Richard Florida
by Richard Florida
Sun Aug 15th 2010 at 5:00pm UTC

Commuting Is Very Bad for You

That’s the overwhelming conclusion of a new Gallup-Healthways survey based on telephone interviews with 173,581 employed Americans over the past year.

The first chart shows the toll that commuting takes on physical health. Americans with longer commutes suffer higher levels of back pain, higher cholesterol, and higher levels of obesity.

The second chart shows the toll of commuting on emotional health and happiness. Those who commute more worry more, experience less enjoyment, and feel less well-rested.

Commuting is a health and psychological hazard, not to mention the carnage and wasted time on our over-clogged roads. It’s time to put commuting right beside smoking and obesity on the list of priorities for improving the health and well-being of Americans.

9 Responses to “Commuting Is Very Bad for You”

  1. Derek Neighbors Says:

    Let me start with over all I agree with your sentiment. However, I think that this type of conclusion hurts the message you are trying to get at. That message I assume is live where you work.

    Two problems I have with this article.

    1. Questionable Cause

    You are assuming that because those with longer commutes have poorer health that indeed the cause is longer commutes. The truth is there could be dozens of other reasons for this. Maybe their poorer health is what put them a position that they now have longer commutes. Note: I suspect that commuting is not healthy, but a survey to prove it doesn’t feel like science to me.

    2. Longest Commutes Public Transportation

    There seems to be an overt attack on car culture, which is fine. However, it flies in the face of long commute times argument. in fact 8 of the 10 cities with the longest commute times (New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Washington, San Francisco, Oakland, Boston, and Baltimore) have at least one fifth of the people not driving cars. Public transportation almost always increases the “time” of commute. So why are you not holding it to be a vilified demon like the car if commute time is what is cause?

    Again I agree that car culture and commuting hurts health and community in the long run, but this article feels like rhetoric just being spit back out to propel an agenda. You are better than that.

  2. Jarrett Says:

    Right. But this is oriented towards car travel. Granted, transit makes up less than 5% of work trips, but many of the symptoms mentioned are the result of poor health habits exacerbated by an auto-dependent lifestyle as well.

  3. Gregg Says:

    @Derek

    1. There are mounds of evidence showing similar conclusions. This poll is indeed a reflection of the conclusions reached elsewhere.

    A search in JSTOR or Google Scholar will turn up many hits, but here are a few examples found in 3 minutes doing just this type of search:

    http://tinyurl.com/2az6vbc
    http://tinyurl.com/296b56j
    http://tinyurl.com/2ee6g6x
    http://tinyurl.com/23kpy9u

    2. Your conclusion in this point is, I think, erroneous. Those cities are among the largest in the US, tend to be the densest (as they were not built around the automobile as many other cities in the West and South) and have high amounts of all types of traffic in general. And although some commutes by bus and/or rail may take longer than certain automobile commutes, the lifestyle associated with public transit tends to integrate substantially more walking and cycling than the auto-dependent lifestyle – walking / cycling to the transit stations, and walking / cycling for trips where distances are too short to make public transport an attractive alternative. Also, public transport in particular, and perhaps active transport as well, can remove some of the stresses involved in a road-rage filled commute by automobile.

    Again, referring back to point one, there is a tremendous amount of evidence grounding this poll, so it would seem to me that your claim that an agenda is being pushed is unfounded.

  4. Daniel Carins Says:

    Derek,

    The original article doesn’t mention cars (other than a reference to roads), it simply says “commuting”.

    That could include commuting by train, plane or automobile.

    Maybe the prejudice is your own?

  5. bork Says:

    Want to provide some crosstabs showing these results split by income level?

    The most immediate confound here is that long commutes are often associated with low SES – Can’t afford to live in the city, drive in from some low-income exurb.

    Do long commutes cause the same worry, ill health and negative affect in the exec reading the Times on a train from Westchester County into NYC as they do in the janitor driving a hatchback in gridlock from El Monte into LA?

  6. Chad Says:

    Public transportation almost always increases the “time” of commute.

    It depends a lot on how you value your time. I used to live in Japan, and had a 45 minute commute by train and bus, roughly split equally between walking to and from the stations, riding and waiting for the train, and riding and waiting for the bus. However, I ENJOYED this time. The walks involved passing numerous shops, restaurants, and interesting people, while the rides and waits gave me plenty of time to read, study, or simply observe my environment at a human pace.

    In contrast, I have a standard 20 minute suburban commute here in the states…the standard stoplight…stoplight…hop on expressway, hop off, stoplight….scream at jackhole….stoplight… commute that most of us face. The commute might “save” me 50 minutes each day, but the lack of walking causes me to have to hit the gym for an extra couple hours each week, negating half of the savings right off the bat. The remaining 25 minutes of daily time “savings” aren’t even remotely worth the stress and loss of the ability to study and read while commuting.

    Oh, and I was spending under $200 per month on trains and buses while in Japan. Even a cheap car averages twice that over its lifetime. Typical cars are triple.

  7. Bob Davis Says:

    Gee, what a surprise! Of course commuting sucks. Of course it’s bad for your health. Why do you think people buy lottery tickets? This is not really something to bring up when the unemployment rate is front-page news and people are stuck in houses they can’t sell. Short of abandoning all hope and living under a railroad bridge, or as some have done, put paid to the whole miserable story with a large-caliber handgun, folks are just going to be muddling through and hoping things get better eventually.

  8. Gregg Says:

    @Bob Davis

    Using the argument ‘how can you be talking about X when Y is going on?’ is just silly. Well, why on earth are you using your time replying to this post rather than replying to a post on unemployment? Who knows how those 15 seconds could have contributed to decreasing unemployment in the United States?

    Why aren’t we all exclusively talking about the fact that the population of the US is experiencing an obesity epidemic while millions around the world starve to death? Or why don’t we instead divide or sole attention to talking of being on the brink of global climactic catastrophe?

    I’m fairly confident that not only is a division of intellectual labor possible, but necessary. By all means, we have to prioritize our concerns – but I fail to see how this is a necessarily frivolous issue and one deserving of your rebuke.

  9. Kim Says:

    Maybe their poorer health is what put them a position that they now have longer commutes. Note: I suspect that commuting is not healthy, but a survey to prove it doesn’t feel like science to me