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August 2, 2010

12:04
P.M.

Dr. Gridlock: Your traffic and transit questions

Total Responses: 46

About the hosts

About the host

Robert Thomson

Robert Thomson is The Washington Post's Dr. Gridlock. He offers therapy for that most intimate relationship: the one between you and your commute. You can read his work on the Get There blog, as well as in the Metro section of The Washington Post.

About the topic

The Washington Post's Dr. Gridlock, Robert Thomson, was online to take all your questions about Metro, traffic throughout the region and other transportation issues.
Q.

Robert Thomson :

Welcome, travelers. I notice what I think is an unusually large number of questions from drivers seeking help with directions. Those are the ones I like to push out early in our chats, in time to take advantage of what you know. But we've got quite a range of traffic and transit comments in the mailbag today.

Q.

Commuting Question

Dr G: I am considering pursuing a job offer at Bolling AFB. I live in Fairfax City (Fairfax Sq). The hours of the job are 8:00-16:30 Mon-Fri. Generally speaking, what kind of commute can I expect (time; to and from) at these times ? (The commute will be a MAJOR factor in my decision whether to accept the position). Thanks, GM

A.
Robert Thomson :

First, good for you to be thinking ahead about the commute and seeing it as a major consideation if taking a job. Too many people either ignore the concern or engage in wishful thinking.

Yours would be a relatively long commute of over 20 miles, done mostly on highways. That's  good. Lots of lanes working for you. But they're also some of the most heavily traveled highways in the region.

The basic route would be Little River Turnpike to the Beltway, across the Wilson Bridge and up I-295. I'd leave 50 minutes, and offer this warning: On a commute that long, you can have drastically different experiences from day to day. Some will be just awful. Test it ahead of time to see if you can tolerate it. (But know that traffic is likely to be light this month, because of all the vacations.)

– August 02, 2010 12:01 PM
Q.

Baltimore to Williamsburg

Hi Dr. G, will be traveling to Williamsburg from the Baltimore area on the morning of Thursday August 19th. Not crazy about 301 with all the lights in Waldorf, but not sure how 95 and 495 will be around 10 AM. Your thoughts? Thanks!
A.
Robert Thomson :

I-95 and 495 have somewhat lighter than normal commuter traffic right now, but heavier than normal long-distance traffic, because it's summer vacation season.

If you're leaving at 10 a.m. on a Thursday, you've done about as much as I think you can to control your traffic destiny. There are times of the year when I advise long-distance travelers to go at night or very early in the morning, but right now, there are many major construction projects reducing lanes along the I-95 corridor.

 

– August 02, 2010 12:08 PM
Q.

LOOOOOOOONG lights

I've recently started to commute by car to the Rockville area after spending the last several years on Metro. And I've been noticing how long the light cycles are. While I understand the need to keep traffic flowing on major routes, the light cycles can be 2-3 minutes long. Even when two major roads cross and even when there is no cross traffic. All of this means that missing a light (as you often do since the queues for turning or even going straight are very long) can be intensely frustrating. It seems to prompt people to take shortcuts through residential neighborhoods, make U-turns to short-circuit the lights, etc. All in all, not the ideal situation. Has Montgomery County and/or Rockville thought about shortening some cycles or making them more responsive to traffic flow?
A.
Robert Thomson :

Montgomery County is one of the better jurisdictions around here when it comes to coordinating light cycles on main roads, based on volumes. They're monitored by camera and by plane. The problems we have are often traceable to the huge volumes of traffic. I can't tell from your note whether you're talkinga about east-west or north-south traffic, or both, but there tends to be a lot  in every direction.

– August 02, 2010 12:13 PM
Q.

Metro cost

I entered and left Rosslyn Station a week ago Friday without ever getting on a train...the Orange line was just a mess. Anyway, I was charged $1.95 ... is that common? If it is, then consumers are really getting ripped off.
A.
Robert Thomson :

Yes, if you go into a station and then decide to leave without boarding a train, you're going to be charged. If there's a huge delay, Metro managers will sometimes allow riders at those stations to leave without paying, but that's pretty rare, and it's not done on an individual basis. (I'd go see the station manager, though, if that happens again, and explain your situation.)

