This article highlights the type of visionary thinking that is happening around the Nation and the World. Our lives and built environment encourage car use. My wife and I have lived full and part time in New York, Boston and Philly and we didn’t own a car in any of those three cities. It was only when we moved to DC 6 years ago that we gave in. We live in the heart of the city near Dupont Circle but because our jobs are spread throughout the region we needed at least one car. For 5 years before joining Federal Realty, I drove to work. Even if I had a meeting that was metro accessible, I didn’t even stop to think about public transit because my car had become an extension of me. It had all of my stuff in it, it felt comfortable, I liked my music, etc…
In July when I started my job with Federal Realty I assumed we would get a second car. For a month I drove to work, each day trying to beat the time it took me the previous day. I tried 6 different routes and drove as fast as possible to see if I could shave my commute by a minute or two down to 35 minutes. Looking back, it wasn’t safe, it wasn’t comfortable, and it made my commute filled with pressure. The unpredictability of the home commute made things even worse. It ranged from 35 minutes with the wind at my back to an hour if the beltway was backed up.
When my wife went back to work from maternity leave, given the economy, I decided to give Metro a try. The trip is a dependable 45 minutes round trip door to door no matter what. For the first week or two I would sprint to the metro from my home to get it down to 41 or 42 minutes, but in the end, over time, I have adjusted my expectations and now take pleasure in the 20 minutes of reading that I get done in each direction every day!!! I have read more books in the past 10 months than I had in the previous 2 years! While it was a difficult adjustment at first, now I find myself purposefully not taking the car even when it is available. It sits in the garage on days that neither my wife nor I need it. I also now use metro for shorter trips during the day. For the first few months, there was always a negotiation because if I had a meeting outside the office, and forgot to alert my wife far enough in advance, one of us would have to find an alternate method to get to work. Now, I have become used to travelling to meetings in Bethesda, Silver Sprint, White Flint, and Rockville by mass transit. It truly is a nice, enjoyable, hassle free, and pressure free way to travel. I have had my bad days here and there and some delays, but nothing compared to the unpredictability of driving!
So, while this is just my story, I have learned quite a bit. Mass transit usage is social engineering. Breaking the car habit is really hard at first, but once someone makes the effort, there are some rewards to getting out of the old tin can! Now, when I do take the car (3 to 4 times per month) it just doesn’t have the same allure as it once did…. and I am ok with that!