Friday, April 06, 2007

A (Long) More Formal Introduction

Forgive me for not introducing myself properly earlier.

I'm C4bl3Fl4m3 ("CableFlame"). As of this writing in April of 2007, I'm 24 years old (I turn 25 in late May) and I live in Takoma Park MD, right on the DC/TP/SS border, right near Shepherd Park. I'm the newest Transit Doctor in the League of Transit Doctors. I want to thank Richard Layman for bestowing me with my Mad Doctorate in Transit.

I write different than Richard. Whereas he writes more academic pieces, my writings are far more informal. They're my narratives of what I've seen and experienced. I have no formal training in transit systems... just years of experience.

I've been replying to posts in his Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space blog for a while now. I'll give my 2 cents on just about anything, but I'm more likely to reply in the transit posts than any of the other posts. See, I've been a transit nut all my life.

I grew up in the middle of the woods in South-Central PA, about 35 minutes southwest of Harrisburg PA, in the Cumberland Valley. A very rural area, with farms and trees and streams, livestock and forest creatures. Beautiful country, but quite lonely. However, the area obviously didn't have any mass transit options available. The closest transit stop was in Carlisle, PA, about a 15 minute drive away, and it was one commuter bus that ran at rush hour and would take you into Harrisburg. (CAT) Honestly, I've never been on it.

However, I remember my first experiences with transit. My aunt and uncle live in New York City. I can remember my excitement of being able to take the subway there. I remember visiting Washington DC somewhere around 5th grade and taking the Metro and the Metrobus. And my grandparents live in Williamsburg, VA, the home of Colonial Williamsburg. And CW has its own private bus system to get you around the Colonial area and back and forth from the visitor's center. I rode that bus quite a bit growing up. I've always thought that subways were extra cool and that there was something special about mass transit.

When I became a teenager, my need for freedom grew exponentially. However, I didn't feel like I was ready to drive a car yet when I was 16. I understood the power and responsibility that one takes on when they drive a car (the ability to kill someone, if you're not careful), and I was, frankly, scared by it. I wasn't ready. So I biked everywhere. I'd take 4 hour bike rides in the gorgeous countryside around my house, but I'd also use my bike to go to the library in the nearby small town. I hated how, on the main roads, the giant 18 wheelers wouldn't share the road properly. There were places w/ no good shoulder and when you're biking at 20 mph, being forced off the road by some tractor trailer and into the gravel would get you thrown from your bike. Not fun.

I moved to Columbia MD at age 19 in 2001 (long story) and I was excited at living in a place where there was transit... where I wouldn't have to own a car. I lived there for a year and 3 months, and I quickly learned just how inefficient suburban transit systems are. (Howard Transit, Corridor Transit, and Connect-A-Ride have a long way to go.) I also learned how few people took the bus, and how the people who did were the poor people who couldn't afford a car. I also learned that they were almost always people-of-color.

After visiting Washington DC a large number of times and making friends closer to the city, I decided I wanted to live there, with one of the main reasons being because they had a better transit system. I could get where I wanted to, when I wanted to go there much better than in Columbia. So I moved to Silver Spring.

Well, between the years of 2002 and 2004, I moved 9 times all over the DC area in MD. Every time I've moved to a new place, I've always had to choose places that it wouldn't be necessary to own a car to live there comfortably. I've lived in Takoma Park 2x, College Park 2x (once at UMCP), Kensington, and North Rockville (Shady Grove in King Farm). I've lived on both ends of the Red Line as well as on the Green Line. I've had commutes both short and long. I've lived in an area where I wasn't in walking distance to the Metro (Kensington) and had to rely on both Metrobusses and Ride-On (MoCo transit) busses. I've had commutes where I biked part of my commute. I currently live on some of the major bus lines and use them on a regular basis. I've commuted from my house in TP to Bethesda every day for 9 months, taking the bus that will be replaced by the Purple Line, so I know the everyday riding issues of the Purple Line.

Transit is a part of my everyday life. My daily commute is a flexible one, consisting of a number of options for getting to and from the Metro station, for taking the subway or the bus to work. I love the fact that I don't have to own a car and I live the Carfree lifestyle, having been introduced to the term and radical anti-car living by an individual I met living and hanging out at UMCP that I called "Bike Peter" (because at the time I had a roommate named Peter as well). (Sometime I'll have to write about him on here. He was something else... and a wonderful model for us all.) I don't bike so much anymore, but I used to take part of UMCP's Critical Mass bike ride, taking over the streets with a number of bikes to show that the city "doesn't have to be a church for cars" (the words of Bike Peter from the Critical Mass fliers) and that we bicyclists are legit traffic too.