– August 02, 2010 12:15 PM
Q.

Signs, Signs ... and Enforcement

The exit ramps from the eastbound Dulles Toll to the Beltway (both loops) were changed 2 weeks ago, but inadequate and slow changes to the signage have made that exit horrendous most mornings.

Drivers cheat up in the through lanes to the left (like they always have) but that’s now compounded by similar efforts by drivers from the right. Since the two far right lanes now exit to the outer loop heading south and only one lane exits to the inner loop heading north, VDOT, MWAA and the contractors need to inform the drivers more effectively (more and earlier signs) and get the traffic separated into the correct lanes earlier.

Once that is done the rules need enforcement, police need to be stationed at the split and ticket violators. If this isn't fixed before Labor Day the commute on Tuesday September 7th will be a nightmare!

A.
Robert Thomson :

That's always been a problem area, but I haven't yet seen this recent change. Are others encountering difficulties there?

– August 02, 2010 12:19 PM
Q.

Sunday night closures on 66 E and 495 N (near 66 E)

Dr. G, I was driving back from the concert last night, and we hit an ugly lane closure problem. 2 lanes closed on 66 right at the beltway! and then 3 lanes closed on the inner loop appparently right beyong where traffic can get on from 66? Do these projects not coordinate with each other when they are planning closures? both closures were bad, but combined, cars from 66 couldn't go anywhere which backed up 66 for those trying to simply get into the city. At midnight it was a more than 3 mile backup! Or do they coordinate to make as much traffic as possible but on as few days as possible? (I also could be crazy- but I didn't see anything about these massive road closures being announced...)
A.
Robert Thomson :

Yes, there is a VDOT office that tries to coordinate the impact of the work on the major projects in Northern Virginia, including the Dulles Metrorail project and the HOT lanes project. This is called the Megaprojects office, and it has one of the best construction project Web sites around here. You can find it at http://www.vamegaprojects.com.

You'll find warnings there about upcoming delays caused by all the roadwork oncentrated in that area around Tysons Corner and along the Beltway.

There's an overwhelming amount of work. I do several types of reports on the Dr. Gridlock blog about upcoming delays -- The Weekend and Beyond, The Week Ahead in Traffic and Transit and the nightly Headaches on the Horizon, but those are regional reports in which I name some projects I think are going to affect the most travelers.

– August 02, 2010 12:24 PM
Q.

Security time at National

I have a 7:10 am flight out of National this Thursday. I live one metro stop away. If I catch the first train in the morning, I should be fine for getting through security, right? I only have a carry-on, and I'll be checking in online the night before. Thanks!

A.
Robert Thomson :

Sure sounds like that ought to work with Metrorail on a weekday morning. One way for anybody to check a similar schedule is with Metro's Trip Planner, on the top left of Metro's Web site, at http://www.wmata.com.

– August 02, 2010 12:27 PM
Q.

Reverse Commute--Please help!!

Dr. Gridlock and chatters, I am being relocated and am facing the prospect of a commute from DC to Frederick, MD. I am frantically searching for a mass transit option from DC (pref Union Station or nearby) to the Monocacy area of Frederick in the AM and back in the PM. All of the trains and buses that I have found run in the opposite way. Are there any other options for me? Any help would be greatly appreciated.
A.
Robert Thomson :

That's a very tough one. I'm not aware of a solution involving Metro, MARC or the MTA commuter buses. Other travelers have anything to suggest?

– August 02, 2010 12:28 PM
Q.

Metro-2 questions: 1) # of totaled rail cars; 2) Epidemic of burnt out lights

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

1) Last year, at least 24 rail cars were involved in crashes, i.e, for six-car trains (Orange Line-West Falls Church yard and Red Line crash). What happened to the cars? Were any repaired? If so, how do we know that they are safe?

