Nasty Commutes

On February 6, 2009 · 4 Comments

The Washington Post published a recent article on bad commutes, "A Dubious Distinction: The Longest Ride in U.S." This was considered so significantly newsworthy that it appeared on the front page of their print edition on February 3, 2009. They determined that the sufferers of the worst average commute in the United States live in a distant exurb of the Washington, DC metropolitan area.



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The worst average commutes in the United States


One has to understand that this is a city of hard-charging achievers. There’s a small feeling of failure when someone else rises to the top of the charts, even when it’s something as boldly negative as snarled traffic. Every year the Texas Transportation Institute issues an Urban Mobility Study that examines traffic congestion. Los Angeles, California usually comes out on top year-after-year, with Washington, DC not far behind as a perennial runner-up. With the recent announcement there’s now something to grasp, some tiny hope, some small shred of empirical evidence to show at long last that Washington can claim the lousiest commute.

The Post based its assertion on 2005-2007 data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. Doubters may question whether it’s an appropriate source for this purpose. The data are self-reported and averaged. Each unit is only a fraction of a metropolitan area. Are respondents exaggerating? Do conditions in a few individual neighborhoods transcend to an entire city? Is the sampling sufficient? But let’s set those thoughts aside and have a little fun.

The Census Bureau survey estimated a national average commute of 25.1 minutes. How is yours? Better? Worse? Remember, this is an average. Every neighborhood is made up of people who travel lots of different distances through varied traffic conditions to get to their jobs. Neighborhoods falling below the average have abundant jobs nearby. Those above the average don’t. They tend to be outer-suburbs on the fringe of metropolitan areas with cheaper land and affordable housing.

(1) BRISTOW / LINTON HALL, VA (46.3 minutes)



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The Post article focused much of its attention on this unincorporated town about 40 miles southwest of the city. That’s not surprising since the town now represents Washington’s new claim to fame. It’s within a swath of Virginia that has expanded rapidly in recent years. Road infrastructure and public transportation alternatives simply can’t keep up with the booming population. Bottlenecks and backups occur daily as drivers attempt to enter Interstate 66 at approximately the same time heading towards distant job centers further east.


MARLBORO, NJ (46.0 minutes)



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Marlboro, New Jersey is not a new town, in fact it dates back to 1685. What is new, however, is an explosion of McMansions. People must live a good 40 miles outside of New York City to be able to afford these large trophy houses. So these intrepid exurbanites face a daunting daily slog to Manhattan in return for square footage and a yard.


POINCIANA, FL (44.0 minutes)



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Poinciana, Florida is the only town in the top tier that isn’t located outside of Washington, New York City or San Francisco. The 2000 Census pegged its population at around 20,000. A recent article in the Orlando Sentinel sets the current population at 70,000. Imagine the infrastructure problems that would have to arise from such a mushrooming of families. It’s apparent why this one made the list. Poinciana is a massive master-planned community governed by a homeowners’ association. They are currently studying whether to incorporate as one possible way to meet an oversized demand for services. However, the largely working-class population has already been strained by recent economic conditions, and there’s concern that new taxes would cause hardships.


TRACY, CA (43.8 minutes)



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Tracy, California has 80,000 residents mainly because it’s incredibly expensive to live in the San Francisco Bay area. People have to push all the way into the Central Valley to find an affordable home with a little elbow room. Rich agricultural land gives way to subdivisions. Geography conspires to make the commute particularly miserable. Commuters need to find a way across the Diablo Range. Interstate 580 through Altamont Pass is about the only choice.


Here is the remainder of the Dirty Dozen nasty commutes:

5- Vernon, NJ (43.4 minutes)
6- Brentwood, CA (43.2 minutes)
7- Manalapan, NJ (42.7 minutes)
8- Fort Washington, MD (42.5 minutes)
9- West Windsor, NJ (42.1 minutes)
10- Los Banos, CA (41.8 minutes)
11- Clinton, MD (41.7 minutes)
12- Dale City, VA (41.3 minutes)

On February 6, 2009 · 4 Comments

4 Responses to “Nasty Commutes”

  1. Matthew says:

    My brother-in-law lives in Tracy, CA. It is indeed a lousy commute to parts west.

    • I’m sure you’ll let him know that he has the 4th worst commute in the United States the next time you see him. ;-)

      On the other hand, I’ll bet he has a nice house, lots of blue sky and open space, and a great quality of life when he’s not on the road.

      It’s a tough trade-off; the whole time/money conundrum. I don’t envy anyone having to make the decision. Fortunately I went through this back when things were much more affordable even taking the current real estate situation into consideration.

  2. The text says Marlboro NJ but the map shows Marlboro NY.

    • I really need to fire that editor of mine — he makes way too many mistakes. Seriously though, thank you Anton for serving as a second set of eyes on so many of the Twelve Mile Circle entries so I can make these corrections. I can’t believe this one has been in error for the last year and a half. It’s fixed now.

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