Exploring the history of Phoenix, Arizona and a little bit of Los Angeles and San Francisco, California.

Why distance is always given in minutes in Phoenix and Los Angeles


I've really only lived in two places in my adult life, Phoenix and Los Angeles, so I don't know about the rest of the country, or the rest of the world, but people there have always given distance in minutes, not miles. So I've learned to translate that one minute means one mile. That means that if a housing development is thirty miles from a particular destination, it's described as "thirty minutes away".

The assumption is sixty miles an hour on the freeway, with no traffic. In Los Angeles, that's an interesting theory, but I've seen traffic move so slowly that I've been lucky to go ten miles in thirty minutes there. Even in Phoenix, where there's a lot less traffic, the "minute equals a mile" equation seems to be kinda iffy. From where I'm writing this right now, near Glendale Community College, at 59th Avenue and Olive, I'm "thirty minutes away from Scottsdale" - that is, thirty miles away. But at this time of the morning I doubt whether that formula would stand.

At first, when people started telling me that someplace is "fifteen minutes away", I'd ask, "Thank you! So, how far away is it?" and get a grumbling answer that they had just told me: fifteen minutes. After a while I learned to accept the minute equals a mile formula, and not argue with people, or I'd risk getting a punch in the nose. The minute equals a mile thing is Real Estate Agent-speak, and most people have adapted that, and don't even hear themselves saying it.

As someone who bikes, walks, takes public transportation, as well as rides in cars, I'm always interested in physical distances, not Real Estate Agent-speak. I can do a leisurely walk of half a mile (which is to my local McDonalds) in less than ten minutes. My walking pace is about 2-3 miles per hour. I can pedal that distance is less than half that time. Of course in a car, the time is so small that it's barely measurable.

Most of the people I've known in Phoenix and Los Angeles can only measure distances in car time. And cars do give the illusion of taking no time at all, which is why so many people are so surprised that they spend so much time in their cars. And that may be why that if they expected someplace to be fifteen minutes away, they're so aggravated when it takes them forty-five minutes to get there.

Thank you for traveling with me, in distance and minutes!

Image at the top of this post: The I-17 Freeway when it was new in the 1960s, Phoenix, Arizona.

Become a PhD (Phoenix History Detective) with Brad today on Patreon!

Click here to become a Patron!
History Adventuring posts are shared there daily including "then and now" photos, billboards, aerials, videos, and super high-definition photos of historic Phoenix, Arizona. Discounts for seniors, students, teachers, and veterans.