Theory: long commutes are bad if you spend most of it driving a car. They are not bad if you spend most of it on public transportation.

Except on the days where BART is stalled for 25min with no seating room on the train.

Public transportation is much, much worse than driving

strongly disagree, but i am a clear outlier in my dislike of driving

This is exactly the sort of thing I was just saying was infuriating because other people’s preferences make so little sense to me.

I work in two different offices during the week. I BART to one and drive to the other.

For me, BARTing is much worse than driving. First there’s the low-grade fear as I thread my way through the homeless people and other rush-hour commuters into the BART station itself. Then there’s the moment of terror as the train is somehow always just about to leave when I get there, so I have to sprint the last few seconds to beat the closing doors. Then there’s being crammed in together like sardines in a boiling hot train car. Then there are all the people who take advantage of it – the beggars who take advantage of your inability to move to give their whole life story, or (if the car is empty enough to take out an instrument) the buskers who start playing loud music in this tiny trapped enclosed environment as soon as the train leaves because PEOPLE ARE IDIOTS AND GIVE THEM MONEY DON’T YOU REALIZE THIS ENCOURAGES THEM?! Every time I read Ozy on “autistic separatism” I make fun of it as typical social justice extremism, until I go on a BART and people are playing loud music and other people are giving them money and encouraging them and then I want to swear allegiance to Ozy’s hypothetical new nation as soon as possible, help it build a decent military, and then liberate San Francisco. And then there’s the constant shuffling as new people come on and try to lean their bike up against you or something, until you’re sandwiched between a bunch of bikes and sweaty bikers. Then there’s just the general joy of standing in one place for a half hour without being able to sit down or stretch or move, and you can’t even read a book because too many people are talking around you. Then once you get near your destination it’s a game of “guess whether this looks more like Montgomery Street BART or Powell Street BART” because you’re not going to be able to hear the announcement and if you get off at the wrong one you’ll be late for work. And then even if you succeed at getting off you’re still in a BART station and have to fight your way out and then walk to wherever you wanted to be.

Driving is: I get in my car parked right in front of my house. It is noise-isolated and climate-controlled, though I don’t need to use the climate control often because the Bay Area weather is not so bad if you’re not crammed up against lots of other people’s body heat. I put on my favorite music and drive to work on the nice, traffic-free highway (because nobody except me is going east in the East Bay in the morning). I kind of zen out as I drive past rolling hills and beautiful houses, and then I get to work right on time because I’m not at the mercy of a train schedule.

I can understand why a lot of people from the city hate driving. I consider myself a decent driver – I’ve been driving for ten years, I’ve driven across the country and on other long road trips, etc – and I will not drive in the city. Even though I own a car I walk or Uber anywhere I go in Oakland or Berkeley because those cities are nightmares to drive in. Even the thought of driving in San Francisco makes me freak out.

But when people complain that US suburbs are “centered around cars, not people”, what they mean is that they made a series of decisions that makes them really easy and pleasant to drive in, and those decisions mostly worked. Saying “I could never live in the suburbs because I hate driving” is at least a little like Eskimos saying “I could never live in the Sahara, because I hate being without my parka.” In the suburbs, all the roads are nice straight lines, there’s not much traffic, there’s a center lane for when you’re waiting to turn, there are left turn lights at the intersections, and people don’t park on the side of the road and occasionally dart out into it. I don’t doubt that there are some people who just naturally hate driving and there’s no possible solution to that. But I am a nervous wreck in most ways, I think my family kind of assumed for a while that I would never be able to drive, and even I eventually learned to like driving in suburbs, because I feel like they put a lot of effort into accommodating people who might not naturally be the most confident drivers.

Given the choice between driving in San Francisco or taking the BART in San Francisco, of course I’ll take the BART. But I’m happy I have other choices.

Then once you get near your destination it’s a game of “guess whether this looks more like Montgomery Street BART or Powell Street BART” because you’re not going to be able to hear the announcement and if you get off at the wrong one you’ll be late for work

This is a key point I neglected earlier. That’s one reason I can’t read or work or concentrate on anything (even if I have a seat, which I always had going into DC because the trains would be nearly empty but come every 15 minutes as far out as I lived): because I have to be constantly attentive to where the train is in relation to my destination. I can’t relax.

Whereas, with driving, you’re in conscious control over it, and while you have to keep your eyes on the road, at least you can listen to an audiobook without worrying that you’ll somehow drive past the office.

And with ride”sharing” (AKA taxis, whatever brand they’re under) it’s even better: you don’t have to worry about the road or anything. You get in at your door, and the driver will get you to your destination. These days, you don’t even have to watch the meter to make sure the driver isn’t taking advantage of you by going a longer way: the price is usually set in advance.

I actually don’t mind driving in the city, though. What I hate is parking. It’s intolerable. It’s very stressful as you drive slow and have to hold up the cars behind you. You never know where you’re going to find a spot, or how long it will take, or how far away it will be from your destination, or how long it will take you to walk. And the process itself is the most stressful part of driving: making sure you don’t hit the cars in front of and behind you and that you’re close enough to the curb or haven’t violated some other mysterious regulation that will land you a ticket.

I guess if you’re a millionaire you can use the garages.

So I do like taxis in the city.

I love my electric bike, too. You don’t have to worry about where you can park it, and hey, it hasn’t been stolen yet. That’s why I didn’t bring my car to Berkeley.

There’s a virtuous circle where

  • The safer it is to walk
  • the more people will walk
  • the fewer cars will be on the road
  • the safer it is to walk

(Substitute “walk” for “bike” if your city is really well designed)

And the more people decide to walk, the fewer people have to be crammed into public transit. You still need public transit, some people are physically disabled, and other people will need to get all the way across town, and you don’t want either to fill the road up with cars that break your virtuous cirlce.

Once you are at this point, cars substitute for three kinds of commuting:

  • Walking/biking short distances
  • Public transit medium intra-city distances
  • Public transit long inter-city distances

Let’s get back to OP

Theory: long commutes are bad if you spend most of it driving a car. They are not bad if you spend most of it on public transportation.

This really depends on what is meant with “long commutes.”

If you’re going 80 miles by train inter-city with maybe five stops along the route, you can get work done, or watch a movie, or, – just set a clock to alert you 10 minutes before your stop. On a good train, this is far in preference to driving. I tried this out of/into Copenhagen for a while, and it was far preferable to driving a car the same distance.

But if you’re going 40 miles by some kind of Greater Metropolitan service that stops every three minutes and is packed close with people, ugh. I’d much rather drive.

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