Greater Greater Washington

The real "best places to work" have great commuting options, too

Area magazines often issue lists of the "Best Places to Work," but they don't consider what the commute to those places is like. The real best places to work don't make employees sit in traffic for hours each day.


Photo by thisisbossi on Flickr.

Each year, Baltimore Magazine releases its list of the Best Places to Work, based on factors like salaries, benefits, career mobility, and workplace culture. Washingtonian Magazine has a similar ranking.

But when my wife comes home from work, she does not talk about her employer's 401K plans, her healthcare, or the free gym. Most often, I hear about how long or stressful her commute by car is.

I try to empathize, but my commute is a leisurely fifteen-minute bike ride that I love, or a two-stop light rail ride when it rains, getting me to work relaxed and clear-headed. Shouldn't magazines talk about those things, too?

"Best Places to Work" rankings don't talk about commutes

Virtually every rush hour, one or more of our major regional highways is backed up when some unfortunate driver's car is mangled in a so-called car-b-que. The DC area usually ranks among the highest in the nation for traffic congestion, while Baltimore isn't far behind.

Beyond causing stress and eating up time, commuting by car can be dangerous. In 2010, Maryland had 493 traffic deaths. 296 were in passenger cars or light trucks vs one fatality in a bus. 383 fatal car crashes were on urban interstates.

Meanwhile, employers on the Baltimore Magazine list highlight commuting options with about the same frequency as company picnics and employer-paid pet insurance. Of the top 25, there are only eight employers with a walkscore rating over 70. A high walkscore can indicate whether an employee can walk to a place to eat, to live, or a central bus or transit line from their workplace.

Six of the eight employers are in downtown Baltimore with lots of amenities and transit within easy reach, while one is in Towson, a walkable downtown in its own right. The eighth, America's Remote Help Desk, is in Eldersburg in Carroll County, which isn't a walkable area but earns a high walkscore due to being in a shopping mall with shops and restaurants. The remaining 17 companies are in more remote or isolated locations where driving to work is the only option.

Another way to measure the "best places to work"

Some area employers recognize that the best perk might be a variety of commuting options. Johns Hopkins, Baltimore's largest employer, deserves credit. Its hospital is located at a Metro subway stop and has six bus lines. It runs an express shuttle service connecting its Homewood and medical campuses with Penn Station.

Hopkins is making investments so its community can conveniently live, shop, and play near each campus without a car. As importantly, Johns Hopkins has a robust Live Near Year Work program with downpayment/closing cost grants of up to $36,000, and is investing in the local public schools and business districts near its campuses as part of its Homewood Community Partners Initiative.

Let me tout my employer, the University of Baltimore. It has a 403b plan, comprehensive health and dental coverage, a free, full-service gym and library. But it also offers many choices for where its employees can live and how they get to work.

It's within walking distance of many types of housing with different price points. Employees can choose to walk to work, and some do. Those who live further out have the option of biking to work with new cycletracks on Maryland Avenue and Mount Royal Avenue, as well as the Jones Falls Trail, which I use.

The university offers discounts on Maryland Transit Administration service, meaning employees can take advantage of the 5 nearby bus lines, the MARC Penn Line, the light rail, and the subway, as well as a fleet of Zipcars. Penn Station, across the street, offers Bolt Bus and Amtrak.

If my colleagues want to be on the highways, go to Jiffy Lube, replace the tires, they can. But they don't have to. I call that a perk and a choice.


There are other ways to get around. Photo by the author.

As employers and office developers across the region make decisions about where to locate and to build, it is time to give employees choices about transport. There should be no more LEED-rated, "green" buildings in the middle of auto-oriented sprawl that costs employees their time, money, and health.

Greater Baltimore has plenty of available real estate a short walk from transit stations. There are office infill opportunities on or near commercial main streets and within walking distances of where people live. State Farm in Atlanta is one of many big employers who are moving to more transit-friendly locations.

