Yesterday, I started Part-Time Job #2, at a college here in Austin. In Los Angeles, the start of a new term generally means you can plan on adding half an hour to your commute for a couple of weeks, while students figure out their new routines and driving patterns. Adding that half-hour to the 15 minute cushion I like to give myself means that yesterday I arrived… 45 minutes early! I reckon that’s what happens when a person moves from a city with the nation’s worst traffic to a city with the nation’s fourth worst traffic. Austinites are complaining– and rightfully so– about the increasingly congested traffic that is accompanying their rapid population growth, but honestly from our perspective, it’s pretty mild. Also, we’ve developed quite a few traffic-avoidance behaviors, because in Los Angeles, “Traffic was terrible!” just doesn’t cut it as an excuse to be late. Here’s what works for us:
The single best way to avoid the problems caused by traffic is to simply leave very early. I make it my goal to arrive 15 minutes early to business meetings and unfamiliar work assignments, and about 10 minutes early for social engagements and jobs I do regularly. To that, I also add 10-30 minutes to whatever results my mapping applications tell me, depending on the time of day, or popularity of the event. While I’m often very early to places, I never have a problem filling the extra minutes: those pockets of time are perfect for using my mobile phone to connect with loved ones, make appointments, or return emails. Sometimes, too, it’s nice to just sit and read a book, or enjoy the surroundings for a few minutes. In any case, I’m happy to trade those “wasted” minutes for the ability to arrive without the stress of running late!
If you’ve got the option to schedule your days so that you are avoiding rush hours, all the better. I’m fortunate to be able to do that, and I’m often heading in the opposite direction of the worst of the traffic. Not everyone has that luxury, though, and in those cases, it’s sometimes good to plan activities close to your destination in the early mornings or late afternoons. My husband generally arrives half an hour early to his office, and then takes his time enjoying his coffee and preparing for his day. Running a quick errand after work, or meeting a friend or coworker for a tasty beverage before hitting the highway will probably also save quite a bit of time spent in slow-and-go traffic, and even if you get home a bit later, it’s a lot more pleasant.
Live close to where you work, or work from home. Of course, if you can minimize or avoid the daily commute altogether, even better! When we were planning to move to Austin, we mapped out all of our potential employers, and chose an apartment that was sort of in the middle of those options. It worked out well: my main employer is about four miles from home, and although Mr. Vega has a longer commute– about eighteen miles– he travels against the bulk of traffic, and he’s able to work from home two or three days a week. Again, that’s not always possible for everyone, but when it is, it’s pretty great.
Although public transportation is not a practical daily solution for either of us, we occasionally use it to avoid the traffic congestion that comes with special events, such as concerts and sporting events. Angelenos in the know, for example, ride the Metro to concerts at the Hollywood Bowl, or take advantage of the park and ride shuttles they offer. Here in Austin, festival-type events have enormous bicycle parking areas, as the locals have figured out that riding their bikes and/or taking the bus can save them both parking fees and time spent sitting in gridlock.
The above suggestions have become such a way of life for us that, having moved to a city with less traffic, we frequently find ourselves with up to an hour to kill before the event! I’m sure we’ll adjust our habits in time, but meanwhile, we’re doing our best to not contribute to Austin’s growing traffic problem, and while we wait, we’re getting a lot of good reading done!
How do you deal with (or avoid) traffic?