Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Intelligent Cities

The National Building Museum has a new project underway called "Intelligent Cities".  They're collaborating with TIME, IBM, and The Rockefeller Foundation to study the evolving way people make decisions on the kind of place they locate and how they choose their home.  They embark on this study in the context of the "intersection of information technology and urban design".

The surveys they conduct play a crucial role in completing this study.  Their first survey, which anyone can and is encouraged to take, has to do with choosing a place to live.  One of the options is "[I] can walk or bike to stuff I like to do."  Of course, this was one of the criterion that was important to me when I located in downtown Silver Spring.

When I completed the survey, I was shocked to see that this was the most chosen response among participants.

"[I] can walk or bike to stuff I like to do" got more votes than "near my job", "good school district", and "money" - traditional reasons on which people are thought to base this major decision.  Of course, I suspect the average age of poll participants skews younger, but I think the results are still pretty legit.  Not only was "[I] can walk or bike to stuff..." the top choice to the question in the past tense ("what were your reasons at the time you chose?"), it was also the top choice in the present tense ("if you were choosing now, what would your top two reasons be?").
"[I] can walk or bike to stuff..." was the only choice to get more votes in the present tense - every other criterion got less votes when the question shifted from the past to the present.  I interpret this to mean that while some people may not have prioritized walkable/bikeable proximity to their favorite destinations the first time around, they now see it as a more compelling priority to weigh the next time they make a move.  Or, they were surprised by the convenience of walk/bike-ability and will weigh it heavily in the future.  I believe the results of the third question support my theory.
Of the participants whose priorities did change, "[I] want to be able to walk / bike to restaurants and retail" was the top vote getter.  I believe the results of the survey indicate what we already know:  that people's preferences for where they live are changing and that those same people with changing preferences are getting out of their cars and using different methods to get to where they want to go.  And if they locate in close proximity to where their destinations are (read: if they can live, work, and play in the same place), it makes leaving the car behind much much easier.

If you'd like to take the survey or read more about the Intelligent Cities project, you can do so here.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

How Do I Get (My 10 Friends and I) There From Here?: Adams Morgan

Imagine you're at your apartment in Silver Spring, you've had a few bevs, and you need to get your 10 friends to Adams Morgan to meet more friends for some Halloween celebration.  You're in a state of de facto carlessness (you've had a few bevs) and your friends are getting anxious.  That was the situation I found myself in on Saturday, around... well I won't disclose the time.

We could have taken the Metro there... I guess.  But my friends had probably already had their fill of Metro for the day, having piled on once already to get to the Rally to Restore Sanity.  The problem with taking the Metro to Adams Morgan from my apartment is that it just. takes. so. long.  It's a ten minute walk to the station, then it's about a half hour ride on the Red Line from Silver Spring to the Woodley Park-Zoo/Adams Morgan station, then it's another fifteen minute walk down Calvert Street to the bars.

Calling it "Woodley Park-Zoo/Adams Morgan" has always felt way too deceiving to me.  Sure, it's the "Adams Morgan" stop by virtue of the fact that there is not a closer station to that part of the city, but to get to what you're looking for you've got a .8 mile walk from when you get off the train across the bridge.  Dissimilarly, Foggy Bottom is not called "Foggy Bottom/GWU/Georgetown" even though there is no closer metro stop to Georgetown.  Consider these two maps:

The first map is from the Woodley Park-Zoo/Adams Morgan metro on Connecticut Avenue near Woodley Road to TomTom, a favorite spot of ours since I lived with some friends in Kalorama during the summer of 2007, at 2333 18th St NW.  It's a .8 mile walk, according to Google Maps.  The second map is from the Foggy Bottom/GWU metro a block from Washington Circle Park to the intersection of M Street and Wisconsin Avenue in Georgetown, one of the busiest there.  That's a .9 mile walk, according to Google Maps.  It goes to show how names of stations can be used as advertising mechanisms, depending on whether the destination wants to broadcast its proximity, in the case of AdMo, or keep it on the down low, in the case of Georgetown.

Given that I wasn't sure if my friends were up for another trek into the city via metro after the one we had had earlier in the day, we ended up taking Sun Cab, and using my "personal van cab driver" Sully.  At this point, Sully is more popular with me than any of my friends because he's been extremely late once or twice, but I still like to use him because all it takes is a text message to get in touch with him as opposed to calling tons of companies.  Plus, van cabs are hard to come by and I like to keep everyone together, and if he's really late he'll give us the ride for free.  We did indeed stuff all ten of my friends into the cab, with me riding shotgun and shooting the shit with Sully of course (no one likes to be the shotgun sitter in a cab) and we were able to stay together for that reason until other circumstances saw us separated not long after arrival.  For instance, did you know just as Adams Morgan lacks convenient Metro service, it also lacks AT&T service?  Well, at least it does on Halloween night.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Guest Post: Jon (The Boyfriend!)

Around the time my month of voluntary carlessness was coming to a close, I asked Jon to write a guest post on what his experience was like dating someone who had recently given up their car.

