When I accepted a job at the U. S. Department of Transportation this spring, I had to say goodbye to my blessed 2-mile commute: 5 minutes by car, 10 by bike. Now a 38-mile slog through traffic greeted me each morning. So, I looked to mass transit to ease the burden.
Someone living in Annapolis, like me, has two options: bus and metro. Dillon’s Bus Service operates two commuter bus routes between Annapolis and DC, the 922 and the 950.
But each would require me to ride the metro after 50 minutes sitting on the bus. Add that to the time it took me to drive to the bus stop, and wait for the bus and walk to and from all these conveyances, and I was looking at a 90-minue commute or more each way. No way. I looked instead to the Metro.
The logical choice – or so I thought – was to drive the quick, relatively traffic-free 20 miles from my house (just off Route 50 Exit 27) to the New Carrolton Metro terminus, ride the Orange Line to L’Enfant, then hop on the Green line for two stops to the Navy Yard station. Minimal diving, maximal use of SmartBenefits, green as I could get without riding the bus to the metro.
Well, it sounded great, and I stuck with it for a months. In truth, there was so much to get used to in the new job I didn’t give the commute too much thought. I just accepted the hour and twenty minutes each way as the price of actually having a job in today’s economy. But almost three hours of my day was finally too much to take.
Looking at the map, it occurred to me that riding the Green Line in from its terminus at Branch Avenue would be a much better route. My drive was extended to 35 miles, about 40 minutes in traffic. But the metro ride was a mere 15 minutes, getting me to work in less than an hour, a significant improvement.
But why stop there? In for a dome, in for a dollar. I then realized that the drive to the Anacostia Metro Station, further along the Green Line, and only ONE stop from the Navy Yard, was actually shorter, 33 miles. And the metro ride? One minute forty seconds! At the right time of day I was now getting to work in 45 minutes, almost half the time. I usually head out at 6, so I can work out in the DOT gym, when traffic is moderate and moving. Leaving work during rush hour means an hour from door to door.
Now for some inevitable questions. If you are going to drive all the way to Anacostia, to a metro station from which you can actually SEE the USDOT headquarters building, why not go all the way? Well, for one thing, have you ever tried driving over the Fredrick Douglas Memorial Bridge at ANY time of day on a weekday? I’d spend another 20 minutes at least trying to get to a parking lot that charges three times what the Metro station does. And getting out of DC? Forget it.
Another thing is that all that waiting for traffic meant lots more polluting. “Ok, Mr. Green,” I can hear you saying, “how about that 66 miles you ARE driving every day?” And fair enough. I could reduce that to 40, ride the Metro as far as possible, and sacrifice the extra 70 minutes each day on the altar of environmental righteousness. Or take the bus from Annapolis to the Metro, and add 90 minutes to my offering. Frankly, though, the cost of doing so is far too high. Burning fuel may be harmful, but so is burning time. My family, and my body, are worth far more.
Here’s how I think of it. I once heard a mass-transit engineer describe the parameters he used to calculate people-moving. If it takes one guy in a car 15 minutes to drive to work, he reasoned, then a vehicle that takes an hour but moves 4 people is just as efficient: 15 minutes per individual commute. Somehow that math doesn’t work out for me. Sure, viewed from the big picture, his “green” way moves people just as efficiently with respect to time. But each poor guy is now spending 400% more time commuting. Sorry, that’s not what I call sustainable living. So I’ll stick to my long drive, and short train ride, and be home in time to pick up my son at football practice. Maybe even in time to watch a few plays.