Laura and I just returned from Washington, D.C., a trip we’d planned more than a year. To give you the flavor of it: after a long day visiting historic sights and museums, we unwound in our hotel room by reading the founding Charters and other important American documents, and learning about the policies surrounding the War of 1812. RIVETING. (Seriously, it was.)
But what of the unplanned things we saw? Sure, there was a wealth of bicyclists, barreling this way and that, but how ’bout the profusion of run commuters? We saw at least a dozen during our week there, earnest hoofers sporting backpacks in the evening rush, heading home, to the Metro, or destinations unknown.
Each time, I over-eagerly pounded Laura’s surely-bruised-by-then arm, crowing, “Look, another one!” wondering after, “Why was there another one?” Why did D.C. proffer more run commuters than Atlanta? I can say with certainty that both cities are equally flush with runners. If you don’t get out before 6 a.m. in Atlanta, you will share your neighborhood’s streets with at least a dozen folks. I think herein lie some answers:
1. Our intown neighborhoods are pocketed here and there, some sharing borders (Kirkwood, Edgewood) while others are sundered by geographic features or heavily-trafficked roads (Virginia-Highland and Inman Park are separated by parking lots and Freedom Parkway); however, D.C.’s neighborhoods seemed contiguous, one flowing into another. All were bumped up against one another, not unpleasantly. As we strolled, so, too, did we encounter many other walkers.
2. D.C. is friendlier to walkers. Perhaps this is a function of its density, versus Atlanta’s sprawl, or those naturally-contiguous neighborhoods. Perhaps it is by design, to make shuffling between buildings more bearable, for employees, tourists, and government luminaries alike. We tripped over a few uneven sidewalk panels or root-risen brick walkways, sure, but Washington, D.C.’s pedestrian areas were level, smooth. Atlanta, by contrast, is quite often like hiking or trail running. Sidewalks were in many places composed of hexagonal paving stones, to better accommodate the rising roots of live oaks and magnolias (or so I am told). The result is often an ankle-spraining, toe-tripping tangle of edges and drops, often leading to, at best, scraped knees and palms, and, at worst, lawsuits.
3. Atlanta lacks connectivity. We both have our Interstate boundaries (the Perimeter; the Beltway), outside of which sprawl disconnected suburbs that favor, or often exclusively accommodate, vehicles; however, D.C. has the Metro, a far more developed transit system than Atlanta’s MARTA.
Look at this: Metro goes all over the dang place, whereas MARTA goes north/south, east/west, leaving out huge chunks of the city, chunks whose development has languished for inaccessibility, or from which residents have only the option of driving. It is longstanding conventional lore that MARTA is kept from the suburbs and exurbs by the White Flighters who nestled there. They fear the “criminal element” will ride the trains into Cobb and Gwinnett counties in order to lift their flat-screen televisions and sully their children’s honor. Or some crap like that. If you ever encounter an Atlanta transit wonk, ask them about MARTA and the suburbs, then stand back and enjoy the 10-minute red-faced rant, with synchronized forehead vein throbbing.
There is a big vote July 31 on T-SPLOST, a 1-percent sales tax hike that would fund transit and transportation developments over the next few decades. It will be very slow going, though, if it passes, but eventually, perhaps we will see more run commuters in Atlanta, too, once they are given better ability.
P.S. Our vacation was great, though, and we drove the length of the Blue Ridge Parkway, too. When you visit D.C., eat at the vegan- and wallet-friendly Amsterdam Falafel Shop in Adams Morgan.