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I had an idea driving to work.

It occured to me that the whole "death of long-term employment" thing (you know, where Dad worked at the same company for 40 years, but I've had four gigs in the last three years) is contributing to traffic.

Think about it.  If you had every reason to think you'd still be at your present employer 15 years from now, you'd buy a house near your job, right?  That fact that you won't be there years from now means you'll buy a house in an area you like and can afford, and then drive all over hell's half acre to your gigs for the rest of your life.

That's why there's so much damn traffic lately!  We're all driving all over the place because of the commoditization of labor!  (Can you tell I live in the city with the longest commute times in the USA?)

Grumpy Old-Timer
Friday, September 26, 2003

My wife has been working in Liverpool since March and stays during the week in Chester.  Now she has an interview with a firm in London and one of our questions is, do we move closer to London if she gets it or do we maintain our enjoyed environment and lifestyle here.

Simon Lucy
Friday, September 26, 2003

And how many of those people you see 'in traffic' are driving great big SUVs and other gas-guzzlers?

i like i
Friday, September 26, 2003

We need to face this fact: people like to drive. Even if they lived closer to work, they would still go out and drive from time to time. Only a very small percentage would take some alternate form of transportation, and again a very small percentage would move closer to work (mostly apartment dwellers, as sometimes it's too cost prohibitive to change houses).

Brad Wilson (
Friday, September 26, 2003

IMHO a major part of the problem is the growth of urban areas, the flight to the suburbs, and the refusal of business to a) create suburban branches, b) move to the burbs, or c) allow telecommuting.

Is there a real *business* benefit to "being in the corridor"? Has anyone ever seen a company lose a contract because of their address? (I'm curious if this has ever really happened - I don't know).

I live in a bedroom community 20 miles south of DC. Our rush hour is about 3 hours long in the morning, 5 hours in the evening, and it's a fault-intolerant system - any glitch in traffic (breakdown, weather, road work) and it's instant gridlock.

So why don't more businesses put branches in our community? SAIC or KPMG could easily justify a 20-person office down here. But of course then we get the "out of sight, not working" thing.

Telecommuting would also do a lot to alleviate congestion. But businesses are more interested in sending work around the globe than down the street.

I honestly don't know if there *is* a solution, but I'm convinced it's got to be a lateral answer - "more roads" is never going to fix it.


Friday, September 26, 2003

Says somethiing about the stultifying effets of being stuck in traffic, that it's taken thousands of hours for you to realize it!

There's also a little bit of a chicken and egg scenario; because people are worried about changing jobs they get a house in somewhere accessible, and therefore they are able to jiump jobs easily.

Another factor is that wives now routinely work, which wasn't true fifty years ago. So you need a house near both of your jobs; as this is nearly impossible in cases where both spouses are professionals, you end up with a house in the middle bot parties commute from

You've also  touched on one of the reasons for low  unemployment in the US, Australia, and to a lesser extent the UK. The fact that in both places it is possible to easily change houses in order to move to a new job means unemployment figures are low. On the other hand in a country like Spain, where public housing is owned instead of rented, and where average landlord's deposits, advances and agency fees for renting are five  month's rent, you have an unemployment rate well above the average.

Incidentally, Brad is being blinkered if he thinks people sit in traffic jams because they enjoy driving. If you look at places outside the US with a good public transport system (or New York for example within the US) you will find that people have no problems leaving their cars at home.

Stephen Jones
Friday, September 26, 2003

"Incidentally, Brad is being blinkered if he thinks people sit in traffic jams because they enjoy driving."

I actually didn't think I was saying that, but I guess in some ways I am. Here in Denver there are some good alternatives for transportation with more on the way, and by and large, they're ignored.

There must be some reason people sit in 10 mph traffic on the xway instead of getting in a light rail train.

Brad Wilson (
Friday, September 26, 2003

Dear Philo,
                  The problem with businesses moving out to the suburbs is that it can actually be more expensive, since they will find that their pool of labour  is only about 20% of what it was (I'm presuming you're talking about businesses requiring skilled labour here). A city centre address can get anybody. A suburban address can only get those within the local catchment area, and no, you won't persuade a guy to move because he's afraid he'll find himslelf unemployed later down the line, and there is the spouse to consider.

