Dr. Gridlock

Jan 23, 2012

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. I hope everyone got to work all right today, despite the icing in some areas. Temperatures are warming for the rest of the week.

And it's a busy one for events: the March for Life today and the State of the Union on Tuesday night. The Metro board meets Thursday to decide what fare hike proposals to send out for public hearings next month.

I see some questions about that and other transit and traffic issues.

Hi. I just read the article about the most recent set of metro fare increases. I understand the system needs the money, but what about other ways to raise it? I travelled abroad this summer and noticed in one country, their train cars were plastered with advertisements. Literally not an inch of available ceiling or wall space. Tacky, yeah. But it isn't like the metro trains are pretty anyways and I'd rather have better service. Plus reading the ads gave you something to do and could inspire you to go somewhere that catches your interest. Surely this could raise some money... has this ever even been considered and if so, why not?

Metro's ad revenue is puny. It's also really dull, unless you're in the market for a next-generation fighter jet. Metro doesn't sell ads directly. It contracts with an ad-selling company.

The contract isn't very big, the transit authority says, because not that many companies are interested in advertising on Metro trains and buses. Transit staffers associate that with the weakness of the consumer economy. (That's why it seems like most of the ads we have are lobbyists targeting federal officials.)

The ad contract doesn't contribute much to total venue.

When driving around the Beltway inner loop the other evening, I noticed that vehicles were merging onto the left lane. I thought that this merge was closed several weeks ago and that there would now be a right lane merge. What gives?

That's the merge from the I-66 eastbound HOV lanes. That will go away, too. It will become a merge onto the HOT lanes later this year.

I'm really glad that drivers who use the right-side ramp to the inner loop now can merge onto the Beltway along the right side rather than the left. That's much safer, and it will set up drivers much better if they're heading for the Route 7 exit into Tysons.

But I do wonder what conditions will be like on I-66 eastbound before the Beltway once that left side ramp closes and some HOV drivers want to move right to use the general purpose lanes on the Beltway. Will that be a new source of congestion in an already congested area?

Seems the rock stablization project is in overtime. Any update regarding completion?

If you're finding any lanes closed because of the rock stabilization project on the GW in Rosslyn, that contradicts what I heard from the National Park Service, which says the stabilization program's lane closings have gone into winter hibernation and will restart in the spring.

Considering how annoyed I am on the rest of my commute (Gaithersburg to Columbia), the ICC is 16 miles of relaxation. Makes it well worth the 4 bucks for me. And it's saving near a gallon of gas a day just by not being in stop-and-go traffic using 28/198.

Your route sounds like an ideal one for using the Intercounty Connector. I've heard from very, very few people who use the whole route at rush hour. (Do you use it on the way home, too, for a total of $8 a day?)

And that's interesting about factoring the gas savings into the commuting cost.

Does it not make any sense for you to get off on Route 29 and take that north to Columbia, and safe a little change?

Does no one from OPM coordinate with Metro? I tried in vain to take Metro to work today. OPM announced very early last evening that the government would open at 11 AM. In a sane world Metro would know that and adjust their personnel accordingly. Instead, around 10 AM when I entered Ballston station trains were running 10-12 minutes apart. Each train that came into the station was already quite full. The packed platform at Ballston could not empty into the trains. This is pathetic and ridiculous. Why did Metro not add trains to the late morning rush hour?

They do coordinate. I've talked to both OPM and Metro about this. Metro did send out a notice saying it would expand rush hour service, and linked that to the OPM announcement about the delayed opening of federal offices.

Of course, that doesn't exlain why trains would be 10 to 12 minutes apart at Ballston at 10 a.m. I do know this: Orange Line riders often complain about big gaps between inbound trains on the west side of the line as the rush hour advances. The trains get thrown off schedule as they pass through downtown, unloading and loading big crowds. That makes for big gaps between the trains by the time they get out to Vienna or Falls Church and turn back.

A friend of mine who lives in the area thinks that rather than traffic coming from 395, many of the workers are coming from Maryland on the Beltway, getting off at Telegraph Road and using the neighborhood streets to get to Seminary Road.

Thanks for the interesting tip. I ran a letter in my Sunday from a commuter who goes southbound on 395 in the morning. The commuter said traffic didn't look any worse now than before the BRAC moves to Mark Center in Alexandria. So I invited readers to comment on that.

My thought was that the move hasn't been completed, and meanwhile, some steps have been taken to ease the congestion. Also, planners were particularly worried about 395 northbound around where it gets to the Seminary Road ramp, rather than the southbound 395 traffic.

Why do you think WMATA lied to Federal workers about an extended rush hour this morning when it obviously didn't happen?

Got a bunch of similar comments from riders. Tell me where you were waiting and at what time, and maybe we can figure out what happened.

