate, a loser for service under county management.

        As for your second point, it has been hashed out dozens of times, with the conclusion being that we have a de facto subarea equity: at present, neither the city nor the suburbs are subsidizing the other. You gate the empty, inefficient service at the same rate you pay in, and we get the overtaxed, slowpoke service at the same rate that we pay in.

        (Never mind that we subsidize a whole lot of other county services that we don’t get to use.)

      • Bernie says

        Wrong, suburbs still subsidize Seattle bus service. That or the money just disappears into a giant county government black hole which is also possible. Seattle has much better service than it did when Metro was founded to preclude the elimination of all Seattle transit service. As for county subsidized services yes; all the cities subsidizes unincorporated King County. That’s why there’s a push for east King County cities to incorporate the rest of the county.

      • d.p. says

        It’s been calculated and calculated and calculated again. The suburbs do not subsidize Seattle service hours. You’re just wrong.

  9. Bernie says

    The people I’ve known with mega commutes have done so for the style of living, not necessarily a bigger house. They also had other than 9-5 jobs. One a salesman that was in the office maybe once a week. Another a teacher that didn’t have to work summers and never had to deal with peak commute times. A third a fireman that because of the shifts only commutes half as much. Really, it has to be a choice since Monroe is 33 miles from Seattle, Tacoma 35 miles, Everett 28 miles, Marysville 34 miles, North Bend only 30 miles.

  10. Zed says

    If I drove to work instead of taking the bus my commute would be cut in half. I guess I’m making the wrong choice by taking transit.

    • Bernie says

      The bus is a 4X hit for me vs driving (1 hr+ vs <15 min.). Fortunately I can bike about 1/3 of the time (~35 min.) without having to ride in the dark or the rain. That ratio will increase if/when Kirkland opens the Cross Kirkland trail. People like to bash the "one seat ride" but the fact is the on time performance of KC Metro is so abysmal that very few choice riders will put up with a transfer that can add 15-30 minutes each way.

      • d.p. says

        People bash the one-seat network structure because it contributes to abysmal on-time performance and extremely long transfer waits.

        That said, you can’t half-ass an attempted switch from one-seats to a transfer-based network, as the botched Ballard/West Seattle restructure so amply proved.

      • asdf says

        This is where Car2Go comes in. When you reach your transfer point, you pull out OneBusAway. If the connecting bus is coming soon, you wait for it. If the wait is long, or longer than your schedule can afford, you walk to the nearest car and drive the rest of the way.

      • Bernie says

        There are some simple fixes. First, don’t publish schedules that you absolutely know are impossible to keep. Metro has the real time data… just stop publishing fairy tale schedules. Second, consolidate routes on fewer corridors. In my case I’d happily walk an extra five minutes for 15 min. frequency on Bel-Red instead of 30 minutes on Northup. Reliable service like that would make my door to door bus commute just under an hour but 30 minutes of that would be walking which is, A) reliable and B) has intrinsic value vs waiting for a bus, missing transfers and ending up with a 30 minute walk anyway because I end up taking a different bus.

      • d.p. says

        Metro actually built a ridiculous amount of padding into the 40 and RapidRide schedules. This is problematic too, because every third bus is massively early and because OneBusAway winds up useless (it can’t compensate for the 5-minutes-to-go-one-block method of padding).

        You’re absolutely correct on consolidation, though, which also helps reliability by encouraging straighter routes and by better absorbing demand spikes. There’s a difference between making a longer PERPENDICULAR walk to a better and more frequent trunk route, and having to use a damned scooter to travel a mile PARALLEL to the mass-transit service, as ASDF fallaciously endorses.

        ASDF: I love car2go, but it’s not a mass-transit system. A scooter is not a mass-transit system. A bike is REALLY not a mass-transit system, especially if you selfishly expect to mount it on the front of one. I really hope this isn’t the kind of logic on which the future of Microsoft viability relies.

  11. Brent says

    I would be happy for Congress to simply get rid of the tax break on second mortgages. I don’t blame the supercommuters for living where they can afford to live, having one partner supercommute, and the other live close to work. (I get the distinct impression that Matt is not thinking in terms of two-earner families.)

    I don’t really like the idea of more and more people owning two separate homes in order to cut down commute time. That comes with a carbon footprint of crowding out housing supply, and does nothing to help non-millionaires.

