Reporting on pedestrian life in the D.C. area

A close reading of a D.C. commute

June 15, 2012 - 04:15 PM
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(Photo: flickr/sdiddy/missbritt/dylanpassmore)

D.C. offers many modes of transportation, but these days, public transportation is not always the fastest (yes, even with Rush+ on the way). Forget WMATA's offloads, its track work, and just consider the way the system is laid out. I've been taking a close look at a commute from Petworth to Dupont Circle on Google Maps, which provides a good look at how modes can affect commuting time.

In a car, this trip is supposed to be a mere 13 minutes in good traffic and up to 25 or so in bad. But compare that estimate of 13 or so minutes to predictions for taking Metro. Then the commute time rises dramatically to about 42 to 46 minutes, depending on what Metro lines you take and combined with the walk from house to station and then station to office. What about walking the commute entirely? To travel on foot would take about 57 minutes, Google predicts, covering 2.9 miles. The second-fastest mode after the car appears to be the bike — the Google prediction for bicycling would put the commute at about 18 minutes or so. Not too shabby.

What we have here is a dilemma of mode. Public transportation takes about triple the time driving takes, which is a product of the way WMATA's transit lines sprawl outward from the center of the city. To change lines, you often have to journey unnecessary distances into downtown rather than cutting directly to your destination. Sometimes bus routes can solve that dilemma but often not. To be fair, both driving and transit are fraught with circumstantial problems, traffic and road work in one case and Metro's unplanned and planned delays in the other. Perhaps Rush+ will improve some of the speed on these particular lines once it begins on June 18. WMATA's trip planner, when calculating for Monday morning during rush hour, anticipates getting from Metro station to Metro station in a mere 22 minutes compared to 25 if done this morning. But then there's the walking time factored into that commute, which is double-edged in nature. The walking adds extra minutes but is healthier. You receive the same health benefits with a bike commute and for less time. But for non-bicyclists, the time differential is painful to consider. Perhaps the 37 miles of streetcar anticipated for someday in The Future will help make public transportation a more commuting-friendly option. Mayor Vince Gray has outlined a future in which three out of four trips will be car-free, and the city's current transportation layout stands as a challenge to that convenience. But we're improving, slowly and surely, which is the biggest story I've observed over the last 12 months. As far as cost, driving is likely the most expensive option, given gas and parking, followed by the Metro ($2.35 each way with a SmarTrip), biking (for costs associated with Capital Bikeshare membership or a personal bike and its occasional repair needs), and then the complete freedom of walking.

This commute, I should note, will be my own starting on Monday. The TBD On Foot blog is sadly coming to a close as I've accepted a job covering telecommunications policy for Warren Communications News, located in Dupont Circle, as reported elsewhere earlier this week. The past year here has been fantastic, and I'll still be keeping an eye on transportation topics with an avid interest. In the above commute, I'll likely be traveling to Dupont Circle either on the Metro or on foot, depending on the day, the weather, and so on. Safe travels, D.C.!

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