Congratulations, commuters in the Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue area! You are finally being recognized for your considerable trials in getting to work. Two recent studies place Seattle on the short list of shitty commutes. One study examines long-distance or supercommuters (defined relatively as people who commute from a county outside that of the central metropolitan area), while the other examines an advanced class of supercommuters known as megacommuters, who travel 50 or more miles and 90 or more minutes.

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  • WNYC Commute Times
  • Click through to see the average commute time in your zip code—hint, dark pink means bad!

Seattle is the third-fastest growing city for long-distance commuters, according to the first study by the Wagner School at NYU, which used census data to map changes in commutes from 2002 to 2009. The total percentage of supercommuters in Seattle, at 6.8 percent, is a couple points higher than the national average. It breaks down to 71,000 people travelling from far outside city limits to get to work. Most people are coming from the surrounding counties: Pierce, Snohomish, Kitsap. But two points stand out:

• 12,900 people are driving six hours-round trip from fucking Portland to Seattle, and
• Another 7,700 drive (or fly) from Spokane to Seattle, over a goddamn mountain range, to get to work.

On to the second study:

Last Monday the Census Bureau released more numbers, tracking megacommuters—which the bureau defines as commuters who clock in at 119 minutes or 166.4 miles on average—across the nation's largest metropolises. The national average for commutes is 26.1 minutes or 18.8 miles. A few more noteworthy points about this study:

• Seattle falls at number 10 on the bureau's list of longest commutes, with .57 percent of commuters enduring these 166-plus-mile marathons. (At the top of the list is San Francisco, where 2.6 percent of workers are megacommuters.)
• While we have the 10th longest commute in the bunch, we do not appear on the top ten list for farthest commuting distance.
• Like the other cities listed, we have a massive transit network, but people who use it spend more time on the road than drivers, and both groups have to deal with congestion.

Both the Wagner and U.S. Census Bureau studies showed that super- and megacommuters are likely to be middle class (people who make less than $40,000) and young. However, Seattle's growth in long-distance commuters is a little different from the rest of the country. The Wagner report says our income breakdown sets us apart. Middle class and young commuters more than doubled in Seattle, faster than most other cities, but not as fast as in the entire working population. Basically, they show that in an inflated housing market with a high cost of living, such as in Seattle, people aged 29 and younger are getting started on that American dream thing by buying a house someplace far away and then commuting long distances to jobs that help them afford that mortgage.

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Seattle also stands out from other metropolises like New York and Houston because there are a lot more oldies supercommuting in this region. While the majority of our supercommuters are under 30 (as elsewhere), the number of people 55 and older is growing faster than these other cities.

The rise of supercommuters across the globe and in the Northwest requires us to redefine metropolitan boundaries. The Wagner report explains,

As a rule of thumb, the U.S. Census Bureau bases its metropolitan area boundaries on the degree of “social and economic integration, as measured by commuting to work” between adjacent areas and the urban core.

But the social impact of swaths of the population spending three hours in a car or on a bus goes beyond adjusting our idea of city limits. It means demanding flexible schedules and telecommuting from employers. It means we’ll cut family and social activities even thinner as people put time and money into getting to work. And it means we need to figure out how to make living in the urban core more affordable, so that in Seattle, we can match our obsession with eating and buying local, to living and working local.

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