And This is Supposed to be Good News?

The average amount of time Indy folks spend commuting hasn’t increased since last year, according to the IBJ. The headline suggests that this is a positive finding. We should all cheer.

An Indianapolis commuter spends an average of 41 hours in freeway delays during rush hour each year, according to a study by the Texas A&M Transportation Institute. Forty-one hours–an entire week¬†of one’s life, each and every year–spent behind the wheel, looking at someone else’s tail lights.

What could you do with that week? Read a book, play with your children, volunteer for a charity…sleep? Make love?

I’ve always had difficulty understanding the folks who live in far-flung suburbs, and willingly trade convenience for the privilege of mowing more grass. My own commute is less than 2 miles, and during rush hour can take up to 8 minutes, so I’m not the most empathetic person to be commenting on the waste of time involved. But let’s do a thought experiment: what if Indianapolis had real mass transit?

By “real,” I mean public transportation with 5 or at most 10-minute headways, on clean and comfortable trains or buses with wi-fi. Such a transportation system wouldn’t just improve the environment by saving lots of carbon emissions. It wouldn’t just jump-start the local economy by getting employees to work. It wouldn’t just encourage smart urban growth.

It would give that average Indianapolis commuter a week of his or her life back. Every year.

The grass aficionados could have their cake and eat it too: they could spend their commuting week reading, emailing, working–or just listening to music. Or sleeping. (Sex probably isn’t an option.)

If I were one of the people spending a week of every year stuck in traffic, I’d be down at the Indiana Statehouse demanding the right to hold a referendum. And if the micro-managing legislators actually allowed us a measure of self-determination, I’d beat the drums for a positive vote–and my chance to recapture that lost week.


  1. I was speaking with a young friend last night who is looking for work. He lives downtown and wants to stay there. Most of the entry level jobs are in the suburbs. He has ZERO chance of finding public transit from a home in Indy and a job in Carmel / Fishers area. For now, the car is really the only viable option for most of us. For me, I always liked to live close to work. My commutes have always been just a few minutes. Indy has enough nice areas to live in that there is no real reason for the long commute (for folks who can afford to live where they work and work where they live.) For entry level folks, a whole different set of challenges. And w/o a car….forget it.

  2. I live in NW Indiana, and 41 hours a year wouldn’t sound bad to people who have to commute to Chicago. Smart states adopted light rail and other public transit early, though, so I take advantage of Metra every time I go downtown. (There is always the South Shore, too.) Clean, safe, on time, reasonable rates with cheap parking and no stress. And it’s good for the economy. Too bad Indiana works so hard to be like Mississippi when there are some good models all around. The later they decide to take public transportation seriously, the more expensive it will be.

  3. Well, if it’s only a work week and your number (41) was correct as you wrote it, then (for the sake of easy math) if someone works 41 weeks per year, then they are only spending 6 minutes in that traffic to and from work per day (12 total for the day).

    Honestly, that could mean the difference in hitting the red lights on the way home or getting lucky with the greens in urban traffic.

    Having lived in Nora and now in Boone Co., my commute was shorter by about 10 miles in Nora, but about 10 minutes longer than where I live now (with fairly easy access to I-65). My situation might be unique, but I wouldn’t bet on it.

    That’s not to say an argument for mass transit is invalid, but I hope that clarifies what seems to be a bit of sophistry.

Comments are closed.