Dr. Gridlock

Jan 07, 2013

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

Welcome, travelers, to our first chat of 2013.

Do the various local counties have schedules for repaving/maintaining residential streets? Over the 12 years we have lived on our street, various companies (gas, electric, cable, telephone) have dug up portions of the street and patched the holes (sometimes well, more often not). Our street now looks like a crazy quilt.

Yes, most jurisdictions now have schedules for repaving. As an illustration, here's the one for neighborhood streets in Montgomery County for 2012:  http://bit.ly/UBrjRC (Don't see one yet for 2013.)

In the DC area, there are a lot of agencies responsible for paving programs, including VDOT, DDOT, MDOT, the counties and the muncipalities. It's tough to follow that. Then there are the little jobs done by the utilities.

I think the level of normal roadway maintenance has declined over the past decade or so. Would like to hear from others on that.


Traffic in the morning is worse than ever, seemingly since the freeway closures in late November and the opening of the "new" ramps to 11th St Bridge. Rte 295 backs up to Bolling AFB and S. Cap is similarly jammed. Are we looking forward to this continuing for the next 20 months?

Traffic this morning was very congested on I-295 North and on DC 295 South. The northbound congestion goes up to the 11th Street Bridge. The southbound congestion seems to dissipate around South Capitol Street. And I don't know why.

Most of the changes in that area during 2012 were positive ones. Some work zones were removed and some long-awaited highway links were completed. The construction continues at the 11th Street Bridge, but the biggest traffic disruption I know of was the closing of the westbound lanes on the Southeast Freeway just west of Barney Circle.

I don't see how that would account for the morning congestion, and would very much like to hear from drivers about this.

We have a flight out of Reagan at 7am on Monday 1/21/13. We're coming from Frederick, MD using a airport van transport. Do you foresee any problems getting to the airport?

Stay tuned on that. We haven't seen a final plan for road closings and security zones. Seems like van drivers would take the Beltway to the GW Parkway. It's the parkway I'm wondering about.

In 2009, many people wrote in to ask if they'd be able to reach Reagan National on Inauguration Day. That was a much bigger crowd than the planners anticipate this time, so the road restrictions may not be as severe.

Last time, DC was basically cut off from Virginia, except for transit.


You know what is really needed? For all the different groups that need to tear up the roads to talk to one another. When I lived downtown my street was torn up and repaved twice within a few months for different purposes.

Yes, I think many readers would confirm similar experiences. Seems like the public and private entities that can tear up streets all keep their own schedules.

Dear Dr. Gridlock, no matter what changes someone thought were needed, why did the Traffic Map not remain operative? Have them put that bad boy bad on the radar. They're messing with thousands of folks who depend on the timely info that it provides. Any tweaking should be avoided. Build another, separate apparatus for new apps. For us Old School folks, just put the dang Traffic map back just like it was. No need for not the first adjustment but putting it back like it was. 2013 and folks are still trying to fix what the hell ain't broke!

For those who haven't been following: For a long time, we had a live traffic map on our Traffic page. I guess some readers were happy with it -- and I've got another comment to publish saying so -- but we weren't so pleased with its usefulness.

I found it much easier to view traffic at TrafficLand.com or on a Google Map, with the "traffic" turned on.

Those of us on The Post's transportation team would very much like to hear your views on the usefulness of the map. That's specifically about the usefulness of our map, and what you might do to improve it. But also on the general idea: What live travel information do you find useful, and when?

When I talk to travelers, I often ask what information they check before leaving home or office. Most say they just go. If they're driving and encounter congestion, they turn the radio to a traffic report.

Also, it's difficult for those of us who specialize in print to figure out how we can be useful to people on the go. There's no way I want you trying to read my stuff while you're driving. I need to keep my readers alive.

Greetings Dr. Gridlock, pray tell if you would why the traffic map that was easily accessible via "local' and 'traffic' disappear? It worked marvelous, it worked 24/7, and myself and thousands of other Drivers are addicted to its real time traffic info. Need it like a junkie need a fix! No one asked for it to be offered in additional ways. It worked just fine as it was. Now, the dang map has disaapeared. So, someone decided to remove it entirely when it should have remained right the hell where it was. It won't broke, but someone chose to 'fix it"? Taxes going up, income going down, and a nut at the Post says "let's screw with the traffic map". Put the dang traffic map back.

This is the other note I see so far, but would like to hear others' views.

