Autistic Future
July 5th, 2016

Getting Around in the District

Safe­track hit my neigh­bor­hood just when I had pub­lic tran­sit fig­ured out, and it’s start­ing to feel like a per­son­al neme­sis. Some autis­tic peo­ple dri­ve, and that’s most­ly how I get around back home. How­ev­er, pub­lic tran­sit is essen­tial for the dis­abil­i­ty com­mu­ni­ty because a lot of us don’t. Either our impair­ments rule out dri­ving or we are too poor to keep reli­able cars. For many dis­abled adults, a good bus sys­tem or local light rail can be the dif­fer­ence between unem­ploy­a­bil­i­ty and a liv­ing wage. I know that options besides cars also rep­re­sent the free­dom to play, study, wor­ship, and just go explor­ing at will, i.e. access to most of what makes life worth­while. How­ev­er, as some­one with a dri­ver’s license, I don’t usu­al­ly have to deal with these kinds of prob­lems myself. Then I moved to D.C. for the sum­mer, and every­one I know who had any expe­ri­ence with the city told me to leave my car at home. Even in Atlanta, a much more auto-ori­ent­ed city, par­al­lel park­ing this thing is exhausting:

This is my 2006 Dodge Grand Caravan, the larger version with the V6. It's the size of a medium-sized garden shed.

Doing with­out for the first time in my adult life was as intim­i­dat­ing as mov­ing to an unfa­mil­iar part of west Texas was last sum­mer, but I took my friends’ and rel­a­tives’ advice.

I adjust­ed pret­ty quick­ly. Even the prod­uct of a long line of sell­ers and repair­ers of things that burn fos­sil fuels can appre­ci­ate hav­ing an extra hour every week­day while some­one else deals with try­ing not to kill pedes­tri­ans. Then, metro tracks closed and pushed scores of peo­ple from their train to my bus. Sud­den­ly, one morn­ing, the usu­al crowd at the bus stop watched one, two, three bus­es roll past us too full to pick any­one up. I tried get­ting on ear­li­er and lat­er bus­es, but cer­tain days of the week are hope­less. When­ev­er the bus­es left me strand­ed, I resort­ed to more-expen­sive rideshar­ing. On the worst days, traf­fic is so bad that even that does­n’t con­sis­tent­ly get me down­town on time.

I have the phys­i­cal where­with­al to bike the cou­ple of miles to work and access to a show­er when I get there, so I did the obvi­ous thing: I trad­ed in the bike I brought to D.C. for a more reli­able commuter.

I’ll bike to work on days of the week when it’s hard to catch a bus, but I won­der how peo­ple who can’t are far­ing. Is para­tran­sit van demand up? Can the sys­tem meet it? Do peo­ple on pub­lic trans­porta­tion resent the space that walk­ers and ser­vice dogs take up as bus­es and trains get more crowd­ed? I don’t see local news cov­er­ing it. What I do see is dis­con­cert­ing. There is still a much more humane stan­dard of behav­ior on WMATA than I’ve seen on pub­lic tran­sit in cities fur­ther north, but peo­ple are get­ting tense, pushy, and quick­er to snap at each oth­er dur­ing morn­ing rush. A man who used crutch­es and a brace for what looked like a tem­po­rary leg injury rode my bus up until recent­ly. We exchanged pleas­antries some­times. I haven’t seen him late­ly. If he has trou­ble stand­ing up at the bus stop for half an hour while too-full bus­es pass or can’t maneu­ver in the crush of peo­ple on board, he may have had to find anoth­er way to get to work. I hope it’s work­ing for him. I hope he can com­fort­ably afford it. I real­ly hope WMATA and D.C. have learned what dri­vers have always known about the val­ue of rou­tine main­te­nance so that this nev­er hap­pens again. Not every­one who needs to get to jobs and med­ical appoint­ments in this mag­i­cal, his­toric, chal­leng­ing, expen­sive city can just get on a bike.

Post­script: I rode sev­en miles of com­mut­ing and errands today on a vin­tage, Eng­lish three-speed loaded down like a pack mule. Endor­phins are THE BEST. My day was wonderful.