Car still king for many suburbanites


There must be a better use of suburban space than stacking up cars, as in the West Falls Church Metro garage. (Robert Thomson/The Washington Post)

Last week, I proposed that the D.C. region’s governments make it easier for commuters to reach suburban Metro stations.

Suburban commuters hated it.

My suggestion that they have the same travel rights enjoyed by people in the central city was naive, or threatening, or naive and threatening.

They renewed their assault on travel equality during Monday’s online chat. But as with last week’s chat, I ran out of time, and wound up stifling their cries.

So to make amends, here’s a recap of the debate points, followed by some of the comments I didn’t get a chance to publish earlier.

Dr. Gridlock’s diagnosis. Metro was built to soak up cars in the suburbs and spit out people in the central city. Advantage: central city. Why shouldn’t suburbanites have the variety of travel options available to folks downtown so that fewer cars would need to be warehoused all day in the middle of suburban centers? Space now devoted to stacking cars could be used to build communities.

Prescription. Greater investment in buses, bike lanes and walkable communities in the suburbs won’t end congestion around Metro stations, but it could ease commutes for everyone, including drivers.

These are two comments readers submitted during the Monday chat.

Realistic expectation. “Yes, a magical world where there were bike and bus lanes for all would be a planner’s dream. However, there are plenty of people who don’t want to bike (or can’t) and the bus is very unpredictable and aggravating if it’s not the Circulator.”

I can smell the smugness from here. “A number of the posters [in the chat] should really think about their comments. Just because something works well for them, does not mean it will work for everyone. Saying someone should just bike because they are okay with it is reeks of smugness. I live close enough to bike, but don’t trust the cars and I am not stupid enough to try to take up a whole lane during rush hour. Each situation should be handled on its own merits, and one of the best solutions to DC traffic issues is driving to a metro station as opposed to driving all the way in. The bus just isn’t happening for a lot of people.”

Now, as promised, are some comments that were submitted, but I didn’t get a chance to publish.

Driving to Metro station. “I would take a bus to the Glenmont Metro. It was fine in the morning. However, waiting for a Y bus in the evening usually took 45 minutes for a bus that was supposed to come every 15 minutes. If you want to encourage bus ridership them maybe buses should have dedicated lanes so they don’t get bogged down in traffic.”

Not all buses are nice. “Those who are in favor of public buses need to realize the importance of overcoming the problems with buses. They are looked at as the lowest form of public transportation. The Circulator is clean, easy to predict and well-received. However, I have hopped on a similar route (80 from Union Station) and the regular bus was smelly, looked drab and was unpleasant event for a handful of blocks. This is not a reasonable alternative. It’s like the people who want to ban tech buses in San Francisco without thinking of the alternatives. Instead of trying to force people to accept the planner method, the planners have to be more accommodating to what people will actually use.”

The next comment is a follow-up that I didn’t get a chance to publish. The commenters original posting was: “As a Fairfax resident, I see our county board has indebted us to the tune of $3 billion for the Silver Line, with no garages at Phase 1 stations, and also recently voted to double Tysons square footage development with no plans to add lanes in that area. Apart from Metro’s crappy service, which many others have noted, this is insane.

More on Metro & suburban parking. “You replied to my comment by saying “Where in Tysons Corner would you add lanes? On Route 7 or Route 123?” A: YES. Where would the extra cars go when they got off those routes?” A: Assuming you mean where on secondary roads (as opposed to parking at Tyson’s destinations), 7 and 123 should both be widened around that area. In the late 20th century local politicians should have planned better with more lane capacity, but much better late than never, and doubling Tysons development shows the current politicians have learned nothing.”

Robert Thomson is The Washington Post’s “Dr. Gridlock.” He answers travelers’ questions, listens to their complaints and shares their pain on the roads, trains and buses in the Washington region.
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