I'm not so sure that our traffic map riveted the region's travelers, or that the presentation -- with its road coverage and its camera icons -- was all that it could be.

So again: We'd like to hear your views on the specifics -- how useful was it, how could it be improved -- and the general idea of how our Web site can help you with local travel information.

After the scary recent stories about flagrant crimes on Metro (armed robbery aboard a train during rush hour?!), I'm prompted to ask you a question that's long been on my mind, as a daily rider: Why is the phone number for Metro police, which is occasionally broadcast over the PA system, not more memorable? Or why is there not a shorter way to dial it, such as the 311 number for DC city services? I'm not saying that would solve everyone's problems, clearly, but I feel like having a more easily remembered and/or dialed number might prompt more people to contact Metro police when they're urgently needed.

If you see a situation in the Metro system that requires urgent police attention, dial 911.

My colleague Mark Berman wrote a very helpful story on this topic: http://wapo.st/TD4Tvr

The question I get from readers isn't so much about which number to call, but rather when and how to call.

Crimes like armed robbery, or shootings, dreadful as they are, still happen very rarely on Metro. Riders are more likely to encounter unruly kids, or aggressive drunks, or panhandlers. Some aren't sure if the bad behavior rises to the level of contacting police. Others are worried about their safety, and don't want to be seen making a call from that car.

That last issue sometimes applies to using the rail car's intercom to contact the train operator. My advice has been to wait till the train reaches a station and move to another car, then make the call or use the intercom.

By the way, I've always been an advocate for expanding the size of the transit police force. I'd like to see much more of a presence on the trains and buses.

Will the 95/395 Express Lanes completely replace the current HOV lanes?

No. That was the original plan. But what's under construction now is known as the 95 Express Lanes project, and goes north only as far as Edsall Road, just north of the Beltway. When the project is done in 2014, you'll have HOT lanes south of there, and you will continue to have HOV lanes north of there.

The 95 HOT lanes will work like the ones that opened in November on the Beltway in Virginia. The I-395 HOV lanes will operate as they do now.

Has Metro announced plans for Inauguration weekend? Will they be staying open later the Sunday night before?

 Here's a posting by Mark Berman about Metro's plans: http://wapo.st/YTPXck

Here's what Mark said about Sunday service:

On Sunday, Jan. 20, Metro will run 7 a.m. to midnight (again, with off-peak fares in effect). Metrobus will also run a normal Saturday schedule, though some detours will impact routes around the Mall. 

The Judiciary Square station’s 5th Street entrance will close early on Sunday, Jan. 20. This is the entrance near the National Building Museum, and it will close sometime Sunday evening due to an event at the museum. The station will remain open and the other entrance will stay open.

For what it is worth; while I read the Post daily and enjoy your chats, when I want to check traffic I've always used Trafficland (for the cameras), Google Maps (for a quick check), or maybe WTOP's website if there seemed to be a specific incident. With any of those available (particularly Trafficland with the cameras overlaid onto the Google traffic data), I don't know what the fuss is about if the WaPo turned off it's traffic map.

Those are all good sources for traffic information. When there's a situation affecting many commuters, we usually post that on the Dr. Gridlock blog. For example, Mark Berman has a story posted about the morning incident in which a woman apparently stepped in front of an Orange Line train at Ballston.

Also, a variety of Posties will send out Twitter messages under the Dr. Gridlock banner to notify readers about current traffic and transit issues.

Here again, that's fine for people who can read safely -- from a desk, a bus, a train, a coffee shop -- but we neither expect nor want people looking at things we write while they're driving. I won't even talk on a cell phone while driving for fear of the distraction, and I certainly won't ask anyone else to take a chance on distracted driving.

When does the increased speed limit go into effect on the ICC? Will we see a reduction in enforcement since a more reasonable speed limit will reduce the number of likely violators?

The Maryland Transportation Authority is considering an increase in the Intercounty Connector speed limit from 55 to 60 mph, but has not yet announced a decision, based on its safety study.

If the speed limit increase is approved, I very much doubt that will decrease the number of people driving over the speed limit.


I had no problems getting to the airport using GW Parkway. I actually took off right after they showed Obama sitting down, and flew over the mall. Pretty cool!

During and after the inauguration, I did not hear any reports of people missing flights, but there was a lot of anxiety beforehand.

In your column in yesterday's edition, you listed several transportation projects underway or to start in 2013. One you didn't mention was the widening of I-66 Eastbound between Lee Highway and Glebe Road. The westbound lane addition is complete. Wasn't there to be an eastbound component of this project also?

