Photo by IntangibleArts on Flickr.
Reader David Fronapfel sent us this letter on Friday evening about his experience becoming a walking, biking and transit-riding resident of a mixed-use neighborhood.
I’ve just returned home from a great commute, and am in the best mood I’ve been in all day. How many people say that regularly?
My girlfriend and I grew up in, and until recently, used to live in the outer suburbs of Baltimore — specifically the area around BWI and the horrible development at Arundel Mills. You know, the type of neighborhood that does not contain sidewalks.
You have to drive absolutely everywhere that you want to go. The Arundel Mills mall, for example, was less than a mile away from our home. However, it was virtually impossible to walk there. It still took 10-15 minutes by car (which, strangely enough, would have been about the same amount of time it would have taken were there pedestrian options available).
We worked in the also automobile-centric community of Columbia, which we drove to daily. Cars were as much a part of our lives as food and water.
I ended up getting a job in downtown DC, which was precisely the moment when both of our lives changed. We’d never been too familiar with the DC area, so we started to explore the neighborhoods after work every day.
We were especially struck by downtown Silver Spring, which seemed vibrant and diverse beyond anything we were used to in Anne Arundel County. The mix of proximity to DC (and our families in central Maryland) and the affordability, combined with the transit options to downtown DC sealed the deal.
As soon as we were financially established enough to make the leap, we found an apartment right downtown in Silver Spring, a block from the Metro.
We consolidated our cars, and own only one now. We started taking Metrorail to work (my girlfriend got a job downtown as well), but soon found the bus routes and exploited them as well. It wasn’t long before we started thinking of the possibility of cycling to our jobs.
After finding that we could easily cycle to work, we purchased a couple of road bikes. Now, we each have four different modes to choose from (rail, bus, bike, or car) any particular day. I’d say that any given week, my choices are almost evenly distributed between the first three.
The first time I rode my route to work (which involves going around Walter Reed then down 14th street, utilizing the bike lanes), I almost threw up from exaustion. Now, a year and a half later, the commute barely fazes me, and I’m in the best shape I’ve ever been in. My girlfriend would easily state the same about herself. (She uses the Capital Crescent trail).
I couldn’t have imagined the change my life would take just a few years ago. My car sits in my apartment’s garage, barely getting any use at all. When once I saw a car as an indelible, constant part of every day life, kind of like underwear, or music, I now could never see myself living in an area that required me to use it in order to get the groceries, go to work, see a movie, or any of the countless other things that I can walk to in my immediate neighborhood.
Your blog embodies the values that I now hold. I just wanted to state my appreciation for your mission, and hopefully my story will play itself out again and again as people in situations similar to ours realize that car dependency is a burden.
Thanks for your time. It’s Friday night, and my neighborhood beckons!