Some notes on car commuting, transportation, and living

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25 Responses

  1. Avatar LeeEsq says:

    Even at $310, your commute is still very subsidized because of how America funds the necessity of road travel. Even in areas that seek a more realistic pricing, don’t do the full free market. In other developed countries, traveling by car would be more expensive but there would be more reliable and faster public transportation options.Report

    • Avatar DensityDuck says:

      “Even at $310, your commute is still very subsidized because of how America funds the necessity of road travel. ”

      You say that as though a train or bus commute isn’t even more heavily subsidized. Trains depend on government-decreed rights-of-way, and buses use the same roads that cars do.Report

      • Avatar dragonfrog says:

        All transportation methods rely on government decreed rights of way. A paved road is just as much of one as a railroad.

        The subsidies take different forms – not charging for the wear and tear on roads, the land used for the roads (that could be much narrower and therefore also significantly shorter as well if most travel was by bus), the extra length needed for water, sewer, and power infrastructure because of all the extra road separating what needs connecting, the rent on businesses’ parking lots that we all pay regardless of how we travel to the shops, the etc., the other etc., the rest of the etc.Report

  2. Avatar Burt Likko says:

    One thing that you might want to bear in mind, when contemplating the wide geographic distribution of your coworkers residences, is the mortgage interest deduction on federal and state income tax. This creates a powerful financial incentive to purchase rather than rent a home. Obviously, homes suitable for families with children fit the nicest into both the tax deduction and the loans which underlie them, but that puts varying degrees of affordability in play. As you may have noticed, the price to purchase a home in San Francisco is stratospheric compared to what it would cost in one of the outlying counties. (It’s not like Contra Costa County or Marin County are what most people would consider “affordable,” after all.) This is going to be most extreme in San Francisco out of all places in already-inflated California. So how many of your coworkers own as opposed to rent?Report

  3. Avatar Aaron W says:

    As a fellow Bay Area-ite (?), I am glad to have avoided the megacommute so far. I think you’ve set up a false dichotomy on housing types here, though. It’s not necessarily a choice between a tiny cramped apartment and a gigantic, expansive McMansion. Several of the older, inner suburbs that are close to the city also have older suburban homes that aren’t necessarily big, but not necessarily small either. And it’s perfectly possible to walk or bike to places in such a place. I live in San Leandro, and that essentially describes what it’s like. (I bike to BART and then take it to work.) You don’t have to worry about the kids blasting their music at 4am, too. (Just avoid Bayfair.)

    I think the argument that some wonks are trying to make is that housing of all types needs to be encouraged. This could include urban apartments or smaller suburban homes. Density isn’t always high rise condos. You rightly point out that people have heterogeneous preferences for housing depending on their hobbies, marital status, children, and so on. So, it could certainly be (and very likely is) true that most people don’t prefer urban living. However, that prices in San Francisco are so high is a clear signal that among the people who do prefer urban living, the supply of available housing is way too low. And it’s not just San Francisco, this is true of Oakland, it’s true of Mountain View, and most of the rest of the Bay Area. And one of the major reasons is an overly cumbersome regulatory burden on any new developments and a similar one on new transit projects. If more housing of all types is allowed to be built, then people’s heterogeneous preferences for different modes of living could be met. Then, even the people who prefer the car dependent exurban model would likely not have to commute nearly as far to have their preferences met either.Report

    • Avatar Saul Degraw says:


      There are older houses in some communities and even the rare house that was built by an empty nester. My parents purchased a house in the East Bay that was built by empty nesters now that they are empty nesters. When they were looking to buy a house in the Bay Area, most were turned down as being too big because they were obviously built with parents with children in mind. This included older and newer housing stock.Report

  4. Avatar aarondavid says:

    People like to live where they feel comfortable, where they can enjoy themselves. They will make a calculus of cost/location/amenities and go from there. My wife and I live in Solano and while the commute is longish we get to have the things we are looking for at a cost we like. We haven’t decided if we want to stay in the bay (my family history notwithstanding) so aren’t looking to buy at this time. So, a compromise. And while we can think of many places in the bay that we like, we do have a budget. Commuting is the part that we felt that we were able to give in on.

    We are in our 40’s and many of the things the city offers do not appeal to us on a day to day level. We want the quiet, the space and frankly the cost of the hinterlands. I have a good friend who lives in SF and is about to have his first baby. He wants to raise the child in the city, but she doesn’t seem to. I am pretty sure that she is going to win this fight, and she is the one who will have to commute. It just isn’t worth it to her to stay in the city.Report

  5. Avatar Vikram Bath says:

    The apartment had a very large kitchen/dining room/living area, a good sized master bedroom, and two small bedrooms. … I can’t quite understand how this was a three bedroom apartment except for the fact that the developers decided to market it as such.

    There is also the fact that it sounds like it had three bedrooms.Report

    • Avatar Saul Degraw says:


      Not really. They could have staged one of the rooms with a desk and called it a home office. Or a chair and bookshelves and called it a home library, etc.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        “Oh, I don’t want a 3-bedroom apartment. I don’t have any kids. I need a one-bedroom with a den and a sewing room, though.”Report

        • Avatar Jaybird says:

          I’m pretty sure that the bedroom is not defined by the bed that may or may not someday be in it but in the fact that the room has an outlet in it, maybe a closet, but not a toilet or a stove.Report

          • Avatar Marchmaine says:

            I think the official Realtor (TM) definition of a bedroom is that it must have a closet.

