June 15, 2006

Utopian public transit

I live in the Maryland suburbs of DC (though "outside the Beltway," as they say), and the public Metro system is just plain retarded. Unlike pretty much any other metro system I've experienced, the DC metro has a "spokes of a wheel" design -- the logic is that most folks live out in the 'burbs and pour into DC to work for the Fed or whatever. It's as if the Fed were a whirlpool-beast that takes a great huff every morning, sucking the suburbanites in from all directions, chews them over for 8 hours, and then in a shrieking vomit, sends them back to where they came from. Now, to an extent, this is true, but most people need to go lots of other places, which are also largely located in the suburbs -- so, if you need to get from one 'burb to another, you have to feed into the center of the wheel and get whipped back out through some other spoke to get there, wasting plenty of time. The only 'burb-to-'burb channel is the dreaded Beltway, a loop-way that orbits DC like a Mobius strip of busy misery, a centipede plunging its head into its own asshole. And this is the public transit utopia our tax dollars buy us, this the great leveler of class boundaries? It's true, though: on the Beltway, everyone's a jerkoff.

However, that's not my main gripe -- we're just saddled w/ the way the damned thing was designed, and nothing short of complete rerouting will improve things. But what about the easy changes that no one bothers to make? For example, when the city center is doing most of its sucking and vomiting, the Metro runs trains very frequently, often one train two minutes after the other. This sounds nice, but what typically happens is that one backs the other up, so you creep along and stop dead quite a bit. But in between rush-hours, while the Fed & co. are languidly digesting their feed, the trains are only run once every 13 minutes (on a good day). So, if you miss the Metro by even 15 seconds, you're hanging out for a good while until the next one arrives. This wouldn't be so bad if no one rode it during the daytime, but of course lots of folks work atypical hours, not to mention tourists visiting our nation's capital. Some genius at the Metro authority finally figured out what any 2nd grade drop-out already knew: just run the trains every 5 minutes throughout the day, aside from late at night. Unfortunately, the news told us, this modified schedule won't be put into effect until next year... your brain will hurt less if you don't try to imagine why it would take that long.

So, here's my vision of a public transit utopia, to be installed when I become Emperor. Sure, a train arriving every 5 minutes is nice, but still, if you miss it, you'll have to wait around (even if not for another quarter of a fucking hour). Wouldn't it be great if the trains ran continually, no starting and no stopping? I propose we turn the Metro system into one of those Lazy River rides they have at water parks, at least during the summer when it's so ungodly humid in the DC area. Think about it: you just show up and presto, you're on your way! One side of the river would be for boarding, the other for departing. I'm no engineer, but I'm sure there'd be some way to speed up the current in between stations, while slowing it down in the immediate vicinity of the stations to facilitate maneuverability. If you wanted to get to your destination more quickly, we could designate one lane the swimming lane -- cheap transit and daily exercise! You'd wear bathing attire of your choice -- a baggy t-shirt if you're overweight and want to hide it, or a skimpy bikini if you're a nubile intern, as the case may be. Your day-uniforms would be stored at work -- where they belong -- and you'd simply change in & out of them there.

True, it would cost money to keep the water sufficiently clean, and to provide a strong enough current to the still water. But think of the savings in labor costs from the ultimate automation of running trains -- no trains at all. Actually, we could just reassign the workers to administer the cleaning agents, unchoke any clogs during downtime, and so on, so they wouldn't lose their jobs. And think of how less stressful their new tasks would be compared to always keeping a vigilant eye on the guy who's trying to dart into the Metro while the doors are closing! We'd also enjoy savings from: no crashes, no repairs or maintenance of trains, nor of the tracks & rails, no cleaning ladies to clear up trash, etc etc etc. Hell, even if we had to raise taxes, who wouldn't choose this option?

The only trouble we might face would be getting everyone on board, abandoning travel by gas-guzzling, smoke-spewing automobiles. So here's what we do: we reach out to a historically underprivileged and at-risk population -- say, pulchritudinous 20-something females -- and hire them as lifeguards. This demographic group is particularly at risk of poverty due to squandering their money on expensive fashions for the career-minded gal. To deal w/ this problem, we simply supply their entire work wardrobe for free: they could choose their uniform from among a full-length burlap sack, a woolen three-piece suit, or, you know, a white cotton monokini. Then just watch the public transit patrons roll in.

I realize that most of this model is mere daydreaming, but a first approximation could realistically be reached by selecting the hottest of the environmental NGO interns to pose in Metro trains dressed in white linen and bra-liberated. Or if few such girls were staffing such NGOs, then they could farm the work out. Hey, would you rather live on a feminist planet that had no viable ecological future, or on a planet whose environmental sustainability was secured by sexualizing female bodies? If Al Gore's new movie is any guide, the time may soon be upon us when we may have to make that difficult decision. And so, I'll end on that hopeful note.

[Though I shouldn't have to say it, if I've offended anyone (is that possible anymore?), then simply remove the pole from your butt. That ought to help matters.]


  1. I lived down there for several years, and pretty much as soon as I moved down and saw the traffic, decided that my former objections to residing near my workplace didn't count for much any more.

    I took a place literally across the street!

  2. "Unlike pretty much any other metro system I've experienced, the DC metro has a "spokes of a wheel" design"

    Which other subway systems are you thinking about here? (The Stockholm system for instance certainly uses a central hub (T-Centralen) My impression is that it's a pretty common design.

    Stockholm has tried to rectify the issue using buses, and later, "Tvärbanan", a tram that bypasses the center.

  3. New York isn't like that, nor is Barcelona or Paris. They all bring in suburbanites into the city, but "spokes of a wheel" is more specific than that -- the center of the wheel isn't the entire city, but one or two metro stations ("hubs"). This design wouldn't be bad if most people went from the suburbs to the city and vice versa. But in the DC area, almost everything aside from the federal government is located outside of DC itself, requiring you to follow one spoke into the center of DC and leave the center via another spoke to your suburban destination.

    For example, to get from two popular suburbs -- Bethesda in Maryland and Vienna in Virginia -- it would take maybe 20 minutes to drive, though you have to endure the awful traffic. Taking the metro would be less stressful, but would probably take at least 45 minutes. Driving from my house to the University of Maryland (located in a suburb) would take maybe 35 minutes, but taking the metro would make it more like an hour.

  4. The DC area is messed up because zoning regulations in DC prevent it from becoming a real city, so this forces the exurbanization of the area.


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