Balancing act: Return to commuting by car brings headaches, opportunities

Published: Monday, Sept. 19 2011 1:00 p.m. MDT

In this file photo taken June 27, 2011, traffic backs up on I-15 near Bountiful.

Ravell Call, Deseret News archives

Enlarge photo»

I love my car. I really do.

It's comfortable. It's powerful. It gets decent mileage. I have no complaints about it at all.

I just wish I didn't need to drive it so much.

I wrote last week about one unexpected positive result of changing jobs, namely a drastic cut in work email. (I'm still thoroughly enjoying that reduction, by the way.) This week, I've been thinking of another change I hadn't considered much before switching jobs: becoming a car commuter again.

During my last few years at the Deseret News, I rode TRAX to work. Both when the business was in the Deseret News building, and after it moved to the Triad Center, a stop was practically right outside the office.

I appreciated that convenience. In fact, I wrote about my transformation from automobile commuter to TRAX advocate in a previous column or two.

I remember when gas prices skyrocketed and I first started riding the train, I didn't think I would like it. I assumed I would miss the freedom of heading to work and, even more important, leaving work when I wanted to, without worrying about a train schedule.

But what I found over the years was that taking TRAX helped me in several ways.

Obviously, it saved me money on gas and reduced wear and tear on my vehicle. However, it also gave me time to read or listen to music or nap or play games or answer email while I otherwise would be driving. I found that avoiding a commute that included spending 30 minutes or more with other stressed drivers on an overstuffed interstate helped me feel more prepared for the workday in the morning, and it meant I was less stressed when I got home in the evening.

Unfortunately, that's over for me now.

I guess I could still take public transportation to my new job, but the additional time it would require makes that impractical.

So, for the last couple of weeks, I have been reacquainting myself with the fun and frolic of the rush-hour commute.

According to an article about commuting by Wendy Leonard posted on deseretnews.com on Dec. 15, 2010, “most Utahns who work in the greater Salt Lake area travel 17 miles or more and spend about $424 each month on associated costs for fuel and repairs, according to Bundle.com, an online business that tracks financial trends in the United States.”

The article also said that Bundle ranks Salt Lake City as having the 24th-best commute among 52 U.S. cities.

Those are the statistics. But here’s the reality of my recent commutes:

  • Other drivers have cut me off almost every day, resulting in several near-accidents.
  • I've rediscovered the frustration of sitting in slow-and-go traffic, assuming there must be an accident somewhere ahead, only to find that the flow of vehicles suddenly hits freeway speeds for no apparent reason.
  • I've once again felt the added stress that commuting brings at both the beginning and end of the day.
But it's not all bad. I get to work a bit earlier now than I did when I was taking the train. And, even with the traffic, I have been getting home a little sooner, too. That's actually proved to be a net benefit to my work/life balance, even with the added stress.

I'm also catching up with the changes that have occurred in local radio over the last few years and knocking the rust off of my defensive driving skills.

The bottom line is, the new job and the opportunity it represents are definitely worth a few commuting headaches, and I'm sure I'll get used to life in the slow lane again.

Still, I'm sure I'll occasionally pine for a quiet morning TRAX ride — especially this winter, when I'm stuck in a snowstorm on I-215.

I don't know. Maybe I should invest in a helicopter.

Email your comments to kratzbalancingact@gmail.com or post them online at deseretnews.com. Follow me on Twitter at gkratzbalancing and on Facebook on my journalist page.

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