DAY 13: I Love My Commute

Another rainy day in Houston, and I love my commute more than ever. Please don’t hate me.

Learned helplessness?

I work at home and climb a flight of stairs to the office. For 35 years, though, I was out there with you—battling the traffic, dodging the potholes, watching the lunacy.

Warning! This post contains numbers.

Houstonians who drive to work have my sympathies. You face big challenges. Distance is one. According to a Central Houston survey, the average commuting distance for downtown employees is 21 miles. That’s a long drive.

Then there’s the danger. In Texas, the odds of being involved in a fatal car accident are 1 in 3,586. Do you drive I-45? It’s the second most dangerous highway in America. But driving is getting safer, right? Not recently. During the first six months of 2016, there was a 10.4 percent nationwide increase in traffic fatalities over the same period in 2015.

Commuting stress is cumulative

If you’re a typical Houston commuter, you lose 61 hours of your life to congestion every year. That’s because 31% of Houston’s lane-miles are chronically congested. We pay dearly in delays, fuel and lost productivity. And that feeling that you want to dismember your fellow drivers—it’s called commuter stress. Houston ranked 12th in the nation in that category in 2014.

The stress of commuting—like sun exposure—is cumulative. “The depressing and formal term for the syndrome experienced by long-term commuters is learned helplessness: the kind of pessimistic resignation that seems to happen to laboratory animals when exposed repeatedly to painful stimuli that they cannot avoid,” wrote Samuel Schwartz, in his book “Street Smart: The Rise of Cities and the Fall of Cars.” He’s a transportation consultant and former New York City traffic commissioner.

Addicted to our cars

Despite the danger, delays, costs and emotional stress of congestion, only 0.8% of Greater Houston area workers use public transportation. It’s 4.3% among residents in the city, but that’s still lower than the national average. Across the U.S., 5% of U.S. commuters take a bus, subway, train or other option to work.

Stephanie and I are fairly recent converts to bus and rail. Even if we do get a car at the end of our car-free experiment, we still see ourselves as long-term METRO users.

Photo credits: Traffic jam by Open Grid Scheduler/Grid EngineHow Addicts Talk by John Greenfield, 20/366 by serasbubulina, Houston Weather and Traffic by Todd Dwyer, licensed under CC 2.0