Spring 2024 | Article 04/04

Commuting across America

Commuter preferences are changing. The ability to work from home completely or part-time has more Americans thinking differently about where they live. While many now wish to live as close to the office as possible, “super commuters” are also on the rise.

Remote and hybrid work is redefining U.S. commutes

The hybrid and remote work revolution, spurred by the pandemic, has dramatically altered U.S. commuting habits. This evolving landscape, with some differences between metros, underscores the changing dynamics of workplace accessibility and commuter preferences.

To get a sense of commute impacts across the U.S., our experts analyzed four geographically dispersed markets to act as a representative sample of the East, Central, West and South regions. Based on our analysis, more Americans living in or near urban areas travel less than three miles to work today. While there is still an outsized share of urban district commuters coming from five to 50 miles away, this proportion has significantly decreased.

There’s also a higher concentration of ‘super commuters’ who trek 50+ miles to work in both urban and suburban districts, enabled by hybrid work options that allow them to make the trek a few days a week instead of five. Many super commuters relocated during the pandemic and still enjoy working from their new homes while leveraging face-to-face interactions in the office at a less frequent cadence.

Three notable trends emerged in both Urban/Downtown as well as Suburban markets:


The increase in the number of commuters traveling under 3 miles


The increase in the number of commuters traveling over 50 miles


The decrease in the number of commuters traveling between 10-50 miles

A walk through each city

Washington, DC

All but one of the geographies we analyzed within the DC metro saw a reduction in average commute distance–indicating that workers, enabled by flexible and hybrid options, have elected to live closer to their places of work. The exception is Downtown DC, where the average commute distance trended up slightly from 14.3 miles in 2019 to 14.5 miles in 2024.

While roughly 70% of DC workers have returned to the office, metro ridership has not correspondingly increased, indicating that more people are driving to work now than before. This is another phenomenon that hybrid work has helped shift, and it’s both increased traffic and shifted retail demand fundamentally in office-dense areas.

The average distance Chicagoans spent commuting decreased between 5% and 15% this year when compared to 2019. Demographics shifted most dramatically in and near Chicago’s primary business hub, the Loop. The proportion of commuters from the Loop and its surrounding neighborhoods has decreased slightly, as residential growth has stalled likely due to quality-of-life factors such as crime and the cost of living. Meanwhile, a greater percentage of office commuters are traveling to work from neighborhoods that are less than two miles from the Loop, including Wicker Park, Lincoln Park, and Gold Coast.

A similar pattern emerged in suburban locales, particularly in and around Oakbrook. The proportion of residents who have short commutes increased, as did the proportion residing within five to ten miles of their workplace. Correspondingly, the proportion of long commutes declined, bringing the average commute distance down by 18%, from 24 miles to 19.4 miles.

Bay Area
San Francisco’s Central Business District (CBD), which historically catered to daytime populations, has significantly shifted post pandemic. The rise of hybrid work models has decreased the average number of commuters coming into the CBD, leading to office vacancies and diminished crowds at restaurants and retail shops. Oakland’s CBD also saw decreased commuters. Despite this, the commute time to both cities can still exceed an hour due to traffic congestion, posing a further challenge to the Bay Area’s recovery. Local transit modes like the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) subway and trains are currently operating at only half capacity, mainly due to lingering concerns regarding safety and cleanliness.

In contrast, suburban markets like Cupertino tend to be closer to the overall workforce, resulting in shorter commute times. Many companies have strongly mandated a return to office in these locations compared to CBD markets, potentially contributing to their resilience and stability in the post-pandemic landscape.

Atlanta has long been a ‘car city’ with some of the worst traffic in the country. Although it does have public rail transportation (MARTA), it doesn’t service the suburban areas of metro Atlanta, where a significant portion of the workforce lives. Pre-pandemic, workers would commonly drive 20+ miles every day. Now, with the rise of remote work, employees are seeing the cost and health benefits of avoiding long hours on the road. Metro Atlanta saw a 9.7% decrease in the distance employees drove this year when compared to 2019, with the most significant reduction of commuters in the 10-50 mile range.

Commuters who live less than three miles from their jobs are increasingly flocking to Midtown and Buckhead, which housed 12.7% and 7.4% more commuters this year than in 2019, respectively–owed in part to surges in multifamily construction in these neighborhoods. Office leasing has coincided with these trends. As tech companies have increasingly opened offices closer to their workforces, the urban submarkets (Midtown and Buckhead) have recorded strong activity through the pandemic.

Moving ahead

The pandemic transformed not only where we work but how we get there. Across the country, significant shifts in commuting habits reveal a broader reevaluation of work-life balance and residential preferences.

These evolving patterns present both challenges and opportunities for urban planning and corporate policies, highlighting the need for adaptive strategies that support the changing dynamics of workplace accessibility and commuter preferences.

Article contributors

  • Regional Manager, Mid-Atlantic

Alex turns up an EDM playlist to wake him up on his 3.5 mile morning commute. He likes to get coffee at Starbucks, conveniently located across the street from the Avison Young DC office.

  • Manager, Market Intelligence Central Region

Jeremy’s commute is 6 miles to our Chicago office. He usually rides the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) “L” train, but in the summer enjoys biking to work. The latest pop is his commute music of choice, and if he’s in the mood for a treat he’ll stop at La Columbe for coffee.

  • Market Intelligence Manager, West Region

Dina takes different modes of transportation based on which office she's going into. When she commutes to our San Francisco office, she takes Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART). When she goes into our Palo Alto office, she drives. Depending on which office, she’ll swing over to Blue Bottle or Starbucks for a cup of joe. Her go-to tunes are classic rock, alternative and '90s rap on Spotify.

  • Manager, Market Intelligence – Southeast Region

Sara drives 25 miles on her commute to our Atlanta office, and if she’s not tuned in to Sirius XM’s Pop2K or '90s on 9, she’s jamming to a Broadway musical soundtrack. Sara’s not a coffee drinker but she enjoys a weekly stop to Chick-fil-A on her commute.

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