“You’re Entitled For Suggesting People Take Public Transportation Instead Of Stranding Themselves On I-95” – Midatlantic Liberals

Earlier today, I decided to wade in– I now realize, quite foolishly- to a Twitter conversation about the closure of I-95 in Northern Virginia. A storm had descended upon a part of the Midatlantic completely unused to snow, and, given the area’s general complete inability to manage with even small amounts of snow, things were, predictably, screwed up. A stream of tweets from stranded motorists bemoaned having been stuck– in many cases, overnight– on I-95. Where was the National Guard? Where was VDOT? To quote Marshall Mathers, and where were the parents at? And look where it’s at.

More of a question I had, where were alternatives to driving during a serious blizzard, the threat of which was well-communicated beforehand? Why did people decide they had to travel in the first place? WDET recently covered a list of proposed words and terms to be banned in 2022, courtesy of Superior State University. But the “new normal,” perpetual pandemic be damned, seems to be a world of disaster capitalism in which we face crisis after crisis without ever actually asking what the heck is really going on.

Response 1: “People Need To Deliver Food And Stuff To Families Who Are Without Power”

It’s true that there still are an awful lot of people without power in Northern Virginia. Being– pardon me while I clear my throat for five minutes here- a utility person, I was curious about just how many people. Dominion reported as of 11am this morning that around 65% of customers in Stafford County, Virginia were without power. As of 1pm, this number was reduced by only about 10%. Suffice it to say, it’s not a great situation. It gets a lot better when you cross the Potomac River, but there are reasons why something something utility regulation, mumble mumble.

Anyway, let’s have a look at that outage chart:

Virginia Co. Dominion Customers without ⚡️ Total Customers % without power
STAFFORD 34,750 53,310 65.18%
PRINCE WILLIAM 6,762 85,306 7.93%
FAIRFAX 15,374 401,844 3.83%
KING GEORGE 3,181 9,103 34.94%

Admittedly, only one person responded saying that this is why they were out on the roads, and they quickly deleted the tweet from their brand new Twitter account (I have no idea what is going on most of the time on this website). But for the rest of them– could it possibly be worth driving an hour or two to deliver ‘x’ or ‘y’ to people who couldn’t do without it for three hours, but who ended up not, you know, dying without food or water (?) in the 15 hours that it took you to ultimately not reach them? Truckers typically are suited to deal with extreme weather, because trucks hold a lot more fuel than, ya know, your cousin’s 1999 Civic DX, or what have you. It seems like maybe it would be wise to not go out on the roads in this situation.

Response 2: “There Is No Public Transit Here.”

(Narrator voice: There was public transit there. But, in fairness, it may well not have been running at the time.

What about alternatives to the motorcar? It’s a question I’m always asking, of course. The way I see it, public transit during a natural disaster or major weather event is sort of like, you know, the Waffle House index. If Waffle House is open, you’re good. If Waffle House is closed, you’re in the red threat level. Hunker down. Avoid windows. Do not get in your car. Et cetera. If Amtrak isn’t running, doesn’t that suggest that driving is going to be awful? Some Amtrak service was cancelled, but the NEC remains mostly functional.

On my way home from college in December 2009, I got stuck on an Amtrak train during the epic polar vortex that shut down most of the East Coast. I can tell you that it sucked. But I can also tell you that the resulting drive— sharing a ride with a good samaritan of sorts- between Huntington, West Virginia, and Vienna, Virginia, was far more excruciating than being stuck on a train that was still running and had running water and electricity.

Response 3: Your Entitlement and Privilege are Showing.

I suggested alternatives to people who were lamenting the third world level of disaster involving a highway closure during a *checks notes* historic weather event. Fortunately, there are some! Virginia Railway Express, for example. VREx serves tens of thousands of riders daily, with ridership increasing every year as I-95 becomes worse and density increases in the Fredericksburg-DC corridor. WMATA even services the most populous areas of Northern Virginia, which has, ya know, twice the population of the city of Washington, DC (around 1.2m in Fairfax County alone).

But nay, alack, I was castigated as privileged and entitled for suggesting that people save money and, indeed, their lives, by avoiding roads. Public transit, they claimed, does not exist in this corridor! (In spite of the fact that there are multiple Amtrak routes as well as VREx between Fredericksburg and DC, to say nothing of WMATA’s extensive service to Fairfax County and beyond).

“Your entitlement and privilege are showing,” @tinythebeek420 said, before blocking me.

This is something I’ve gotten frequently. My privilege and entitlement? Of saving money and avoiding certain death or disaster? What, madam, pray tell, are you talking about? Quite.

Look, people. I don’t own a car. I frankly can’t afford to own a car. It would cost me about $850 a month, including the payment (amortized purchase cost + cost of capital, OR, loan payment plus interest), insurance (among the highest in Michigan, with $150-400 being pretty common), gas, and maintenance. I have loans. Does it make me a Coastal Liberal Elite that I have debt and can’t afford a car?

“But you drive!”

I mean. It’s true. I do have a driver’s license. It’s also true that I do, occasionally, drive a car. I split *some* transportation expenses with my partner, who owns a car and notably doesn’t have $120,000 in student debt. But I haven’t owned a car for a large portion of my time in Detroit. I haven’t functionally owned a car for the past seven months, since my car was totaled after I filled it up with apparently contaminated gasoline (hurrah, responsible Detroit gas station owners!). Before that, I was carless between December 2017 and February 2019. And I survived with a combination of lousy public transit, Maven (RIP) and Zipcar, and even Enterprise Rent-A-Car. Oh, and then Amtrak, Greyhound, rideshare, and even– shockingly, year-round- a bicycle. Yup, I guess that makes me entitled and privileged– riding my bike ten miles from Detroit’s city hall to the far west side in February.

How do we get past this mentality?

Disaster Capitalism: Apparently Doing Little To Effect Cultural Shifts

Really. I don’t know. Far be it from me to suggest that we take a hardcore Republican mythos that “100% of all things are the fault of the individuals, and the responsibility of collective groups or systems or institutions to do or provide anything is a communist lie.” So, pardon me for sounding like it when I ask: Where is the personal responsibility here? If they can’t handle it on the East Coast, where can they handle it?

Nat M. Zorach

Nat M. Zorach, AICP, MBA, is a city planner and energy professional based in Detroit, where he writes about infrastructure, sustainability, tech, and more. A native of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, he attended Grinnell College in Iowa, the Kogod School of Business at American University, the POCACITO transatlantic program, the SISE program at the University of Illinois Chicago, and he is also a StartingBloc Social Innovation Fellow. He enjoys long walks through historic, disinvested Rust Belt neighborhoods at sunset. (Nat's views and opinions are his own and do not represent those of his employer).

Leave a Reply