I don't recall any planned widening eastbound inside the Beltway. The spot improvements program was for the westbound side. One is done, but I think the others are on hold pending the outcome of Virginia's I-66 intermodal study. (Plus, I'm not sure VDOT has the money for them right now.)

Using VRE for inauguration day in 2008 was one of my favorite parts of the day -- pleasant, easy (one seat per ticket, thus everyone had a seat), like a secret way into DC without all the heroic stress and long waits everyone else experienced. And VRE did well -- all seats were sold out, for fairly high prices. I have been looking forward to using VRE for the same purpose for four years. Now they are saying, though only in a weird indirect way through monthly user chats, there will be zero, repeat zero, VRE trains or service on inauguration day. I'm almost stunned. Is that what I pay my Virginia taxes for?

I'm not sure VRE is making the right decision on this, but as you say, there's no train service scheduled for Inauguration Day this time.

There are some differences. Last time, Inauguration Day was a work day for many people. This time, it falls on the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. Fewer people will be working,  though I think there still will be plenty coming to work.

Also, the crowd is likely to be smaller this time, and perhaps some of the 2009 restrictions on crossing the Potomac will be lifted this time.

In Maryland, there will be MARC service, but MARC riders will need reservations to ride on this limited schedule. Regular tickets will not be accepted. And the Maryland commuter buses will not be operating.

Put the map back. I always checked it on this website every night before I left for home. Some of us don't tweet, have data plans on phones (horrors!), and the radio traffic reports only cover a few roads. This was a simple visual tool that I could tell at a glance what's moving and what's not. It was easy, and it didn't crash my browser (unlike half the stuff on the website).

This is one of several responses that came in regarding our discussion of  The Post's traffic map. I'm going to look through the mail bag now and publish all of them.

If you read this chat when we're no longer live, and you still want to have a say on this, write to me at drgridlock@washpost.com.

Please have whoever has it to put the traffic map back on the site today. Right now would not be soon enough. It works fine, but someone removed it. Bad move. Put the traffic map back. Please.

I too noticed it missing recently. I check it virtually every day before I leave for home and sometimes when an employee seems inexplicably late. I found it to be useful for accident reporting but it all to often seemed wrong for current speed; i.e. often I would see speeds at the speed limit, only to find some congestion and speeds half the limit or even less.

I've talked to some techies on the general topic of live traffic information who warn that travelers should not be too reliant on those colors that indicate traffic speed. They may not always be accurate.

Still, I find the color codes on the roads to be more useful than the traffic cameras. If I see a red or black on a road, then I'll look at the camera view, which sometimes will show the lane blockage.

Also, we all know that traffic conditions can change drastically from the time we look at the online map to the time we actually arrive on the roadway.

I, too, have depended on the traffic map that the Post provided. it was a constant in our changing world that help me make my commute from calvert county in md to chantilly va. every day. it was very useful. also, even if you were going to put something better and newer in, you could have left the map up until then. i figure that you musta been paying for it and the contract ended. so when will we get the new and improved product?

As you note, we didn't produce the map and traffic information ourselves. That was a contract.

Can I put in a quick reminder to folks to please, please, please use your turn signals? I don't know how many times I see people turning and changing lanes without signalling. At best it causes confusion and inconvience (for example, when you are waiting for a car to pass before making a left turn, and then they make a right turn onto your street) and at worst it can cause an accident (changing lanes without signalling, etc.). All it takes is a fraction of a section and a flick of the finger, and is the polite and legal thing to do to make the roads safer and easier to drive on!

I totally agree on this. Seems like there has been a decline in use of signals. Using them is so helpful, and so simple. Why would drivers not use them?

As a frequent commuter on this route, I think the southbound congestion is due at least in part to the narrowing of the road to only 2 lanes on the ramp/overpass area just before East Capitol Street. Opens again to 3 lanes shortly after that and the pace picks up accordingly.

I'm getting a lot of responses to the question about what's going on with traffic on 295. So I'll go through the mail bag and publish a bunch of them now.

The earlier post was correct. Northbound 295, which was usually heavy, has been awful since late Fall. I'm not sure that the closure of the wesbound freeway at PA Ave has much to do with it. I was so looking forward to some of the new developments in that area, but those that should have resulted in better traffic flow have seemingly had a negative impact. Is there anyone (engineer or someone similar) who can take a look at this area and try to figure out what has happened? I don't think casting the blame on the freeway closure explains all of this mess.

