Car-free Commute to the Suburbs

Like many Americans, I work in a traditional office. This means I commute to work every day.

I also have kids. My oldest goes to daycare in downtown Minneapolis and I have drop-off and pick-up duty.

Unlike the prototypical American I do not own a car, although I have access to ride share vehicles and borrow a car from time to time. Car-free and car-lite living is becoming more common as Millennials choose city living over car ownership. This is an encouraging trend because both urban living and car-free lifestyles tend to have significantly lower carbon emissions than their inverses.

Our regional land use is still largely stuck in post-war suburban flight patterns, however. This means many employers, in addition to many residents, are still out in largely auto-centric suburbs. It is a pain, or in some cases impossible, to reach these employment centers without owning a car. Meanwhile, the average annual cost of owning a car is $8558 according to AAA (a six-year low), which does not provide many opportunities to build serious workforce economic diversity in suburban companies.

I live in Minneapolis, two blocks from a north-south high frequency bus line and five blocks from an east-west high frequency line (both routes are on the long-term streetcar map). I work in Eagan at a 3000-person corporate campus off Highway 13. My employer moved to Eagan in 1970, abandoning offices on Nicollet Ave in Minneapolis and University Ave in St. Paul’s Midway.

I use a combination of biking and busing to get to work. I could bike the whole way but it would be around 16 miles each way — doable but not ideal for everyday purposes. I could bus the whole way but my “last mile” (more than two miles) bus in Eagan only runs five times a day in each direction. This gives me embarrassingly few options if I need to leave to go to a meeting off-site or pick up a sick kid.

So I use a combo of biking and busing. It takes me about 80 minutes to get to work — including daycare drop-off — assuming I catch my bus (being one minute late for my bus extends my commute time by 30 minutes minimum).

The most unusual part of my commute, at least for someone who has exclusively lived in cities except for a short stint in school, is the final 2.2 mile leg. I documented this trip on a recent nice day. My photos are shared below, in chronological order.

route map

The Legs of My Commute



Cedar Grove Transit Station; Construction of New Red Line Stop



Cedar Grove Transit Station Parking Lot; Construction of New Red Line Stop



Twin Cities Premium Outlets Parking Lot before 9:00AM


Entrance to outlet mall parking ramp.

Entrance to Outlet Mall Parking Ramp



Bus Stop and Trash/Recycling for Pickup at Outlet Mall



Another Entrance to Parking at Outlet Mall



Exterior of Outlet Mall Facing the Street



More Outlet Mall Parking



Restaurant Entrance and Parking Lot



New Residential Development



View of Highway 13 from New Residential Development






Speed Limit for Highway 13; Biking and Walking Trail



Handle Bars



More Signs



Where the Sidewalk Ends



One Story Building in the Trees



Biking on the Highway



Cutting Across the Highway to the Corporate Campus Entrance



A Fleeting View of Home



My Office Building



A Street Between Company Parking Lots; An Adjacent Company Building in the Distance



The Final Approach Through A Parking Lot



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25 Responses to Car-free Commute to the Suburbs

  1. Dave Hendricks June 28, 2016 at 9:43 am #

    Is a direct bike via Minnehaha Parkway, 55, and Pilot Knob an option on non-day care days? I also live in the city and bike out to the western suburbs 13 miles for work, but the Luce Line and a work shower make it much easier.

    • Sam Rockwell
      Sam June 28, 2016 at 12:16 pm #

      It’s Minnehaha to 55 over the river to Sibley Hwy to 13. You are actually on 13 quite a bit longer going this way, but there are fewer intersections so in some ways it feels better (still feel pretty vulnerable, though).

  2. Monte Castleman June 28, 2016 at 9:45 am #

    I used to work in the same building before telecommuting. Just for fun I looked it up on Metro Transit’s trip planner and a 15 minute trip by car took over an hour and involved two transfers.

  3. Bill Lindeke
    Bill Lindeke June 28, 2016 at 10:54 am #

    That’s a vicious cycle.

