What I saw on my summer vacation

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.

Seriously: sweet shorts.

I hope his backpack contains a suit that matches those shorts.

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.

No time for hot dogs, sir, he has a train to catch.

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.

No, MARTA is not smarta.

MARTA (left), Atlanta’s beleaguered rail system, beside the farther reaching, far more useful D.C. Metro. Common points: poor user friendliness, and instinct for indicating North.

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.

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  1. Victoria June 5, 2012 at 4:25 pm - Reply

    I’m a DC run commuter and I think part of the ease of run commuting here is due, as you point out, to the Metro (either running to the Metro and then hopping the train, or Metroing and then running to work from the Metro stop). The preponderance of run (and bike commuting) IMO is also due to DC being filled with young, well-educated, healthy/fit people who live in the city, relatively near to where they work and socialize (i.e. the demographics of the city are condusive to it). Further, there are a ton of sidewalks, bike lanes (even along busy roads like Rock Creek Parkway or Pennsylvania Ave) in DC proper which makes it easy to get around by running or biking.

    • Kyle
      Kyle June 5, 2012 at 4:46 pm - Reply

      Victoria, good insight: young, urban professionals make for more run commuters. Most of our friends are able to at least bike to their workplaces, though a few work outside the Perimeter and must drive. Perhaps, as with bicycling, run commuter visibility will yield increased numbers? You know what else I noticed in DC? About every third or fourth person wearing a kickball league t-shirt.

      • Victoria June 6, 2012 at 3:40 pm - Reply

        Yeah, the kickball leagues on the Mall are sort of a cult that recent college grads who move to DC join for a few years. They meet other youngsters and go out drinking. Not my thing, but each to their own!

  2. David June 5, 2012 at 5:28 pm - Reply

    Hey, I just found your site yesterday and have really enjoyed it. A few years ago I lost a lot of weight riding my bike 3 or 4 times a week to work in Suwanee from Loganville (about 25 miles each way) in the Atlanta burbs. Now I have a work van that I drive to work in Norcross/ Tucker/ North Atlanta (I have to have the van for tools and to get from customer to customer). Any ideas on how I could possibly do some of this run commuting? It looks challenging and kind of fun.

  3. elizabeth June 18, 2012 at 8:01 pm - Reply

    Another DC run commuter…as I was googling run commuting in DC to find people to run with for safety…LOL! I am glad the DC metro area impressed you with the run commuters…and while I love it…look at our options…a Metro that sometimes works, is overpriced, and has a terrible reputation for safety…traffic that is one of the worst in the country (i can run the 2 miles to the Metro from my house in far less time than it takes to drive, even early in the morning and save gas and parking fees)…even where I work is only 11 miles from home, but I’m searching for someone to go with me, since that goes through some sketchier areas…it is also a health conscious area of type A personalities who will do anything just to prove they can :) Biking is huge in the DC area (you should google or check out the bike paths in the area!) and many buildings have showers in the building to encourage this kind of commuting and cut down on traffic congestion. If other DCers read this and are looking for someone to run with from Arlington/Fairfax to DC let me know!

    • Kyle
      Kyle June 19, 2012 at 10:50 am - Reply

      Elizabeth, don’t let the bastards grind you down. I cross through some sketchier areas, depending which course I run to work and what time, but have encountered no difficulties. Then again, I am a very tall, raggedy-looking man in very short shorts: I might fit right in. If you keep alert, you should be fine; however, if we find anyone else ready to buddy-run commute, we will connect you!

      I imagine Atlantans and DCers could get into quite a backward boasting match regarding whose transit and traffic are worse. I’m going to give it to you on traffic — damned Beltway; damned traffic circles — but I am calling transit woes for Atlanta.

      We had an early guest post from a D.C. run commuter named Melissa: http://theruncommuter.com/my-daily-run-commute-melissa-in-washington-dc/

  4. bounteous July 13, 2012 at 10:00 am - Reply

    I’m in DC and had no idea there was such a thing as run commuting until it occurred to me that my distance to and from the metro was about the same distance that I spend on the treadmill at my work gym, delaying my commute home, so why not kill two birds with one stone? I had no idea it would be possible with all the stuff I usually lug back and forth so I am so glad I found your blog! I’m going to give it a try on Monday.

    As for DC, it also experienced the “white flight” to the suburbs as Atlanta and so many other cities have, but has just been very innovative in promoting policies that support urban development and revitalization in previously crime-ridden, empty neighborhoods, which has ushered in a huge boom of young people moving to these neighborhoods closer-in (and therefore, things like biking infrastructure and more metro stations). These are all fairly recent changes and in the 10 years I’ve lived here, things have changed so much. I hope Atlanta can follow these same trends!

  5. Claudia December 30, 2015 at 8:47 am - Reply

    I just recently found this site and I’m so happy I did. I’m from DC (NOVA, actually) and I’m thinking of run commuting partway home and then Metroing. (Three years later, and it hasn’t gotten much better, but I’ll take it). I need to ease into it, but I’m also worried about getting back on the metro after running and stinking up the car, or running through sketchier parts after the sun has set. Other than that, I’m excited to get started!

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