Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Commuting Isn’t What It Used To Be; It’s Worse

Ask people to rank a number of activities in terms of the pleasure they provide, and “commuting” is likely to come in last if it’s on the list. A Nobel laureate and university economist collaborated on such a project a few years ago, and that’s what they found – sex ranked at the top and commuting at the bottom.

In a piece headlined Your Commute Is Killing You published last week, Slate covers the research that explains why we dislike commuting so much. Long commutes contribute to stress, social isolation, poorer health and even divorce, according to the research.

“So, in summary: We hate commuting,” says the article. “It correlates with an increased risk of obesity, divorce, neck pain, stress, worry and sleeplessness. It makes us eat worse and exercise less.”

Why do we do it? Because “the further we move from work, the more house we can afford,” the author writes, and that certainly seems to be the case on Oahu. A drive through the ewa plain passes through tracts with hundreds of new homes, where young families find more affordability than they can in established neighborhoods closer to their jobs in town.

Cost and Convenience

We’ll belabor the point yet again: An island like Oahu has no room on the flats for more arterial highways, no expectation to build an ocean-based “reef freeway” (debated and killed decades ago) and no environmental tolerance to build highways through the mountains.

Transit is the obvious answer, and many thousands of Oahu residents already use TheBus, making it one of the nation’s best transit systems. But as good as the system is, it still lacks what rail can provide – traffic-free commuting through the urban core.

Commuters give up driving in favor of taking public transit when they can achieve cost and convenience benefits by switching. With thousands of Oahu commuters already spending at least 45 minutes commuting by car each way between their homes on the ewa plain and town, Honolulu rail’s benefits in speed and cost savings are certain to appeal to them.

Rail’s goal of providing a rationale way for Honolulu’s growth will be achieved with transit-oriented development, which will create tens of thousands of residential units within walking distance of the 21 rail stops in the project’s first phase. And as the Slate article says, stress and worry are much less prevalent among commuters with negligible commutes.

The article concludes: “People who say, ‘My commute is killing me!’ are not exaggerators. They are realists.” Future generations of Oahu residents who realize the difference rail can make in the quality of their lives will gladly choose ride.

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