Mixing Modes

For bike commuters and car-free individuals who live long distances from their workplace or school, public transit can be an important part of their transportation mix. In my case, I have a 50-mile round-trip commute that I find too demanding to maintain on a regular basis on the bike alone. I managed to piece together a manageable, albiet somewhat complex, multi-modal commute that includes a bicycle ride, a train ride, a bus ride, and a hike. The total commute time door-to-door is approximately 1.5 hours each way.

My son, who is attending a local college, has a 20-mile round trip commute in the other direction. He mixes bike, ped, and bus to make his way to-and-from school. On days when the weather is nice and he feels up to it, he rides the full distance both directions. On other days, he mixes the bike with the bus, and if the weather is particularly nasty, he walks to a nearby stop and takes the bus the majority of the distance.

Even though we’re both bike commuters and believers in active transportation, we depend upon public transit to make our respective commutes sustainable over time. Also, having the option of transit built into our commutes ensures we can avoid the car even on days when we’re not feeling our best or our schedules demand a quicker trip.

What are the components that make up your commute?

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21 Responses to “Mixing Modes”

  • geoff says:

    I have a 55-60 mile round trip.

    I almost always cut off 12 miles with the train on my way to work, being too tired, more uphill, more traffic. In nicer weather (and better lit times of year) I will ride the 30 miles home, otherwise take the same train.

    the crazy thing is that riding the commuter train only really saves me a half hour each way of commuting time: 2 hours versus 2:30.

    I still drive the car quite often, because then the commute is 35 minutes. It’s a trade off, since I love to ride, but I also want to spend time with the family.

    luckily, our office is moving and I’ll be riding 100% soon!

  • Kirby says:

    My commute is only 3 miles. The bus stops near my apartment and I thought I would give it a try. It took a full hour on the bus to get to work and another to get home. My bike commute is less than 20 minutes and if the weather is nice the walk takes about 45 minutes.

  • Brian C says:

    I have been lucky enough to have a 5 km commute each way for the last 5 years. My wife had a commute of 10km, but hers has now shrunk to only 5km.

    This has allowed us to be car free for most of the last 5 years. With the help of our bob trailer, even the turkeys for Thanksgiving and Christmas have made it here without a car.

    Since we got rid of the cars, we now also use public transit more, particularly if going out in the evenings (when there are not safe places to leave the bicycles), and particularly when we get our few days of snow and ice during the winter (since it is so rare here, there is no snow removal on either our streets or our trails).

    Even when we use transit, we still have to walk a kilometer to reach our nearest stop, so we can legitimately claim we are getting our active transportation quota. And we do find that we try and use the most appropriate transportation for the occasion.

  • Lucas says:

    Though I ride my 16 mile round trip about 98% of the time, I live on a bus-line that leads to a major transit hub and can easily use that on days that I might require it. I did this even when I owned a car simply to omit the car as an option.

  • Sharper says:

    Bicycle or car.

    By bike, my commute is 5.3 miles each way, with the lion’s share of that along a separated bike trail. By car, it’s a disgustingly easy 5.5 mile commute, most of that on an underutilized freeway feeding an underutilized eight-lane expressway. I bike most of the time, but every so often, the snooze button makes getting to work in ten minutes more important than enjoying a 25 minute ride…

    Which just means that I still use my car as a crutch.

  • Andrew says:

    Wow, an 80 km round trip commute…I don’t think I could ever manage that. My current commute is about 8 km, my favourite was about 12 km, and my farthest was 40 km. Mostly, I just couldn’t imagine spending 3 hours of my day in transit. Right now I’ve got an easy 20 minute bike ride each way.

    While it’s true that I’m a young, single guy with no intention of having children, this post really underlines why I live downtown. Urban density is a beautiful thing. Less time commuting means more time doing things I want to do (which, to be fair, often includes riding bikes for fun to make up for my short commute!)

  • geoff says:

    @Andrew: your point about liking to ride bikes is the exact reason I am willing to ride that far, otherwise it would never happen. The commute loses the bad connotations if I’m having fun on a bike, right? And it’s also funny to hear you say that being a single guy in the city is the reason NOT to ride your bike that far. I live in the city (Boston) and ride to the ‘burbs to work, but were I single, I’d spontaneously take longer rides home. It would be nice to ride somewhere else, but hey, I’m trying to make lemonade from my lemons! :)

  • AdamM says:

    The one catch with your survey is that it doesn’t allow for day-to-day alternatives. My commute is either 100% bike (85 minutes), or walk and bus (45 minutes), as it’s a 42 mile round trip and I don’t have the time to ride there and back every day. Especially in the evenings when the bike means I get home after my son has gone to bed. Typically, I ride to work Monday, bus home, bus to work Tuesday, ride home, etc.

    I’d rather have a shorter commute that I could ride daily, but I also want to be able to buy a home (not an apartment) for my family. Property prices therefore mean I have to take the long commute as the compromise.

  • Alan says:

    It’s interesting that there seems to be an ideal commute distance for bike commuters. Too short and you don’t get in enough time to satisfy your desire to ride your bike, too long and the physical effort eventually takes its toll. I wonder what that ideal distance is (I’m sure it varies dramatically depending upon the individual)? Hmm, sounds like another poll…. :-)


  • Karen says:

    I bike 5.5 miles to the transit center (25-30 min), then drive/ride a vanpool 45 miles to the office (another hour or so). I think 5-10 miles each way would be an optimal bike ride/commute.

