Posts Tagged ‘cars’

Gridlocked: Fixing DC With the Help of the World

In Uncategorized on June 25, 2010 at 2:05 am

Rush hour in DC begins around 4 am and is politely described as "drivers' hell".

Last week, I had the opportunity to witness first-hand the traffic debacle that is Washington DC. I woke up late, missed my bus to work, and had my dad drop me off at work after calling in late to his own job. What I saw en-route convinced me that if DC is anything like other American cities, we as a country absolutely NEED to transition to an efficient means of transportation and become less dependent on cars. So here is my effort to make sense of WHY DC has such a bad traffic situation, and what we can do to make it somewhat tolerable and efficient.

A little background about this area first. The current area called the District of Columbia, formerly known as Washington County, has been in existence since the mid-late 1700s.  DC was designed to be a partially planned city—the area bordered by the Potomac river, Western, Eastern and Southern avenue was designed to hold all the baroque-style federal buildings and the seat of the three branches of government. The architectural plan was put together by Pierre Charles L’Enfant, a French architect, and Benjamin Banneker, an African-American mathematician.  The location made commercial and political sense—it combined the port towns of Georgetown, Maryland and Alexandria for wheat and tobacco shipping; it also was a resulting compromise between Alexander Hamilton, who wanted the northern states to pay for the Revolutionary War, and Thomas Jefferson, who wanted the capital to favor southern agricultural interests. Since then Washington has expanded steadily outwards, with the wide streets growing steadily narrower due to inventions like streetcars, railways and automobiles.  What we ended up with, thus, were elaborate buildings designed for much fewer government employees, a vast intersecting street system (that expanded into states and double-letter alphabets as the city expanded: for a detailed explanation of DC’s confusing street system click here) and a historically influential African American population that has shaped the city’s cultural evolution.
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