How to End the Commute Nightmare

The pandemic let many people experience a commute-free lifestyle, but can we reduce rush-hour traffic as we make our return to physical workplaces?

2 minute read

August 25, 2021, 6:00 AM PDT

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction

Portland Street

4kclips / Shutterstock

"Every recent survey reports that the rush-hour commute is, to most of the drivers who endure it, the most difficult and unpleasant part of their day," writes Alan Ehrenhalt. "It is also the most alienating." Yet "[i]t shouldn’t be forgotten that the solo commute is a creation of the 20th century. In Victorian times, work and home life were concentrated in the same places." In fact, "[t]he nightmares of rush hour were and are creatures of the automobile, the modern suburb and the zoning ordinances that have rigidly separated commercial and industrial enclaves from the residential districts of metro areas."

During the pandemic, travel patterns shifted significantly. "Drivers, especially those working at home, have been spacing out their travel much more evenly over the course of the day," flattening the rush hour traffic peaks. "Is there a way we can buck the historical trend of eventual return to congestion and keep something like the current arrangement going?"

In lieu of a scenario where a significant percentage of workers keep working from home(a possibility that carries its own rippling implications), Ehrenhalt argues that a simple solution to the commute problem "would be to bring most remote workers back to the center city but to stagger their hours, as has been happening to a limited extent already." Our "nightmare rush hours" are a result of "inefficient management practices — we could wake up from the nightmare with a commitment to sensible scheduling."

Of course, writes Ehrenhalt, "the most appealing long-term answer is for more of us to live near the places where we work," reducing the need for extensive travel to and from work. The commuting problem can only be solved by eliminating the need for it for more people.

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