Like many people, I work in a city, but I live outside the city, meaning I have to commute to work each day. My normal commute takes me over an hour to commute just over 20 miles. That’s pretty shocking when you think of it. My average speed is less than 20 miles per hour. I enjoy my job but, like most people, I really don’t enjoy the commute to and from work.
Well, when you are sitting in traffic it gives you one advantage, it gives you time to think. So I started thinking about what I could do to make my commute more enjoyable.
The first thing I considered was going a different way, so I spent some time looking at Google Maps to try and work out a more efficient route to drive to work. Maybe there was a longer route I could take that would miss out some of the pinch points I was experiencing. Google Maps has a lot of information available to it that you can take advantage of.
If you put a start point and an end point and ask it for directions it will tell you the different routes available and the estimated distance and times for each route. This is a great starting point, but you can go one better and set the arrival time and date as well. I need to be in the office for 9, so I set the date to next Monday morning and the arrival time to 9am. I can then see which of the routes is fastest with the average journey times for peak rush hour traffic.
You can also try dragging the selected route to see what would happen if you left the main road one junction earlier to see what effect this could have on your commute.
As well as planning ahead, there are also apps that will give you real time traffic information and reroute you when you are already on the way. I knew the Google Maps app does this for you and I was told about another app called Waze which also does a similar thing. I tried this out a couple of times, but both displayed the same route I was already using as the best route.
This next idea came to me by accident. For some reason I got to the roundabout where I normally turned right, but I hadn’t had a chance to get in the right hand lane, so I ended up going straight instead. This diverted me away from where I would normally park, but I knew there was another car park in that direction. Turning right at the roundabout would normally take 10 minutes to get to the car park, but going straight had much less traffic and I was able to get to the car park and find a space much more easily.
It took a couple of minutes longer to walk to work than the previous area I had parked in, but I saved time overall as I had avoided the queue to get into the car park.
Now, I always park in the car park further away, but I actually look forward to the walk in the morning and I think it helps me clear my head before I sit down at my desk and start working.
So far, everything I had tried was based on driving my car. I now looked at other forms of transport available to see if I could avoid driving, but there did not seem to be a suitable public transport solution for me. Where I live has no trains and the busses would involve going miles out of my way to another town before going to where I work.
I also enjoy cycling, but I am not really sold on the idea of cycling over 20 miles each way every day. It just felt too far for me at my current level of fitness.
I was going to give up, but then one day I was talking to a friend of mine. He said have you considered park and pedal. This is where you drive most of the way but then ride the last bit in. This idea really appealed to me as the city where I work has lots of cycle lanes so I could avoid the road for most of the route and my work has a secure bike storage area as well.
One Saturday morning I thought I would give it a go as a practice run. I wanted to see how long it would take, but also how tired I would be so I knew whether I would need a change of clothes once I got to work. I planned out the route and programmed it in to my bike computer so it would give me a rough idea of where to turn to avoid me getting lost and having to get my phone out to check the map.
I found a quiet village to park up in that is on the way to work and got the bike out of the back of the car. I started off and found the way quite easily thanks to the bike computer guiding me. I got to work in just over 30 mins and felt quite good. I had a few minutes break for some water and then headed back to the car.
All was good with the plan, so I tried it again the following Tuesday for real. I drove to the village got the car out of the boot and started cycling. I felt really good until I got about 2 miles in and then I got a puncture. I pulled over to the side of the road and then realised I hadn’t brought any tools with me as I had to carry my laptop and work clothes in my backpack and didn’t want any more weight if I could avoid it. I had no choice but to walk the 2 miles back to the car, load the bike up and then drive to work like normal.
I had kind of given up on the idea of park and pedal after that, but then I told myself I should give it one more go. This time I made sure to pack tools and a spare inner tube just in case and I made it all the way to work without a problem!
The big difference between my practice run and the real thing was that on the practice run I didn’t have my backpack with my laptop and spare clothes in it. To be honest, I found it much harder carrying the extra weight up the hills than I had anticipated, so if you are going to do a practice run, make sure you take everything you would do on the real ride.
I am now considering my next steps and how I could improve the park and pedal solution. Part of me is saying that if I just stick with it then it will get easier over time as I get used to it. But the developer part of me is wondering if technology can provide me with a better solution.
I recently watched an episode of Fully Charged, set in Australia where people are starting to use electric scooters to get around. This seemed like a fun idea, but there are questions about the legality of using these on roads and cycle lanes in the UK.
I think the next logical step would be to get an electric assisted bike. This would give me assistance up the hills to make it easier, which would mean that I wouldn’t be as tired. This would then mean I could wear my work clothes on the bike and not have to carry a change of clothes, further reducing the weight in my backpack.
There are potential drawbacks to electric bikes though, the main one being the initial outlay and the second being the range of the battery and having to charge it each night. I guess like most things you have to balance the benefits against the cost.
This last point is an alternative to trying to reduce your commute. Instead, just accept that your commute will take as long as it takes, but think about how you can use that time better than listening to the radio.
I have recently started listening to podcasts. I know I am a little late to the game here, but I’ve discovered I quite enjoy listening to a podcast instead of reading as it gives my eyes a break, but it’s also good for when I am out walking. I often discover something new from a podcast that I can wrap into project I am working on.
If you like podcasts then why not listen to one whilst you are sat in traffic so it can help you learn something new or keep you up to date on new features of a framework or programming language. Just remember to obey the traffic laws about using your mobile device whilst driving.
It would be great to hear any of your stories about ways you have improved your commute and if you have switched to cycling or your experiences of using electric bikes or other methods of transport!