    I was once a supercommuter for several months (by virtue of a 2-hour, 3-seat bus ride) while working in west SeaTac. I opted not to move near my job, in part, because basic necessities would have been at least a bus ride away. FWIW, Link + 156 would have turned that commute into a more tolerable hour to an hour and a half, but only if my shift started after 6 a.m., enabling me to make the decision to live far from work (if you consider 15 miles “far”).

    • Bernie says

      I’d support phasing out the deduction for a second mortgage just because the federal government needs to reduce it’s debt and granting a tax incentive for taking on more debt seems sort of bassackard.

    • David L says

      (I get the distinct impression that Matt is not thinking in terms of two-earner families.)

      Seconded. The people I know who have megacommutes are all, without exception, one half of a two-income family where the other person lives at least reasonably close to work.

      In today’s specialized world, you often don’t get to choose where your job is. That’s fine for singles, who can move to be near their job, and for couples lucky enough to get jobs in the same place. It sucks for people who have the misfortune of getting jobs 2 hours apart.

  12. John Bailo says

    Given this..the Sounder/ST model of regional transit seems far more useful to the citizens of Washington then the exorbitant city rail, density and tunneling schemes of Seattle.

    Fast, low cost regional rail with shuttles to suburban work parks should be the emphasis, not apodments and cramped urban “in fill”.

      • Brent says

        Done. Kent. But unlike some in Capitol Hill, Roosevelt, and whoever decided not to open up the whole of the CLink for the Timbers Army today, I welcome outsiders to partake of Seattle.

      • John Bailo says

        Ideally Seattle will remove all permanent residents and turn into combo Disneyworld/Las Vegas casino where it is so expensive you can only time share for a week or two. Apodment towers evolve into luxury hotels and what used to be the Northwest Lifestyle is now packaged and priced accordingly. Salmon reaches the price of caviar, while the ever more rare Seattle Native becomes outdoor concierge to RV vacationers and schoolgroups from a newly reunified Korea.

      • d.p. says

        Ah, the good old “no one wants to live there because it’s too desirable” argument. A classic.

      • djw says

        I know. John remains unable to comprehend that prices are high because of demand. I will never cease being surprised at the degree to which conservatives understand and appreciate the fundamentals of markets and capitalism so much less than a socialist like me.

    • mic says

      Having lived both 2 blocks from the Kent CR station and 2 blocks from QA/Mercer gives me a strong preference for city living with all the amenities.
      In reality, moving to Kent made purchasing a 100 year old Victorian feasible, whereas moving to a similar house in QA would have been more than double the price and left me stuck in an apartment forever.
      In a perfect world, transit would be fast, frequent, and tilt the scales on paying more, but unfortunately, that’s rarely the case.
      It’s hard to get too excited about 1 in 122 workers as ‘MegaCommuters’, as .008 makes them ‘outliers’ (pun intended).

    • David L says

      I can’t imagine a more horrible fate than working in a “suburban work park” where I can’t even go to lunch without driving. I’ll take my downtown job, crowded commute and all.

      • Bernie says

        My suburban work park has a Fred Meyer, a QFC, Subway, Mediterranean Kitchen, 5 Guys Burgers, Taco Crime, Wendy’s/Burger Whop/MickyD’s, Olive Garden and Azteca, Pizza, Sushi, Tai and food trucks all within a 5 minute walk. Sure glad I don’t work DT with that crazy commute across the lake.

      • John Bailo says

        There are Old School and New School suburbs…you’re mos def old school.

        Here’s the dining at Kent Station:

        Banyan Tree
        Cal’s Classic American
        Chipotle Mexican Grill
        Cold Stone Creamery
        Cow Chip Cookies
        Dilettante Mocha & Espresso Cafe
        Duke’s Chowder House
        Extreme Pita
        Jamba Juice
        Johnny Rockets
        Mama Stortini’s Restaurant & Bar
        Naked Pizza
        O Pho & Teriyaki
        Panera Bread Co.
        Ram Restaurant & Brewery
        Reds Wine Bar
        See’s Candies
        Trapper’s Sushi

        http://www.kentstation.com/Dine-DiningEngine2/Index.htm

      • David L says

        Nice lists. They look about like what I’ve got in just the two blocks nearest my office, except with more chains and fewer independent eateries. And downtown has a whole lot more than just two blocks.