2) Burnt out lights are epidemic on the sides of escalators, ceilings, and trackbeds. Don't kiosk attendants check stations at opening or closing to report repairs that are needed? I have reported burnt out light bulbs w/some success at getting them fixed; however, last time, I was told basically that light bulb replacement are not a priority due to budget problems.

A.
Robert Thomson :

Metro hasn't lost very many cars over the years. They tend to get repaired and put back in service. The transit authority says they're safe, but we've learned over the past year about how ineffective safety oversight is with the nationals rail transit systems.

The most basic safety issue has to do with the state of the 100 Series cars, the oldest in the fleet. The National Transportation Safety Board said they're no good in a crash -- even when placed in the middle of the trains as Metro is now doing. But those cars aren't going anywhere anytime soon. Metro just put in the order for the first round of replacement cars, the 7000 Series.

On the lights, I've not heard any Metro official say that replacing lights -- a safety feature -- is no longer a priority. Metro has maintained that safety is not a money issue.

– August 02, 2010 12:37 PM
Q.

MARC-Metro Transit Link

Will it ever become possible to post the Metro portion of the ticket to a Smart card? Today my paper MARC/Metro card worked when I entered at Rockville but not when I left at Dupont. This is a regular occurence for MARC/Metro Transit Link.
A.
Robert Thomson :

The goal of our regional transit agencies remains to have one electronic fare card for travel across the entire DC region. The timetable keeps receding.

– August 02, 2010 12:39 PM
Q.

Traffic lights around Lincoln Memorial

Why can't they fix the traffic signals around the Lincoln Memorial during the morning rush? The red lights used to stop momentarily and then turn green right away so that traffic could go quickly. Now, the lights turn at the same pace as during the afternoons when tourists are around. This is a ridiculous waste of time and gas. Can't the traffic signals be changed back to their faster pace?
A.
Robert Thomson :

Drivers often complain about the two lights in the Lincoln Memorial Circle, the ones at 23rd Street and at Bacon Drive. I recently asked the District Department of Transportation about them, in response to another complaint, and I believe the department has been checking on them, but so far believes they are timed correctly.

I understand the concern: The lights are very close together, just a few car lengths separate them. Traffic can get backed up across the Memorial Bridge in the morning.

– August 02, 2010 12:43 PM
Q.

Arlington, VA

Dr. Gridlock - When will NPS complete the rehab of Ohio Drive near the Lincoln Memorial? It has been 8 weeks and I'm tired of suffering through the traffic.
A.
Robert Thomson :

The National Park Service/Federal Highway Administration reconstruction of Ohio Drive got started in April and is scheduled continue through October. It wasn't till the current phase got started in June that I really started to hear complaints from drivers, but they've been very frequent ever since.

The current phase is a bit behind schedule, because of an unexpected problem with the road surface, the park service says. So this phase now is scheduled to last till the middle of this month. But that won't be the end of drivers' difficulties. They will continue into the fall.

– August 02, 2010 12:46 PM
Q.

Arlington, VA

I am certain that Metro has a lot of excuses but yesterday at one I wandered into the Rosslyn Metro and discovered that neither Orange nor Blue Line trains were due for sixteen minutes. I went down to the lower platform and an Orange, but no Blue, was listed as coming in eighteen minutes. At a transfer station, trains should alternate so people switching from O to B or vise versa don't have to wait an incredible amount of time to be on their way.
A.
Robert Thomson :

Metro was doing rehab work on both the Blue and Orange lines this weekend. On Saturday and Sunday, the Blue Line trains were scheduled to run every half hour, though extra trains were added between Franconia-Springfield and King Street. (Which wouldn't have helped a rider at Rosslyn.)

There's always something like this on weekends. Look at the Dr. Gridlock blog on Friday morning for "The Weekend and Beyond." I give a rundown of all the weekend track work and the resulting delays.

– August 02, 2010 12:51 PM
Q.

