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night commuting

Dark is the New Day

Not as scary as the Baltimore Sun would have you believe

People always talk of the great fear. In the southwest, it’s poisonous snakes and drought. On the northern pacific coast, it’s bears. In Canada, it’s giant man-eating jack rabbits (maybe my nature knowledge is a bit off since I don’t spend a lot of time there). In Baltimore, the great fear seems to be the night.

In the fall and winter months, dark becomes the new day. Most people get off of work around 5pm. When you walk directly from your office to your car, you don’t really think about the night. It’s just that intermission between the soul-sucking fluorescent lights of your office and the low blue hum of your car’s dashboard. When you don’t have a car, you’re in the night a lot more. Waiting for the bus. Weaving through traffic on a bike. At the mercy of the streetlights; beacons between the dark spaces, spaces where the news tells you to be afraid of things.

My commute home took me through the Inner Harbor the other night.  Despite being dimly lit in spots, I was surprised by the number of people out on a cold November evening. I didn’t realize the promenade was an active night time jogging route, either.  Looking over the harbor from the Ritz Carleton and seeing the lights of the Legg Mason building reflected off the water, Baltimore seems like a much bigger city than it really is.

But reading sensationalist headlines might make you think the streets roll up at sundown and nobody except those with a death-wish venture out at night.  There are plenty of us out there, and as winter comes, most of my commuting will be in the dark. It’s either adapt to this new environment, or get a car. And you can be sure as hell there’s no way I’m buying another car, so my choice is clear.

As I said in previous posts, without a car, you’re more vulnerable and you travel more deliberately. This doesn’t mean you should be afraid, though. Some common sense things, like using lights if you’re biking, sticking to well lit, high-traffic routes if you’re walking, and choosing more active bus stops are easy things to do.  And to be realistic, there are some blocks in Baltimore you should never find yourself on at night, but these places shouldn’t ruin the reputation of the entire city.

It’s not Rockefeller Center or the Arc de Triomphe, but there is a certain gaudy charm in the glowing neon Domino Sugar sign.  Something I’ll be seeing a lot of during my wintertime evening commutes. And despite what you read about in the news, at least we don’t have giant man-eating jack rabbits like in Canada.