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Thursday, September 18, 2008

Car Free Day: I'll Sleep On It

Fedex field parking lot
Originally uploaded by c00lmarie
Monday, September 22nd is National Car Free Day. And I want to participate. But I am at a loss.

Tomorrow, Friday, is International Talk-Like-a-Pirate Day. I know what I'm doing for that. I'm going to Piratz Tavern in Silver Spring. Driving there, of course, as there is no feasible evening transit access from Laurel to Silver Spring. Saturday, I'll drive from Laurel to Silver Spring to pick up some kids and then to our game in South Germantown (bonus: carpooling). Sunday, I will be driving to FedEx Field to tailgate the Redskins game. I usually drive out of necessity, but this weekend there will be some gratuitous driving, and I really want to prove to myself that I can get to and from work by myself without a car, if it came down to it.

Here are the dilemmas...

My Job: On a military base surrounded by limited access highways (MD 32 and the B-W Parkway). This means that it actually illegal for me to walk to work. I could bike, but my office lacks bike racks. (Of course, I also have that little problem of not owning a bike... not much reason to own one where I live).

My House: one block off of Route 1 in Laurel, near a bus route. Unfortunately, the bus only goes up and down Route 1. My drive to work is 6 and a half miles, and frankly, much closer than anyone else I know at my work.

For me to get to work without driving, I would have to take a bus to Greenbelt, take the Green Line to Fort Totten, switch to the Red Line, take that to Union Station, then switch to the MARC Penn Line. Take the MARC to Odenton, where I get off and wait for a shuttle. This shuttle takes me to the front gate, where I then walk a quarter of a mile to my building. I might be able to transfer busses and pick up the Penn Line at New Carrollton, but I'm not that savvy with the bus routes in PG.

Obviously, I've never even attempted this. It is a highly inefficient means of getting around. It's 47 miles and four separate modes of transportation. The first leg alone of this grueling commute (bus to Greenbelt Metro) would be 8 miles. So instead I drive my six and a half miles to Fort Meade and pray that I can find a spot somewhere in the 900 acres of parking.

Why should you care? I'm sure very few of my readers venture into the wasteland that is Central Maryland on a daily basis. Perhaps some places are just meant to be designed for drivers. What do you care about a few federal employees that drive to work every day.

You should care because I work for the largest employer in the State of Maryland. Over 30,000 people drive to where I work day. The only transit access is a 40-person shuttle that runs three times in the morning and three times in the evening from the MARC station at Odenton, and a 24 person bus that runs from a surrounding community twice (very) early in the morning and twice in the afternoon. The 900 acres of paved surface parking drain into the Patuxent River watershed, which includes several protected wetlands down stream, and ultimately empties into the Chesapeake Bay. Oh, and by the way, this is your Federal Government using your tax dollars for maintaining this deleterious parking system and the highways needed to support job centers like this.

I love my job, and I don't want to quit. I've been exploring options to perhaps work at a satellite location that is Metro-friendly after I move. I buy cars that get good gas mileage, and when I can, I carpool. I raise hell every chance I get trying to promote better transit access to Fort Meade.

It is job centers like this that drive seemingly useless freeways like MD 32, MD 100, and MD 200 aka the Intercounty Connector. It is job centers like these that force the federal government to bleed talented young professionals who can barely live off otherwise decent salaries. I am a GS-11 and over 20% of my monthly take home salary is automatically devoted to my car payment, insurance, gas, and maintenance. I know scores of young professionals that have taken a contractor job that practically doubles their salary and allows them to live and work somewhere that does not require car ownership. It is job centers like this that create traffic, traffic accidents, and exurban sprawl that eat away our region's farms and wildlife areas.

And think of how much worse the Base Realignment and Closure will make this when it brings 5,700 more jobs to Fort Meade.

So as I am writing this, I've decided what I am going to do for car-free day on Monday. I'm going to to sleep in my office for two nights. And once again, I will put out an open letter demanding transit access.

I work there. I get incensed every day wasting money on gas while driving around hunting for a parking space. But every citizen of Maryland and the DC region ought to be irate over the wastefulness and downright lack of foresight in the complete lack of sustainable urban planning at the largest job center in Maryland. If anyone has any other suggestions for me (that are at least as unlikely to get me fired as this stunt) please let me know. Otherwise, I'm looking forward to a protest where all I have to do is sleep.


Michael said...

Great post! Brings home how impractical going car free would be for some people. There's important policy here about choosing where to locate so that people have options.

I figure your area of MD might suck for cycling. 6 miles is a good distance to bike (about half an hour) if the roads aren't terrible.

Cavan said...

You are exactly right. The infrastructure drives all else. Pun not intended.

If you build for cars and traffic, you get cars and traffic. If you build for people and places, you get people and places.