Monthly Passes & Smarttrip

As metro fares become increasingly complex, why does Metro make it so hard for us to get either the short trip pass, or the monthly pass? Why force us to have it as a paper ticket? If Metro was really serious about reducing paper farecards, why not just let us automatically bill a weekly/monthly pass to our smarttrip card?
A.
Robert Thomson :

Wouldn't that be great? That's in the works, but I don't recall hearing an implementation date recently.

– August 02, 2010 12:52 PM
Q.

Message Boards

Why does Maryland have to indicate travel times on their overhead message boards on I95 when there are no incidents? They generally cause backups as drivers slow down to read the messages. Maybe Maryland should include a reading skill test as part of their drivers test.
A.
Robert Thomson :

Message boards always create a concern about traffic getting backed up, just because the drivers want to read the messages. Traffic officials in Maryland and elsewhere are aware of that.

I know they don't like to have too many different types of messages, because of this concern. But I find the time travel messages in Maryland very helpful. For example, if the message is telling me that I can go 12 miles in 15 minutes, I know the traffic ahead is pretty good and I won't need to look for an alternative route.

– August 02, 2010 12:56 PM
Q.

Metrorail "peak of the peak" fare

Why isn't the peak of the peak fare being fully implemented today? What is the techincal issue that Metro is dealing with? Also - how come bus riders are not charged a peak fare? During peak hours, many bus routes have increased service (shorter headways between buses) just like Metrorail. An extra quarter for frequent rush hour service wouldn't have killed anybody.
A.
Robert Thomson :

Metrobus fares went up about 25 percent in June. I don't recall any serious consideration of applying the peak of the peak surcharge to bus riders.

The peak of the peak fare, a new style of fare for Metrorail, has become even more complicated than we thought it would be when the idea was first discussed over the winter.

Programming the fare gates to make the peak of the peak calculations for paper Farecards has emerged as a problem. That's why Metro plans to implement the p.m. peak of the peak this week but is delaying the a.m. peak surcharge till later this month. It was just too much for the little fare gate brains to handle.

Today, things got a little weirder. Metro announced that it wouldn't start either of its two new surcharges till Tuesday. I'm refering to the p.m. peak of the peak surcharge of 20 cents and the paper Farecard surcharge of 25 cents. Metro said riders were confused about the fare signs in the stations.

I'm also wondering about the reports I've been hearing from you that it's taking slightly longer to get through the fare gates when using SmarTrip cards. It's not a huge problem, but it's a curious delay, and I wonder if it might have something to do with the reprogramming.

– August 02, 2010 1:06 PM
Q.

Chinatown --no turns signal ignored

I ride the yellow line to Chinatown and walk to work. Almost every time I am at the intersection with no turns someone is turning. This morning three vehicles turned including a verizon truck. OK I am at that intersection for two or three minutes so calculate out how many drivers are ignoring the signs. Something needs to be done.
A.
Robert Thomson :

We're talking here about the intersection of  H and 7th streets NW, near the Chinatown arch. The District is experimenting with a style of pedestrian crossing known as a Barnes Dance that includes a light cycle allowing walkers to cross in every direction, including diagonally. At some points in the day, there are more pedestrians there than vehicles, so it was a good spot for a test.

Success depends on cars not turning right or left at this intersection. It shouldn't be a problem for drivers, because there are so many nearby intersections where turns are allowed, but plenty of drivers are turning anyway.

I staked it out from 11:10 a.m. to 12:10 p.m. recently. By my count, 18 cars made turns. Most were right turns. Many were done without signaling.

However, there were DC police officers are the corners to redirect many more drivers who would have attempted turns.

– August 02, 2010 1:11 PM
Q.

I-95 South

I am driving south on I-95 on Wednesday around noon. Is there construction in the area I should be aware of? Is there a website I can go to and check it out before I head south? I have a long drive, and the portion btwn here and Richmond is ALWAYS the worst! Thanks
A.
Robert Thomson :

Yes, there is construction along that route. Earlier I mentioned the Megaprojects Web site, at www.vamegaprojects.com. Also, the Virginia 511 Web site and phone system and Twitter page offer lots of good information about road work and traffic delays.

