After more than a full decade enjoying the convenience of walking to work, I find myself once again piloting an automobile back and forth daily. My commute is not terrible when compared to averages calculated by the Census Bureau, but it sucks nevertheless.
I live less than five miles from where I work "as the crow flies." Were I Carlos Castaneda I could grow wings on the sides of my skull and be at the office in no time. Of course the ingestion of massive doses of mescalin would render any curricula written a bit wonky.
How long does it take me to get to work? If I leave the house before 6am I can get to work in 20 minutes. If I leave after 6am I can get to work in 30 minutes. I travel against the grain of heavy traffic jamming into the City each morning from points north, but nevertheless once I get off the highway it's start and stop.
Driving home is the worst. It takes between 10 and 20 minutes simply to get out of Towson. There are several possible routes to I-83, or to the Beltway, and none of them are quick. I must run a gauntlet lined with many traffic signals before achieving the highway, and often end up sitting at a couple intersections for two or three full cycles because there are simply too many cars for the roads. This is especially true when Towson University is in full swing with its 10,000 student commuters and its 12,000 resident students. So in order to minimize my time commuting, I drive north out of Towson to the Beltway, adding a few miles to the drive home. At least this way I'm moving rather than sitting and stopping. If I leave work by 2:30 I can get home in 25-30 minutes. If I leave work at 3 the time jumps to 30-40 minutes. If I leave work later than 3:30 the commute can take 45 minutes to an hour. If there's an accident or water main break? Fuhggetabouddit.
An hour. 5 miles. Ridiculous. And there are no public transportation options for me. The Metro goes nowhere near were I need it to go. The Light Rail misses Towson entirely. The MTA bus? I could ride it from my house over to Charles Village and up to Towson, but that's an hour and a half trip one-way. And the bus experience is often Dante-esque.
Needless to say I've taken advantage of the flexible work schedule they offer at my office. I leave home just after 5:30am in order to minimize the amount of time spent sitting in a car. I still spend five hours a week in the car commuting to and from work. Five hours a week I could spend doing anything else. In my early 20s I spent more than ten hours a week commuting, so I know it can be worse. Yo! Adrienne commutes from Reservoir Hill to DC daily, which is a nightmarish journey by car, and is barely palatable by train. She has to drive to the train station, ride the train, and then walk more than a mile upon arrival. Were she to drive it would take her 3 hours each way at rush hour. I know, because I used to drive to DC for monthly meetings. If you don't get to 495 before 7am you are FUCKED. Even taking advantage of the train Yo! Adrienne spends 3 hours commuting a day. At least riding the train you can read, or knit, or meditate, or ingest massive doses of mescalin.
There are no less than four police and media traffic 'copters flying over my neighborhood every evening, recording what everyone already knows: our automobile/road system is a nightmarish failure that sucks our souls dry, and the situation gets worse yearly. Currently there is a major construction project in the heart of Towson which is likely to cram thousands more residents into an already overtaxed suburban road system. There already is insufficent parking for all the students and residents and business patrons and employees.
I've not even touched on the idiocy I encounter daily on the roadways. Nobody knows how to drive but me. Everyone who goes faster than I do is insane, and everyone who goes slower is an idiot. Nobody uses signals to change lanes or make turns. Etc, etc. Every driver zigs madly back and forth, and is engaged in a phone conversation, holding the handset with one hand and gesticulating wildly with the other while applying makeup and steering with the knees. You see if yourself every day.
I could bike to work were it not for such people. I know an SUV piloted by some overpriviliged Roland Park teen barely out of driving school would smoosh me. That dorky bike helmet would make no difference.
The sad thing is, I could do my job at home. There is no reason for me to drive here daily. I could come to the office once a week and have no problem meeting my deadlines. That would save me hours of wasted time, about $80 per month in wasted fossil fuels, and would make me much more productive than I already am.
I plan to suggest this option to my boss soon. Because I don't see any grand plan--any "Apollo" mission--to build a sensible public transportation system that would make our lives easier, and perhaps go a long way towards saving planet Earth for all the wee bairns to enjoy decades from now.