      • Bernie says

        It must be better DT because half a croissant and a bottled water costs $20! Too bad the banker lawyer crowd plus the exorbitant rents preclude a wider range of choices. But hey, who can put a price tag on urban chic. If you’re really lucky you can ride a streetcar on you lunch break. That alone makes it worthwhile.

      • David L says

        If you want cheap, the prices at all the fast food places downtown (except those inside Westlake Mall) are the same as they are anywhere else. There are also plenty of independent fast-food-like joints that aren’t too expensive. When I buy lunch, unless I’m out with someone, I rarely spend more than $7-$8, and I could make that cheaper if I had to.

      • Chris Stefan says

        Bernie,
        I’m not sure where you’ve eaten in Downtown Seattle, but there are certainly plenty of lunch choices in the same price range you’ll find in Overlake. Even better the range of options in a fairly short walk is much better than anywhere, even Downtown Bellevue.

        There are plenty of good/cheap ethnic food options and a burger at one of the many bars won’t cost any more than at TGI Friday’s or Chili’s.

      • Orv says

        That’s true. It takes some digging but you can eat pretty cheaply in most Seattle neighborhoods. Where you’ll get hurt (besides housing costs) are basic needs like groceries and gas.

      • Scott Stidell says

        (re-posted from below where the original post mysteriously went)

        Heh, Bernie–my office in Doha has most of those places nearby as well. There’s a reason the expat community refers to it as “cholesterol corner.” Same goes for you, John B–most of those places on your Kent Station list are chains found everywhere on earth and there are at least three on that list that I can hit with a rock from the front door of the office in Qatar. This in a decidedly low-density area in an extremely car-oriented community. Add the myriad local places and you’re far better off for choices in Doha than in Kent or DT Bellevue (where I also work).

        DT Seattle has that beat all to hell.

      • Mike Orr says

        Most office parks do not have a Fred Meyer nearby and are not within walking distance of Kent Station. That’s the problem. Look at the tons of office parks on Northup Way in Bellevue or 68th and 64th in Kent. Walking to lunch is not an option, and taking a bus to work is feasable only from a very limited area if at all.

      • Bernie says

        There’s lots of businesses in Seattle that aren’t walkable either, Take East Marginal Way for example. I’ve worked in three office parks over the last 20 years. DT Redmond across the Slough from the Opportunity Building was great and like Totem Lake was walking distance from a transit center. The worst was Redmond Woods across the street from Nintendo. It was wedged between the apartments/condos west of 148th and the vast Microsoftie only campus to the east. It did have decent transit access to 520 and now has RR B on 148th. And also has the 520 bike trail and the Bridle Trails Connector for bike access. It’s hit and miss with most companies caring little about anything but the cost of the lease. I think businesses that choose to locate near DT tend to be more image oriented; architects, lawyers, advertising execs, et al.

      • asdf says

        Microsoft feeds its employees in cafeterias on site, so there is little reason to go off-site for lunch most days. Finding dinner near Microsoft is much more difficult. It usually requires a bus ride; however, on weekday afternoons, buses generally run frequently enough so it’s not too big of an ordeal. Crossroads Mall, Redmond Town Center, and the Bellevue Whole Foods are all within a 10-15 minute bus ride from main campus on bus with 10-15 minute headways.

    • John Bailo says

      Regional Rail:

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Regional_rail

      Regional rail, also known as local trains and stopping trains are passenger rail services that operate between towns and cities. These trains operate with more stops over shorter distances than inter-city rail, but fewer stops and faster service than commuter rail.

      Regional rail services operate beyond the limits of urban areas, and either connect similarly sized smaller cities and towns, or cities and surrounding towns, outside or at the outer rim of a suburban belt.

  13. asdf says

    One common source of megacommuters is not employees, but employers, who want a huge corporate campus with lots of room to expand out somewhere where land is very cheap. This gives the employees a choice – they can either live close to work and have a very long car commute to everywhere else. Or they can live in the city where non-work stuff is easily accessible, but work is a long commute.

    Even though, on paper, work is every day, while shopping and entertainment might be every few days, the way transit systems almost every are set up is that, if you want to use transit, making the long commute be the work commute makes your life far easier. During peak commute hours, a bus, or at least a vanpool, will probably be available to get to work from the city if your employer is big enough. But if you live near work and want to get to the city in the evening, you’re effectively going to drive the entire round trip each time.

