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What Annoys Me: Driving

Last month, Courtland Milloy published an op-ed in the Washington Post on D.C.’s use of speeding cameras.  Some of his observations about how they do more harm than good are spot-on:

Suddenly, the white light of a hidden speed camera flashed and traffic was thrown into turmoil. Some drivers abruptly changed lanes, hoping to put some other car between them and the camera. Even drivers who weren’t exceeding the speed limit panicked and slowed to a crawl, causing a chain reaction of urgent braking.

The road had been made dangerous not by the drivers but a speed camera. And the city gets to pocket a $125 fine — $250 if not paid within 30 days — from a driver whose only crime was to use common sense behind the wheel.

Other remarks, though, just make no sense.  He writes how parking and speeding initiatives “steal the joy of driving altogether.”  This left me confused: there’s no joy of “the open road” to be had, with or without speeding cameras.

Along with the aggressive, reckless stupidity of many drivers, massive traffic jams around the metropolitan area are notorious.  Streets in the city all of a sudden become one-way or turn into major highways: a wrong turn could literally lead into another state.  Roads in areas like Georgetown are too narrow for the big SUVs driving down them.  Garages are dark with sharp, hazardous corners and tiny parking spaces.

All of this is especially bad for me because I’m not a great driver.  I don’t have good depth perception and can’t really back into a space, for instance.  When I have to drive into the city, any fun I may have is shadowed by my anxiety about backing out of a tiny space into traffic, parallel parking, pushing the car’s way through hordes of traffic, and/or getting lost from a construction mess or detour.  I’ve been lucky: no major accident has ever befallen me.  But I’m afraid one time I’ll scrape some loser’s Mercedes trying to maneuver my hulking car and be sent to debtor’s prison.

D.C. is not a fun place to drive in.

And I have no problem with that.

It should be that way.  Part of the charm of D.C. (and many cities) is the walkability.  It’s good to pedestrians, as a city should be.  Cars have taken over every place else.

At 16 and 17, I drove into the city (through the really bad parts of town, too) happily and often, but as soon as the feeling of freedom that accompanies the driver’s license wore off, I began to see what a pain it is.  That’s why, in addition to the usual reasons people avoid driving (environment, congestion, health, cost), I walk and Metro everywhere I can.

D.C. has a pretty good public transportation system.  The Metro has issues: it gets too crowded during busy events, trains don’t run often enough during off-peak times, and it opens way too late and closes way too early.  But compared to driving, Metroing is significantly cheaper and much less of a hassle.

Plus, I don’t like being tethered to a vehicle.  When I leave my car parked at home, I have a much greater measure of flexibility.  I can go wherever and explore as much as I want.  If one station is too crowded, I walk to another, or eat frozen yogurt until the crowds disperse.  I could take a cab.  I could get a hotel.  I could hop a train to Maine or a plane to Spain, because both an airport and a rail station are on the Metro line!

In the car, only one option exists – being in the car – until I am able to park it again.   If I want to go from one place to another, I either don’t, or I navigate the roads and all the attendant risks and pay the exorbitant parking at the next location.  If I get into a massive traffic jam, I can hardly just abandon the car for a cup of coffee.

With a car, I’m stuck.  And who likes that feeling?

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