                    And as for companies being prepared to let their workers telecommute from India, instead of from 30 miles away; that's logical. If they're telecommuting why not get the cheapest offer; they not going to be physically present anyway.

Stephen Jones
Friday, September 26, 2003

It's because you have to take a bus to and from each end of the rail line to complete your commute.  Trains may be fast, but include the connections and transfers and they're a p-i-t-a.

Friday, September 26, 2003

        There are plenty of reasons why people ignore public transport, and in the second most car-mad nation in the world some kind of atavistic  repulsion might be involved.

          However, in many cases publid transport fails because it only covers part of the journey. If you have to take the car to the rail station at one end, and worse still don't have free secure parking at the rail station, then you will take the car the whole journey, particularly if you have free parking at work.

          Then there is the matter of cost. In Germany they found that only the rich took trains, because everybody had a car, and only the rich could afford to pay for the train as well.

              And finally there is the question of time. At the moment you might find most companies near the freeways. Give it a bit of time and you wil find some start moving near the rail network, and this will have a knock on effect.

Stephen Jones
Friday, September 26, 2003

I must be rich then Stephen, we do all our long distance travel by train and use public transport within the city. Mind you, one of the reasons we are so well off is that we do not have to maintain a car...

Friday, September 26, 2003

The solution seems to be to rent.

Has anyone tried renting a house?  I'm surprised it isn't more common.

The economics of owning a house seem to be that you need to stay for 7 years to break-even, compared with renting.  The 7 year figure is approximate, because it depends on your assumptions.  Most places that perform the calculation do so incorrectly.

To consider the "rent or own" equation, you must consider the difference between owning the house OR investing the downpayment plus (mortgage payment - rent).  To get a realistic answer, you need to know:

- expected appreciation on house (2%-5%)
- interest rate on mortgage (currently 6%?)
- expected return on other invesments (7%-8%)
- home purchase fees (commissions for real estate broker, legal costs, closing costs, mortgage costs and hidden costs)
- tax braket, and the extent to which mortgage deduction will be deducted

If you take all the above information, and make a suitable spreadsheet, you can calculate the "own vs. rent" equation.

Also notice that you should compare renting a house to owning a house.  You shouldn't compare owning a house to renting an apartment, because living in a house is probably nicer.

Friday, September 26, 2003


Only the second most car-mad?  I admit to not being a world traveler, but... who's the first?  (=

Sam Livingston-Gray
Friday, September 26, 2003

Grumpy's idea is a factor, but not the whole story.

I had a 20 minute commute to work with two alternate routes available for over 15 years.  When I lost that job in the bubble, my next job was an hour or more commute and I did not plan to stay there long enough to move closer.

But people don't chose their homes just to be close to work.  I know someone (with wife and three children) who has kept his job but moved, within this past year, much farther from work.  Many people prefer not to live in the urban area where their job is located.  In densely populated urban/suburban areas (e.g. lower Bos-Wash) with so many planned communities with CC&R restrictions, one may have to go quite a distance from the office to find the home of one's choice.

Friday, September 26, 2003

--"Only the second most car-mad?  I admit to not being a world traveler, but... who's the first?  (= "---

Where I live: Saudi Arabia. Non-car owners are truly the "UnterMenschen". I know, I don't own one!

Stephen Jones
Friday, September 26, 2003

Dear Anonymous,
                          Problem with your figures is that there are too many uncertainties. Certainly mortgage payments will always be considerably higher than any risk-free return you can get for your money, but oroperty price appreciation (or depreciation as has been the case in Japan for 15 years) is not a regular process. It happens in fits and starts.

Stephen Jones
Friday, September 26, 2003

I'll claim much of the traffic is *because* businesses moved to the suburbs.

two reasons why:
1) A concentration of businesses 'downtown' allows you to build a good public transit system: since most people are going within walking distance of 2-5 stops, you can have a bus route from each suburb which heads downtown, or ties into a train system which will run at high frequency. Both require high demand, which a concentrated downtown provides. With dispersed offices, public transit becomes low-demand an ineffective.

2) When you put a business in the east suburb, all the people who live in the west suburb still have to go downtown. through it, then out the other side. Or way around. And reversible lane systems don't work very well.

Friday, September 26, 2003

Where I live (in orange county), it seems to be the case that more and more companies are building offices right in the hear of suberbia.  I've seen 5 or 6 really nice buildings spring up within walking distance of hundreds of communities. 