 

– August 02, 2010 1:13 PM
Q.

Metrorail Air Conditioning

You recently printed a Q&A pointing out how several days in a row of very hot weather in July were responsible for rampant non-functioning air conditioning in Metrorail cars. I don't see how this explains the situation.

We've had long periods of very hot, humid weather in the past and never such problems with Metrorail air conditioning. What is the real reason? is it a management failing? Is it lack of maintenance? What gives?

A.
Robert Thomson :

There is no comparable summer. We have never had a summer like this. We have never had a June and July this hot. Metro says it sees a correlation between the daily temperature and the number of rail car air conditioning units knocked out of service. It attributes this to the extra stress placed on the units in high heat.

Does that mean it's okay to have so many air conditioners failing? Of course not. We should have air conditioners designed to work when it gets really hot out. Isn't that the point?

– August 02, 2010 1:17 PM
Q.

Slime on the Metro

I emailed you last week with photos of the disgusting condition of the padded handrails on the backs of the seats of older Metro cars. The padding starts to degrade over time and gets sticky. However, last week when I had to stand all the way from Judiciary Square to Twinbrook (during the delay caused by the downed power line), I stuck my hand in something decidedly slimy on one of the hand rails. I'm fairly certain it was caused by the decomposing of the padding and it left a brown liquid on my hands. Needless to say, when I finally got a seat I got out the purell and disinfected my hands. Metro needs to do something about these hand rails - they leave sticky hands at best and lord knows what at worst!
A.
Robert Thomson :

Among the possibilities that come to mind, I'm kind of hoping it was deteriorating padding.

Metro is designing the next series of rail cars now. I think the planners have learned a bit about what not to do if they expect the new cars to be in service for three decades or more. The interior design has to change.

– August 02, 2010 1:21 PM
Q.

Streetcars and Bicyclists

I am concerned that streetcar tracks will pose a serious safety hazard to bicyclists, whose wheels will get caught in the tracks, causing falls and injuries. What is DDOT doing to ensure this does not happen?
A.
Robert Thomson :

DDOT is aware of this concern among cyclists and has been considering some design options that would prevent wheels from getting caught in the ruts.

– August 02, 2010 1:22 PM
Q.

D.C. to Frederick commuter

Has he or she checked with the company about private van pools?

A.
Robert Thomson :

Thanks, this refers to our earlier question about the reverse commute out to Frederick. One potential source of carpool and vanpool information: www.commuterconnections.com.

 

– August 02, 2010 1:23 PM
Q.

DCA and Metro

Metro's first train is around 5:10AM. You'll have PLENTY of time to get through security, even if you get there around 6:20AM.
A.
Robert Thomson :

Yep, that one stop on Metrorail to Reagan National really should work.

– August 02, 2010 1:24 PM
Q.

Wheaton Metro

The Post says parking didn't increase, but I swear the cost to park at Wheaton's garage went to $4.50 today. Am I going crazy?
A.
Robert Thomson :

Should still be $4 all day at Wheaton. The Metro board did not approve an increase in the cost of daily parking.

– August 02, 2010 1:26 PM
Q.

Rockville, Md.

Light timing --  I live and drive in Montgomery County and my experience is that the lights are timed longer for north-south as compared to east-west. The fact that there is a high percentage of drivers who work and drive going east and west doesn't seem to get much attention. I think the traffic mindset is still that workers go into D.C.; those workers have better Metro service but that doesn't seem to matter.

A.
Robert Thomson :

There's a huge volume of traffic coming from east to west in the Maryland suburbs each morning. Maryland and Montgomery County officials have long been using that as a justification for building the Intercounty Connector and the Purple Line light rail.

 

– August 02, 2010 1:28 PM
Q.

Fares

With the new fare increases, how long will it be before we see service improvements (e.g, better maintenance of elevators, less out of service trains)? Also when will Metro go back to automatic controls, if ever? It would help improve service.
A.
Robert Thomson :

Metro never ever promised there would be any service improvements related to the fare increases. It was supposed to be all about preventing service cuts, though one of my letter writers in the Sunday Dr. Gridlock column said he thinks there have been hidden service cuts each time the fares went up.

