Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Sometimes It Really Sucks

I usually write about how much I like living near Washington DC … the history, the significance, the celebrities, the power, the buzz, the monuments, museums and grand open space.

But traffic here sucks.


A typical morning view from my windshield


I was invited to a reception earlier this evening for the outgoing Executive Director of a wonderful local non-profit organization. Mapquest estimated my travel time to be 41 minutes. I knew it would take longer because I’d be travelling on the Beltway right at the beginning of the afternoon drive time. My estimate was 60 minutes. Sixty five minutes after beginning my journey I had only driven one fourth of the way there. My total time, door to door, was two hours and I arrived half-way through the two-hour reception. The event was wonderful, but it is annoying that I spent more time getting there than staying there. I considered taking Metro (the subway), but the nearest station to the reception is a 15-minute walk away, which I didn’t want to do on a warm summer day wearing a suit and tie.

Most large cities I’ve lived in or visited have traffic issues. Too much sprawl and too many cars. As a society, we value our independence and cherish our right to drive everywhere alone in a car, but we pay for this privilege with stress and delays. It didn’t have to be this way. Until the 1960s, most urbanites used mass transit, primarily busses and streetcars. Families often had only one car, and the working parent used it to get to work or the stay-at-home parent used it to shuttle the kids around. My family’s car stayed parked most of the time because Mom didn’t drive and Dad took the bus to work.

I grew up on mass transit and still like it to this day … when it works. I tried taking Metro to a meeting on Monday. Driving would take thirty to forty minutes plus finding expensive parking. Metro to this particular location would normally involve a fifteen-minute ride to the 4th stop from where I got on the train. BUT someone decided to jump on the tracks in front of a train two stops up from where I started. Long story short, the “emergency” stopped all trains on that line; I sat in mine at the first stop for an hour, got out and boarded the only returning train to my original stop. Missed the meeting!

So is it really better anywhere else? My career success depends on living near big cities at this point. Technology is rapidly changing that dynamic, but for now I choose to remain an urbanite.
At one time, however, I did seriously consider moving to one of three cities that I really like but can’t really make a living in right now: Southern Shores, NC, Asheville, NC and Flagstaff, AZ. Southern Shores is on the Outer Banks, a wonderful ocean resort area in North Carolina. I looked at several houses with a real estate agent on several visits there. Off-season is wonderful … no traffic. In the summer, however, traffic is gridlocked there.

I did some neighborhood shopping in Asheville during my first visit there three years ago. Asheville is a beautiful mountain city with a great vibe and an entrepreneurial spirit. I was in two traffic jams within three days, even though it was non-tourist April. I encountered two moderate traffic jams during my visit there last summer. Certainly not the gridlock I get near DC, but traffic just the same.


Downtown Asheville


My one visit to Flagstaff involved very little traffic. A pleasant place … except there was a huge forest fire just outside of town last week. No place is perfect I guess.

So for now, I tolerate the traffic around DC because except for that, I like the place.

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