Breaking news: exurban masochists have long commute
- Published Friday, April 1, 2005, in the San Francisco Chronicle
Contra Costa commute tops charts
32.1-minute average ranks as nation's 10th-longest journey
By Erin Hallissy
Contra Costa County is home to safe neighborhoods in beautiful
settings, thriving office parks and the worst commute outside of New
York, Chicago and Washington, D.C., according to the U.S. Census
The price of living in a fast-growing suburban county is spending lots
of time behind the wheel or packed onto BART trains to get to work.
Contra Costa workers travel an average of 32.1 minutes to work, long
enough to make theirs the 10th-longest commute in the nation, the
census bureau reported. The top nine spots are all in the
metropolitan New York, Chicago and Washington areas.
Plenty of workers spend far more than a half-hour on the road,
according to a census report released Wednesday on morning-commute
times -- 4.6 percent of Contra Costa commuters spend more than 90
minutes getting to work.
The study's findings were scoffed at by some drivers in a region where
a Field Poll this year showed transportation tops the list of problems
and where many people, whether they're on a Muni bus, driving alone in
stop-and-go traffic or sleeping on BART, would love a half-hour
"What a joke, 2said Bernard Wormgoor, a marine surveyor who lives in
Benicia and commutes to Oakland. "Whoever did the study doesn't live
in this area or work in this area."
Until Wormgoor started leaving home around 5 a.m. to beat the traffic,
his commute took an hour or longer. Now it takes 30 minutes. His
former secretary, who had a quick commute before she married and moved
to Byron in eastern Contra Costa County, had it even worse.
"Her commute was, on a good day, an hour and a half or two hours one
way," Wormgoor said. "She couldn't handle that, and I wasn't blaming
It takes Brad Rovanpera an hour to travel the 25 miles from Oakley to
his job at Walnut Creek City Hall.
"It's a grueling hour," said Rovanpera, who takes the heavily
congested Kirker Pass Road and Ygnacio Valley Boulevard. "It's bumper
to bumper. I've experimented with every conceivable route to work,
and any way you cut it, no matter which way you go, you're not saving
any more than five minutes."
If it's any consolation, the average commute time has decreased a few
minutes in Contra Costa County since 2000, when it was 34.6 minutes,
ranking seventh in the nation. Figures released last year showed the
average Contra Costa commute was 32.1 minutes.
While they may rank further down the national list, commuters in other
Bay Area counties spend nearly as much time on average getting to
Solano County's average commute time of 30.6 minutes earned it the
23rd worst spot on the list, far ahead of Los Angeles County's
39th-place ranking. San Francisco came in at 43rd, Alameda County at
54th, Sonoma County a 105th, San Mateo County at 108th and Santa Clara
County at 118th.
Marin and Napa counties were not included in the survey, which was
conducted on communities of 250,000 or more.
Among cities, San Francisco ranked ninth with an average commute of
28.5 minutes, while Oakland's 26.3 minutes made it the 13th worst.
San Jose placed 28th with a 23.8-minute average commute -- an
improvement, but a mixed blessing.
"In San Jose, their commute has been getting shorter," said Shelly
Lowe, a census bureau spokeswoman. "That's because of job losses over
the last few years."
Rob Rendler, a United Airlines mechanic who lives in Oakley, gets in a
vanpool in Antioch at 4:40 a.m. for a nearly hourlong ride to San
Francisco International Airport.
"You just read or sleep," Rendler said. "Most people just kind of
doze. That makes it go OK. But if I had to drive every day, I
wouldn't be living out here."
And plenty of people have long commutes in the Bay Area, even when
they're driving in the reverse direction. It takes PK Rountree, who
works for SBC at Bishop Ranch in San Ramon, 45 minutes to commute from
her home in the Lake Merritt area of Oakland. After enduring cars
speeding by her at more than 70 mph on Interstate 580, she happily
exits at Crow Canyon Road to take the rural Norris Canyon Road and
enjoy the spring palette of green hills and yellow wildflowers.
"It's a very peaceful drive for me," she said. "Gets me in a good
frame of mind by the time I hit my office."
Contra Costa County residents are fed up with bad traffic and
inadequate freeways and roads that more than 70 percent supported an
extension of the local half-cent sales tax to raise $2 billion for
"The public in Contra Costa perceives this to be a huge, huge issue,
and they seem more than willing to pay for improving the
transportation system," said Robert McCleary, executive director of
the Contra Costa Transportation Authority. "Everyone has a pretty
clear idea of low long it takes them on a weekend to get from Point A
to B. If the daily commute is significantly longer, that's a problem.
Some Bay Area residents don't have the commute hassles, though. Chris
Mars, 37, a plastic surgeon who lives in Pacific Heights, travels two
miles to work.
"Most of the people I do know complain that it takes them like an hour
to get to work," Mars said. "I couldn't handle it."
Many say there's an easy reason they tolerate brutal commutes.
"We moved to Oakley in 1993 because we wanted a nice house we could
afford," Rovanpera said. "The pact I made with the devil on this one
is these long commutes."