Sunday, March 11, 2012

Car Free in DC

DC is not New York. I like it that way. New York is a great place to visit. It's a lot of fun. But I find it overwhelming. The buildings are too tall. There are too many people. After a couple of days, it becomes too much.

DC is small. The height restrictions (which have nothing to do with the height of the Capitol, by the way) keep buildings shorter. There are a lot of people, but the sidewalks aren't ridiculously crowded. Things are closer together.

But one place New York has us beat is mass transit. It's convenient — even easy — to live car-free in New York. In DC, it's doable but more difficult. Metro, for all of its shortcomings, is a pretty decent subway system, and mastering the buses isn't too bad. But there are places even in the city that are really inconvenient to get to without a car. And the suburbs? Forget it. (Obviously, this isn't universally true, but there are wide swaths of the 'burbs that are incredibly difficult to get to by mass transit.)

I've been carless for a week. Not so long in the grand scheme of things, but enough to change my routines and habits considerably. I've been getting up earlier to catch the Metro to work. I've been walking to the grocery store and therefore buying a lot less at a time. And going anywhere outside the Beltway is pretty much off limits.

In a lot of ways, I like it. It's better in terms of willpower as far as shopping. I haven't had fast food in a week, because I can't run through the drive-thru on the way to or from work. I have to be more purposeful in my outings and plan ahead more, which is always a plus for me. And I'm getting a lot more exercise.

There are downsides, though. Thursday at work I was in desperate need of a couple of nine-volt batteries to power a cordless microphone. The closest place to buy them was a CVS a mile away, which is too far to run out at lunchtime if I'm walking. Luckily my incredibly awesome volunteer, A., hopped in her car and picked them up.

This past week I had to cancel a visit to Let's Dish in Columbia with my friend J, because getting to Columbia by bus and Metro would have taken four hours. Then, there was no information for a return trip. We rescheduled for tomorrow. I still don't have a car, so I'm renting one at a not inconsiderable expense.

I've toyed off and on with the idea of giving up my car. It's ancient, it's ugly and I will use it if I have the opportunity. Being without it has forced me to make changes that I've actually wanted to make. But at the same time I don't necessarily live a lifestyle that is conducive to not having access to a car. Of course, Zipcar is an option, and if this little experiment were going to go on longer I would have signed up for a membership, but paying the $25 application fee, the $60 annual fee and the hourly rental fee for one trip to Columbia seemed a little ridiculous.

I'm trying to make the determination as to whether or not mass transit plus Zipcar is at all reasonable and financially sensible. Since it's so old, my car doesn't cost much to insure. Before this recent spate of repairs, it's been incredibly reliable. Gas is pretty expensive, but I also don't tend to drive that far-one tank of gas almost always lasts me more than two weeks. I don't have to pay to park, and street parking is plentiful in my neighborhood.

But if the car is there, I will always sleep the extra twenty minutes instead of getting up for the bus, I will not walk as much and I will eat more crappy fast food.

I've got two more weeks to try this out. I'll let you know how it goes.

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