Friday, September 26, 2003

Anonymous - the one thing that seems to be missing from your equation is accumulation of equity.

Simply put - if you own a house for thirty years, when you sell it, all that money is yours.

If you rent for thirty years, you have nothing to show for it.

Did I miss something?


Friday, September 26, 2003

"There must be some reason people sit in 10 mph traffic on the xway instead of getting in a light rail train."

Because Americans have a special psychosis about transportation.  We're building "communities" (don't know that you can even call them that anymore) where it's only possible to survive by getting into a motorized vehicle and driving many miles to the Super Stuff-Mart to load up the Land Hummer to the brim with industrial-size containers of home goods.

Am I the only one left in this country who thinks having a store at the corner where you can get just a carton of milk or whatever else you might need on a whim is a good thing?  Or a park kids can walk to and play with other kids without needing a grown up to take them there in the Canyanero?  Even if you do live close to one of these things, good luck surviving the trip as a pedestrian across the 12 lane highway you'll need to cross.

As far as I can tell, everyone in the U.S. who wants to opt out of this lifestyle has one option:  move to New York City.

In the Great Divorce, C.S. Lewis presents a metaphorical vision of Hell (or perhaps purgatory?) where people can create dwellings for themselves just by thinking of them.  What happens?  Everyone builds larger and larger homes for themselves, farther and farther apart, isolating themselves more and more until they are light years from any other human beings.

I think of this often when I consider American suburbia, with ever larger homes ever more isolated from their neighbors, with ever more entertainment options allowing us to avoid human contact ever more.

Food for thought.

Jim Rankin
Friday, September 26, 2003

"than any risk-free return you can get for your money"

Ain't no such thing.  It's called arbitrage, and one of the basic rules of economics is that it can't exist.  If it did, it would be possible to leverage any investment into an infinite amount of money.

Investors are always searching for this, kind of like a perpetual motion machine.

Jim Rankin
Friday, September 26, 2003

Philo: I think anonymous's point was that once you factor in interest costs, house maintainence and brokerage fees, the advantage of building equity isn't so great anymore.  Especially on the front-end of a 30-year mortgage, where the payment is almost entirely interest -- short-term home owners may end up getting screwed.

Jim: actually, I think the move to living in jam-packed cities is a historical novelty; used to be that we were all farmers and lived quite a distance from each other.

Friday, September 26, 2003

===="Jim: actually, I think the move to living in jam-packed cities is a historical novelty;"-----

Yea, I mean it only goes back to a few thousand years before Christ, and the traffic jams didn't even become serious until Ancient Rome.

Actually, the recent innovations are the suburbs. The train was the main culprit, and then the car put the nail in the coffin.

Stephen Jones
Friday, September 26, 2003

Cities make wonderful sense for a variety of reasons.  NYC is not exactly panacea; plenty of people have a 1 hour subway commute (e.g. Riverdale to Wall Street).

I live in center city Philadelphia, and for the past year I've been lucky to have a 10 minute walk to work, versus a 45-minute drive to the tech-heavy "western suburbs".

That's 250 hours a year I'm not driving.  And I can run all sorts of errands to and from work (food shopping, dry cleaning, shopping, post office, banking).

Yes I have a car, and have probably put almost 4000 miles on it in the past year, mostly on weekend trips.

Sadly, the vast majority of people in the US are unable to walk to work and instead spend 100's of hours (and $$$) in the car.

Dave Torok
Friday, September 26, 2003

>"Ain't no such thing.  It's called arbitrage, and one of the basic rules of economics is that it can't exist.  If it did, it would be possible to leverage any investment into an infinite amount of money."

But you'd need an infinite amount of time to accumulate that infinite amount of money.  For all practical purposes, economists do regard instruments like US Treasury bills as having risk-free interest rates.  Rates are generally quoted in terms of an annual return, not an instantaneous return.

T. Norman
Friday, September 26, 2003

You might want to consider it the other way around.

Because businesses no longer hire people "for life" and people are less willing to move somewhere for a job, businesses now have to be in a place where they can choose the best and the brightest from among 8,000,000 citizens (i.e. New York City). Locate your business in... What's the name of that place IBM & co are setting up shop to make chips? and you'll have to chose among the best & the brightest in that area.... Unless you're IBM & co and people actually ARE willing to move to work there.

