D.C. commuting choices have costs, but we’re not stuck with them

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

My favorite line in the “Godfather” film trilogy is from “The Godfather Part III.” When Michael Corleone turned over the “family business” to his nephew Vincent, he first insisted that Vincent stop seeing his daughter. As Michael said, “That is the price you pay for the life you choose.”

I think of this quite often when I read the letters published in your columns. People move to the far suburbs or the exurbs, or even farther, then complain that their commutes are too long and that the roads don’t accommodate their needs.

Live in the city, and noise, parking problems and constant congestion are your lots in life. Decide to fly your environmentalist flag by insisting on bicycling everywhere, and somehow you’re aghast that the roads are full of automobiles and trucks that aren’t in the mood to share with you.

The letter from Anamarie Farr featured in the May 27 column is yet another example of what can best be described as insisting that someone else bear the cross of one’s own making. She loves her “car-free lifestyle,” and good for her. But she also complains that Metro is “infuriating and does not do what it’s supposed to do.”

Comparing D.C.’s Metro with ones in Boston or San Francisco, or London or Moscow, for that matter, is superfluous; this is the system we have here, and it is what it is.

She and her friends who proudly do not own cars have chosen not to. If they have to rely on an unreliable transit system to go to the grocery store or to go to the doctor, this is the downside of their decisions to live with bike sharing and Zipcars and the wonderful world of WMATA.

Any complaints should be directed at the person they see in the mirror, and not at any transit authority or department of transportation.

In other words, this is the price they must pay for the life they have chosen.

— David L. Gordon,

Annandale

Travelers who write to me are more likely to see themselves in the first “Godfather”: They feel they’re dealing with offers they couldn’t refuse.

Farr’s letter expressed frustrations with Metro that are very common among young people in the D.C. area who have chosen to live without cars and see Metro as an important tool in helping them stay mobile. They have other things they want to spend their salaries on besides car insurance and motor oil.

Makes sense to me.

As Gordon says, though, our living choices have implications. Many picked more land, more house and more quiet in exchange for a longer commute. But the long commute may have turned out to have side effects they weren’t prepared for.

Others picked smaller dwellings that cost more but held the promise of commutes that were short, cheap and reliable. But the promise wasn’t kept because the transit system turned out to be not so reliable.

What really bothers me is that many of them now feel like they’re stuck with the downside. A portion of the long-distance travelers do have options they may not have fully explored, such as carpools, vanpools and telecommuting.

Among the more urban crowd, Farr is typical in leading a very active life that relies on effective transit, but she’s ahead of the crowd in understanding her options. She said: “I do have a bike, and Zipcar, CaBi [Capital Bikeshare] and Car2Go memberships. I know which buses I can or must use on the weekend to avoid being late.” Others need to catch up with her.

But that’s not to let governments and government agencies off the hook. Travelers can do more for themselves, but that includes getting involved in correcting the failings of transportation systems. Travelers can adapt to circumstances, but they can push back, too.

Dr. Gridlock also appears Thursday in Local Living. Comments and questions are welcome and may be used in a column, along with the writer’s name and home community. Write Dr. Gridlock at The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071 or
e-mail drgridlock@washpost.com.

 
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