I’m done caring about the woes of the middle-class and able-bodied who commute alone by car along Route 1. I’m done hearing complaints about car congestion on Route 1 as if it should be the primary driver of public policy and planning decisions in the Route 1 corridor. So here are a few hard truths: The Route 1 corridor, as it is laid out, is congested during rush hour. Horribly so. As it has been, and as it ever shall be. The level of motor vehicle congestion will probably not noticeably improve, even after state highway crews redesign the notoriously dangerous roadway to provide more accommodation for cyclists and pedestrians. Congestion may even get worse.
And, for the sake of the planet, I don’t really think that’s a bad thing.
In fact, I believe we should make it harder and more frustrating to drive single occupancy vehicles by developing the Route 1 corridor into a more cohesive main street by pursing a few concrete policies: reducing the availability of free parking, expanding on-street metered parking on Baltimore Avenue, adding more crosswalks and stoplights, and, ultimately, adding dedicated and separated transit and emergency lanes to the corridor to bypass single-occupancy vehicles clogging the roadway, and enhancing our bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure.
For my readers clutching their pearls or whose monocles have fallen into their martinis over some misbegotten idea of journalistic neutrality, let me cut straight to the chase: this Route-1-raised journalist is a living-breathing person who has opinions, and one of them is that urbanism – broadly, and especially in Prince George’s County’s legacy streetcar corridors – is good. This blog is biased in that manner. Deal with it. I’m trying to be open about where I’m coming from (which again, is mostly Hyattsville and College Park).
I hold those local-policy biases for a few macro reasons. For starters: our planet is effectively doomed, the result of climate change and global warming accelerated in no small part by emissions generated by the internal combustion engines powering the cars driven by commuters in post-industrial nations since the end of World War II. One of the ways we might be able to mitigate the effects of the by-now all-but-certain hot earth dystopia that awaits us is to reduce these emissions, immediately and by a great portion. Transportation is now the largest driver of emissions in the U.S. One of the best ways to reduce those emissions is to switch modes to more efficient means of transportation, such as mass transit, micro-transit, or human-powered transit. The most economically effective way to shift this mode is to shift down, so to speak. More people will be able to afford a bicycle or a transit pass than an electric car over the next – what – 10-15 years we have been told there are to actually do something about climate change? Bicycle, public, micro and mass transit services and infrastructure are best delivered in more-densely built urban environments. In short, I believe the best way to build a sustainable planet is to build great cities, with an emphasis on “cities”.
For the record, though: I don’t believe we – as a global society managed largely by capitalist markets – will be able to do this in the timeframe necessary to avoid the most catastrophic, long-term effects of Global Warming. There presently seem to be too many political, economic, technological and cultural barriers to radically reshape our global economy in the next decade or so to the extent seemingly required. Barring major socio-economic and political changes at the local, national and international level, this should have the weight of objective fact.
Folks: I think we’re fucked.
But I can’t bring my level of nihilism up to simply say “well, that’s it” and drive off into the increasingly warm sunsets. I’d much rather bike. After all, it’s faster than a car, and my time is important. Further, to remake the Route 1 corridor into the (unobtainable) automotive paradise for which a predominantly white, landed, affluent and loud contingent of motorists advocate would require the destruction of just about every downtown area currently lining Baltimore and Rhode Island avenues. Do you really want College Park’s Route 1 to be six or eight lanes wide?
So. Thanks for following me down this tangent. But when I hear someone complain about congestion on Route 1, or the specter of permit parking on their street, or the lamentations of those who suffer the indignity of walking more than 20 feet from their car to their front door, it’s important to know that I frame their concerns against – you know – the ability to temper what will surely be the hellish and by-now unavoidable effects climate change will have wrought in 300 years time.