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Snowpocalypse on the roads

Last year during snowpocalypse I observed that while most suburbanites spent the post-storm days stuck at home waiting for plows to clear their roads, many urbanites treated the days off like a big community party, and moved about their neighborhoods at will.

This year’s storm offers an even more dramatic illustration: Last night’s commute.

It was undeniably rough for urbanites. Metro was slow, buses got stuck and then stopped running, and anyone who walked more than a block got wet and cold. My experience, and the experience of most of the people I’ve talked to, is that in the city last night’s commute took about twice as long as usual.

But “rough” isn’t the same as “nightmare”, which is the only way to describe what travel in the suburbs was like last night. My father works in Merrifield and lives in Chantilly, and it took him 8 hours to drive home; he left at 5:30 and didn’t get home until at least 1:30. A friend who’s a planner in Fairfax and lives in Centreville was in his car for 7 hours. Another friend who lives in upper Montgomery County left his office at 4:45 and didn’t get home until 1:00 am. And that’s just three of my own friends who have mentioned it on social media. It got much worse for others.

To be fair, there are some 5 hour horror stories from transit too, but much fewer and further between than the driving stories. It just never got that bad in the city. When you have a full grid of streets, it doesn’t make much difference if one becomes impassible. When you have a plenitude of multi-modal travel options, it doesn’t make much difference if any one shuts down for a while. On the other hand, when your only option is to drive on one single particular road, good luck when that one particular road gets blocked.

So what do we take from all this? I said last year that one shouldn’t base life decisions on the possibility of a freak event, and that’s still true, but at the very least this is another thing to consider when you’re making that choice, and another reason to make sure more people have the choice available to them.

January 27th, 2011 | Permalink | {num}Comments
Tags: roads/cars, transportation



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