Transit's also a part of my non-every day life. I enjoy travel quite a bit and always use transit when on the go. I love NYC, so I've taken the Greyhound, the Chinatown Bus, and Amtrak to NYC before. (My recommendation? If you have the money, Amtrak. If you don't, Chinatown bus. It's better than the Greyhound.) I've ridden transit in (let's see if I can remember them all): NYC (MTA, PATH, LIRR, and NJ Transit), Atlanta (MARTA), Baltimore (MTA and the MARC), Berlin (BVG: U-Bahn & S-Bahn), Chicago (CTA, the L, and METRA), Paris (RATP), Metz & Nancy (in France), Toulouse, and Seattle (SoundTransit and King County Metro Transit). (I'm sure I forgot one in there somewhere... I always do.) Transit has the same basic usage everywhere (you need to know your route number/letter/color and terminus, you have to know how to pay fare [exact change, please], etc.) but the feel of the various systems is often times quite different and the experiences you have with the operators and other riders can be as different as night and day. (Best place to ride the bus? Seattle. Everyone's SO friendly and helpful. People actually TALK to each other on there.)

I like the built in time that taking transit to work affords me. I use the time to listen to music, read (I'm an avid reader, and that's my time for reading every day) or sometimes simply to look out the windows and daydream. I've also been known to observe the other passengers, and occasionally try to draw. (I'm a horrible artist, but it's just for fun.) Heck, sometimes I even take the time to observe (people that I find to be) attractive men and women on the cars. (Don't we all check out people we think are hot on the Metro?) Even though I've lived in the DC area for 5 years now, taking transit all that time, I still haven't quite gotten over the inherent coolness of subways. Sometimes I still get a little bit of that thrill I got as a child because I'm riding a subway.

I must admit, not only do I have my driver's license, but I actually enjoy driving a car. (gasp!) I love how I have absolute freedom of movement in a car... how I can go whereever I want, whenever I want. After being stuck living in the woods for 18 years, this freedom is a big deal to me and, I must admit, it's a bit heady when I stop and think about it. I also love the feel of the open road before me. I really enjoy road trips. This is something that most transit advocates don't seem to have, and I think it helps me bridge the (sometimes seemingly impossible) gap between transit advocates and car lovers. When it comes to getting greater ridership on transit, although I know and would love to see the radical reforms that most transit advocates espouse, I recognize that it's too much, too quickly for your average car driver and I'm far more in favor of small baby step style changes to slowly wean the car driver off their car. (For example, more parking at Metro stations to encourage more people to make at least part of their commute via transit, as well as better shuttle service to and from Metro stations from neighborhoods.) I think it's more likely to actually WORK that way rather than a cold turkey (or almost cold turkey) approach.

I'm a member of Flexcar, a car sharing service, but haven't actually gone out and used it yet. I've only had it for a couple of months.

I'm known to call out Metro on their shortcomings. I've been saying for years that the handholds are wrong (too high... DC has lots of short people, including the 5'1" myself). Within the past 9 months, after interacting with Richard and everyone on Rebuilding Place, I've also been noticing how horrible their marketing is, how unavailable information is (specifically for bus services), and, recently, how this system will die if they don't expand beyond 2 track service.

I'll also give credit where credit is due. Example. I love Commuterpage and the Commuter Store and I desperately wish that MD had the same thing.

I have other interests in my life that, inevitably, color the way I look at transit, merely because we can't fully separate all of our interests from the others... we're whole people and one side of us will leak a bit into the other. I'm a computer geek, being formally trained in PC maintenance and repair (CompTIA A+ certification) and SOHO (small office/home office) networking (CompTIA Network+ certification). I like it when tech and Metro collide. I used to have a Palm that I used to download bus schedules from Commuterpage (I wish they'd have them up for every route) and Ride-On. My work at the time had Adobe Acrobat Pro (the full version) so I'd make my own PDFs with selected last and first train times from the stations I frequented the most. (Yes, these are available in PDF online but their table structure translates extremely poorly to PDF on Palm.) I'm also a geek in many other ways. I enjoy fandom, writing fanfiction and role playing. I've been known to role play on busses before with other RPers and to read fanfic on the bus that I've downloaded online, turned to PDF, and downloaded to my Palm. I'm just a generally geeky kind of person and I think it gives me a more critical eye for transit.

My other main interest is human sexuality. I eventually want to get my (actual, not Mad) doctorate in it, and I already do sexual education. I've been interviewed for a podcast, I've given presentations on it, and I've done one-on-one education about a wide variety of issues via online chat. (Ok, insert obligatory jokes about Metrosexuals here. ;-) )

So that's the long and short about me when it comes to transit. I'd love to hear a bit about you. Tell me about your interests!

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