How some staffers cope with epic commutes
Louis Wynn, a data operator in the Scientific and
Computing Division, is a glass-half-full kind of guy. When asked
about his commute to work, he says with a laugh, I really
dont have a problem riding the bus.
Thats a good thing, because Louis lives in
Auroraa walk, three bus rides, and a car or shuttle ride
to his job at the mesa.
His odyssey typically begins with a four-block
walk from his house to Sable Boulevard, where he catches the 153
bus to Colfax Avenue (a 15-minute ride). From there, he rides
the 15 downtown to Market Street Station (about an hour, including
wait time). Then he takes the Boulder Express (40 minutes) or
Local (one hour) to South Boulder Road. This brings him to the
homestretcha ride in a car or on the UCAR shuttle to the
Tally up the various segments, and the commute
totals 2 1/2 hours each wayon a good day. If traffic is
bad or he misses a connection, Louis could easily spend three
hours in transit.
Louis is hardly the only staffer with a long commute
to the office. Although 42 percent of UCARs approximately
1,400 employees live in Boulder, others live in the mountains,
the Denver area, or even as far north as Fort Collins.
The reasons are many: a desire to live in the mountains
or downtown Denver, a desire to escape the high costs of housing
in Boulder, or family ties to another community.
For some staffers who want to work at UCAR because
of its research mission, good benefits, and job stability, the
long commutewhile not idealis a reasonable trade-off.
And some have come up with creative ways of getting to work.
Louis, for example, could be at work in less than
an hour if he took his car. And he wouldnt even have to
deal with rush-hour traffic, because the shifts in his four-day
workweek run from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. But he doesnt like to
So he devised this system:
Normally, I drive to work on Monday, and
when I get off at 9 p.m., I drive to the park-n-ride, leave my
car, and bus it home. The next day, I bus it to the park-n-ride
and drive up the hill to work. I continue this process till Thursday
night, then drive home.
Louis cuts out the car altogether in the warmer
weather by bringing his bike on the bus to Boulder. He then loads
the bike on the shuttle to go into work and rides it downhill
from the mesa at the end of the day. His goal someday is to ride
his bike both ways. But, as he explained in a recent e-mail, I
dont know if this 50-year-old body will make it up THAT
Does it feel like a waste of time to spend as much
as five to six hours a day commuting? It really doesnt
bother me, Louis says. I have my bus pass, so its
free. I like to read novels or the newspaper. I know all the bus
If he had a shorter commute, he muses that he could
spend more time with his lady friend or take in a
late-night movie with a buddy. But hes used to the world
of buses. His previous job was another three-buser
to Lakewoodand that commute was even more challenging, in
a sense, because he had to be there by 4 a.m.
While he relaxes on his bus rides, Louis marvels
at people who spend time in traffic jams.
I ended up coming into Boulder one evening
about 5 and its parking lot city, he recalls with
a smile. I look at the other drivers, and theyre cursing
and waving their arms in the air. Im playing the radio and
singing Earth, Wind, and Fire.
His view of commuting comes down to a simple philosophy:
You have to take it in stride. Otherwise, he adds,
All youre going to do is stress yourself before you
even get to work.
For a sizable commute thats nothing like
Louiss, consider the route taken by Tom and Barb Petruzzi.
Their drive to work consists of descending more than 3,000 feet
from the upper foothills along quiet and beautiful roads.
Barb and Tom Petruzzi
The couple has worked in the organization for years.
Both are now in Physical Plant ServicesBarb as an administrator
and Tom as a maintenance specialist. Neither has plans to work
Not being city people, they bought a house some
25 years ago on Overland Mountain, north of Ward. Its a
45-minute drive to the mesa, but they love living at 8,700 feet,
far above the bustle of Boulder or Denver.
Its the most beautiful place on Earth,
Barb says. Mt. Meeker and Longs Peak are our front view.
Its Gods country up there.
About three days a week, when their schedules coincide,
they drive to work together. They wind their way down through
James and Lefthand canyons to Route 36, then join the heavier
traffic on Broadway.
Although thats a long drive, its mostly
along low-trafficked roads winding through some of the more spectacular
scenery in the county. So its hardly something to complain
Its not really a hardship in our estimation,
Barb says. Were lucky we can drive together and come
to such a beautiful place to work. The time we have between our
home and Broadway is a peaceful time to think and just be together,
or listen to audio books.
In fact, sometimes they wish their commute was
a bit longerso they have more time to listen to books. On
a recent day, Tom took a detour through Sugarloaf Canyon so he
could finish Extreme Measures by Michael Palmer.
Even snowy days dont faze them. Tom and Barb
each have a four-wheel drive vehicle, and they actually make better
time than staffers coming in on snarled roads from places like
Longmont or Broomfield. Asked what she would do differently,
Barb admits to being stumped. I wouldnt change a thing.
Scott Longmore loves everything about Fort Collins
except for the fact that its so far from his office.
Last December, Scott landed the type of job he was looking foras
a UCAR associate scientist providing technical support for the
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Working closely with
the Joint Office for Science Support, he oversees both hardware
systems and software development, which includes maintaining databases,
upgrading computers, and presenting information on the Web.
The only problem is he spends two hours a day on
State Route 287 for the roundtrip commute between Boulder and
Fort Collins. I really like my job, he says. The
commutes just one of those things. Nothings perfect.
Scott grew up in Fort Collins, and it still feels
like home. Like Boulder, it offers a wealth of outdoor activities
coupled with the sophistication of a college town. Plus its
a lot cheaper. Hes paying $650 a month to rent a two-bedroom
house in Fort Collinsand he knows that anything like that
in Boulder would cost nearly twice as much.
But he concedes, There are definitely more
meteorological software engineering jobs in Boulder.
Scott may end up moving to Boulder, even though
it means higher rent and being further from friends and family.
But hes also looking to form a carpool with other staffers.
That way, hed spare his truck, save money on gas, and maybe
even get some work done on his laptop.
For the moment, though, he spends his commute listening
to music. Hes gotten busy burning compact discs of his favorite
songs. Hes not opposed to listening to the radio but, as
he puts it, If I get three good songs in a row on the radio,
As soon as he catches the bus in Littleton each
morning to begin his two-hour commute to Boulder, Jim VanDyke
gets to work.
I spend most of my time on the computer making
database changes, reading, writing, or planning my day or my week,
explains the network engineer and assistant section head in the
Scientific Computing Division.
Jim has to be efficient that way because his commute
is among the more challenging at UCAR. He moved into his Littleton
house in 1991, two years before finding his present job. Rather
than relocate his family, he elected to tough it out with a long
drive west on C-470 to Golden and then north on Route 93 to Boulderan
hour each way on a good day.
For a while, it didnt seem that he had other
commuting options. Telecommuting didnt work because he needed
to be onsite to supervise his staff and take care of any technical
problems. Carpooling wasnt practical because he had to be
at work earlier than most staffersabout 7:30 a.m. And taking
public transportation was hardly appealing, given that it took
at least twice as long to navigate the bus system as it did to
Then, just about two years ago, he realized that
he could do as much work while riding on the bus and the new light
rail that opened from Littleton to Denver as he could in the office.
As he stated in a recent e-mail: I found that after a number
of years of driving and staying late each day that I would spend
about the same amount of time away from home as if I just commuted
and worked while I was commuting. I discussed it with my supervisor,
and now I leave at a regular time and work while Im commuting.
As a result, Jim works about a nine-hour dayalmost half
of which is spent in motion. He sets his alarm for 4:50 a.m.,
catches the 5:30 bus to the Mineral light rail station in Littleton,
takes the train downtown, and hops on the B bus to Boulder.
Even though the commute is still something of a
burden, he reports that his situation is quite manageable.
I really enjoy working at NCAR, but I also
like my community in Littleton, he says. I think ultimately
it would be nice if NCAR was closer, but I am happy with how the
commute is working out.
The UCAR/NCAR Transportation Alternatives Program
helps employees get to and from work (and other places) through
a variety of initiatives:
Eco-Passes. Every staffer gets an annual
Eco-Pass. This is good for free bus and light rail service throughout
the Denver-Boulder Regional Transportation District.
Guaranteed ride home. Any staffer who took
the bus or another alternative mode to work gets a free taxi ride
home if an emergency comes up.
Biking to work. Staffers can borrow a blue
bike (and helmet) for daily use from a staff-maintained fleet,
or they may be able to arrange a longer loan.
Carpooling. The Denver Regional Council
of Governments seeks to link up potential carpoolers throughout
the area. Check out www.drcog.org/ridearrangers.
in this issue:
the midnight hour: BAMEX takes aim at dangerous night storms
finds lower atmosphere warming
bridges for Latina students
Question: Publications on the Web