CBC Toronto's Gridlock City series continues this week, looking at the challenges the city faces as it works to improve transit and ease congestion on our highways. In this second installment, reporter Steven D'Souza looks at the effect that commutes can have on family life.
Three hours a day, 15 hours a week, 60 hours a month, over 700 hours a year. Sian Gibson has done the math on her commute and it doesn't add up.
"I'm spending 30 days commuting a year, and it's absurd, it's just silly," she says sitting on the GO Train on her way in to work from her home in Whitby, Ont.
She's been assessing her commute ever since she moved to the suburbs three years ago. The mother of two used to live in Toronto's Beach neighbourhood, but the family sold their home for the space and sense of community offered in Durham region.
It's a choice she's constantly learning to live with.
"This was a choice my husband and I made and we have to figure out how to make it work."
She used to be a stay-at-home mom, raising her two sons. But two years ago she decided to go back to work in Toronto.
Gibson now has a lot of time to think things over. Her commute totals three hours a day, a multi-modal trek from Whitby to Toronto’s Yonge and Eglinton area. It includes a drive to the GO Station, the train ride in, and finally a stretch on the subway.
The commute takes its toll on her family life. On weekdays she's not around to help with homework or make family dinners.
"You don't have a live-life balance and you wonder, you question a lot of things."
'Quality of life' issue
It's parents like Gibson that Ryan Sim was thinking about when he created the Redeem the Commute app.
Sim is an Anglican pastor tasked with setting up a new church in Durham region. While researching the needs in the area, people he spoke with talked repeatedly about the impact of commuting on family life.
"They felt they had very little time at home and it was really just impacting their quality of life," says Sim, an entrepreneur who also studied as an engineering physicist.
The mobile app and website allows commuters to take parenting, marriage and spiritual courses. The courses take about 10 minutes each.
"The time on the train, or on the bus, or in the car is a little tiny bit of down time in a very busy lifestyle when people can pause [and] think about bigger questions of life and we wanted to help people really redeem what feels like wasted time," he says.
In two months, the app has been downloaded 400 times. There's an audio version for drivers and a video version for people on trains or buses.
For Gibson, redeeming her own commute means sometimes missing a train to spend an extra moment with her sons.
She recalls a time last month when her 10-year-old came running to her just as she was about to head out the door.
"He climbs on my lap and says: 'Mommy I miss you, and I don't want you to go to work today,'" she recalls.
Faced with missing the train and a long drive to work, she chose to savour the moment.
"Those cuddles are few and far between — especially with a boy — so I chose to do the cuddle and I missed the train. But it was totally worth it."
ALSO: How much is your commute costing you? Check out Natural Resources Canada's Commute Calculator here.
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Women's Mental Health
A study published last year in the <em>Journal Of Health Economics</em> showed that <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/08/24/commute-womens-health_n_935361.html" target="_hplink">women's mental health</a> is affected more than men's by a daily work commute. The study included data from the British Household Panel Survey, which found that women who had kids of preschool age also a fourfold increased risk of experiencing stress from their commute than men. <br><br> "We know that women, especially those with children, are more likely to add daily errands to their commute, such as food shopping and dropping off and picking up children from childcare," study researcher Dr. Jennifer Roberts, of the University of Sheffield, <a href="http://www.guardian.co.uk/money/2011/aug/22/communting-more-stressful-women-men" target="_hplink">told <em>The Guardian</em></a>. "These time constraints and the reduced flexibility that comes with them make commuting stressful in a way that it wouldn't be otherwise."
Exhaustion And Less Sleep
A 2011 study in the journal <em>BMC Public Health</em> showed that <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/31/commute-health-car-bus_n_1067503.html" target="_hplink">commuting by car, subway or bus</a> is linked with extra stress, exhaustion, poor sleep and even more missed days from work. <br><br> The study involved commute and health data from 21,000 people ages 18 to 65 who live in Sweden and work full-time. People who traveled via a vehicle to work were more likely to have health complaints than people who walked or biked to work, the researchers found.