    I have seen lots of examples of employers like this. Boeing is one. NASA is another (about 30 miles southeast of Houston). Google and Apple’s campuses in Silicon Valley are similar (~35 miles from San Francisco to the Googleplex).

    Let’s take Google as an example of this. If you live in San Francisco, you can ride Google’s shuttle to work for free. Live near work, anytime you want to go to San Francisco during your free time, you must either drive all the way or rely on the CalTrain, which takes twice as long, runs only hourly, requires abysmal bus connections to get anywhere in the city other than downtown, and still (usually) require a car to reach the station in the first place. Hence, if you really value urban amenities, living in the city and putting up with the long work commute is often the better option. Either that or choose a different employer.

    • David L says

      That’s doubly true when you have something like the Microsoft or Google shuttles that have free Wi-Fi and allow you to get work done during the long commute.

      • asdf says

        Microsoft is not nearly as bad as many of the other corporate campuses. The commute from Seattle to Redmond is much shorter than San Francisco to Mountain View or Seattle to Boeing. The transit service for Microsoft commuters is much better than Google and Boeing too. The Connector operates far more trips than Google’s San Francisco->Mountain View shuttles do each day. And that doesn’t even include service on the route like the 242, 542, and 545.

        Microsoft is also relatively unique among suburban campuses in that it is possible to live near work with semi-decent transit available, namely the B-line and the 245. While not as good as what’s in Seattle, it’s still an order of magnitude better than the public transit you will see around Boeing or Mountain View.

    • John Bailo says

      I’d like to see some figures on how many or what percentage of campus employees commute back to a city versus live in a nearby suburb or even a rural area. Maybe compare Microsoft, Facebook, Apple, Samsung, Google, some midsizied companies.

      • asdf says

        I don’t know exactly what the numbers are. However, I will say that recent surveys suggest that about 30% of Microsoft employees commute to work by some form or transit (either Metro, ST, the Connector, or vanpool) or carpooling. Most of these people probably live fairly far from work in terms of miles, as it is a lot easier to get people to ride transit for what would be a 40 minute drive in traffic, than a 5 minute drive down the street. Anecdotal experience has also shown that the transit routes that carry the most people, both Connector and ST/Metro run between Microsoft and Seattle, not between Microsoft and other suburban locations.

    • Charles says

      Again, you’re mistaking South Bay as “No Place”. The founders of those companies grew up there or near there. They have vested interests in those communities. In deed, Steve Jobs last public appearance before his death was in front of the Cupertino City Council to unveil his futuristic design for a company headquarters. Of course, said design fails to adhere to current urbanist ideas. But it is being built because of his interest in leaving a legacy for his community.

      Google is adding 1000 engineering jobs in Kirkland in a decidedly not transit friendly location. What they will likely do as they are doing in SFO is to provide private commuter resources for their valuable employees.

      • says

        I don’t think enough people commute between Kirkland and any single Seattle neighborhood for Google to provide private commuter resources. For one thing, Seattle is pretty dispersed compared to San Francisco. For another, Google has engineers in Fremont and has expanded their office space there, too, so there. But it doesn’t matter as much because unlike in Mountain View, there’s actually reasonable transit service between Seattle and Kirkland.

      • says

        (I managed to post that before finishing typing … MOAR WINE!)

        The sentence that ends “so there” should continue “so there’s less cross-lake commuting than there might be otherwise.”

        And then continuing at the end: Google’s Mountain View campus is located such that it’s difficult to reasonably run truly public transit there, and it’s additionally hard to figure what agency would run buses there from SF. Here we have a county agency that runs all-day service all over the place. There? Suburban agencies likely feel no desire to serve people living in SF (a different city and county), and SF Muni feels no desire to run buses to the far suburbs. A suburban agency could run Caltrain shuttles to the various office parks, but Caltrain is so poorly situated for reverse commuters that it still wouldn’t be attractive. Thus transit service is provided by the employer, too bad for the rest of the people working nearby. Microsoft runs its private buses, too, but the 545 is pretty popular. Like I’ve said before: Seattle might have the best transit service for people that work in suburbs (whether they live in “the city” or not) of any American city.

    • RossB says

      Good point. I can’t help but think that the suburban office park experiment was a big failure. It wasn’t just tech companies, but they were the most prominent offenders.

