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Dreamy Routines: Some of Our Readers’ Best “Commuter Idylls”

11:04 AM PDT on May 9, 2013

Some of you have some fabulous commutes. Rather than watch the stress-filled minutes and hours tick by stuck in traffic, you go outside, get exercise, and connect with your community.

I’ve had the pleasure of reading many of your commuter tales over the last few days, since we launched our Commuter Idyll contest. It’s our response to WTOP’s “Commuter Idle” contest for the worst commute in the DC area, with its prize of $1,000 in gas money. We'd rather focus on the positive: the wonderful daily transportation routines you can have when you get out of your car.

We did have one overall favorite, which we’ll post tomorrow, but there were so many that deserve mention. Here are some ancillary awards:

Most Family-Friendly

Katie from the DC suburbs won my heart with her story of taking her 10-month-old son to daycare on the bus. “He loves the bus, and despite the fact that he can't talk yet, he manages to make lots of friends,” she writes. “As soon as he sees the bus coming down the road, he starts squealing and kicking his legs, and once we get on, he just charms everyone on the bus by smiling and chattering away at all of them.”

“The other day, someone started snapping out a beat, and my little guy was just dancing along,” she said. “I seriously thought maybe someone was about to break into song, like we were in a musical or something.” Sure beats strapping him in to a car seat in the back where you can’t even see him.

Plus, waiting at the stop gives them some nice outdoor time. After dropping her son off at daycare, Katie continues on to work on the bus or walks – a healthy 30 minutes of exercise.

Runner-Up: Most Family-Friendly

Parents of young children will also appreciate this story from reader "TalF." He had been driving his commute from Riverdale, New York, to his job in New Jersey, but that could take anywhere from 45 minutes to two hours. The transit connections weren’t great either. Then last summer, he started cycling 45 minutes down the Hudson River Greenway to the 39th Street ferry, where it was 10 minutes across the river to New Jersey. He even biked the commute through the winter.

“So far it has been great!” TalF wrote. "I've lost weight and, paradoxically, feel like I have more energy for dealing with a newborn at night.”

Best of all, he and his wife have been able to sell one of their cars, saving them a bundle they can now spend on their little bundle.

Best Use of Rational Transportation Economics

We’ve got to hand it to Pancake for making his decisions based on rational economics. The Center for Neighborhood Technology has pioneered the H+T model for evaluating household expenses – Housing + Transportation, that is. Pancake says he pays more to live in the city because the cost of owning a car or taking public transportation into the city every day can erase the savings of marginally cheaper housing in the suburbs. He walks or bike-shares to his job that’s just over a mile from home. “Some days, I even come home for lunch for a nap,” Pancake writes. “That availability alone makes my form of transportation (my legs) well worth the extra money expelled in rent.”

Most Scenic

A few of you had some great stories about the sights as you walk, bike, or take the train in to work – things you’d never see from the highway. One contestant even sometimes takes a single-track mountain bike trail to work some days, which is pretty idyllic, if you’re into that sort of thing.

But we were taken with the scenic description from reader "C_29" of the one-mile walk between her house in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Washington, DC, and her office, passing the monuments, historic row houses with flowers in the gardens, kids, dogs, and "the lady that rollerblades in the Hine parking lot every morning."

I watch bakers making pop tarts in the window at Ted’s Bulletin, and workers unloading fresh produce at the Yes! Organic Market. Handsome uniformed Marines wish me good morning as I walk by, and sometimes I can hear the band rehearsing in the Barracks. I greet the friendly cats that hang out at Ginkgo Gardens, a beautiful garden center on 11th Street, and catch glimpses of muscular arms lifting weights at Atlas Fitness. Towards the end of my walk I observe the progress on the 11th Street Bridge project.

C_29's coworkers think it's strange that she doesn’t drive, but she's put in her time commuting an hour and a half each way to the city from Annandale, Virginia, and now she’s done with that. “I felt tired and sick all the time, and would sometimes get panic attacks while sitting in that awful traffic,” she said. The commute once took eight hours. So even the temptation of free parking at work isn’t enough to lure her away from her far-healthier choice. “I end up logging 50 minutes of exercise just from walking to and from work, and I believe the benefits are mental as well as physical,” she writes. “I'm much more relaxed and clear-headed than I was when I had a driving commute, and my headaches and neck pain have vanished completely.”

Most Multi-Modal

When Alex Francis Burchard was working in his native Tacoma, Washington, he biked to the Sounder train, “where I had wifi and played games for 30 minutes on my computer,” then switching to the Tacoma Link Light Rail, then taking a bus up the hill, and then biking the last 2,000 feet. On the way home he skips the bus and bikes downhill to the light rail stop or even all the way back to the Sounder.

The commute to his gardening job increased from 30 minutes to 90 minutes when he stopped driving and started doing this multi-modal odyssey, but he says it didn't bother him, since he could nap instead of driving white-knuckled through traffic. These days he lives in downtown Chicago and bikes almost everywhere. He lives less than a mile from work, so he walks there. “I've lost a pile of excess weight, feel better about myself, have fewer physical problems, and when I'm out riding I feel better than anything,” he said. That’s our kind of idyll!

Runner-Up: Most Multi-Modal

We’ve got to hand it to Ryan Brady, who opened up lots of different transportation options by biking. Now that he doesn't drive his 32-mile San Francisco-Novato commute anymore, he can do it any of five ways: a two-hour bus ride he can sleep through, or bike rides of various lengths, levels of difficulty, and scenic value, sometimes combined with the express bus or the ferry.

“Even though the travel time is about twice as long as by car, EVERY SINGLE ONE of these options is preferable to getting in that box and going bumper to bumper for even 5 minutes,” he writes.

Honorable Mention for Telling It to the Man

We couldn’t end without taking our hats off to Rufus, who didn’t just make major life changes based on staying car-free, he made sure the powers that be knew that their sprawl-happy ways were the pits. His old job was transit-accessible, with walkable amenities nearby. When the office moved further out to an office park deep in DC’s suburbs, Rufus had had enough. The move “was no big deal for the boss; her daily commute from West Virginia would be barely affected,” Rufus said. “But the non-drivers were out of luck.”

His transit commute, relying on an hourly shuttle bus from the metro, would become two to three hours. So he quit. “I made sure they knew why I was quitting,” Rufus said. “They offered me a promotion. I turned it down.”

Then everything started coming up roses for Rufus. He found a good job in the heart of downtown DC and moved to an apartment in the city that allowed him to walk to work. “With my office to the west, I can walk to work and home with the sun always at my back,” he said. Of course, being in the city, he has multiple options if he doesn’t feel like walking two miles one day. There’s the train, two bus routes, and Capital Bikeshare if he needs it.

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