SafeTrack is pretty much Exhibit A when it comes to how frustrating the transportation options in the Washington region can sometimes be. But as my recent move to Orlando reminded me, problems like SafeTrack are somewhat of a luxury— you have to have a rail network to even have them. My message to the DC region: it’s really not so bad!
In the Orlando region, there’s a fixed route bus system and new commuter rail line that provides reliable service for millions in Central Florida. And I just happen to live and work in a more transit-accessible area than I did in DC. But that is uncommon. Wait times between buses and trains are often an hour, and real-time traveler information isn’t available throughout the entire system.
I recently spoke to some Greater Greater Washington contributors about my newfound appreciation for what DC does so well, asking if there’s anything here that they’re particularly thankful for. I really liked what Alex Baca had to say:
Metrobus arrives on time, consistently, and the frequency on the notable crosstown lines (90, X2, S buses, 50s) blows many, many other systems out of the water. I left DC for San Francisco and am now in Cleveland (car-free!). In both cities, it is a struggle to find a bus that arrives when it’s scheduled. I know that the switch from NextBus has caused some consternation as far as real-time arrivals, but at least DC’s buses arrive when their paper schedules say they will.
I was in New York recently and a friend warned me that “the buses aren’t like DC here,” so I would have to give myself a 15-minute window for my bus from Prospect Heights to Williamsburg, in case it was early or late. In Cleveland, the bus that stops outside of my apartment (a “high-frequency” line on a major route to downtown) is routinely four (four!) minutes early and only runs every 15 minutes—when I first moved here, I missed the bus several times and waited a whole headway for another, which, of course, was often late.
I left DC in 2014 but am back as often as I can be. I always, always take Metro from National or MARC from BWI, then Metro and Metrobus as needed. Often, I’m lucky to have a bike, but sometimes I don’t. I don’t want to undercut WMATA’s problems with Metro, but even as a hot mess it’s a better system than most other cities in America have to offer, and I will say that I was utterly miserable biking for both transportation and recreation in San Francisco, a city that is ostensibly one of the country’s most bike-friendly. BART’s role as a commuter system is even starker than Metro’s. I rarely used it to get around the city in the way that I used Metro, just to get to the airport and the East Bay.
DC’s transportation is comparatively incredible across the board. This is a great thing. It’s also a depressing indicator of the state of transportation in the US.
In a word, Alex is right.
The Washington region has tons of options, from bikeshare to trails. Wait times between buses aren’t bad when you compare them to other cities, and we’ve got apps that give us real time information. We’ve also got good wayfinding.
Capital Bikeshare adds to its 370 stations monthly, it seems. In just a few years, the system could have nearly 500 stations.
Bike commuting is easier with the region’s extensive trail network, linking downtown to the suburbs. When Metro closed for a day in March, the MBT experienced a 65% increase in cyclists. That’s a testament to how easy it is to bike in the area.
Across the District, blue signs point you towards neighborhoods, Metro stations, and other points of interest. A person new or unfamiliar to an area can find their way to the Smithsonian museums or the zoo pretty easily.
Tell us your thoughts: what have you seen or experienced while traveling or living elsewhere that made you particularly thankful for the region’s transportation network?