      It sounds good at first. I’m sure there are guys (or gals) that like it. People who like to live in the suburbs now have the opportunity to live very close to work. However, there are many things wrong with it:

      1) The spouse works somewhere else
      2) The worker prefers the city
      3) The worker prefers a different suburb

      All of these can happen if the office is located in the city. The difference is that the commute is easier. If I work downtown, I take one bus (or one ferry ride). It doesn’t matter where I live. I can live in Belltown or the C. D. and walk, or I take one bus from Lynnwood (and a fast one at that). But if work in the Kirkland office of Google, then I’m screwed unless I live close by. If I live downtown my commute is worse. If I live in a different part of town (say, Ballard) my commute is really bad. It gets worse if I live in a different suburb (say, Kent).

      So, the answer is that I move to the Kirkland office. Well, now my wife who works in Kent is screwed. Oh, and it turns out that my boss is a jerk, and I think I want to change careers anyway, so I think I’ll teach math at Rainier Beach. Oops, I guess I shouldn’t have moved to the ‘burbs.

      Amazon has the right idea. I’m sure a big part of their success is due to the fact that people can easily get there from anywhere. It is very difficult to make a random point to point system work for commuting. Even with all of the people going to Redmond, it doesn’t come close to having the public transportation options available to those going downtown (or the UW for that matter). Oh, and the private bus? It is just that. It works for employees, but is not available for contractors (who do a lot of the heavy lifting at Microsoft).

      • Orv says

        I think a lot of employers, especially small firms, quite simply find the expense of locating in Seattle too high to justify. Retail and office space in the ‘burbs is much cheaper, and commute costs are not the employer’s problem.

      • Mike Orr says

        So those companies can locate in the burbs, but not in unwalkable office parks. It takes only a small movement of businesses demanding more walkable architecture and locations closer to transit to make the builders and cities start to build more like that. It doesn’t have to be “downtown”-like. It just has to be less isolated than it is.

      • Orv says

        Yes, but then it becomes an issue of zoning. Traditionally commercial and light industrial get zoned well away from residential, because people don’t want the traffic, the noise, and the crime associated with those types of neighborhoods.

  14. Tom says

    Your narrative really went off into the woods on the argument that you could roll the saved commute time into extra pay or extra vacation. I’m not sure how many people making $61,000 a year are paid hourly (assume either govt, strong union, or something like Boeing). More power to you if that’s the case, but I and most people I know went on salary at a much lower pay level. Putting in some extra hours will hopefully bring a promotion, but it’s not quite dollar for dollar.

    That being said, if your commute is longer due to congestion, working late (past the rush hour) can be a great time neutral strategy.

    • Jim Cusick says

      The one advantage, with modern portable computers, is that time on transit, be it a train or bus, can be productive time.

      Too bad the boss can’t see to include the commute time as payable time.

      I remember working out programming solutions at home in the shower for various projects, and would joke with co-workers about that ‘unpaid’ productivity.

      Of course, that probably made up for the time I was ‘in the Bahamas’ at my cubicle.

      Whenever I hear about technology that will let the computer respond to what the user is thinking, I think…

      That’s the last thing I would need to appear on my workstation!!

      We didn’t have a computer programmers union…
      we were ‘Professionals’.

    • Matt Gangemi says

      You’re probably right with regard to not getting more pay for more work. I’m just going off my own experience in the engineering world. It’s not universal, but overtime is often paid, sometimes at time-and-a-half. I’ve always thought this works out as a great deal for the company – this additional work is cheaper than base pay work since you’re not adding benefits.

      • David L says

        King County Metro used that theory when I was working there. They gave out overtime like candy because it was cheaper than hiring additional drivers. Unfortunately, it also results in a lot of breathless, context-free news stories about how — horrors! — some driver made $120,000 in a year. So my impression is that now they are hiring even when overtime would be a bit cheaper.

      • Orv says

        My experience at the places I worked was that overtime was only paid if required by law — i.e., for hourly staff but not for “professional staff.”

        In jobs where I was hourly, I was strictly instructed to never turn in a timesheet for more than 40 hours because overtime pay was not authorized.

      • Orv says

        Usually. It depended on whether that conflicted with getting the stuff done that I had to do to keep my job. Small businesses are almost always pinched for money, and it wasn’t uncommon for me to eventually find myself doing the work previously done by three people with no increase in pay.

      • Jim Cusick says

        In my IT career, I was paid both salaried, and hourly.
        Hourly, thankfully, as a contractor for Y2K stuff.
        Good pay, and was even a MegaCommuter at the time.

