James Starrs envisions a day when Washington will be a carless city. Former car addicts will bicycle to work, walk to the market and take buses or subways everywhere else. Perhaps as soon as 10 years from now. Starrs would settle for 20 years, but at 53 he'd like an extra decade to enjoy it all.
Starrs dreams of a car-free and carefree Washington every day as he bicycles his daily 30 miles and two hours between his Springfield, Va., home and his office at the George Washington University Law Center. He has been a professor of criminal law for 20 years and forensic science for 10 years.
Telling car addicts the benefits of breaking free isn't the hard part for Starrs. The niggling things are hardest. Like what to do about the sweat. Deodorant commercials, Starrs believes, have given us a cleanliness fetish: "Every exercise has to be followed by an instant bath or shower. And that followed by some spraying under the arm. I don't feel that way. My attitude is, 'Stand far from me.' One bath a day after I bike in and out seems to be good enough for me."
Two other forces that would run the idea of carlessness off the road are automobile commuters and vested commercial interests. The immediate impact would be felt by the commuter," Starrs says, "and he would squawk the loudest. I don't think the in-city people would object at all. Obviously standing behind the commuter is the monolith of the automobile and gasoline industries . . ."
But Starrs, who is the father of eight children, has learned the art of patience in leading people to the light. And in fact, he concedes modestly, he has won "quite a number of converts." He has encouraged several law students to get through life and the city on two wheels rather than four. He has organized "Holy Spirit rides"-- Sunday outings on bicycles among fellow parishioners at Holy Spirit Catholic Church in Annandale. "I can think of at least 40 or 50 people who have become regular and seasoned bicyclists--not all commuters--because of the influence I've used," he says.
In the end, it may not be Starrs' influence but that of common sense, as uncommon as it is. The professor tells of meeting joggers on his midday commute along the Potomac River trail leading to Memorial Bridge. "I occasionally say to them, 'Did you jog to work this morning?' They always say, 'No, we drove to work.' Well, if you jogged to work you wouldn't have to jog at lunchtime."
As is true of many visionaries, though, Starrs has a skeleton in his closet, which is an automobile in his garage. Not his automobile, he is quick to emphasize: "It's in my wife's name. That's not a subterfuge--it's fully her car. I would say I drive it once every 10 days. We live in the suburbs and there is no way we can live without a car. I could myself, but I can't expect my wife to do that."