  4. Monte Castleman June 28, 2016 at 11:43 am #

    Of note too the company opened a “Mid-City” office at Broadway and Industrial. There were a few people interested in transferring from Eagan, but not many. And with the telecommuting program it’s encouraging people to live farther out. One of my friends now lives in Forest Lake and another in the New Richmond area.

    • Sam Rockwell
      Sam June 28, 2016 at 12:20 pm #

      That “city” office is not great from a bike or city vibe perspective either. It is right near Be The Match’s old office… which Be The Match ditched for a North Loop city office (one company’s suburb is another company’s city, I guess).

      • J N June 28, 2016 at 3:16 pm #

        Yeah that’s an industrial / office park.. even in the city limits an industrial / office park is an industrial / office park.

        Granted it is better than most with a good brewery and all that and an OK location, but i doubt that anyone would aspire to work in that location like they would for downtown.

        • Monte Castleman June 28, 2016 at 10:12 pm #

          The grapevine has it that the office was opened for political reasons rather than any business need anyway…

  5. David Markle
    David Markle June 28, 2016 at 12:30 pm #

    I’m glad you’re healthy, able-bodied and capable of the exertions needed–both physical and mental–to maintain your routine. It’s too bad to have to spend so much time commuting, but I suspect doing it all by automobile might not help during the kind of traffic conditions increasingly characteristic of our metropolitan area.

    • Alex Cecchini
      Alex Cecchini June 28, 2016 at 1:36 pm #

      Is the oft-spoken truth about our metro area’s increasing or horrible congestion even true?

      Our metro area has very little congestion almost all the time.

      • Bill Lindeke
        Bill Lindeke June 28, 2016 at 2:07 pm #

        Conceptions of congestion, much like parking availability, are extremely relative.

        • Adam Miller
          Adam Miller June 28, 2016 at 2:41 pm #

          Sometimes there’s like, 3-4 other bikes waiting for the light at Lake St. at the same time as me. It’s a nightmare.

          Joking aside, about the only time I experience any congestion while driving is trying to cross Lake Nokomis on Cedar at a busy time. In which case I usually just go around the lake instead.

          Which is to say that if you don’t drive during the peak of rush hour, and especially if you drive in the city where there are multiple route options, congestion isn’t really a thing you experience much of.

  6. Matt Steele
    Matthew Steele June 28, 2016 at 1:20 pm #

    Do they pay you far more than any other alternative employers with a more connected office location? What’s the reason for staying?

    • Dana DeMaster
      DanaD June 28, 2016 at 1:55 pm #

      That’s what I was wondering. While I am sure you’ve considered your options and this is the best or at least most workable choice, I’m curious about the decisions that led you here. I dislike it when online commenters rip apart my choices like I haven’t fully considered my options, so that’s not what I’m trying to do.

      I do find it interesting how people weigh transit, housing, and employment options. I’ve been fortunate to always work within five miles of my home and be on good public transit, but part of that has been choices I’ve consciously made. When I was looking for a new job I didn’t even consider places I couldn’t bike to easily or that were not accessible by transit. Same goes for day care. We’ve been fortunate to find excellent care within half a mile of our home. Part of the reason we are living where we are now is proximity to my son’s school – we only looked within one mile of his school. My husband, on the other hand, has had some long, arduous commutes involving a 20 mile bike ride and changing in a gas station bathroom or transit that only runs every hour. Part of limiting our housing and my employment options has been to ensure I don’t ever need a car to get to work so he can have it if needed.

      • Bill Lindeke
        Bill Lindeke June 28, 2016 at 2:08 pm #

        I’d wager that for just about everyone, those can be difficult choices.

        • Monte Castleman June 28, 2016 at 2:31 pm #

          And not everyone makes the same choices. Having always been a car owner when I was looking for work I only applied at places that were easy to drive to in the suburbs and had plenty of free parking.

