The war on drivers, continued

Just kidding. While out with a bunch of friends last night, I realized that the real friction is not between drivers, bikers, and pedestrians; it is between commuters, and people who live here.

People who commute into DC have put the city into their mental "Work" basket. Wherever they are in the city, they tend to act as if they are in some commercially zoned suburban office park, where children and pedestrians basically don't belong. They feel entitled to be in an environment designed to move cars from point A to Point B as efficiently as possible. Bicycles and pedestrians slowing down their commute seem like unreasonable intrusions.

For residents of DC, the city is the mental equivalent of your suburban cul-de-sac. Children live here, dogs walk here, people take a stroll of a fine summer evening. When we see commuters behaving as if they were on a highway, rather than in a residential area, we get, well, a tad miffed. And as you've probably guessed, I think we have the right of it.

Commuters into DC do not even have the excuse for their sense of entitlement that commuters into New York or San Francisco have: that without them, the businesses wouldn't be there, and the economy of the city would drastically suffer. The business of DC is mostly various non-profit, or very thinly profitable, entities that do not pay significant taxes--only a quarter of DC's revenue comes from sales and business taxes, and of course a lot of those are paid by the residents. The business that does bring substantial revenue into DC, tourism, is not going anywhere, because they're not going to move the Washington Monument to Silver Spring.

Nor, as some of the commuters have alleged, do their gas taxes pay for the roads. Federal highway funds provide about 20% of the capital budget for DC streets; the rest comes from those of us who live and pay taxes in the city. Most commuters don't even buy gas here. Unlike in other cities, the residents of DC are already, on net, paying for the privilege of having commuters here. Those of us who are not lucky enough to own sandwich shops downtown do not find this particularly rewarding.

And DC is just not built for high speed commuting. The streets are narrow, and almost all of them pass through residential neighborhoods. Yet commuters screamed in outrage when DC proposed slowing down the high-speed corridors that have made the neighborhoods they pass through actively hostile to their residents. Their argument was--well, I want to get home. The thing is, so do we. Only when we get there, we find you rocketing your car through it as if you were auditioning for the Indy 500.