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The Globe and Mail

4 designers, 4 ways to solve the dreaded commute

Commuting is a way of life for millions, but it takes a huge toll on our health, our environment and our economy. Here are four concepts from designers around the world to help workers get out of their cars

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It seems that every few months, a new set of bleak studies comes out to reinforce something already obvious to everyone: Commuting sucks. The time we spend on the road is getting longer (the average Canadian round trip is 65 minutes a day, compared to the 54 minutes it took two decades ago), and the health effects of sitting in gridlock, stewing in a quiet rage, is getting scarier. It can spike blood pressure and expand waist lines and has been linked to a greater risk of heart disease, diabetes and insomnia. One Swedish study even found that commuting longer than 45 minutes a day ups the likelihood of divorce by 40 per cent.In major cities like Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver, where daily travel times average an hour and 15 minutes, the typical person can spend the equivalent of 39 workdays a year getting to and from the office. It’s more than a month’s worth of vacation time – but instead of relaxing on the Mayan Riviera, you’re breathing in exhaust.The financial impacts are equally stark. In the Greater Toronto Area alone, being stuck in traffic costs the economy an estimated $6-billion a year in lost productivity.That’s why architects, designers and urban thinkers are trying to re-imagine how we commute. Not just in small ways – like iPhone apps that help plot traffic-free routes – but with grand, spectacular, slightly absurd schemes as well. Here are four of the most exciting.

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Unless you work with the likes of Ryan Lochte, seeing your co-workers in nothing but swim trunks would likely be, to say the least, disturbing. [Y/N] Studio clearly thinks differently. Its proposal to turn Regent’s Canal – an underused, formerly industrial waterway in central London – into a continuous swim track would make showing up to the office in a Speedo the hallmark of a healthy commute.

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Salto Architects, an Estonia-based practice, has designed the ultimate moving sidewalk. Instead of creeping forward slowly on a large conveyor belt, pedestrians fling themselves ahead a few metres at a time on a giant, continuous trampoline. Called Fast Track, a 51-metre test strip was installed this summer in Nikola-Lenivets, Russia.

Salto Architects

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Although pedal-pushing to work has become more popular in recent years, many people still avoid it because of safety concerns and inclement weather. Exterior Architecture, in London, hopes that its proposed network of elevated, glass-covered bike highways – which would run alongside the British capital’s existing rail network – will encourage more people to get into their saddles.

Sam Martin/Exterior Architecture

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There’s something romantic about the idea of commuting to work in a cable-car gondola. Almost as though the final destination isn’t the office, but a remote mountain peak. But the Wire – a proposal for a network of cable cars to crisscross Austin, Tex. – isn’t just whimsical, it’s also practical. According to San Francisco-based Frog Design, it would cost about 10 per cent as much as a light-rail train network.

Frog Design

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