Thursday, June 2, 2022

The Price and the Cost

Both yesterday and today began with me on 95 driving people where they needed to go. Towards the end of the second trip I started having flashbacks of my many years of commuting. Columbia to Baltimore City by way of North Charles Street, Columbia to Baltimore by way of Towson. Columbia to 19 different schools in Howard County.  Columbia to Sandy Spring.

Drive, drive, drive. Get gas, clean the windshield. Get coffee, get breakfast, clean the snack trash out of your car. Worry that you’ll be late. Leave early but get caught in traffic. Feel your fingers grow numb as you grip the steering wheel. Arrive at your destination stiff and often frazzled.

Daily commuting can be an exhausting and soul-sucking experience, and a whole lot of people in Columbia/HoCo are doing it. I’ve been in their company the past couple of days. When people can’t or don’t live near where they work, they don’t have a lot of choices. Public transit options are extremely limited if not non-existent. The recent increase in the cost of gas is an added stressor.

As I moved through morning traffic I thought yet again how we are long overdue for addressing our dependence on automobiles. Why can’t we seem to take this issue seriously? Burning all that gasoline is bad for the planet. We could choose to change our priorities and how we do things in ways that would make the healthier, wiser choices the most convenient ones. 

But we’d have to be willing to see and do things differently.

Especially as we begin to emerge from a time of pandemic when work and commuting habits were drastically altered, the door to rethinking what we want would appear to be open. Those rising gas costs are the perfect opportunity to contemplate less fuel-dependent solutions.

But not for everyone. There’s a sizable contingent that want nothing more than to return to their old normal. And they want cheap gas to go along with it. Some people don’t seem to understand that rising fuel costs are a national - - no - - international phenomenon and think to lay the blame on local governments.

The other day I saw someone share this post from an account called “Carroll County Observer”.

Just a reminder...that Maryland had a budget surplus of $7.5B...and yet the currently elected officials did not use that money to provide us with a little bit of a break at the gas pumps TODAY or with the upcoming increase.

It is time for major changes in Annapolis.

My first thought upon reading this was disappointment. Rising fuel costs are an opportunity for some self-reflection both individually and as a community. Do we really need to be so car-dependent? What can we do to “break the habit”? If the days of affordable gas are coming to an end, what are we preparing to take their place?

My second thought was anger. If I were to have responded (I didn’t) my words would have looked something like this:

Just a reminder...that Maryland had all the funding lined up for the Red Line…and yet the currently elected Governor of Maryland killed the project that would have connected people with desperately needed jobs and left the transit community struggling to fill the hole his decision created. 

One thing I agree with. It is time for a major change in Annapolis. 

We need a Governor who takes transit and environmental issues seriously and can think beyond widening highways and clamoring for cheaper gas at the pump. Someone who thinks that getting to work in Baltimore City is as important as in Howard (or Carroll) County.

In the end the point is more than the price of gasoline. It’s the cost of what all this commuting in individual cars is doing to us, our communities, and the planet. 

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