– August 02, 2010 1:29 PM
Q.

Foggy Bottom

Have you heard anything about how long the turnstiles at the Foggy Bottom station are supposed to be out of service? For the past two weeks, they've only had one or two gates working, and it causes quite the backup of people trying to get in and out of the station during rush hours.
A.
Robert Thomson :

No, I haven't heard. I know that Ann Scott Tyson, The Post's Metro transit reporter, was on her way over to check out the situation at Foggy Bottom.

– August 02, 2010 1:31 PM
Q.

Dulles Toll to Beltway

I was returning from Wolf Trap on Saturday and can confirm that the signs for the ramps from Dulles Toll Eastbound to the Beltway are confusing. Lanes to both directions of the Beltway split to the right first, then about 200 yards later, the ramps to Northbound (single lane, left side) and Southbound split (two lanes, right side).

There was a sign just past the split between the main lanes and the ramps that indicated Beltway North and had an arrow pointed at a 45 degree angle to the left. I at first thought it meant I should stay left at the first split, but was able to see far enough up the ramp to realize it applied to the second split. Since the two splits are so close, I think VDOT would do better with overhead signs or (if that's not feasible), replace that confusing sign with one that indicates the 3-way split (through, Beltway N, Beltway S) on a single sign.

A.
Robert Thomson :

Thanks for that follow up on our earlier exchange. I have to go take a look at this.

– August 02, 2010 1:36 PM
Q.

Ride On advertising

I have noticed on the Montgomery County Ride-On Buses that they generally have public service advertising with one exception, ads for a company that wants to buy gold. How did that company get to be the exception or is that a mistake?

A.
Robert Thomson :

I have a feeling that Ride On, like Metro, would love to have more advertising. It's a very bad market right now for business advertising on transit.

– August 02, 2010 1:39 PM
Q.

Speed Bumps

How can we get rid of the speed bumps on Flower Ave.? They don't really help and it feels like traffic has just increased since they put them in. It's hard to turn onto Flower because of all the traffic.
A.
Robert Thomson :

I walked across Flower Ave. on Sunday afternoon and didn't notice drivers having the slightest difficulty with the speed bumps. There was no noticeable decline in their speed, either because of the speed bumps or because of my presence in the crosswalk.

– August 02, 2010 1:41 PM
Q.

Fare calculator

Hi, I tried to go to your fare calculator using the URL listed in the print Washington Post. It didn't work. I came online, and found that the URL is case sensitive. The correct URL is http://wapo.st/bqnmMD. Just in case anyone else had the same problem. I didn't realize URLs were case sensitive, and apparently neither did your copy editor.

A.
Robert Thomson :

Thanks for pointing out the issue, and I see that your version works.

– August 02, 2010 1:42 PM
Q.

Biking question

I just wonder why bikers are permitted to ride on/in the road when they are unable to do the speed limit? I don't mind sharing the road, but it seems it should be within reason how much a slow biker will slow down traffic by boxing drivers in, way under the speed limit.
A.
Robert Thomson :

There are some exceptions, but generally bicyclists have the same right as motorists to local traffic lanes. Cyclists sometimes advise each other to "take the lane" because of the danger of being ignored by drivers if they stay off to the side of the lane. I don't know of any local government that considers speed an issue, except on highways.

– August 02, 2010 1:46 PM
Q.

I95 HOV Lanes

Do you know if there is any plan in the works to extend the HOV lanes to Fredericksburg or beyond? If not, do you know the reason why they have never been extended beyond Dumfries?
A.
Robert Thomson :

The only reason I know of is construction cost. The only plan on the table -- and it's on hold -- is to build High Occupancy/Toll lanes down to the Fredericksburg area.

– August 02, 2010 1:47 PM
Q.