When Chad came to me a few months ago and told me about this crazy endeavor he wanted to embark on, my first reaction was … “are you crazy?”  I moved to the DC area a little over a year ago, and having a car was never an option.  I moved without a job, without any interviews, and living 100% on whatever savings I had mustered up (which fortunately did not dry up until I landed a new job).  Due to cost constraints (between the cost of parking, the cost of insurance, and the cost of gas) along with the logistical elements, having a car was never an option for me.  Going from having a car in high school and college, to being totally dependent on public transportation took some getting used to, but I quickly adapted.  However, living in the suburbs of DC is not as convenient for public transportation (especially for those of us not lucky enough to be able to enjoy the RideOn buses for free, ahem Chad!).  When I was completing my internship in the city my subway ride would take an hour each way (White Flint on the Red Line to Capitol South on Blue/Orange) and cost approximately $12 a day.  When I landed my first job the cost dropped to $8 a day and with my new job and new apartment it has now dropped to $5 a day or about $100 a month and takes 10 minutes each way.  While expensive, this still beats the cost of a car as $100 wouldn’t even cover my parking costs.  I pay my metro completely out of pocket though I take part in a program that takes money from my paycheck pre-tax that I can use for transportation, which saves approximately $20 a month!  While I do agree with Chad that the metro is expensive, and can be notoriously late and delayed (often so it seems for no reason) I think it is incredibly convenient if you both live and work in the city and still ends up being less expensive (depending on the distance you travel) than having a car.

Chad’s carless adventure was an adjustment.  I had gotten used to the ease he had in getting to my apartment or picking me up, and now it would take longer for each of us to travel to each other and would be another consideration in the various plans we made.  Given that I had not had the option of having a car, I couldn’t believe Chad was going to willingly give up the luxury of his.  But, when he told me his reasons, I really began to see why he was choosing this.  And his reasons, articulately described on his blog, are remarkable.  When Chad and I started dating, I was the one with no car.  I won’t deny that it was incredibly nice to be so close to someone with a car (I used to joke that I only kept dating Chad for his car, grocery shopping is so much easier when you don’t have to walk!).  Chad was great at adapting to my needs, going places within walking or metro distance, spending weekends locally instead of going anywhere far, etc.  But it was also a great experience for me to watch Chad undertake this adventure knowing full well from my own experience the logistical and practical considerations involved.  I am lucky enough to live just a 5 short stops from my office making my commute significantly easier than Chad’s trek from Silver Spring to Rockville daily.  I take one mode of transportation whereas Chad often took two or three.  I am a runner as well, but I am not nor have I ever been a morning runner, and it took a lot of heart and dedication (and grumbling from me when the alarm went off early) for Chad to wake up early each morning to bike or run part of the way to work.  I think what Chad ultimately proved with this undertaking, is that despite the logistical and practical challenges, despite the early mornings, the brutal weather (which he miraculously mostly escaped), and the added time, going carless is not an impossible task.  It takes adjustments, and patience, and some problem solving, but nothing that cannot be overcome.

Jon, since he works for a member of the DC City Council, requires a disclaimer similar to mine, so here it is.  Any views or experiences expressed here are his and not of the member he works for, the Council, or anyone else in DC City government.

Monday, November 1, 2010

What Worked and What Didn't, Part 2

Last week I wrapped up my one month of voluntary carlessness, and I wrote about what alternative means of getting around worked best, including combining biking with RideOn and running.  But like anything, where some parts worked really well, other parts did not:  they may have gotten me where I needed to go, but it either took too long, was too uncomfortable, or was too expensive.

What Didn't Work

The Q Line

Metro recently "improved" their Q line bus, which runs from Silver Spring to Shady Grove, and also stops at Wheaton and Rockville stations.  By "improving" the line, they added the Q4 and Q6 to the already existing Q2.  The Q2 makes the entire length of the trip; the Q4 starts at Silver Spring and turns around at Rockville; the Q6 starts at Shady Grove and turns around at Wheaton - sort of like Metro's Red Line trains that turn around early at Grosvenor station at peak times instead of going all the way to Shady Grove, so that more trains are serving the central parts of the line.  

While no factor alone was a "dealbreaker" for me taking this route, the perfect storm of discomfort, time, lack of exercise, and cost (read: it isn't free) put this method of getting to the office very low on my list of possibilities.  First, the bus is always packed:  even getting on at the stop at Georgia Avenue and Spring Street, the second stop on the Q4 line, meant that I had to go without a seat - that many people get on at its first stop at Wayne and Dixon.  (I was always assured a seat on the RideOn bus.)  The line makes SO many stops that the bus is stopping at practically every block leaving downtown Silver Spring to the intersection of Veirs Mill and Randolph Road.  It takes about 50-55 mintues to get from Silver Spring to Rockville, and that's without any exercise.  Combining a bike or run with a RideOn Route may take 20-30 minutes longer to make the same trip, but at least I get some cardio in.  Finally, since County employees are fortunate enough to enjoy free RideOn service but not Metro bus, taking the Q line costs $1.50 more than does taking a RideOn bus.


Especially when getting from Jon's apartment in Van Ness, Metro certainly had its advantages.  I could take the Red Line to Rockville and walk to my office in about 25 minutes, which allowed me to sleep in much longer than if I rode my bike or ran across the District line to where I could pick up a RideOn bus.  But the dealbreaker here, and for me it was quite a dealbreaker, was that this method cost $4.40 one way and close to nine dollars if I planned to go back the same way.  Way too expensive to use on a regular basis.

And for their part, I realize that Metro set a ridership record this past weekend for the Rally to Restore Sanity.  But I don't think that any of my visiting friends would categorize their metro experience as positive when we took it down to the Mall on Saturday.

When I reviewed the alternative means of getting around without a car, the common theme between by favorite methods was that they included exercise.  Conversely, the common theme between my least favorite means of getting around was that they did not include any exercise.  I always knew that the "Fitness Factor" would be an important part of this endeavor, but after a month now I see just how important it actually was to me.