What’s driving Calgary’s out-of-town commuters?
Calgary roads during rush hour can be a frustrating place to be on the best of days. This is especially true for commuters that choose to live outside city limits – either in communities on the fringes or in towns a stone’s throw away.
However, for many of these commuters the additional time spent driving from home to work and back every day is worth it for a lifestyle and other opportunities the city can’t quite offer.
“I can’t say I love the drive,” said Bruce McCartney.
Since moving to Springbank – a rural community west of Calgary – from Beddington two decades ago for a bigger house and lot, the database consultant has been braving the 25-kilometre drive every weekday.
The journey ranges from 25-40 minutes “depending on luck and time of day,” and can be anywhere from merely “tedious” in good conditions to “unreasonable” when construction closes lanes and tests patience.
Even so, McCartney feels he’s luckier than many out-of-town workers.
“This is probably the best commute in Calgary as we are straight west on Highway 1,” he said. “From this direction I have a number of choices and Google Maps re-routes me if there’s trouble ahead.”
The drive is a bit longer for Leo St. Amour. From his home in Cochrane to the engineering firm where he works downtown, the drive is about 45 minutes. However, given the trade-offs, he considers it time well spent.
“The city was getting too big for my wife and daughter and me four years ago,” he said. “We wanted a slower pace and more proximity to the mountains and we found both in Cochrane.”
As St. Amour points out, one can easily spend the same 45 minutes commuting within Calgary, and he finds his experience less stressful than sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic for most of that time.
I’ve been commuting for so many years that I don’t even think about it anymore. With Stoney Trail, I bypass a lot of Calgary and it actually gives me a chance to unwind. By the time I get home, I’ve left all the work issues behind me and I’m calm and cool again.
“Even on heavy traffic days you’re moving,” he said. “The only time it gets tough is in winter, but that’s true anywhere.”
In terms of commute time and distance, Gus Rook has both men beat. Five days a week, he makes the 45-kilometre trek from his acreage northwest of Airdrie to southeast Calgary, where he works as an instrument mechanic. With 100 kilometres per day added to his odometer, he can wear out a new vehicle in a couple of years, so one could imagine the drive would be wearing on him as well. In reality, it seems to have the opposite effect.
“I’ve been commuting for so many years that I don’t even think about it anymore,” said Rook. “With Stoney Trail, I bypass a lot of Calgary and it actually gives me a chance to unwind. By the time I get home, I’ve left all the work issues behind me and I’m calm and cool again.”
Like St. Amour, Rook prefers the long drive to the ones faced by certain co-workers.
“Lots of people say ‘wow you drive a long way every day.’ I tell them it takes just as long to drive from one side of Calgary to the other in rush hour,” he said.
If there’s a common thread for these commuters and others from outside city limits, it’s the view that the additional time and money they invest is worth it in the end.
“It’s not important for me to live where I work as that’s not where my heart is,” said St. Amour.
“A good third of the people from my neighborhood commute to Calgary because living here makes us happy.”
Friends and family might think they’re crazy to do what they do, but commuters like McCartney, Rook and St. Amour see it differently. In their eyes, if you can trade some travelling time for the home and community of your dreams, you’d be crazy not to.