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Guest Posts

The Challenges of Car-Free Dating

In sickness and in health, in sunshine and in rain.

We’re honored to have the Baltimore Chop here at Car Free for a guest post.  The Baltimore Chop is a man of leisure and the last of the famous international playboys. His blog focuses on local indie culture, Baltimore events, and downtown gossip. It’s also nominated for 3 Mobbies this year. You should go vote for it right now.

On a more personal note, this dude has taught me that (1) white tube socks and sneakers aren’t an acceptable fashion statement (2) it’s OK to drink in the afternoon if it’s at a good daydrinking bar, and (3) Andy Warhol was way cooler at 60 than you or I will ever be even in our glorious youth.

I’ve only been living car-free for a couple of weeks now. So far, it’s going really well. I’ve already jumped over quite a few of the hurdles I knew were coming: how to buy groceries, getting rained on, dealing with flat bike tires, etc. None of it was as bad as I thought it would be. Pretty soon though, I’m about to take on one of the challenges that’s concerned me the most: a first date.

The idea of dating in general wasn’t really much of a concern for me in deciding to go car-free. All of the women I’ve been out with over the last several years have lived near downtown, and shrinking my dating pool to the inside of the beltway doesn’t feel like much of a sacrifice. Once you start seeing someone steadily, it’s easy enough to stick mostly to your neighborhood places or ask her to drive where driving is required. If she happens to like bike riding, so much the better. (One thing I’m catching onto: women on bikes tend to check out guys on bikes a lot more often and shamelessly than guys with cars.) What’s not to like about biked dates?

At the same time though, I am little old-fashioned. I think a date should be a proper date, especially the first few, and for a man traditionally that means picking your date up and bringing her back home… in a car. Take a look at this post from the Art of Manliness about the traditional first date. The protocols laid out here are every bit as appropriate today as they were when our parents were dating. You can see in the post how heavily the (man’s) car figures into the traditional first date, and the social mores for modern dating can be traced back pretty directly to the invention of the automobile. One could argue pretty easily that Henry Ford single-handedly killed courtship and ‘paved the road’ for dating as we now know it.

Even before I gave up my car, I’d often find myself apologizing for it on dates. The exhaust was loud. It was kind of dirty. The passenger seat was stuck in an awkward position. Basically, it was a shitty old beater. It was my shitty old beater though, and it suited me fine 95% of the time. On a date it wasn’t impressive, but it could pick a woman up and drop her off safely and dependably. Besides, any woman who’s much impressed by nice cars probably isn’t one I ought to be dating anyway. If she couldn’t see past the car to its owner, then I’d be better off without her.

There’s no getting around the thing though: not having a car on a first date is just a tiny bit emasculating, especially in Baltimore. Most people still don’t understand that living without a car can be an actual lifestyle choice, and not just a symptom of being broke. So far trying to explain this has met with mixed results, at best.

Sure, it’s simple enough to ask a woman to meet you somewhere for a date. Many times it’s actually more practical. It’s not even terribly difficult to grab a cab at any point in the evening. It’s just not the same as a car though. Without a car there’s no unlocking her passenger door. No saying on a rainy night “Just wait here where it’s dry and I’ll bring it around.”  There’s no chance to linger long together while you’re double parked at the end of the night. You can’t do that in a cab… or on a bicycle built for two.

Hi MTA, What’s up?: MARC Commuter Rail and Freight

I’d like to have regular guest writers on this site to broaden the perspective on walking/biking/transit in the city. And really – how many irrelevant pictures of animals and 19th century clam herders can you all take?  If you regularly travel without an automobile in Baltimore and you have something interesting to say, contact me at the email address listed in the “About Me” page.

This is also the beginning of a new regular feature called, “Hi MTA, What’s up?”.  This is in lieu of more confrontational titles which were suggested, like “What the Hell?” and “MTA: Really?”.  I’d like this segment to be a start of a conversation rather than a scorched earth, no holds barred sounding board.

Here is a guest post by Scott Adams, a transportation planner at Baltimore City DOT.  Having recently moved to Maryland from Nashville, TN, he rides the MARC commuter rail into downtown Baltimore to work everyday and is damned proud of it.

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I use MARC Commuter Rail’s Camden Line most days and my train was 20 minutes late yesterday.  As to why it was late, part of the answer can be summarized in two words: freight rail.

Choo Choo

Although MARC (Maryland Area Regional Commuter) is one system/service, its Camden and Brunswick train lines are operated by CSX Transportation (BIG freight rail company), while the Penn Line is operated by AMTRAK.  Say what you will about the Penn Line (crowded trains, “Hell Trains” losing power and AC in 90+ degree heat), but at least that line is all-passenger rail and never has to deal with freight trains.

The Camden Line’s trains lumber along and often stop with the predictable silence, then an announcement over the intercom, “Ladies and gentlemen, we’re stopped for a freight train.  We’ve got to let them pass by and then we’ll be on our way.”

Every time this happens (and it’s more frequent than you would think), I wonder to myself, “Why are there freight trains running during PEAK HOURS?”  MARC’s Camden Line runs three scheduled trains in the morning and three scheduled trains in the afternoon, so here’s my question: Do MARC and CSX have an operating agreement that specifically bars freight trains from the tracks during MARC’s AM/PM peak hour train runs?  Also, how critical is it to move bulk freight during peak commuting hours?  Can a shipment of coal or “piggybacking” UPS trucks be moved outside of peak hours?

I’m not a freight expert, but in asking these questions, I found an interesting article that stokes similar questions.  Can we have reliable, fast and affordable passenger rail in the U.S. and shift more freight to rail for more sustainable transport? (i.e. fuel efficiency, greenhouse gas emissions, local/national air quality, etc.)

If 45% of freight rail in the U.S. is indeed for coal (see article above), then I’d hope that cleaner, more localized energy sources (wind, solar, tidal power) could offset the need for all that dirty black stuff and thus free up rail capacity for passenger rail.

In the meantime, I’ll keep stocking up on good books to read while I’m sitting on a MARC train idling somewhere in rural Maryland, waiting on a freight train.