Stamen design & why my commute used to suck


First, go look at this Stamen Design project. Here's how they describe it:

Historically, workers have lived in residential suburbs while commuting to work in the city. For Silicon Valley, however, the situation is reversed: many of the largest technology companies are based in suburbs, but look to recruit younger knowledge workers who are more likely to dwell in the city.

An alternate transportation network of private buses—fully equipped with wifi—thus threads daily through San Francisco, picking up workers at unmarked bus stops(though many coexist in digital space), carrying them southward via the commuter lanes of the 101 and 280 freeways, and eventually delivers them to their campuses. 

It's a pretty neat project. I have a few questions in response, and one big reaction.

The questions:

  1. How similar or different would this look if other industries were represented? I know that Genentech has shuttles. Beyond tech, are there other industries moving their workers around l like this? If you did an equivalent map of construction job sites and the day worker centers (formal and informal) where workers hop on trucks for a days pay, how different would the streams be?
  2. Private bus systems are interesting. The biggest factor here is public transportation not cutting it for these workers and these routes–but do the big tech companies really want their workers sitting next to workers from other companies anyway? I know from the Y! shuttle that the commute was culturally considered part of the workday in ways time on public transport usually isn't.

My main reaction, though, was more visceral. I took one of these shuttles while working at Yahoo for two years–starting at one of the 19th Avenue stops. It seemed like a good idea at the time: I'd been doing car commutes previously, some of them pretty long, so a shuttle ride seemed like a great deal. It took me two years to figure out that the problem was the commute, not the car.

(You know your commute is killing you, right? It causes physiological damage, increases stress, decreases happiness, and harms your relationships. Transit commutes, public or private, are probably better than driving yourself, but commutes of over one hour are going to be a bad deal no matter what.) 

I might have been fine if I'd lived in the Mission and worked at the closer of Yahoo's then-multiple campuses, but as it was I spent 15-20 hours a week in a van each week. Not good, and worse: as my first child became a toddler and started sleeping through the night, I started going two or three days in a row without seeing her awake. That was completely unacceptable. I needed to either move south or move my job north.

I did the latter–joined a startup in the city. That brought my commute down to less than an hour, and more, I could bike it in good weather (and once I got over my fears of bike commuting in the city). Of course then my startup was acquired and I ended up driving to the Peninsula again for a while. But my goal had been formed–work near my home, here in San Francisco, in the Outer Sunset, near Ocean Beach, on the Western edge of the world. Where my children go to school, and where I can get a damn good cup of coffee with toast and a coconut. And that's what I'm doing now.

Looking back at Stamen's map, I see that not only are there no stops shown for the western 1/4 of the city–the private shuttles don't even cut through here on the way to somewhere else. That may change–I know more than a few folks out here who work in the Valley, but wanted to raise their kids in the city. But for now, they're almost separate worlds. And as much as I love the Silicon Valley tech world (and as much as I intend to continue working within it), that seems appropriate.  

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