Mark T A W .com
Friday, September 26, 2003

Yes. Business must now move to the talent.

"The rise of the creative class"

fool for python
Friday, September 26, 2003


I will say hell yea!  I hate the burbs.  They actually make me sick to my stomach.  I long for ability to walk to the local pub, grocery, and work.  I stayed with a friend of mine in Paris, and thought of waking up and buying fresh croisants at the corner, makes me green with envy.

That is all but impossible in this country.  I live in Lake Tahoe.  It is a hypocrites paradise.  All these CARS with bumper stickers that say "Keep Tahoe Blue." 

Am I the only one that sees the irony in this?  There is a tradition of manipulating your sticker.  Some put "Keep Tahoe Local", "Keep Tahoe Green" (as in weed), etc.  Mine?


Cars are killing the Lake Tahoe Basin, yet it is impossible to get anywhere in this area with out a car. 

Someday will wake up and realize we are buried in our own, well, feces.

christopher baus
Saturday, September 27, 2003

I grew up in an area where lots of stuff was in walking distance, and NYC was commuting distance... I now live just a couple of miles away, and I'm in hell... 5 to 10 minutes to get to any store, and the walk is pretty drab. I used to live around the corner from a bodega, bar, video store, car service, hair cutters, 10 minutes from the train, and about 10 - 15 minutes walk from the supermarket. Heck, I used to walk 20 minutes to the Video store. Why not?

Like that MacDonalds guy said - Location Location Location.

Mark T A W .com
Saturday, September 27, 2003

OK, I drive a car for exactly this reason. It has been more than 5 years since I last worked in the same county I lived in. It's been more than 7 since I worked in the same city I live in.

In all that time, I've lived within 3 miles of the university I graduated from. I absolutely cannot get a job in this city. God knows I've tried. I was willing to take a 30% paycut to go work for a company five minutes down the road to reduce my commute time. They turned me down saying that I'd leave the moment I was offered more money...

There is NO WAY I could afford to move house to be near each job. I'd spend my entire life unpacking for one thing. The last move was two years ago. We still haven't finished unpacking: if I was moving every year I'd never finish.

And, on a subsidiary topic: I also drive a car for another reason: I'm disabled. There is no way I can walk the distances that are involved in public transport. For example; the bank's offices are far enough from the train station that I couldn't walk that far without it tiring me out. It is, however, close enough that the council doesn't see the point in running busses.

I could not possibly stand for the two hour train journey there(well, not without passing out); and it's a rare train in the UK that has spare seats. And there are managementy issues: since I don't know whether one crutch is going to be enough for the day, I'd have to take both of them everyday. That means I can't carry much else. When I drive, I just have the other one on the back seat in case I need it.

When the chancellor goes off on one of his rants about taxing us off the roads, he doesn't think about those of us who just can't do the walking involved in using public transport.

And heaven help the people who use wheelchairs and can't even get in the stations because the stations have stairs... it's bad enough on crutches.

I simply just don't go to London these days. I can't drive there because there's absolutely nowhere to park in central London. I can't take the train because we don't have trains to London on the weekends. We have to drive 15 miles to the next town and catch trains on a different line. It's not even like we're an out-of-the-way place. This is Coventry. I can see the railway line to London from my house. They just don't run trains up and down it... And even if I could catch the train there I'd have to cope with the tube stations, and almost none of them have lifts.

And thirdly, public transport is slow. My commute time in a car along the jam-packed M42 and the forever-dug-up M1 is an hour. By train it would take two hours. My other half has just phoned. He left a client's site at 6pm. He asked if I could collect him from the city centre station when he arrives at 10pm. Now, this is England. We're a tiny country. There's not many directions where you could drive for four hours and not be in the ocean.

Katie Lucas
Monday, September 29, 2003

Oh yes, and house price inflation means I can't afford to move without moving down the housing market.

Two years ago I bought this house. It was a perfectly reasonable mortgage, less than 3x my salary.

Now, in the UK you can usually only borrow about 3 3/4 times your annual salary -- The value of this house passed that about a year ago. The value at the moment is about 3x the value of our COMBINED income. At this rate, two software engineers[1] will be unable to afford a smart, but small  3-bedroom home this time next year.

[1] And bluntly, the market's crap, but we're still not badly paid...

Katie Lucas
Monday, September 29, 2003

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