D.C.–Should I stay or should I go?

Could you survive in a city without good public transit?

128 days to decide if I will make D.C. my home.

If I didn’t have to commute to the suburbs for work, I would not own a car. Washington, D.C., is one of the few cities in the United States where it’s practical NOT to—and I like that. I like walking to my Metro station. I like reading a book and people-watching while I wait on the platform—and doing the same on while on the train. I like riding the escalator and emerging into sunlight and the sound of traffic. Sometimes, if I’m lucky, I get to take a bus, too.

If I choose to leave D.C. I don’t know if I can go back to worrying about driving—and parking.

Columbia Heights Metro station. Photo by Kristin McGrath.

Milwaukee, where I spent the first 18 years of my life, has no public transportation to speak of. If you live downtown and are going to another place downtown, there might be a bus to take you there. But probably not.

St. Louis, where I lived for seven years, has this thing called the MetroLink, a light rail system that doesn’t go anywhere useful and stops running before midnight—in a city where bars are open until 3 a.m. or 6 a.m., depending on which side of the river you’re on.

Worse, nobody really uses it. Most people regard it with suspicion and consider it unsafe (in part, because of things like roving bands of teenagers assaulting people on the platforms). I’m going to a wedding in St. Louis in May and, having lived in D.C., for eight months, I didn’t even consider renting a car. Instead, I booked a hotel walking distance from a MetroLink stop. When I told a friend I was actually planning on using MetroLink to get to and from the airport, and, possibly, other places during my stay, she responded by saying, “Ew. That’s disgusting.”

That kind of attitude is what, to me, marks the difference between cities with good public transit and those without: driving in a car is isolating; public transportation forces people together (as anyone who has ridden a rush-hour train knows) and build’s a city’s identity.

Would you live in a city without good public transportation? Or do you prefer being behind the wheel?


March 30, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment