As sure as the sun will rise

When I moved several months ago, one of the major tasks I had to face was finding a place to live. While personal matters (living close to my significant other) were certainly the primary factor in my choice, I, like most people, considered a wide array of other issues as well. Things like the cost of rent, proximity to my new job and the grocery store, the neighborhood around where I live, and the lack or availability of particular amenities like air conditioning in the dwelling all factored into my decision.

While driving to work today, I realized that there was a hugely important consideration that I had entirely neglected, and which I suspect most other people entirely ignore when looking for a new home. Since I’ve moved, I have found that my commute to and from work has been notably less onerous than it used to be. This is strange to me, because my drive is not really any shorter than it ever was, and if anything, the traffic is worse. In spite of this, my whole experience is improved by the simple fact that I now live East of where I work.

Living to the east of my workplace is great because it means that when I am driving into work in the morning, I am heading West, with the rising sun at my back. In the evening, driving Eastward home, the setting sun is once again at my back. Prior to my move, the opposite was true.

It seems like such a trivial thing, but not squinting into the sun while I drive makes the commute less stressful, safer, and because I can clearly see out the windshield, notably more scenic. Thinking about this on my way to work this morning, and then again on the way home, has made me wonder to what extent this simple thing is factored into urban planning.

The vast majority of Americans drive to work five days a week. The overwhelming majority of those work a schedule that dictates that they are driving during the hours the sun is comparatively low in the sky. Have the people who designed the cities and towns in which this majority lives and works striven to make the experience more enjoyable for us all?

A brief search of the web suggests that considerations such as proximity to water and other natural resources are much more important in the minds of urban planners than something so simple as the direction the sun rises each day. I certainly acknowledge that many of these other factors are hugely important. Nevertheless, I’d like to suggest that on both the large scale of urban planning and the small scale of one person’s choice of where to live, the ability to get to and from work without spending your commute squinting painfully into the sun, day in and day out, would be worth at least considering.

-posted by Mark


3 Responses to As sure as the sun will rise

  1. poetloverrebelspy says:

    I watched a report once on NBC News dealing with this exact issue. Roads are planned in a grid — north, south, east, west — without taking into account that east-west roads cause people to drive into the sun twice a day. The report said that this, combined with everyone’s dirty windshields, led to blinding of drivers, making them more prone to accidents with cars and pedestrians alike.
    The question is what to do about it. I don’t think there’s much we’re going to change about the roads in existence. I also think that 90-degree intersections are statistically safer than acute or obtuse angles. So do we shift all new road orientation 30 or 45 degrees? Would these new directions actually improve the blinding phenomenon or would it spread it to more drivers? Will we then be confused because we in fact do orient directionally by roadways more than we imagined? How would this affect homebuilders who try to design sunny south-facing windows, etc.?

  2. Mary says:

    I actually do think about this issue when thinking about where I want to live next. I landed, rather than chose, where I live now because this is where my husband lived with his kids. Mostly, I love my house, but deal with this sunlight issue all the time.

    I wear glasses, and don’t want to spring for an extra pair of expensive prescription sunglasses (which I will lose.) Therefore, I always order glasses which come with sun clips (which I eventually lose). So then I get hats (which I eventually lose). I spend several days a year driving into the rising or setting sun, either for work or to get to places that interest me (which are mostly east of me).

    My bedroom is also on the east side of the house, which must be corrected in our next move. I know many people like sunlight streaming into their windows in the morning, but I am not one of them (not really happy about chirping birds, either, although I like them later in the day).

    I will definitely give more consideration to places that have significant locations for me in a north-south orientation.

  3. akdmyers says:

    I lucked out in moving here in finding a place east of where I work, and while that wasn’t a deciding factor in our choice, it was definitely something I thought about when we were looking at places.

    I don’t think shifting the road orientation 30 or 45 degrees would help much – I think it would just spread the glare problem to more drivers. I’ve been noticing recently how glaring the sun is even when it’s coming at me from the side, and I am so glad that most of my drive is east-west rather than north-south, because the glare from the short amounts of time when I am driving north-south is enough to give me headache. I would think it would be confusing to shift road direction, too, because I think most people do use them to orient. But it does seem like city planners would want to take the direction of the sun into account, especially since traffic is such a huge (and growing) problem in most American cities, and it only gets worse when you throw driving into the glaring sun into the mix.

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