Dedicated funding for Metro

Dr. Gridlock, Just a purely hypothetical question for you. I'm presently 32 years old. Do you think I'll see Metro receive dedicated funding in my lifetime, or am I being too cynical?
A.
Robert Thomson :

Not so hypothetical. Many people thought that the Tom Davis legislation of a few years ago brought us dedicated funding for Metro. Under Davis's bill, the federal government would supply $1.5 billion a year to Metro, to be matched by contributions from Maryland, Virginia and DC.

That's not dedicated funding. Dedicated funding means Metro absolutely postively can count on getting that money year after year to make improvements in the transit system.

Our current version relies on continuing congressional appropriations and on the vagaries of local politics and budgets.

– August 02, 2010 1:51 PM
Q.

New Fares

Are the new fares (peak of the peak, etc..) clearly denoted on the system maps in each of the stations so riders know how much money they need to have on their farecards? The old maps were already pretty complicated to read, did they find a better way of displaying the pricing information when creating new system maps with the new fares?
A.
Robert Thomson :

I believe that rider confusion over the signs was the reason that Metro has delayed implementation of the p.m. peak of the peak and the paper Farecard surcharges till Tuesday.

I've spent a lot of time writing about the peak of the peak surcharge, because it's a brand new type of fare. But the sleeper surcharge is the extra 25 cents that Metrorail riders will pay if they use paper Farecards. At one point, this was being billed as a SmarTrip discount. But the cost of a ride using SmarTrip isn't changing. It's the charge for using the paper card that's going up.

– August 02, 2010 1:54 PM
Q.

Solid White Lines

It is my understanding that vehicles are not to change lanes where solid white lines are present, and are required to wait for a dotted white line to make necessary lane changes. If this is indeed the law, there are now very long streches of the Beltway that have solid white lines dividing the lanes. In some cases, these solid white lines stretch for over a mile, and if it is truly prohibited to pass across a solid white line, thousands of cars are breaking the law.

One specific location is the I-66/I-495 North interchange where the lines remain solid white from I-66 all the way to just before Route 7. If the lane markings are followed, anyone coming onto the beltway at I-66 (from the left) would have about 100 yards to cross 4 lanes of traffic with white dotted lines.

So, my question is, should the solid white lines be followed as the law describes (no passing/changing lanes), or should vehicles just pass when they need to assuming that the solid white lines were cheaper to put down than dotted lines?

A.
Robert Thomson :

Drivers aren't supposed to cross a solid white line except in an emergency. But it happens all the time at highway ramps. And it's very noticeable right now along the western side of the Beltway in Virginia, in the HOT lanes construction zone. There are solid white lines at the points where the lanes shift.

– August 02, 2010 1:57 PM
Q.

DC to Fredrick

Sorry, I have looked into it in the past and there is no decent mass transit to Fredrick in the AM. The upside is traffic is usually light.
A.
Robert Thomson :

Thanks for this follow up not on the reverse commute issue.

– August 02, 2010 1:58 PM
Q.

Alternate Routes

Would you agree that the biggest problem with driving in this region is a lack of effective alternate routes. Sure, if I'm traveling between DC and Baltimore, I have 4 "big roads I can use (95, 1, 295, and 29). However, if I'm traveling between DC and Richmond, I have just 3 (301, 1 and 95). Other parts of the region, it's "beltway or bust," while even other parts of the area that house hundreds of thousands of people do not even have an interstate highway within 10 miles (southern Maryland and Warrenton/Culpepper). How did it come to be that our region has such a distinct lack of highways when compared with other comperably populated regions?
A.
Robert Thomson :

Highway projects affect a lot of people a little bit, and they affect a few people a great deal. The latter are the people who live in the path of the proposed road. They can be very effective in blocking projects. The more populous the DC region got, the more people opposed major road projects.

– August 02, 2010 2:00 PM
Q.

delay with SmarTrip

Yes! That's been going on for over a week now. I thought maybe my card was starting to wear out
A.
Robert Thomson :

Exactly what I thought about my own SmarTrip card. Then I started getting messages from riders who were experiencing the same thing.

 

– August 02, 2010 2:01 PM
Q.