  7. David Markle
    David Markle June 29, 2016 at 9:21 am #

    Need anyone point out that traffic conditions vary according to route and time of day? On June 23 I experienced serious congestion on westbound I-94 in Minneapolis at 1:30pm. Several hours later it took nearly 45 minutes to get from 2nd St/29th Ave N to the West Bank, using city streets. I once turned down a nice job at a place near France Ave/494 because of the necessity of driving there during rush hours, even though it would have been counter directional to the main flow of traffic. In general I dislike going to the suburbs at any time for any reason.

    And yes, I have driven crosstown in Manhattan during rush hour, on the Eisenhower Expressway in Chicago, etc. etc.

    • Matt Steele
      Matthew Steele June 29, 2016 at 11:52 am #

      David I think you’d like using the Green Line LRT. It’s really a great asset for mobility in the University Ave corridor. Check it out sometime.

      • David Markle
        David Markle July 12, 2016 at 9:18 am #

        Matt, in case you see this belated response, surely you’re joking. I encountered the congestion on I-94 in Minneapolis, east of the Basilica, as I headed to North Broadway, then 29th Ave. N. at 2nd St., with a fixture to be welded. The Green Line doesn’t go there, and I doubt that buses would make a good connection. Public transit is not a good way to run business errands.

        I have ridden the Green Line many times, but in general I only use it when I’ve already done enough walking in a given day. Over a three or four mile stretch it’s not much faster than briskly walking.

        • Adam Miller
          Adam Miller July 12, 2016 at 9:41 am #

          “Over a three or four mile stretch it’s not much faster than briskly walking.”

          That’s really not true. I’ve “raced” it on it’s slowest stretch, in downtown Minneapolis, and even at a brisk pace (I walk a lot), I can’t keep up with the train.

          I really don’t think there’s an argument that three or four times as fast as a brisk walk (average speed of 4 mph vs 12-16 mph) is “not much faster”. Contrary to certain political strategies, a thing does not become true just because you say it a lot.

          • David Markle
            David Markle July 12, 2016 at 11:40 am #

            For me on my usual route it is not much faster than walking; over the 4 mile stretch the LRT saves only about 20 minutes. That’s on average, comparing the time to walk the entire 4 miles versus waiting for the train (average 5 minutes) and riding it for nearly 3 miles, then walking the remainder (not reached by the train) to my destination. These are facts, not lies.

            • Adam Miller
              Adam Miller July 12, 2016 at 12:00 pm #

              I don’t think you’re lying, I just don’t get how you think saving 20 minutes of a 3 mile trip isn’t a lot faster than walking.

              • Adam Miller
                Adam Miller July 12, 2016 at 1:11 pm #

                Don’t mean to pile on, but I was thinking about the numbers here.

                If you’re walking at quite a brisk pace, you can walk the full 4 miles in an hour. That means riding the train part of the way saves your a full third of your travel time, getting you there in 40 minutes.

                Of that 40 minutes, a full half it non-train time: 15 minutes to walk one mile and 5 minutes waiting. Which means riding saves you 25 minutes (20 minutes to cover three miles instead of 45 minutes walking) over the distance you get to ride, or reducing your time to travel those 3 miles more than 50%. Or roughly 45% if you count waiting time (which seems fair).

                That’s a lot faster than walking, and the main obstacle to it being any faster is that you still have a quarter of your trip to handle on foot.

              • David Markle
                David Markle July 12, 2016 at 4:57 pm #

                Make that 20 minutes of a FOUR mile trip. For me, it’s usually a matter of how many total miles walked (usually with ankle weights). More than 5 usually suffices. If pressed for time, I’d drive.

                Sad to say, the billion-dollar Green Line is clearly one of the slowest–maybe the slowest–major LRT route in the U.S. We should be able to do better than that.

    • J Barton July 8, 2016 at 7:59 am #

      I also turned down a very nice job after experiencing what it would be like to drive to the Opus Complex from my home in S Mpls. It took me 1 1/2 hours to get home at 3:30 in the afternoon: a 7 mile trip. Granted, I would have cycled most days, but God help me and my blood pressure on days when I drove in.

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