            I understand that exceptions are made for housing stock built before 1920-ish (?) before the uses of closets were commonplace.Report

    • Avatar Kazzy says:

      I think this shows a lack of understanding of how different families use space. I live in a two bedroom apartment with my boys and while the larger bedrooms are nice, I’d rather they be a bit smaller with more room devoted to the common areas. However, other folks prefer just the opposite. Ultimately, it is a matter of preference as there is no one way that families or even individuals will use space.Report

  6. Avatar Damon says:

    Back when I was married and we were looking to upgrade our townhouse to a single family house, location had nothing to do with it. Cost did. Where we lived at the time, SFH were going for 150k more than we could afford for a house. (Even after the bubble they are similarly price.) We choose to move out to a location a bit longer for each of us to get to work because the cost was more affordable.

    The ex abandoned commuter rail after trying it for a year or so because “in the summer all those stinky construction workers too the train”. Given the east coasts humidity in summer, I could understand that complaint. I always had a long commute because there are no convenient mass transit options that didn’t entail a longer commute than actually driving and dealing with the traffic, even at 6am.

    Our house in the ‘burbs were bigger than the two of us really needed, but we bought it for resale and because it gave us more of what we didn’t have in the townhouse. Did two people really need 2500 sq feet? No, but it was damn nice having a master bedroom, a guest bedroom and each of us having an office made from the remaining two bedrooms.Report

  7. Avatar Roland Dodds says:

    We likely pass each other on the 101, as I drive from Sonoma County into the Bay. I would second your comment about the cost of commuting; when I consider my high rent in places like Edinburgh, it actually was cheaper to live seeing that I could walk/public transport my way around. Sadly, San Francisco is so crazy expensive for a family that even when I add my car payment, gas, tolls, insurance into the equation, my family is still in better shape financially.

    The mental cost however….Report

    • Avatar Saul Degraw says:


      Exactly right. Traffic and commuting is a huge mental cost. That being said, the same can be true when I took the bus or subway in NYC. Some of my favorite commutes are when I decided to walk because to downtown SF because it was a nice day.Report

  8. Avatar LWA says:

    Interestingly enough Mrs. LWA and are going in the opposite direction.
    We live in Orange County and I commute by rail into downtown Los Angeles.
    We are now becoming empty nesters and looking at relocating to live in downtown.
    The finances will work out nearly the same but the big advantage is eliminating the 3 hours of commute.
    It will be our first experience with living in an urban environment – we are both children of So Cal suburbs.

    I have always felt uncomfortable with commuting, on some deep inchoate level.
    Part of it is the sense of bifurcation. I live here but spend the biggest part of my life somewhere else. Where do I really belong? If I were to join a club, what chapter of it would I join?
    Should I be indifferent to the governance of the place where I cannot vote, yet whose policies affect me more directly than my “home”?
    I wonder if this scattering of our selves, the splitting of our work self from our domestic self doesn’t account for some of the Bowling Alone phenomenon.
    I would love to stop by a pub after work for a drink, and have a few times. But lingering more than 30 minutes puts me on a train schedule that gets me home nearly at midnight. And Mrs. LWA can’t join me.
    The commuting life usually boasts the benefits if eating our cake and having it. That we can earn our money in the vibrant city and spend it in the peaceful country.
    Much less discussed is the cost.Report

    • Avatar Burt Likko says:

      How much of your time is spent on the rail commute? Does this impact your personal life?

      I continue to hold on to hope that I shall acquire a personal interest in such matters in the future.Report

  9. Avatar Doctor Jay says:

    When I moved back to the Bay Area to take my first job here (with a wife and two small children) I chose a house that was a ten-minute bike ride from work. And that’s how I got to work most days for the first couple of years, since we only had one car and MrsJay used it.

    Where I live, in Mountain View, is considered “suburbs”, but it’s the heart of Silicon Valley, where I’ve spent the last 25 years working, and it means I have never had a commute time of more than 20 minutes (now it’s by car, not bike, but still). I’ve worked with people who lived in SF and rode the CalTrain/shuttle to work, taking more than an hour. I never quite understood the appeal of that. But it also doesn’t fit the “live in the city to reduce environmental impact” model, either.Report

    • Avatar Autolukos says:

      I’m not sure where to start with the numbers, but it seems plausible that a relatively small apartment with a long commute by mass transit would be more environmentally friendly than a detached house with a short commute (especially by car).Report

  10. Avatar Maria says:

    My husband, kids, and I moved to be closer to his job because his commute started getting really bad once the economy started to improve. I would have much preferred our more urban living situation than our current one, but the fact that he is 15 minutes away rather than 1+ hours makes our lives much easier. If our suburban area had a more urban feel (walkability, diverse eating options, clear “city center”, etc) I would be much happier, but judging from what I read on Next Door, my neighbors see higher density, mixed use developments as the END OF THE WORLD!Report

  11. Avatar Will Truman says:

    Audiobooks, my friend. Audiobooks.Report