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The BIG Reason

Music, opinions, and portfolio of Mark Eagleton, musician and web developer in Northern CA.

A Real Commute

My office is moving to another city and my commute is going to drastically change. For drivers, this move will be fairly trivial. For low-car folks like me, it poses some significant challenges.

The company I work for has grossly outgrown our corporate offices, and a great opportunity popped up to build a new headquarters in a very strategic location in a neighboring town about 25 kilometers from the current office. All of the people I work with seem to be extremely excited about this move, and as car commuters who already drive 20–50 kilometers to work, I really can’t blame them. For me, this move is a sea change.

I want to be clear that I view this as the best possible move for our company. I appreciate the compassion, foresight, and effort that went into this decision. There are many strategic locations around Northern California we could have wound up. I am grateful we are moving to a location that is close enough to make little to no difference in my co-workers lives.

I have spent the better part of the last few decades trying to simplify my life. My biggest achievement on that front was landing a great job two kilometers from my house. Living within walking distance of your work is the single best thing you can do to boost your quality of life. Long commutes are a time suck, stressful, and expensive. Short walks (or bike rides) are good for your cardiovascular system, reduce stress, and are essentially free.

The benefits of living this close to your work are vast, but if I had to boil it down, I’d say saving a few thousand dollars a year and getting an extra week off is what it amounts to.

When I started working in town, my commute went from a 25 minute drive (one way) to an 8 minute bike ride. I went from spending eight days out of my year driving to two and a half riding my bike. Those are days of waking time, and I went from spending eight of them doing something I hate to spending all of them doing something I love.

Working in town also allowed me to sell my truck. We used the money to buy a nice cargo bike to take the kids to school and run errands with. My wife and I have been sharing a single car for the past six years. The amount of money you save maintaining one car instead of two is pretty significant. Dealing with half of the oil changes, smog checks, and surprise mechanic bills is also quite easy to get used to.

Another time and money-saving benefit to living close to your work is going home for lunch. Packing your lunch every day is a pain in the ass, and the temptation to eat out can be huge. When you go home for lunch, you can casually make a sandwich or reheat leftovers just like on the weekends. Low cost. Low calorie. Low temptation.

I understand that many people don’t have the means to work in such close proximity to where they live, or at least aren’t willing to make the sacrifices required for a lifestyle so out of sync with modern, car-centric society. I understand this all too well, because this time around I am not willing to sacrifice my job for something closer; however, this doesn’t mean I’m not going down quietly.

Over these past six years, I have developed a powerful loathing for the automobile, and a deep resentment for what it has done to our society. Our living spaces are designed for moving cars through them instead of the people living in them. Our houses are tucked behind giant garages. Our residential streets—an already car-centric concept—actually serve as parking lots most of the time. When you only use your car to leave town, you begin to realize how ridiculous it is to live inside an infrastructure that isn’t designed for you.

Getting around on foot and bike puts you in closer touch with your surroundings. You aren’t flying by at high speeds inside of a soundproof box, you are there, in it with the cat that comes out to greet you by the mailbox every morning; nodding back at the postal carrier on her rout; watching the cyclops skull sticker on the no parking sign slowly fade over time; seeing the progress on your neighbor’s remodel; being outside in the weather; walking to work with your kid because it’s on the way to school… This is what going to work is like when you don’t have a commute, and I am sad that I’m loosing it.

This office move is going to cost me. Regardless of whether I choose to buy a second car, a bus pass, to carpool, or to cycle, I’m going to be spending quite a bit more money to get to and from work than I am now. I’m also going to be loosing 8 to 20 days of my life each year to traveling to and from work instead of the 2½ days per year I am now.

So what is the plan? Well I’m not going to buy a fucking car.

I estimate the 25 kilometer bike commute will take me an hour each way once I settle in. That is 20 days of my life every year that I will now spend cycling. The bus rout that would take me to my new office is pretty roundabout and also takes an hour. Carpooling is probably the most cost-effective and time-saving option, but I would prefer not to sell my dignity to our car-centric dystopia.

I can save time and take the edge off the 100+° F (38° C) California Central Valley summers by splitting the commute between bike and bus. It’s a ten minute bus ride to the first stop, and about a 20 minute ride to the new office from there. A 30 minute commute isn’t going to kill me, but this comes with the added expense of a bus pass which currently runs $93.50 per month ($1,122 annually).

Cycling the full way to work isn’t exactly free, either. My current city bike isn’t set up to handle 30+ kilometers of rural roads per day. This distance is also well past the street clothes limit. A new bike and kit for all-weather commuting can quickly get into the price range of a beater commuter car. These are mostly up-front costs, but when you factor in time, showers, and laundry, it’s a drastic proposition for someone accustom to waking up an hour before work to have a leisurely cup of coffee or two before a peaceful, eight minute bike ride across town for work.

I worked really hard and made some significant sacrifices to earn this simple lifestyle. The disappointment and frustration I feel about this move makes me want to take the full bike commute head on just to shove it society’s face. This change is not just about me, though. I have to consider how it will impact my family, and choose the option that causes the least disruption for them. I think the bus and cycling split commute strikes the most reasonable balance.

While a 25 kilometer, mostly rural commute is a bad idea on a three-speed city bike, 8 kilometers of city streets is not a problem. The only financial impact would be the expense of the bus pass, and I think I can talk my employer into considering some new public transit and/or bike-to-work perks.

Down the road, I would like to do the full commute on bike a few times a week, and maybe if time and money restrictions lighten up, ditching the bus completely will be an option.