        Hourly rates mean the client didn’t want you to work.. too long past 40 hours, if ever.

        When Salaried, it always felt like your manager was trying to get as much free work out of you as they could.

        I had always felt that if I was going to pour my heart-and-soul into a job, it had better be my own business.

        But, post Y2K is another story.

  15. says

    I got lucky. I bought a single family home a suburb before I had a job in this state. And then found a job 7 miles away. My children are in great schools, we have room to stretch out without people right on top of us, it’s quiet, not under a flight path and we’re not planning on moving. (Which is good, considering how much less our house is worth now vs. when we paid for it…) I’ve looked into transit, but instead of a 14 minute drive, I’d be looking at a 10 minute walk, a 45 minute bus-ride, a 20-30 minute layover and then another 20-30 minute bus ride. And because the 5 sits between me and my employer, this can’t be translated into a bike commute.

    This article does not consider the reasons why people live where they do and is quite insulting. It also seems to suggest that someone can very easily monetize the money otherwise spent in traffic or change their working hours or convert it into whole days of vacation later. That’s too simplistic and not always true.

    Fine – tax people by the lengths of their commute (the gas tax does, your insurance company does). Fine – point out the increased risk of accidents, the stress of sitting in traffic, the time wasted, but maybe we’re looking at this all backwards. Maybe this is on the urban and suburban planners who aren’t building out mixed-use communities or the companies that are asking it of their employees by consolidating. I’ve always said ours was designed by an OCD child playing SimCity – blue over there, green over there and yellow over there, and never the three should meet. There is economies of scale to put everything in the Big City, but that’s not for everyone.

    There’s also risks inherent in “company towns” but, hey, then you had it all (or close to it) and it was all really close. Put the jobs where the people are.

    If not, stop making it so difficult to use transit which includes putting parking at every station as part of whatever mixed use facility you use. There will always be people who have and want to use cars. If they can’t store them at the station, they won’t even consider giving them up for part of the trip. And that should be your first objective – *any* substitutionary effect – because it’s a start (taking the train today makes taking the bus easier next month).

    You say you’re not judging, but you’re making a really strong case for one particular viewpoint, so you kinda are. There’s nothing wrong with that. This is STB and I would expect you to. But I think it’s disingenuous to say you aren’t.

    • RossB says

      I think you are talking about two different things. Your situation is typical. Megacommuters are not. Frankly, I’m way more interested in your situation than I am the megacommuters. Megacommuters are rare. Folks that decide to move to the suburbs, even though they have a worse commute are not.

      Is it because they think:

      1) The schools are better
      2) The streets are safer
      3) They can get more house for the money
      4) They just prefer the suburban style

      You can’t do much about the fourth one. Much of Seattle looks suburban to some, but each neighborhood (in the city or the suburb) has its own feel, and some prefer Lynnwood over Greenlake. But maybe the city could do a better job pushing the first three. I’m sure there are people who move to the suburbs because they assume that you can’t get the first three without moving out there. Then there are people who move to Rainier Valley and argue otherwise. They send their kids to good schools, the streets are safer than the suburbs (more sidewalks) and the houses aren’t too expensive. But my guess is that lots of folks simply aren’t aware of the bargains that can be had in the city, or assume that it is much more dangerous than it is. It is a reasonable assumption, given the state of so many cities across the country. Seattle is unusual in that regard, which is why so many people cram themselves into little boxes into the heart of was once our “ghetto”.

      • Bernie says

        1) Check, unless you’re willing to cough up for private schools the inner ring suburbs have vastly superior schools. 2) Check, that’s why auto insurance rates are higher if you live in the city. 3) Check, check and double check. Remember, Seattle is sooo expensive. 4) Uh, given the first three is it a big surprise that our suburban population is increasing faster than that of Seattle. You could toss in 5) the job growth, especially for positions that don’t require a specialized college degree is much better outside of Seattle because companies can locate somewhere like Kent for far less than setting up shop in Seattle. The farther that job is from “high tech” the truer it becomes but of course there no shortage of high paying jobs in east King county either as witnessed by recent announcements from Google and Costco corporate. Of course there are the people that love city living so much they cross the lake to their job just so they can boast a Capitol Hill address but hey, it’s a free country.

