"More than 13 years after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, in a world still menaced by terrorists and in a city at risk of attack as few others, how is it possible that basic radio communications used by the District’s first responders could fail in an emergency?” asked the Washington Post editorial board. “How could the District’s transit system be unprepared to ventilate smoke from a subway tunnel? What other lapses in preparedness will the region’s residents discover, and will it take an emergency to discover them?”
The emergency referenced above was the smoke from an electrical fire that filled a subway train near L’Enfant Plaza on January 12. More than 80 people were sent to hospitals. Passengers were told to stay in the train even though it became increasingly difficult to breathe—one woman died from smoke inhalation.
And yet we Washingtonians are encouraged to use mass transit as much as possible. Indeed, transit “experts” have suggested that the best way to fix the dysfunctional Washington Metro system is by having more riders—the more people, the higher the revenue, which can be spent on improvements.
Or ride a bike. Even though less than 5 percent of area residents bicycle to work, there are now 69 miles of city bike lanes, with more on the way. The section of M Street by our office had long carried two or three lanes of car traffic. With bike lanes plus parking rules in effect, it’s partly down to one. Rush-hour can be unbearable. In fact, that’s by design: Rather than add lanes to relieve congestion, transit planners are constricting roads even further, hoping the pain of the commute will force drivers to pursue greener options.
Take, for example, Interstate 66, which connects the nation’s capital to its Virginia suburbs. Concerns over traffic volume have led the state’s transportation officials to consider tolls inside the Beltway. Of course, Virginia already has added some high-occupancy toll lanes, in which cars with one or two passengers are required to pay a fee that fluctuates depending on demand. But I-66 near Washington had been spared. There was some talk of adding an extra lane, but the goal now seems to be not to ease congestion but to worsen it, so as to encourage us not to drive. At all.
Don’t take our word for it. Here is what Renée Hamilton, deputy district administrator for the Virginia Department of Transportation, told the Washington Post: “The ultimate goal, Hamilton said, is ‘to create a culture on I-66 where people get out of their cars and use transit.’ ”
So the goal for the Interstate is to get people not to use the Interstate? If current trends continue, one day they may just turn I-66 into a super-wide all-bicycle pathway. And if you don’t like to bike, you can always take the Metro. Just don’t forget to bring your gas mask.