Common App Personal Essay - Prompt 4 (2016-17)
Prompt: Describe a problem you've solved or a problem you'd like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma-anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution.
Traffic congestion is a facet of modern life in dense metropolitan areas across the United States. I know; my family and I live in Fairfax County, Virginia, outside of Washington, DC. Every day, drivers swarm the Beltway, which becomes a mess of vehicles fighting for a smaller and smaller amount of road space. I appreciate that in some ways, this traffic is a good thing. After all, it means that people are going to work or school in and around the Nation's Capital or doing their shopping everywhere from Tyson's Corner to the National Mall, thus fueling the economy. But it's also dysfunctional. I've been stuck in tunnels, offloaded from trains (and not just because of tourists blocking the doors) and been late for events because of this unreliability. I think that there are changes that can be implemented here to alleviate congestion and make the District a more attractive place to live, work and visit.
First of all, planners and regulators should stop trying to plan outwards (that is, toward Maryland and Virginia) and focus instead on the core, where growth has been astounding and transformational. Today, the most densely populated parts of the District are left without Metro access, forcing more commuters onto already crowded buses fighting with cars to merge after bus stops located seemingly on every block. In contrast, London's Crossrail will create seven new underground stations in the center of the city, connecting two suburban lines with employment and shopping hubs, interchanges with nearly all Tube lines and slashing journey times by up to half. Why not use this approach in the District? We can create new lines for Metro, boosting catchment and mobility, while making the system more reliable and resilient in case of delays or necessary maintenance. At the same time, buses throughout the District should be given priority, with strict enforcement and stiff penalties for improper use.
If George Washington had the foresight to survey and use the Potomac, so can we Washingtonians. We need a new tunnel across the river, allowing more trains to run on the existing railway network during rush hour. In turn, that will alleviate a massive bottleneck in Virginia that is a source of constant headaches and reduces capacity. Unfortunately, ferries won't work, but they could help provide access to Georgetown and other neighborhoods not served by Metro. Dulles Airport, located about 26 miles west of DC, is among the busiest in the nation. An extension of the Metro to Dulles makes it significantly easier to catch international flights and make more jobs accessible to those without cars on the Toll Road Corridor, which is the heart of Northern Virginia's contracting and cybersecurity industries. After all, arterial roads in suburban nodes such as Tysons Corner are packed to the brim and ready to burst with cars, just as one of America's largest transformations of a mid-20th century retail and office parks into a mixed-use, high-rise city in its own right has begun to take place.
By implementing these types of measures and taking into consideration any changes that may need to be made for the District, I believe that we can reduce the level of unreliability that makes my family and me want to drive into the city at times rather than use what can and should be a more sustainable and efficient system. Rapid transit could do wonders for young people like me who lack the financial or practical means to drive but want to absorb the culture and vitality that one of America's greatest cities has to offer.