Coming Full Circle

by Bill Kugler

As a canoe pool regular, let me relate a pragmatic note. When this admittedly unusual and, in this area, unique method of commuting was devised in 1961 by the founding fathers and still Club members Heidemann, Jones and Thomson, the primary impetus was the practical need to find a way to and from the Northern Virginia area from the other side of the Potomac without using the overcrowded Chain Bridge. This was several years before the completion of the beltway and the Cabin John Bridge, which significantly reduced traffic congestion and hence commuting time between the two areas. But in those years it was often quicker, to say nothing of providing various physical and psychic pleasures, to climb down from MacArthur Boulevard to the towpath, ferry across to the island, paddle to Virginia and make the ascent on the other side -- and reverse the process at the end of the day. The opening of the beltway meant that it was invariably quicker to drive if one was willing to forego the other myriad advantages of canoe commuting versus automobile.

As anyone currently using the Cabin John Bridge can readily testify, we have virtually returned to the situation of the early years after the intervening two decades. Congestion now is often so bad on this bridge that the canoe has regained much of the time advantage it enjoyed in the early 1960's. Admittedly the differential probably is not so dramatic because Chain Bridge takes some of the traffic that would otherwise use the Cabin John Bridge, and once the repairs on this bridge are finished, beltway traffic presumably will flow faster. Offsetting these factors, however, is the relentless growth in the number of vehicles on our roads, particularly during rush hours. Consequently I continue to expect that the tiny band of canoe commuters will do just as well on balance as we do now in terms of the time spent underway between home and work.