The City-Suburb Commute is Not What it Used to Be

Wendell Cox looks at commuting patterns, and finds that the old supposition that most commuters are going from suburban housing to urban jobs no longer holds water.

"One of the most enduring urban myths suggests that most jobs are in the core of metropolitan areas, making commuting from the far suburbs more difficult. Thus, as fuel prices have increased, many have expected that people will begin moving from farther out in the suburbs to locations closer to the cores. Indeed, in some countries, such as Australia, much of the urban planning regime of the last decade has been based upon the assumption that urban areas must not be constrained because the residents on the fringe won't be able to get to work.

Like many myths, this one has limited conformity with the truth. This can be seen even in New York, the New York metropolitan area (the combined statistical area), which is home to the second largest central business district in the country and by far the most well-developed transit system in North America. Yet, despite this, a close examination of work trip data from the 2006 U.S. Census American Community Survey shows a pattern of shorter work travel times for many of the most far-flung areas while those located closer to the core often experience longer commutes."

Full Story: Long Island Express: The Surprisingly Short Commutes of Suburban New Yorkers



Michael Lewyn's picture

actually, not inconsistent with gentrification

Obviously, not everyone has a downtown job. But among the subset of people who DO have downtown jobs, high fuel prices should encourage a higher percentage of that subset to live closer to work.

Commute Times and Highway Investment

Of course suburb to suburb commute times are shorter in most places, because so much transportation funding has gone to beltways in the last few decades. We have invested significantly in suburban highway infrastructure and failed to invest or in most cases barely maintained the infrastructure for suburb to downtown transit, making suburb to suburb commuting much easier, thus encouraging it.

City-Suburb Commute

Mr. Cox has discovered what has been researched for years by professional planners. It actually has been well-researched that commuting within metropolitan areas is multi-centered between suburban homes and offices, as much as from suburbs to core downtowns. Nothing new either that trips within the New York metro region would be shorter between these suburban centers than the longer trip to Manhattan and Brooklyn.

The key missing point in Mr. Cox' article is that these suburban metro areas consumed upteen square miles for expensive low-density homes and infrastructure. So major places such as California's San Francisco Bay Area have encouraged economic development, letting very long-distance rural communities bear the brunt of commuters seeking shelter. These very long commutes from even outside the metro area will eventually change to local suburban trips, if and once the Bay Area finds ways to intensify and infill for more local commuting. The many studies and excellent books by Robert Cervero provide a more accurate and compelling look at the suburban pattern and transportation impacts.

Jamie Lopes

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