Census data give a detailed picture of Clark County's commuting landscape
Monday, March 18, 2013
New Census data shows Yacolt drivers have the longest commute to work in the county. How long is your commute?
- Less than 20 minutes. Lucky me! 33%
- Between 20 and 40 minutes. I guess that's average. 29%
- More than 40 minutes. I buy a lot of gas. 23%
- I don't have a job outside the home right now. 15%
217 total votes.
COMING OR GOING?
Clark County residents work in:
Clark County: 121,466
Multnomah County, Ore.: 45,078
Washington County, Ore.: 6,494
Clackamas County, Ore.: 4,933
Cowlitz County: 3,264
King County: 698
Marion County, Ore.: 461
Skamania County: 261
Clark County workers live in:
Clark County: 121,466
Multnomah County, Ore.: 7,861
Cowlitz County: 3,501
Washington County, Ore.: 2,899
Clackamas County, Ore.: 2,271
Skamania County: 1,061
Columbia County, Ore.: 218
Marion County, Ore.: 218
Source: U.S. Census Bureau
For most long-distance commuters, spending hours in the car battling traffic each week causes stress.
For Rick Sjolander, it can relieve stress.
"For me, it has become routine," said Sjolander, an assistant regional administrator with the Washington State Department of Transportation. "I use it to mellow out at times."
Sjolander maintains that attitude despite a monster commute: He works at WSDOT's regional office in Vancouver, but lives in Keizer, Ore., near Salem. The daily trek takes about 90 minutes, he said — each way.
Sjolander has what's known as a "megacommute." That's a trip of at least 50 miles and 90 minutes to get to work. Nearly 600,000 U.S. workers fall into that category, according to new U.S. Census Bureau data released this month. But Census data also show you don't have to cross the state line — or even the county line — to end up with a long trip to work.
A breakdown of Clark County zip codes shows that people who call 98675 home (think Yacolt and surrounding areas) have an average commute time of 42 minutes. Other parts of north Clark County registered average commute times of just over 30 minutes, according to the data.
Not surprisingly, zip codes closer to the area's urban cores — and closer to more jobs — had shorter commutes. But no part of Clark County had an average commute time of less than 20 minutes. The data were included in a national map assembled by public radio station WNYC.
Of course, traveling a longer distance doesn't necessarily mean a worse commute. Most people would take driving a rural back road over sitting in freeway gridlock any day of the week. Even if you're in the car just as long, "there's that sense of, at least I'm making progress," said Jim Quintana, a Hockinson-area resident who commutes to C-Tran headquarters in Vancouver.
This month's Census numbers also showed that, nationwide, 23 percent of workers with a commute of an hour or longer opted for public transit. For the workforce as a whole, that number was just 5.3 percent.
In Clark County, many transit commuters ride C-Tran's express bus routes between Vancouver and Portland. Beyond that, it's not as easy to distinguish who is riding other bus routes to work, and who is riding for another reason, said Quintana, C-Tran public affairs manager.
Ridership on C-Tran's express routes has been anything but steady in recent years. Once over 1.3 million riders per year, the number abruptly dropped under 1 million in 2005. That's when C-Tran doubled express fares amid financial turmoil on the heels of a failed ballot measure in 2004. Express ridership dropped even further in 2006 and 2007.
Express ridership climbed again in 2008 — a jump Quintana attributed at least partly to skyrocketing gas prices that year, before the brunt of the Great Recession hit. The express numbers then fell again, bottoming out at just over 700,000 riders in 2010, according to C-Tran.
Sjolander, the WSDOT megacommuter, has trekked between Keizer and Vancouver for more than 13 years. Though his wife is now retired, children and grandchildren in the Salem area keep him living there, he said. Sjolander used to work for the Oregon Department of Transportation, much closer to home.
Sjolander admits rising gas prices have influenced his behavior since then. And logging so many miles, Sjolander said he finds himself driving a different car every few years.
"They keep getting smaller," Sjolander said. (The Nissan Sentra he's driving now gets about 40 miles per gallon).
This month's Census numbers reinforce a trend that's well known to Clark County: Far more people leave the county to go to work than come in from outside. The vast majority of exiting commuters head across the Columbia River to jobs in the Portland area.
More than 55,000 Clark County residents commuted to work in Oregon's Multnomah, Washington or Clackamas counties in 2011, according to Census data. Close to 13,000 people made the trip in reverse, driving from one of those three counties to work in Clark County.
About 3,500 Clark County workers live in Cowlitz County, according to the data. That's more than either Washington or Clackamas counties.
An estimated 121,466 people both live and work in Clark County, according to the data.