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The last time I commuted for work in Northern Virginia, I traveled 1.9 miles or 3 km one-way from my home in Reston, VA to the Reston Town Center. This was 2011, before the parking debacle was even a consideration at the Fairfax County business, shopping and entertainment center. I drove my Jeep Wrangler. And this was also way before the Washington Metro Area Transit Authority’s Silver line.
Since then, I’ve spent the last 7 years traveling for work: Detroit, Fort Worth, San Francisco, New York City, New Jersey, Munich, to name the usual suspects. My “work” location in my Uber app profile: the Washington Dulles Airport, that IAD. Beyond airplanes and Ubers, my commutes have mostly involved trains: Amtrak between Washington, DC’s Union Station and New York City’s Penn Station and the U-Bahn in Munich. And there have been a few rental cars.
Recently, as I have prepared for my re-entry into the job world, I’ve seriously considered the pros and cons of so much travel. In an attempt to both experience the commute in my hometown and to get acquainted with mobility options in my geography, I offered to meet a freelance client in his office in DC’s hip and new Wharf District.
First, a little background.
According to the District Mobility Project, the District of Columbia is at the center of the 7th largest metropolitan area in the United States; 500,000 commuters travel in, out and through the city every day. Of the 1,100 miles of roadways in and around the city, only 15 miles are freeways. Apparently, we have one of the most robust multimodal transit systems in the country, with our metro trains, buses, bikeway network and bike sharing programs. Hmmm, ok.
It was an August Wednesday morning and I had anxiety about how I would efficiently and affordably get to my 11AM meeting.
From the voices…
How am I going to get there? I could drive… but where would I park?
After a quick Google search, I found a public underground parking at The Wharf. Cost: anywhere between $17 – $35 depending on duration. Oooof, that’s expensive… Plus, isn’t 66 a toll road now? Wait, aren’t there new HOV restrictions too? Ugh. Let me just check the traffic. Oh hell no, that will take forever and I’ll be stop and go on the clutch the whole way there.
I am pretty sure my only other option is to get on that Silver line…
Opened in July 2014, the Silver line currently ends just over a mile from my front door. Looks easy enough right? While it’s been a great addition to the neighborhood (and has most likely generated an increase in the value of my modest condo), the few times I have ridden it, I have found that, simply put, it takes forever to get anywhere.
And I have to actually get there… I normally take the 15-minute walk down Wiehle Avenue to the station. It’s too close to deal with the whole process of figuring out the Fairfax Connector bus system. But on this morning, it’s already hot as a furnace, I’m wearing a jacket to my meeting and I don’t want to arrive a sweaty mess. And I don’t want to take an extra pair of shoes.
I decide to drive. And to document my journey via an Instagram story…
On the way there, I recall stories I’ve heard about parking at the station…
At the station entrance, I check how long I have to wait for the next train.
I notice the traffic on 66 is light. Maybe I should have driven?
It takes 36 minutes just to reach the District, I’m not even there yet.
I am so ready to get off the train that I skip my transfer to the Green line and opt to get some steps.
I notice a digital mobility information station at the MakeOffices. Cool!
A few hours later, I do it all over again. Parking would have cost me $27.
Luckily, at this hour, the crowd is scarce and mostly tourists.
Would you look at the time?! To be fair, like a rookie, I ended up taking the train in the wrong direction on the way home… It happens to me in pretty much every city, including my own!
$12.65 total cost.
An hour and 30 minutes later, I finally arrive home.
After collapsing on my couch because I am exhausted, I start to think…
People, people I know, do this. EVERYDAY. That’s about ~$3,200 annually… Plus the time it takes to commute.
In fact, according to a study conducted earlier this year and reported on smartertravel.com , Washingtonians lose 82 hours just to traffic on average per year. That’s a 2-week vacation! What a pity.
We can do better… To be continued.