UCAR Communications

staff notes monthly

May 2003

The long riders:
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 don’t have a problem riding the bus.”

Louis Wynn.

That’s a good thing, because Louis lives in Aurora—a 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 homestretch—a ride in a car or on the UCAR shuttle to the Mesa Lab.

Tally up the various segments, and the commute totals 2 1/2 hours each way—on 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 UCAR’s 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 commute—while not ideal—is a reasonable trade-off. And some have come up with creative ways of getting to work.

Car avoidance

Louis, for example, could be at work in less than an hour if he took his car. And he wouldn’t 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 doesn’t like to drive.

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 don’t know if this 50-year-old body will make it up THAT hill.”

Does it feel like a waste of time to spend as much as five to six hours a day commuting? “It really doesn’t bother me,” Louis says. “I have my bus pass, so it’s free. I like to read novels or the newspaper. I know all the bus drivers.”

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 he’s used to the world of buses. His previous job was “another three-buser” to Lakewood—and 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 it’s parking lot city,” he recalls with a smile. “I look at the other drivers, and they’re cursing and waving their arms in the air. I’m 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 you’re going to do is stress yourself before you even get to work.”

The long descent

For a sizable commute that’s nothing like Louis’s, 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 Services—Barb as an administrator and Tom as a maintenance specialist. Neither has plans to work anywhere else.

Not being city people, they bought a house some 25 years ago on Overland Mountain, north of Ward. It’s a 45-minute drive to the mesa, but they love living at 8,700 feet, far above the bustle of Boulder or Denver.

“It’s the most beautiful place on Earth,” Barb says. “Mt. Meeker and Longs Peak are our front view. It’s God’s 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 that’s a long drive, it’s mostly along low-trafficked roads winding through some of the more spectacular scenery in the county. So it’s hardly something to complain about.

“It’s not really a hardship in our estimation,” Barb says. “We’re 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 longer—so 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 don’t 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 wouldn’t change a thing.”

Another college town

Scott Longmore loves everything about Fort Collins except for the fact that it’s so far from his office.
Last December, Scott landed the type of job he was looking for—as 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.

Scott Longmore

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 commute’s just one of those things. Nothing’s 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 it’s a lot cheaper. He’s paying $650 a month to rent a two-bedroom house in Fort Collins—and 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 he’s also looking to form a carpool with other staffers. That way, he’d 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. He’s gotten busy burning compact discs of his favorite songs. He’s not opposed to listening to the radio but, as he puts it, “If I get three good songs in a row on the radio, that’s awesome.”

Working on wheels

As soon as he catches the bus in Littleton each morning to begin his two-hour commute to Boulder, Jim VanDyke gets to work.

Jim VanDyke

“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 Boulder—an hour each way on a good day.

For a while, it didn’t seem that he had other commuting options. Telecommuting didn’t work because he needed to be onsite to supervise his staff and take care of any technical problems. Carpooling wasn’t practical because he had to be at work earlier than most staffers—about 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 drive.

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 I’m commuting.”
As a result, Jim works about a nine-hour day—almost 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.”

•David Hosansky

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.

Also in this issue:

In the midnight hour: BAMEX takes aim at dangerous night storms

Study finds lower atmosphere warming

An information divide

Building bridges for Latina students

Short takes

Delphi Question: Publications on the Web


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