Heart Attack From Traffic Pollution
A study in the <em>British Medical Journal</em> showed that <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/09/22/traffic-heart-attack-pollution_n_974668.html" target="_hplink">breathing in the fumes from heavy traffic</a> can hike up your risk of heart attack for the following six hours. <br><br> The good news is the heart attack risk goes down gradually after that time frame. Researchers said it's not that the air pollution causes people to have heart attacks who wouldn't otherwise have them, but rather could <a href="http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/234784.php" target="_hplink">hasten heart attacks</a> in people who would have had one anyway, Medical News Today reported. <br><br> That study included 79,288 people in the United Kingdom who had had a heart attack between 2003 and 2006. Researchers looked at the time of day of their heart attacks, and also looked at traffic pollution in different parts of the UK.
People whose commutes are longer than 15 miles in distance are also <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/09/work-commute-overweight-health-blood-pressure_n_1500459.html" target="_hplink">more likely to weigh more</a>, according to research from Washington University in St. Louis. <br><br> The <a href="http://www.elsevier.com/wps/find/authored_newsitem.cws_home/companynews05_02321" target="_hplink"><em>American Journal of Preventive Medicine</em> study</a> showed that people have to travel that distance every day to go to work are also less likely to fulfill exercise recommendations. They also found that people traveling more than 10 miles a day to go to work are more likely to have hypertension. <br><br> "It could just be a function of having less discretionary time to be physically active," study researcher Christine M. Hoehner, Ph.D., MSPH, <a href="http://abcnews.go.com/Health/Wellness/commuting-drives-weight-blood-pressure/story?id=16294712#.T6lCHp9Ytvc" target="_hplink">told ABC News</a>. "Or it could be related to people burning fewer calories because they're sitting longer."
Increased Risk Of Divorce
Swedish researchers from Umea University have found a link between <a href="http://www.alphagalileo.org/ViewItem.aspx?ItemId=104021&CultureCode=en" target="_hplink">long commute times and divorce</a>. <br><br> The researchers found that couples who have to commute long distances have a 40 percent higher risk of divorcing than other people. Their findings are based on 2 million people in Sweden who were either married or living together, analyzed between 1995 and 2005. <br><br> The researchers found that it's the first few years of traveling long distance for work that is particularly hard on couples.
Is A Deterrent To Friend Time
A 2008 study in the <em>American Journal of Preventive Medicine</em> shows that the length of distance you have to travel could actually influence whether you <a href="http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18312808" target="_hplink">participate in social activities</a>. <br><br> The study included data from the 2001 National Household Travel Survey, which looked at commute times and the social nature of the trips. "Socially-oriented" trips included those to see friends or family; for entertainment purposes; to go to a wedding, funeral or other event; to go exercise or play sports; to go to school or a religious event; to take someone somewhere; to go to a meeting for an organization; to attend to an obligation; and to just do something fun (recreational). <br><br> The researchers found that if a person's commute time was going to be longer than 20 minutes -- and especially if it was longer than 90 minutes -- the likelihood of the person <a href="http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18312808" target="_hplink">participating in the social event</a> decreased.
A study by Hewlett Packard showed that commuting can <a href="http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/4052861.stm" target="_hplink">raise stress even higher</a> than that of people who work as police officers and fighter pilots, BBC News reported. <br><br> "The difference is that a riot policeman or a combat pilot have things they can do to combat the stress that is being triggered by the event ... but the commuter, particularly on a train, cannot do anything about it at all," study researcher Dr. David Lewis, of the International Stress Management Association <a href="http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/4052861.stm" target="_hplink">told BBC News</a>. "So it is this sense of helplessness combined with the stress that is perhaps the most worrying aspect of it." <br><br> The researchers examined the heart rates of study participants after commuting during peak hours, and found that their heart rates were a lot higher than the "at rest" rate, <a href="http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2004/nov/30/research.transport" target="_hplink"><em>The Guardian</em> reported</a>.
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Learn how to commute to work on a bicycle with these steps.