Census 2000 figures reveal the biggest cities with the worst commutes to work

Tuesday, November 20th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) _ California's love affair with the car has created more gridlock and carpooling, while the prize for the nation's longest average schlep to work goes to New York City, according to the latest Census data.

With an average commute of 39 minutes, New Yorkers spend about four entire days more traveling each year than workers in Chicago, which has the second-longest commute at 33 minutes.

The data released Tuesday offers a glimpse of how Americans get to work: Carpooling remains popular in California and Bostonians like to walk. Residents of El Paso, Texas, and Charlotte and Raleigh, the two largest cities in North Carolina, seem to hate hoofing it to the office.

Nationally, commute times increased during the 1990s and carpooling declined from 13 percent of car traffic to 11 percent, according to estimates from U.S. cities with more than 250,000 residents.

Though it has the nation's most extensive transit system, New York City again won the dubious honor as the city with the longest commute. And it's gotten worse: In 1990, commuters in the Big Apple needed an average of 36.5 minutes to get to work.

Dragging up the average is Aaron Engel, 24, who takes an hour and 15 minutes each day to get from far outer Queens borough to downtown Manhattan.

``It's very draining. It's definitely not a pleasant experience,'' Engel said of his trek that involves driving to the subway then taking two trains. He thought of moving to Manhattan, but after September's terrorist attacks opted to continue battling the commute.

One in eight workers in Boston walks to the office _ the highest rate in the nation. By contrast, people in Raleigh are the least likely to walk to work _ only 1 in 100 workers _ followed closely by El Paso and Charlotte.

With its searing summer heat and mountainous terrain, only the bravest souls march across the 247-square-mile city of El Paso.

One is Art Duval, a professor of mathematical science at the University of Texas at El Paso, who strolls his mile and a half commute in a floppy hat, clutching a water bottle.

``When I walk to campus,'' Duval said, ``usually, I'm the only one.''

Of the 10 cities with the longest commutes in 1990, six remained from a decade later: New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Washington, San Francisco and Los Angeles. Newcomers in 2000 included Miami; Newark, N.J.; Riverside, Calif.; and Oakland, Calif.

To the surprise of city leaders, the southern California city of Anaheim was the nation's carpooling king. One in four motorists share the ride.

Three major freeway systems border the city, all with car pool lanes, and several of Anaheim's largest employers offer car pool incentives, including the city itself, said spokesman John Nicoletti.

In Santa Ana, a city with a large immigrant, low-skilled work force, carpooling is the smart way to avoid an exasperating bus ride to Los Angeles for a graveyard shift.

``Carpooling is perhaps the most logical approach,'' said Abel Valenzuela, a professor of urban studies at UCLA.

In Oakland, where most commuters pay $2 to navigate the chronically clogged Bay Bridge to reach offices in San Francisco, the car pool lane is twice as fast, and free. Since the 1970s, some drivers have found the necessary two passengers by stopping at spots where the car-less queue up.

``Casual carpooling'' has become a commute staple in the Bay Area, where about 10,000 commuters use the informal system each day.

``It's really not that big of a hassle,'' said Steve Beroldo, a researcher with RIDES, a Bay Area commute planning service, who spent 15 years carpooling into San Francisco.

The carpoolers manage to avoid commute times that rank Oakland and San Francisco among the five longest trips to work in the nation. Indeed, seven California cities averaged commutes over 25 minutes each way, including Los Angeles at 28.1 minutes.