For those of us who are able to walk or bike to work, this time of year offers a great deal of delight! Everywhere, nature gives us glimpses of spring, as shoots push up from the ground with the promise of beautiful flowers to come. Buds are developing on the trees, and birds are particularly full of song as they pair off for the season.
Sadly, new research indicates that many New Jersey commuters are missing out on these signs of spring. Data from the US Census Bureau revealed today that people in New Jersey have on average the second-longest commute in the nation. 1 in 7 NJ commuters travel more than an hour to get to work. This takes a massive toll on the individual and their families. It’s not much fun to have to sit in traffic or squashed on a commuter train, neither of which offer much of a view of the signs of spring around us. As the linked article from the Star-Ledger notes, scientific tests performed on ‘mega-commuters’ revealed:
“they had a harder time staying on task and had elevated levels of the stress hormone cortisol”
Why then do we choose to live so far away from our places of work? In many cases, people are making an active choice, including no doubt many of the 6,346 individuals who commute daily from Mercer County to New York. Living in the Princeton area offers the possibility of having a larger home with a yard, and the advantages of great schools. But may other people must make longer commutes than they desire because they can’t find a home near their place of work. Zoning restrictions that favor low-density housing requires spread-out development patterns that require people to get in cars and drive to get to work.
At Walkable Princeton we believe that allowing people to live close to their place of work and favoring walking and biking will raise everybody’s quality of life. We can reduce commute time, traffic and oil use by permitting more flexible zoning that enables people to live near where jobs are in central Princeton. It is crazy to require longer commutes and traffic when we could accommodate many more people in Princeton with a moderate increase in housing units. Increased density on infill sites around the Princeton downtown would greatly increase the percentage of people able to walk to work, and help reduce the toll of long commutes on individuals and families. Walkability is best, because a longer trip to work isn’t so bad if you are on foot, getting valuable exercise and being able to appreciate the nature around you!
* As a final point, and relating to yesterday’s post (Too Many Cars Around Princeton) about the increasing number of cars on Princeton area roads, it’s worth pointing out that the Census data also showed that more commuters pass daily from New Jersey into Pennsylvania than travel the other way. You often hear that roads in Mercer County are clogged with Pennsylvania commuters who live in Bucks County to take advantage of lower taxes and then drive into New Jersey. The figures show that we are sending just as many people the opposite direction into Pennsylvania.