Nick Paumgarten's piece in the New Yorker about long-distance commuting opens with the obligatory crazy person: an engineer at Cisco Systems who travels 372 miles from the Sierra foothills to San Jose and back - each day. Midas Muffler honored him for having the nation's longest commute - and of course the guy claims he loves it. Paumgarten finds plenty of other folks who may not love traveling a hundred miles or more each day, but who have somehow managed to get used to all those hours on the road.
People like to compare commutes, to complain or boast about their own and, depending on whether their pride derives from misery or efficiency, to exaggerate the length or the brevity of their trip. People who feel they have smooth, manageable commutes tend to evangelize. Those who hate the commute think of it as a core affliction, like a chronic illness. Once you raise the subject, the testimonies pour out, and, if your ears are tuned to it, you begin overhearing commute talk everywhere: mode of transport, time spent on train/interstate/treadmill/homework help, crossword-puzzle aptitude—limitless variations on a stock tale. People who are normally circumspect may, when describing their commutes, be unexpectedly candid in divulging the intimate details of their lives. They have it all worked out, down to the number of minutes it takes them to shave or get stuck at a particular light. But commuting is like sex or sleep: everyone lies. It is said that doctors, when they ask you how much you drink, will take the answer and double it. When a commuter says, "It's an hour, door-to-door," tack on twenty minutes.
There's barely a mention about Los Angeles, which is curious but just as well. This place gets more than its share of bad press about traffic. The numbers can actually get a little complicated because L.A.'s average commuting times are never the worst in the nation. The last I checked, New York was No. 1, at 38.3 minutes, with Los Angeles in sixth place at 29 minutes. This always seemed like a suspicious statistic because it didn't take into account the fact that many, many New Yorkers commute by train or bus and can actually put the travel time to good use. It also doesn't factor unanticipated delays, which in L.A. have become much more anticipated. The Texas Transportation Institute, which keeps track of such things, correctly tagged L.A. as being the nation's absolute worst commuting city. The average annual delay was 93 hours, well ahead of second-place SF, at 72 hours.
Average Commuting Delays (per hour, per year)
--L.A. 93 hours
--SF 72 hours
--Washington, D.C. 69 hours
--Atlanta 67 hours
--Houston 63 hours
--Dallas 60 hours
--Chicago 58 hours
--Detroit 57 hours
--Riverside/San Bernardino 55 hours
--Orlando 55 hours