Area magazines often issue lists of the “Best Places to Work,” but they don’t consider what the commute to those places is like. The real best places to work don’t make employees sit in traffic for hours each day.
Each year, Baltimore magazine releases its list of the Best Places to Work, based on factors like salaries, benefits, career mobility, and workplace culture. Washingtonian magazine has a similar ranking.
But when my wife comes home from work, she does not talk about her employer’s 401K plans, her healthcare, or the free gym. Most often, I hear about how long or stressful her commute by car is.
I try to empathize, but my commute is a leisurely 15-minute bike ride that I love or a two-stop light rail ride when it rains, getting me to work relaxed and clear-headed. Shouldn’t magazines talk about those things, too?
“Best Places to Work” Rankings Don’t Talk About Commutes
Virtually every rush hour, one or more of our major regional highways is backed up when some unfortunate driver’s car is mangled in a so-called car-b-que. The DC area usually ranks among the highest in the nation for traffic congestion, while Baltimore isn’t far behind.
Beyond causing stress and eating up time, commuting by car can be dangerous. In 2010, Maryland had 493 traffic deaths: 296 were in passenger cars or light trucks versus one fatality in a bus. More than 380 fatal car crashes were on urban interstates.
Meanwhile, employers on the Baltimore magazine list highlight commuting options with about the same frequency as company picnics and employer-paid pet insurance. Of the top 25, there are only eight employers with a “walkscore” rating over 70. A high walkscore can indicate whether an employee can walk to a place to eat, live, or a central bus or transit line from their workplace.
Six of the eight employers are in downtown Baltimore with lots of amenities and transit within easy reach, while one is in Towson, a walkable downtown in its own right. The eighth, America’s Remote Help Desk, is in Eldersburg in Carroll County, which isn’t a walkable area but earns a high walkscore due to being in a shopping mall with shops and restaurants. The remaining 17 companies are in more remote or isolated locations where driving to work is the only option.
Another Way to Measure The “Best Places to Work”
Some area employers recognize that the best perk might be a variety of commuting options. Johns Hopkins, Baltimore’s largest employer, deserves credit. Its hospital is located at a Metro subway stop and has six bus lines. It runs an express shuttle service connecting its Homewood and medical campuses with Penn Station.
Hopkins is making investments so its community can conveniently live, shop, and play near each campus without a car. As importantly, Johns Hopkins has a robust Live Near Your Work program with downpayment/closing cost grants of up to $36,000, and is investing in the local public schools and business districts near its campuses as part of its Homewood Community Partners Initiative.
Let me tout my employer, the University of Baltimore. It has a 403b plan, comprehensive health and dental coverage, a free, full-service gym and library. But it also offers many choices for where its employees can live and how they get to work.
It’s within walking distance of many types of housing with different price points. Employees can choose to walk to work, and some do. Those who live further out have the option of biking to work with new cycletracks on Maryland Avenue and Mount Royal Avenue, as well as the Jones Falls Trail, which I use.
The university offers discounts on Maryland Transit Administration service, meaning employees can take advantage of the five nearby bus lines, the MARC Penn Line, the light rail, and the subway as well as a fleet of Zipcars. Penn Station, across the street, offers Bolt Bus and Amtrak.
If my colleagues want to be on the highways, go to Jiffy Lube, replace the tires, they can. But they don’t have to. I call that a perk and a choice.
As employers and office developers across the region make decisions about where to locate and to build, it is time to give employees choices about transport. There should be no more LEED-rated, “green” buildings in the middle of auto-oriented sprawl that costs employees their time, money, and health.
Greater Baltimore has plenty of available real estate a short walk from transit stations. There are office infill opportunities on or near commercial main streets and within walking distances of where people live. State Farm in Atlanta is one of many big employers who are moving to more transit-friendly locations.
But employers may not feel the need to offer employees more travel choices unless it’s recognized as a desirable feature. Baltimore magazine, how about adding commuting alternatives in the criteria for your “Best Places to Work 2014” list?
Jeff La Noue is a project and sustainability planner at the University of Baltimore and runs his own blog, Comeback City. A version of this post appeared in that blog. Posts are his own viewpoint and do not necessarily reflect his employer.
This “Commentary” section features different points of view from various sources to enhance readers’ broad awareness of themes and views that affect public transportation.