One of the things I hate the most about working a typical corporate job is my daily commute to work.  Even though I enjoy driving and cars in general, I’ve come to dread that daily ritual.

Every morning and afternoon, I have to steel myself for what often feels like a battle.  The dangerous driving behaviors and too frequent daily accidents have turned my commute into one of the most stressful periods of my day.

Driving is Dangerous

It appears I’m stressed out about that commute for a good reason.  About 1.25 million people die from a road traffic injury each year, according to the WHO.

A fatality tied to driving is the extreme scenario, and the probability is still relatively low.  However, there isn’t a week of commuting that goes by without me experiencing some dangerous near miss.

It’s also rare for me not to witness a distracted driver of some sort on any given day.  Most people have become so accustomed to long commutes, that they go into auto-mode while driving.

This means I need to be laser-focused and on edge every time I get into my car.

Commute Times are Increasing

The average commute time in the U.S. is about 26 minutes each way.  That’s approximately a 20% increase from the 1980s, according to this Washington Post article.

That’s almost an hour each day of unproductive and potentially dangerous activity.  This translates to 9 days per year wasted commuting for the average worker.  It’s even more if you’re one of the unlucky few who qualify as a mega-commuter, with a one-way commute of 90 minutes or longer.

My commute time ten years ago was about 20 minutes on average.  It’s now up to 30 minutes on average each way.  This is only because I tend to go to work very early, and leave before the worst of the traffic begins.  If it weren’t for that, I would be closer to 45 minutes each way.

This is much higher than the average commute time in my city.  If you’re wondering how you compare to the average in the U.S. or your particular city, you can use this cool tool from WNYC.

I don’t mind a 15-20 minute commute, but my tolerance is tested at 30 minutes or higher.

I can feel my stress level increase and my mood shifts as a result of the commute.  It reduces my overall happiness.  I should count myself lucky for not living in one of the top 10 worst cities for the longest commutes.    Another example of a lifestyle choice which could impact the bottom line.

Mrs. Max, on the other hand, switched jobs earlier this year and reduced her average commute from 45 minutes to 15 each way.  As a result, we get to see her more often, and she’s in a much better mood when she gets home from work.

Happy City

I recently read a book by Charles Montgomery named Happy City.  It helped put into perspective how we collectively got to this point in most major cities in the world.  It also showed many examples of how urban designers are fighting back against this trend.

The basic premise is that we’ve been prioritizing vehicles over people’s happiness in cities around the world, and that’s made us miserable as a result.

We’ve built these sprawling suburbs and exurbs with matching houses chasing the perception of the American dream.  Instead, we ended up with socially disconnected neighborhoods and robbed ourselves of precious time that could be spent with family and friends.

I found the book fascinating to read, and it opened up my eyes concerning the environment we choose to live in.  You should check it out if you haven’t already.

Choose Carefully

It’s widespread to hear of young couples who start out living in the city and relatively close to work, opting later to move much further out into the suburbs.  Typically because of a growing family.

Usually, the reasons have to do with affordability, but more often than not, they have to do with the desire for more.  The list includes things like.

  • Bigger house
  • Larger backyard
  • Room for every kid
  • Bathroom for every kid
  • Guest room
  • Playroom
  • Family Room
  • Wine Cellar

Next thing you know, you’re living in a 4K+ square foot home of your dreams, and wondering why you can’t enjoy it.  Your time is spent commuting to work so you can afford that sprawling house.

At first, it’s tolerable, but as time goes by, and the kids demand more of your time, it gets old.

Many people dismiss the pressures of commuting when considering what neighborhood to live in, and they usually compromise on the commute rather than the house itself.  I think a strong case can be made for the reverse.

I work with many colleagues and have many friends who are pushing mega-commuter status.  The amount of time they waste going back and forth is depressing.

Final Thoughts

One of the things I look forward to during my Freedom Years is the ability to ditch my commute.  We should be able to limit ourselves to one car during this period.

Like the Happy City book points out, most people would love to travel around their city by bicycle.  But most cities are designed for cars, which discourages that activity.  I’ve been riding my bike around the neighborhood for many tasks over the past few years. I can confirm that I get a significant shot of happiness during those times.  I even had a tandem bike attached to mine so my daughter can experience the same enjoyment.

Almost every trip we’ve taken on vacation has included some bike ride outing.  We get to experience more of the cities we visit when we use that form of transportation over any other.

Our cities have been designed to push people away; it’s time we start rethinking that strategy and its impact on our well being.

This post originally appeared on Max Your Freedom