Mention traffic in Denver to any random group of locals and you're likely to trigger a rant. Plenty of folks who otherwise love living in the Mile High City are livid about having to spend more time behind the wheel because of increasing volume, construction projects that never seem to end, and drivers more interested in staring at their phones than peering through their windshields.
So when the real estate blog COMMERCIALCafe recently released a study naming Denver as one of four major cities in the country in which commute times have decreased over the past decade, we were dumbfounded — and so were many of you.
We conducted separate Twitter and Facebook polls in which we referenced the new report and asked readers about their commutes. More than 700 people took part, and the results from the quizzes, while thoroughly unscientific, were incredibly consistent. In both cases, 77 percent said their regular job treks had grown longer, while 23 percent answered shorter.
Nonetheless, Robert Demeter, who wrote the COMMERCIALCafe post on the subject and was deeply involved in the investigation, stands by the data. And while many of the supplementary comments we received from folks on social media heaped scorn on the findings ("Fire whoever is doing the study," one person suggested), others shared information about their personal commuting experiences that reveal that it's actually possible to avoid daily jams — though it's not always easy.
"I eventually got fed up with commuting, and now only work jobs that I can get to in twenty minutes or less," notes Todd Bradley, one of our poll takers. "Life is too short to spend it in traffic."
The period analyzed by COMMERCIALCafe didn't end ten minutes ago; its figures juxtapose 2008 with 2017. But this span still incorporates the years during which Denver transitioned into one of the fastest-growing cities in the United States.
The study shows commute times here shrinking slightly on a daily basis, with the overall savings in time calculated at about 1.7 hours per annum. Only three other major cities — Detroit, Memphis and Las Vegas — had greater (or, in fact, any) decreases, as depicted in the following graphic:
The statistical dip seems contradictory in light of U.S. Census Bureau information released in April. The agency estimates that more than 388,000 people moved to the metro area during the previous eight years, with 116,000 of those new residents settling in the City and County of Denver.
Author Demeter, corresponding via email, counters with evidence that many residents are finding alternate ways to commute. Compared to 2008, he allows, 32 percent more workers walked to their places of employment and 78 percent more chose to bike by 2017.
That's not to suggest that motor vehicles are going out of fashion. Indeed, Denver-centric figures Demeter and COMMERCIALCafe provided to Westword show that the overwhelming majority of commuters continue to travel via car, truck or van. But while the actual number of those choosing these transportation methods went up by more than 60,000 individuals from 2008 to 2017, the actual percentage fell, albeit only modestly. Also sliding a bit, surprisingly, was the per-person use of public transportation.
Here's the breakdown:
Mean travel time to work (minutes — both ways)
Number of workers by mean of transportation
Car, truck or van
Percentage of workers by mean of transportation
Car, truck or van
2008: 78.4 percent
2017: 75.9 percent
2008: 4.3 percent
2017: 4.4 percent
2008: 1.6 percent
2017: 2.2 percent
2008: 9.1 percent
2017: 6.7 percent
2008: 1.4 percent
2017: 1.3 percent
Worked at home
2008: 5.2 percent
2017: 9.5 percent
This last stat ties in to a slew of Facebook and Twitter comments we received from telecommuters. Among those weighing in was Andrew Cohen, who points out, "I walk from my bedroom to my office fifteen feet down the hall. Sometimes I detour downstairs for coffee first."
We also heard from cyclists who were happy to pedal rather than gas up. A reader named Jonathan tells us, "More dense office space in the downtown region has allowed my company to affordably locate downtown, and improved bike infrastructure allows me to quickly get to the office by bike instead of car. My partner and I are now down to just one car, and it's great!"
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Drivers who communicated about the analysis were considerably less exuberant. "Traffic in Denver has been getting progressively worse the last ten years and is continuing to get worse," opines Graham Rosenberg. Monica Q. Violeta grouses, "Ridiculous how much time I waste in traffic no matter the time of day!" Mike Eastman contends that "270 is always blocked at all hours and rush 'hour' is now 'hours.'"
Other commentators vacillated between anger and exasperation. Ernie Ferguson represents the former, arguing that "everyone's [commute] has lengthened. It's Denver: It takes an hour and a half from Arvada to Parker. Too many damn people. Need to start sending people back to whatever state they came from. Traffic is an absolute NIGHTMARE!" And Megan Strecklein strikes a similar tone: "My commute has only shortened because I now have the ability to take light rail and don't have to sit in traffic. Until February, my commute was at least an hour, each way, no matter where in the city I was living. So I call garbage on this study."
E. Gibson was among those who've had to make difficult choices: "Due to rent increases & desire to be closer to fam moved closer to burbs last year. Commute increased 10+ min and light rail no longer an option." But K. Mullowney maintains that commuting is lousy without making any changes, too: "Same job, same office, same commute for five years. Used to be twenty minutes in the morning, little longer in the evening. Now it's a solid thirty minutes in the AM and 35+ in the evening."
As for Karen Province, she calculates that "it takes me on average forty minutes to commute nineteen miles, and that's on a good day. Any issue with traffic, even a minor fender-bender, can easily turn that into an hour or more."