  • AdamM says:

    Alan, interesting question. My rule of thumb has always been about 10 miles each way as the limit for what is reasonably achievable day-in-day out all year. Shorter commutes are obviously easier and tip the balance more towards commuting in your office attire. Longer commutes wear you down, in my opinion, and are not sustainable in the long run. This is either due to the physical effort or because of the time they take meaning you sacrifice your family life.

    Having said that, I know of people in my current office who cycle 75 km return every day, every week. (I do wonder if they then ride their bike on the weekend – your body has to have time to recover!)

  • Leon Webster says:

    Alan, I impressed with your multi-modal commute. Hats off to you! I agree with your point about an “ideal” commute distance. I used to ride about 6km each way. but I didn’t feel satsified. And despite my best intentions, I often did not take “the long way ” home, just because I stayed too late, or had to get home. I am much happier with a 12 – 13 km ride each way.

  • Fiona says:

    My commute to work is about 7.2KM one way but I take the bus because I’m not confident enough yet to navigate through certains parts of the city I live in. Maybe this will change soon but for now I’ll commute via bus.

  • Brent says:

    My old “commute” was a 10 minute walk to the office, or a 7 minute bike ride (walking I cut through parking lots and alleys – but I wouldn’t ride my bike through them – too much broken glass and other debris.)

    Unfortunately, my company moved down to the Denver Tech Center (for those not from Denver, this is our land of office parks, and “campuses.” It is horribly unfriendly to any mode of transportation that isn’t a personal automobile. Sidewalks on only one side of the street – and the side alternates at random, wheelchair ramps at driveways that point directly out into the street, huge amounts of wasted space that make walking anywhere something that most people just won’t do. Curving roads, hills, high speedlimits, and brain-dead suburban drivers on cellphones make cycling a dicey proposition. On the rare occasion I see someone on a bicycle they are usually on the sidewalk.)

    I loathe the Tech Center, and I feel like it is killing my soul. I frequently take long walks on lunch, and rarely see anyone else who isn’t in a car. I now take the train about 45 minutes in each direction to get to work, and I tell you, when I step off the train downtown at the end of the day it is like a breath of fresh air to see people walking around, or cycling, or riding scooters. The great mix of people, and all of their different methods of transport is something I greatly miss about working downtown – that and that 10 minute walk or 7 minute ride to work. Sure, a seven minute ride – half of which was usually spent at the stop light at Park Avenue wasn’t a long ride, or a lot of exercise, but boy I had a lot of free time then!

    I love the company that I work for, it is like a family. If I didn’t I would be looking for something downtown in a heartbeat. I had though about trying to move closer to the office, but living car-free is a much simpler proposition downtown than it is out in the burbs. Everything is closer together, and downtown drivers are far more accustomed to bikes on the road than the drivers in the burbs.

    So, uhm, back on track – I take the train to work.

  • RI SWamp Yankee says:

    I live in Providence, but work in Boston. (Long, long story.) I live on the East Side up by Pawtucket, so I’ve got a 2.5 mile ride into the station (and a 3 mile ride back to avoid some nnnnnnasty climbs), and an hour and a half on the train, and a short walk to the office from South Station. This is why I pack both a rain-cape and a brolly… the rain-cape is very restricting off the bike. (But an absolute miracle on the bike. I get a little damp from the knees down in the hardest rains, but stay dry as a bone otherwise. Plus, I don’t overheat like I do in other raingear.)

  • Jay says:

    Bike OR walk+train.

    But I’m moving soon, and it will likely be bus instead of train at that point. Boooo.

  • Urb Anwriter says:

    A brief clarification; I voted ‘ride and walk,’ but it really should be ‘ride or walk,’ being that I probably have one of the shorted commutes here, .6 km and three minutes total door to door. But then I can do whatever I want after work – a relaxing coffee anywhere within a 10 km/20 minute radius – and home again to cook dinner.

    Being without familial responsibilities allows me to make choices that may otherwise be difficult, and where I live, and where I work, are some of those choices.

  • Fergie348 says:

    I think I might have the best (bike) commute in the world, or one of the best at least.

    23 miles to my office, most of it on class 1 paths or lightly travelled secondary streets with bike sharrows (class 3). I also can ride 6.5 miles and get on a ferry that brings me to within 1 km of my office. When the weather is nice, I frequently ride in or home with the ferry taking the other leg, which results in about a 30 mile day and about 2 hours of saddle time. When I’m feeling spunky I can ride both ways and get about 45 miles and 3 hours of time in. When I’m feeling mellow, I can go both ways using the ferry and have about a 14 mile day on the bike, a little less than an hour of saddle time. And when I ride all the way, I go across the Golden Gate Bridge. I have two little kids, so the time I spend on my bike getting to and from work is most of my exercise – I just don’t have much time to spend on my bike for pure pleasure riding.

  • AJ says:

    Cycling and running. No option up there for this.

  • Simple Living News Update says:

    […] Mixing Modes […]

  • Adam says:

    While commuting these distances I am curious how everyone prepares themselves for work following the commute. I have a short bike commute to the train each day and I find myself sweating and uncomfortable on the train. This is mainly due to me wearing a business suit while biking to the station. I have not yet found an easy solution.

    Also, I need to carry my lap top. Thankfully I have discovered Codi Direct’s messenger bag which has helped me greatly in transporting my office accessories to and from work.

    Just looking for a solution to stay cool but still enjoy the ride to work.

    Any help?

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