By the Numbers: Getting to work, Steamboat style |

By the Numbers: Getting to work, Steamboat style

Scott Ford/For the Steamboat Today

Scott Ford

There was a TV documentary narrated by Groucho Marx called "Merrily We Roll Along." This 1961 documentary was about how the automobile had supplanted the horse and streetcar in American life. It was Marx who made popular the phrase, "America's love affair with the automobile." The phrase captured the role the automobile plays within the American lifestyle. The reality is that privately owned vehicles have been part of America's collective cultural DNA for more than 100 years.

Counting only light trucks and passenger vehicles, there are almost 23,000 registered vehicles in Routt County. This translates to about 1.2 vehicles for everyone age 16 and older. In comparison to other counties in Colorado that look a lot like us, the ratio in La Plata (Durango) and Gunnison is about 5 percent lower. One possible explanation of the higher ratio in Routt County could be due to the number of part-time residents who keep a vehicle locally for their use when they are here but are not counted in Routt County's official population statistics.

According to U.S. Census Bureau data, about 75 percent of the workforce in the greater Steamboat Springs area uses a car, truck or van to get to work. Of this group, about 85 percent drive alone as they commute to work. About 14 percent of Steamboat's workforce regularly uses alternative means of transportation (public transportation, motorcycles, bicycles or walking) as their means of going to work. By comparison, in Boulder, these same alternative means account for 27 percent. One possible explanation for the higher percentage in Boulder is that it does not snow as much there.

In reality, it does not take the Steamboat workforce all that long to get to work. Simply put, about 80 percent of the local workforce spends less than 20 minutes commuting to work.

By comparison, in the Denver area, only 40 percent of the workforce spends less than 20 minutes commuting to work.

According to the Colorado Department of Transportation, there are about 300 miles of roadways in Routt County. This includes roads maintained by the county, the four municipalities located in the county and the state and U.S. highways passing through. These 300 miles do not include seasonal roads or designated National Forest Service roads. On average, the number of miles that are driven collectively on these 300 miles of roadways each day is about 565,000, which translates to more than 206 million miles driven annually in Routt County. In reality, the number of miles driven actually is higher because CDOT usage statistics do not include roadways maintained by the municipalities within Routt County.

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(Sources: Colorado Department of Revenue, Colorado Department of Transportation, Colorado Department of Local Affairs and U.S. Census Bureau American Community Survey.)

Scott L. Ford has lived in Steamboat Springs for 21 years and is the principal partner in The Pinnacle Economic Research Group. Ford can be reached at

By the numbers

Steamboat Springs area workforce commute times

■ Less than 5 minutes: 11 percent

■ Five to 9 minutes: 29 percent

■ Ten to 14 minutes: 24 percent

■ Fifteen to 19 minutes: 14 percent

■ More than 20 minutes: 22 percent