I have asked the District Department of Transportation about this issue, but so far, we haven't figured it out.

Do you think it's possible that the ramp openings and the better connections for commuters that emerged in the second half of 2012 have actually drawn more traffic on the approaches to the 11th Street Bridge and that this is responsible for some of the congestion?

Three new problems resulting in the daily back ups: 1.Suitland Pkwy traffic entering from right need to go over two lanes to get ready for entrance for 11th st. bridge on the left. Distance for manuever is too short 2. Traffic on the left is usually a through lane, and drivers find out too late that they need to bear right to avoid the bridge exit. This is happening at the same time as see No. 1 above. 3. Traffic on the bridge also entering now from the right from the new on-ramp from 295 South. They need to merge left to get onto ramp to SW/SE Freeway. result is back up on t he bridge itself.

Can't that Suitland Parkway traffic stay over to the right and use the local span of the 11th Street Bridge to get across the Anacostia?

I've noticed a significant increase in traffic on DC 295 South in the morning as well. Normally the summer is a lighter traffic time (due to vacations and school being off), but as soon as the new bridge connecting 295 South to SE/SW Freeway opened this summer, the traffic has been horrendous. It's been stop-and-go past Route 50 most mornings. Not sure why, because it seems like the new bridge should have eased congestion - but it has definitely been much worse, adding at least 20 minutes to my commute every day.

Traffic on northbound I-295 in the morning is still bad from the Beltway to the 11th Street Bridge. I'd hoped that once the bridge got re-done that it would improve. Maybe I was mistaken in that thought. It actually seems worse to me that it was before the construction on the Wilson and 11th Street bridges started. Do you have any thoughts about this? Thanks.

Continuing my too-much-of-a-good-thing thought about the traffic improvements, another good thing that happened last year was the removal of the Beltway bottleneck at Telegraph Road, allowing commuters finally to take advantage of the widened Wilson Bridge.

Might this Beltway improvement also be drawing more commuters to I-295?

Does DC paln to expand its use of speed and red light cameras? I sure hope so.

Yes. A lot. The issues have been more about the size of the fines, the speed limits on the roadways involved and the exact locations of cameras.

I think I've written to them about it, but WMATA needs to have a number so that people can text problems they see. Email would work too, but at least once a quarter I'm in a situation that seems dangerous but I'm afraid to call. It seems like a no brainer to me.

I like the idea of the text option. I haven't heard of other law enforcement agencies offering that to the public. Anybody else?

Dr. G, do you have any info on street closures downtown for the inauguration yet? I'm thinking back to the past two times when the Secret Service set up a "secure perimeter" where you couldn't drive in nor out and even foot traffic was subject to annoying security procedures. I'm curious because I'm dreading the notion of a possible Capitals home game that weekend now that the lockout is over. I sure HOPE the NHL has the sense to start them on the road because of the inauguration, but......!

The size and location of the security periment are crucial bits of information for inauguration day travelers. We don't have that information yet, and are hoping for announcements this week.

By the way, I'm writing up some inauguration day travel tips to publish on this Sunday's Commuter page in The Post Metro section.

Those of you who experienced the 2009 event and learned something from that, please add your suggestions by sending a note to me at drgridlock@washpost.com.


No mas. I give up. There is now a Beltway to 11th st. bridge back up every single day in the morning rush hour. This used to be only a one or two times a week occurence, but now post- new entrance ramp, it is an everyday occurence. The new normal. Ugh!!

Notes like this make me thing I might be right in assigning part of the blame to extra traffic volume stemming from improvements on the Beltway and at the 11th Street Bridge, but I have no stats to back that up.

I use the traffic map all the time. I don't even know what these other options you're talking about are. Please, for the sake of those of us who are technologically incompetent at least, put it back!

Generally speaking, I'm also a big fan of live traffic maps, because they can convey a lot of information quickly, and you can go straight to the route that you're interested in, without having to sort through a lot of notes that may not be useful to you, which is what happens on Twitter.

Please keep writing to me about the map specifically and about the general issue of how we can provide useful information for getting around the D.C. area.

With that, I'd better sign off for today. Thanks for launching 2013 with a good discussion about local travel, and I especially appreciate all the responses to my questions about traffic maps/information and the congestion along 295.

Please stay safe out there -- don't read and drive at the same time -- and join me again next Monday.

In This Chat
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 his namesake blog, as well as in the Metro section of The Washington Post.
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