On Why I Need to Move into the City, or How Suburban Transit Failed Me
Out in Germantown, it’s hard to find your way home without a car. Flickr photo by taberandrew.

Out in Germantown, it’s hard to find your way home without a car. Flickr photo by taberandrew.

Americans are spending less time in roadway congestion on their commutes to work, according to the 2009 Urban Mobility Report published today by the Texas Transportation Institute. On average, “travelers spend one hour less stuck in traffic in 2007 than they did the year before and wasted one gallon less gasoline than the year before.”

Dare I say it, but too bad I don’t drive.

Let it be known: I’m in love with MARC. But yesterday, he…I mean, it…failed me.

Yesterday evening, I boarded my regular 6:30 p.m. Brunswick Line commuter train at Union Station. As usual, I fell asleep in my comfy blue seat as the sun set outside my window (a much more pleasant experience than cramming into the underground Metro at rush hour), but when I woke up 40 minutes later, I realized we hadn’t left the station. Apparently, there was a problem with the air compressor that is used to operate the switches.

What to do? Keep waiting on the tracks, or give up and try the Red Line? I weighed my options: If I took the Metro home, I’d have to ask someone to pick me up from Shady Grove then drive me to where my car is parked at the Germantown MARC station (about a 15-minute detour), then I’d have to drive another 10 minutes in my own car to get to my front door. Or: I could wait, but who knows how long it takes to fix a broken air compressor?

Impatience prompted me to give up on my usually trusty and reliable MARC and opt for the subway, which has been plagued by delays and crowded cars since last week’s Fort Trotten accident.

My normally one-hour, door-to-door evening commute (ride the train–>drive my car–>arrive relaxed at home), turned into a 2.5 hour ordeal (fall asleep on stalled train–>begrudgingly board the Red Line–>embarrassingly get picked up by my Dad at Shady Grove–>drive together to Germantown train station–>switch to my own car–>drive in the dark, annoyed that I missed the last few hours of sunshine–>arrive hungry and tired at home.)

But what if I wasn’t spoiled by a father (or a friend) who could pick me up at a moment’s notice? How would I have gotten home from Shady Grove? Turns out, the only option that was feasible at that time of night was a taxi. Trip Planner shows no buses between Shady Grove and Germantown MARC after 8:00 p.m. (and even if I somehow arrived before then, I’ve have to take two different bus lines, totaling about half an hour in transit.) No bus, no light rail, no bike rentals, no mini-van shuttles. Why are there no feeder routes integrating the subway to the commuter rail, running at all times of the day? Surely, 8:30 p.m. is not past public transit’s bedtime.

Worst of all, I should have just taken the train. As my father was waiting to pick me up at the “Kiss-and-Ride” parking lot, he noticed MARC zip by on the nearby train tracks about 10 minutes before my Red Line subway car reached the platform.

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