      • Chris Stefan says

        Bernie,
        Not really. Sure the Seattle Schools aren’t up to the level of Lake Washington, Mercer Island, or Issaquah but it is possible to get an excellent education in the Seattle Schools, you just have to be an active parent. FWIW Seattle is ranked in the upper half of districts in the state.

        For that matter many of the suburban districts are far worse than the Seattle Schools. Just take a look at Lakewood, Highline, Federal Way, Renton, Kent, or some of the small exurban districts (say Orting).

        As for “safe” it depends on what your definition of “safe” is. Accident rates, car prowls, and other vehicle damage are higher in dense areas. On the other hand regardless of the pedestrian accident rate it certainly feels safer walking somewhere with sidewalks, lower traffic speeds, and streetlights. Typically people are concerned about crime and assume anything in the city limits is going to be like Detroit or Compton. Especially if there are any blacks or hispanics living there.

        As for housing costs it depends. There are some bargains in Seattle but they tend not to be near decent transit or in particularly walkable neighborhoods. By the same token Mercer Island, Kirkland, Bellevue, or Issaquah are hardly “cheap” and indeed have higher median home prices than Seattle. As a side note there would seem to be a bit of a correlation between school district rankings and median home price. One of the bigger bargains at the moment is Northshore which is every bit as good as Lake Washington but homes just over the line in Northshore sell at far less of a premium than those in Lake Washington.

      • Bernie says

        @Chris, You pretty much hit the nail on the head. Seattle Public Schools are very average which would be “good enough” in most of the State. However they look bad when compared to some of the surrounding districts like Lk WA, Bellevue, M.I., Bainbridge, and Northshore. Spot on that the bargains are to be had in the Northshore District where lots of starter homes built back in the 60′s and 70′s still exist. And yes you can make it happen in Seattle too but not if you put down pre-conditions like; must be north of the Ship Canal, must be walking distance to grocery, must be within a 5 minute walk of all day frequent transit, etc.

      • Chris Stefan says

        Bernie,
        The crazy thing is I know people who moved to some of the not-so-good suburban districts with the excuse that they wanted “better schools” for their kids. Kind of funny to hear them complain about their commutes and all of the problems in their kid’s schools. Guess you should have checked the test scores before moving to Kent or Auburn.

        Northshore has the advantage that much of it is close to all-day transit and a relatively easy commute to Canyon Park, Casino Road, Lynnwood, Kirkland, Bellevue, Redmond, The UW, or Downtown Seattle. (though you will pretty much have to drive for some of those). The 522 and 372 provide good all-day service for much of the area.

        As for finding someplace affordable in Seattle, while the cheapest places tend to be Delridge, South Park, or White Center, you can find affordable places North of the ship canal, walking distance to a grocery store, and walking distance to frequent transit. North Greenwood for example. (OK the example I know of was a short sale but still they are out there).

      • Bernie says

        Yes there are houses for under $250k near Greenwood and even Roosevelt but in all likelyhood they will be 2 bedroom and 70+ years old. It’s all about tradeoffs. As for schools Seattle is doing better, ranked 67th of 216 it has pulled it’s self into the upper 1/3 bettering Renton and Kent which just made top 100. But then many of it’s neighbors, M.I., Issaquah, Lk Wash, and Northshore are all top ten. Bellevue, Shoreline, Snoqualmie Valley and Vashon top 20. And parents just don’t get excited about the difference between a 67th ranking vs a 98th the way they do about being top 10 or top 10%. Of course if music is your thing it’s tough to consistently do better than Roosevelt and Garfield.

      • Mike Orr says

        “you can make it happen in Seattle too but not if you put down pre-conditions like; must be north of the Ship Canal, must be walking distance to grocery, must be within a 5 minute walk of all day frequent transit, etc.”

        But that defeats the purpose of living in Seattle in the first place. If I live at 15th NE & 140th, or south of Henderson Street, or in western Beacon Hill, I might as well live in Kent for the amount of things I can walk to or the frequency/span of bus service.

      • Bernie says

        @Mike, So what you’re saying is that Seattle, like Kent has only a few places that are really walkable. And nobody should have to settle for less than ideal and help transform neighborhoods for the better. That’s the job of streetcars, right?

  16. mic says

    Looking at the Top 10 Metro Areas with the Highest Mean Travel Times, Seattle ranks number 10 while OAK/SFO/SJC area rank No.1
    I’m so glad we are building BART-II, which has been running 40+ years and ranks 4 times higher in travel times than we do.
    Faster Trains and Fewer Stops and Longer Distances please… :) … beep… beep.

  17. Jim Cusick says

    Mega-commuting will always exist because of paved roads.

    It will grow because road capacity improvements are made using gas tax money.

    When a particular corridor reaches a certain level-of-service (LOS) threshold, that triggers ‘road safety’ improvements that also include capacity improvements.

    It’s not going away, unless you plan on earmarking the gas tax for ONLY maintenance, or specific voter approved projects.

    Road Building is Automatic, it is never to be questioned.

  18. says

    I was a Megacommuter for 2 weeks. After graduating college, I was looking for a short-term job in Orange County, before starting med school 6 months later. So at first I stayed at my grandparent’s house in Sherman Oaks. When I found a job at UC Irvine, I commuted over 58 miles each way, every day, for a couple of weeks. But even then I realized that free rent wasn’t worth that sort of commute, considering the cost of gas and depreciation. I found a room to rent within a couple of miles of work instead. The commute home along the 405 could take over 2 hours unless I waited until after 9 pm: http://goo.gl/maps/OcHtC

  19. CharlotteRoyal says

    My commute by driving to work – 5 minutes. Transit doesn’t benefit/cost well for my current commute of 2.5 miles. I don’t touch I-5. I don’t have to touch 99. The best decision I ever made was giving up my megacommute from the South Sound. It did wonders for my health.

      • JohnS says

        We need about $800 million for the Tier 1 projects in Seattle’s Pedestrian Master Plan. That would get sidewalks on most of the current transit arterials citywide.

  20. Mary says

    So, I absolutely agree, however you fail to mention the economic status ( other than the bigger house) like, job availability in “home” neighborhoods, schools, type of neighborhoods available near commuted to work place cost of living. Also no note of mass transit… I firmly believe the day we stop pandering to the almighty auto and start investing in our mass and local transit system is the day we become freeer to choose where we work and how we get there. No more super hi ways, super thurofares. The absolute auto gridlock WITH a healthy transit system is the way to go.

  21. Scott Stidell says

    Heh, Bernie–my office in Doha has most of those places nearby as well. There’s a reason the expat community refers to it as “cholesterol corner.” Same goes for you, John B–most of those places on your Kent Station list are chains found everywhere on earth and there are at least three on that list that I can hit with a rock from the front door of the office in Qatar. This in a decidedly low-density area in an extremely car-oriented community. Add the myriad local places and you’re far better off for choices in Doha than in Kent or DT Bellevue (where I also work).

    DT Seattle has that beat all to hell.

  22. Josh says

    As one of those megacommuters, I’ve no need of sympathy.

    My commute combines 20+ miles a day of bicycling with about an hour of working on my laptop while riding Sounder. Maybe 15-20 minutes a day of actual non-productive commuting time.

    My ORCA pass costs $135/month, except my company pays half of that, and the other half is deducted from pre-tax income, so a month of commuting costs me less than filling the tank on my 20-year-old Subaru that hasn’t yet hit 100,000 miles.

    I suspect you’ll find the same in many megacommuting hubs — more people who accept such long commutes because they’re not burdened with driving themselves to work. One Sounder commuter I ride with on the way into Seattle transfers to the northbound Sounder and commutes all the way from Tacoma to Everett by train, working or reading a book the whole way — that’s much better than a half hour car commute, at least to my tastes.

    Sure, there are also plenty of people who do drive the whole way every day, but I suspect the higher concentration of them reflects in part the availability of less-burdensome megacommute options.

  23. Anthony says

    I commute almost three hours each way, using a combination of bus, ferry, Sounder, and my bicycle.

    There is no way in hell I will make the medium of 61K, so whoever posted that is seriously high as a kite.

    Either way, staying in Seattle sucks big time livability wise, so commuting three hours each way is preferable. And the previous commute I used to was around 2 minutes, at most.

    Total cost daily, around ten bucks.

    Last, this whole post is totally deficient. Maybe someone here should try the long commute thing for awhile. It really doesn’t correlate to reality in my world of commuting, at all.

  24. Cheesewheels says

    With frequent job changes and uncertainty so common these days, it’s very very difficult to live where you work. Twice I’ve moved near to my job only to lose it soon afterwards, and ended up with a long commute elsewhere.

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