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February 21, 2024 7:11 am

Local News

The Long Haul: Commuting in Pennsylvania

Credit: iStock

Parker Wallis

US Census Bureau data reveals that Pennsylvania residents spend “an average of 26.9 minutes commuting to work,” ranked the “14th longest commute among the states” and Washington, D.C. (Wyoming excluded.)

The community with the shortest average commute time in Pennsylvania was Lincoln University, according to newly released Census data on commute times. Lincoln University has a main campus on 422 acres with about 2,000 students near the town of Oxford. 

Between 2016 and 2020, the American Community Survey recorded the average commute times by Pennsylvania county.  Bucks County reported an average of 30 minutes while Northampton County reported a 28 minute average. LeHigh, Allegheny, and Lackawanna County came in around 24-26 minutes, and Cambiria and Dauphin County reported an average of 21-23 minutes. Erie County reported less than 20 (19.8) minutes.

The Bureau’s 2018 American Community Survey shows “about 9.2 percent of commuters in the state have one-way travel times exceeding one hour.” Pike County reports commute times of over 90 minutes for more than 17 percent of its residents, known as super commuters.

Super commuters, who often spend hours commuting and/or travel to another city for work, are highly susceptible to stress-related health complications. 

“This kind of travel raises your blood pressure,” according to Richard Jackson, professor emeritus of environmental health sciences at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health. “It raises your cortisol level, it raises your adrenaline level, it actually raises your risk of having a heart attack during and for about an hour after you’re doing this. So, there are direct physical threats.”

Even a daily commute as short as 10 miles is associated with an increase in high blood pressure, as data from a 2012 study from the American Journal of Preventive Medicine suggests.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, commuting habits have started to shift with researchers observing “public transit use decreasing, bikes and e-bikes gaining popularity and overall travel time decreasing as more people work from home.” 

Research from Reuters Health supports the idea that those who bike or walk to work actually have lower risk of both heart attack and stroke.

Jackson comments on how the sedentary nature of the modern commute can also be a health factor. 

“There are lots of upstream causes for our obesity and diabetes but the removal of physical activity from our lives is a very big one,” says Jackson. “A generation ago, 60-70 percent of kids walked to school and now it’s only about 20 percent.”