Arlington, VA

I second the fare gates taking longer to get through since they made the change. It used to be I could tap and go while now it takes a second or two for my card to register.
A.
Robert Thomson :

The Grid  Spouse gave me a hard time this morning when I mentioned my curiosity about this delay at the fare gates. Well, she said to me, you important Washingtonians can't afford that kind of delay. Those seconds are really going to add up.

But I still wonder: We've had discussions here about the smooth flow of rush hour riders through the fare gates. I'm thinking this might actually make a difference if it persists.

– August 02, 2010 2:04 PM
Q.

Fare gate delays

I've walked into several fare gates in the past week. There's definitely a smartrip delay -- I've never had that happen in my two years of Metro'ing.
A.
Robert Thomson :

I started to experience the fare gate delay a couple of weeks ago and have been wondering if it's related to the reprogramming of the gates to handle the peak of the peak transactions. (No word yet from Metro on that theory.)

– August 02, 2010 2:05 PM
Q.

Peak of the peak

Why should Metro charge peak of the peak fares to those who are reverse commuting? That won't help reduce overcrowding. They should pay a lower fare for reverse use of the system rather than have empty trains head back into town.
A.
Robert Thomson :

I think there are all kinds of ways we can raise issues about the peak of the peak fare. But during the fare increase hearings in the spring, I heard very few riders making any of these points. So we now have the peak of the peak surcharge.

– August 02, 2010 2:07 PM
Q.

Long Drives

We often go to various destinations in the Carolinas, because that's where my husband's family all live. Routinely, we make great time coming home even north of Richmond, but at Fredericksburg everything falls completely apart and it takes us over two hours to complete that last leg. We've tried I-95, we've tried Route 1, and we've tried every alternative our GPS can give us. Are there any routes for the home stretch (Fredericksburg to DC) that won't take longer than crossing all of North Carolina does? (This is worst on Sundays but we've noticed it on mid-week returns as well.)
A.
Robert Thomson :

There's just too much traffic on that route, especially in the summer, and there are no undiscovered short cuts. The I-95 widening project will help a bit, but the traffic still will be heavy.

– August 02, 2010 2:10 PM
Q.

66 projects

Re the earlier questions about 66 construction projects. we live near Front royal and used to come to DC for lots of concerts and sporting events but have just stopped because of the trafic. No more Wolf trap, etc.; it's just too much agony.
A.
Robert Thomson :

The HOT lanes and Metrorail construction projects are going to affect traffic into 2013.

– August 02, 2010 2:12 PM
Q.

Lincoln circle lights

One of the major reasons for the red lights are joggers and bikers. Everyone getting their early run/bike out of the way. Seems once someone touches the call button they get the walk sign and we get a red light. It should not be on a "call" basis in the a.m., but rather just a good normal wait for a walk/red sign.
A.
Robert Thomson :

That area is such a common tension point between drivers, walkers and cyclists. I've talked with District and National Parks Service officials about it over the years. I remember when getting the call buttons was considered a breakthrough because more cars were getting through and stopping only when someone actually wanted to cross.

I feel sure a concern with eliminating the call buttons would be that pedestrians and cyclists would get impatient and walk or ride out into the roadway, which isn't that wide. This would be dangerous for all concerned, plus, it would gum up traffic flow even more.

– August 02, 2010 2:16 PM
Q.

SmarTrip delays

Hey Doc, I'm glad to hear that I'm not the only one who's been experiencing longer than average delays in my SmarTrip registering. I got mine in summer 2004, and I just figured I was due for a new card. In the last two weeks, I have run into the faregates twice (which, for a man of average height, can be a...um...painful experience), a phenomenon which has only happened a few times before.
A.
Robert Thomson :

One of the things that interests me about this is just how sensitive we frequent riders are to a slight change in the gate timing. We've got this rhythm down to the point where any variation is noticeable.

– August 02, 2010 2:18 PM
Q.

Robert Thomson :

Gang, I'm going to have to break away now. Thanks as always for a most enjoyable and informative conversation. Till next week, stay safe.

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