But employers may not feel the need to offer employees more travel choices unless it's recognized as a desirable feature. Baltimore Magazine, how about adding commuting alternatives in the criteria for your "Best Places To Work 2014" list?

A version of this post appeared on Comeback City.

Jeff La Noue is a project and sustainability planner in Baltimore. He has an Economics degree from St. Mary's College of Maryland and a Masters in Community Planning from the University of Maryland-College Park. Posts are his own viewpoint and do not necessarily reflect his employer. Jeff also runs his own urbanist blog, Comeback City

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"A high walkscore can indicate whether an employee can walk to a place to eat, to live, or a central bus or transit line from their workplace."

The Univ of Baltimore is hard to get from many places within the city of Baltimore unless you are driving. 60% of Baltimore is not covered via their Lightrail or Subway thus you are using bus services which require transfers from most points within the city limits of Baltimore.

by kk on Mar 6, 2014 2:39 pm • linkreport

bike + transit makes a huge difference in Baltimore, although the QuickBus routes, where they exist can work pretty well. I made it from Greenmount and North Ave. to Towson in as little as 20 minutes (granted, it was rare) with the 48.

But bike is key. Otherwise, as kk points out, so much of the transit in the area is bus-based with long headways.

Once I started biking from Penn Station to Towson and back, it made a huge difference.

by Richard L. Layman on Mar 6, 2014 3:51 pm • linkreport

Employer location and telecommuting options should absolutely be part of the rankings. Telecommuting already does factor into some published rankings such as "best workplace for mothers" although that's an antiquated way of thinking of that perk. Location factors should include transportation options, nearby amenities, and the quality of the jurisdiction's schools.

by Falls Church on Mar 6, 2014 6:06 pm • linkreport

Johns Hopkins Hospital does have subway service, but its not like JHU located to be most convenient to the population. Johns Hopkins wanted the hospital and the university each built on hills that he could see from his mansion, on another hill. The subway etc cam more than 100 years later

by SJE on Mar 6, 2014 6:40 pm • linkreport

@Falls Church

If telecommuting is part of the rankings what about vacation/paid time off, maternity/paternity leave, employee discounts of company products, hours worked, schedule flexibility, work environment, overtime pay, holiday pay, tuition assistance/reimbursement, child care, etc.

Many post on here turn to only think about white collar jobs but there are also blue collar and service industry jobs that no speak of on here but a few people.

by kk on Mar 6, 2014 10:53 pm • linkreport

Most places on these lists just get some employees to fill out a survey. There's not much more to it.

by selxic on Mar 7, 2014 10:48 am • linkreport

Johns Hopkins has made efforts recently to "get off the Hill" so to speak and actively invest in making the neighborhoods around it better. They are moving in the right direction.

Blue collar industries may need transit access even more. However, some blue collar industries like manufacturing and warehousing may not lend themslves to being at a walkable transit hub. Eds, Meds, gov't, and office work usually do.

by JL on Mar 7, 2014 11:18 am • linkreport

@kk

All those factors are usually included in the rankings as well.

Blue collar employers are also considered in the rankings. Harley Davidson, Wegmans, and Bright Horizons daycare are a few that I know usually rank pretty high.

by Falls Church on Mar 7, 2014 12:05 pm • linkreport

Have you ever been in the neighborhoods surrounding JHU Hospital in Baltimore? They look really like slums, or whatever the current PC description is.

They'd have to pay me a LOT more than $36,000 to live anywhere walkable to the JHU Hospital.

There are JHU security guards on every corner surrounding the hospital campus, but not on every block within a walkable distance. Small wonder that none of us live nearby.

by Dairy Maid on Mar 9, 2014 4:16 pm • linkreport

Johns Hopkins Hospital does have subway service, but its not like JHU located to be most convenient to the population. Johns Hopkins wanted the hospital and the university each built on hills that he could see from his mansion, on another hill. The subway etc cam more than 100 years later

by white curtains on Mar 11, 2014 1:16 pm • linkreport

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