DC has some of the worst bus bunching of any city i have every encountered. Anyone who takes the 16th street lines will be aware of this phenomenon - 6 buses come all at once and then no buses come for 20 or more minutes. This makes it very difficult to rely on the bus for commuting. Do you know if WMATA has ever examined this phenomenon or tried to address it (not likely i know, but just curious).

Yes, unfortunately, Metro did examine bus bunching on the 16th Street Line and the service you see now is the result of actions taken in part to correct that problem.

For example, Metro launched the S9 limited stop service during peak periods, and made changes in some of the other S routes to make service more regular.

We can no longer call them HOT Lanes... they are now Express Lanes... But you say the HOV lane from I-66 will merge on the the Express lanes. What about the non-HOV traffic from I-66 that is willing to pay tolls, will they have their own lanes to avoid having to use the HOV lanes on I-66 which they don't qualify to use?

I believe it will be set up so that drivers willing to pay the toll will enter the HOT lanes on that left-side ramp from eastbound 66.

I was inbound on the Orange Line this AM. I can't speak for earlier arrivals, but I got to WFC at 10:20. I waited to get onto a crowded train at 10:30. We picked up a bunch of people at EFC, and by the time we got to ballston, which was packed, people couldn't fit on already. V. Square - Rosslyn was the same, until people started to unload once we got downtown. The train made it to McPherson Square in 23 minutes, a bit over normal time, because of multiple attempts needed to clear the doors at many stations.

Thanks for that report. I'll post some others, too.

From unsuckdcmetro's blog it looks like this morning's problems were on all lines, not just the west side of the Orange line

I see a bunch of comments on unsuckdcmetro about 10 to 16 minutes between trains this morning, but it's a bit hard to tell which lines people are referring to.

I caught an Orange Line train this morning at West Falls Church at about 9:40. There was a 14 minute wait for the train after mine. That made me question the extended rush hour claim as well.

Another OL rider, but I've got a RL coming up.

I got to Glenmont just after 10:00am and found the trains running 12 minutes apart, so there was no extended rush hour service on my end this morning.

Thanks for your comment. Could be just a coincidence that most of the comments I've seen about this morning's service come from Orange Line riders.

A while ago, Metro announced that it would be closing the south entrance of Dupont Circle for major repairs. I'm curious: will they finish the work on the Q street escalator first? and also on the Q street side mezzanine escalators? I predict insane crowds if they really do shut down the south side. Especially if they don't wait until the escalators on the north side are fully functional. As it is, 1 escalator is almost always out on the Q St side.

This came up at the Metro board meeting last month, and my recollection -- which I'll double check -- is that all the Q St. escalators are supposed to be working before the south entrance is shut for the escalator replacement. I hope to be out there the day this starts to report on conditions.

(Some riders who work to the south of Dupont Circle may be better off exiting at Farragut North during the construction -- as long as Farragut North is accessible. It's been torn up for more than a year.)

Add my voice to the chorus on WMATA lying about the extended rush hour. I usually have the option between two rush-hour only bus routes-- the X1 and D3. Neither were running during the extended rush hour time frame this morning.

Thanks. Metro had said the bus service also would be extended because of the late opening.

Thanks for the chats! I'm surprised that there hasn't been more outcry about the reduced IRS threshold that the Federal government uses as the basis for the transit subsidy. Are you hearing anything about a resolution to this or should we just expect to pay more out-of-pocket for the long term?

I don't hear anything about congressional action on this. I know that Metro GM Richard Sarles is hopeful that Congress will at least put the transit benefit back to the level of the parking benefit. Sarles's proposed budget for the next fiscal year (July) doesn't take a benefit cutback into account.

Until Congress acts: Yes, if you get the benefit and spend more than $125 a month for transit, the extra money will come out of your pocket.

A while back you asked whether anyone liked tolls, and that got me thinking. I've decided that I do. I'd prefer to pay for roads with taxes, but so long as we think that govt is bad & that we can't afford to pay for the services we want, I'd rather pay a toll than not have the road. And there's one more benefit: tolls act as taxes on congestion if they increase along with traffic. So bring on the Lexus lanes!

Regular readers know that I think tolling is the way of the future in transportation -- for better or worse -- and for the reasons our commenter cites. It's a way to pay for new capacity and a way to manage congestion.

I've learned the hard way...even when the Feds delay opening, get your bus or train at your regular time. It reduces a lot of stress!

Metro spokesman Dan Stessel says he's checking for more details about this morning's service, but he says there was additional service out there.

It may not have been what you see during peak of the peak, but it was significantly better than the normal midday service, he says.

Stessel says the average wait time for an inbound train at Ballston between 9 and 11 a.m. was eight minutes. (He's not saying you waited eight minutes for your train. He's saying the average was eight minutes.)

These who take the Orange line at Ballston can take the 38B bus to Rosslyn or even to Farragut West. There is an empying out a bit at Rosslyn for people who transfer to the Blue Line and the trains are half-full if you get on at Farragut West.

Orange Line with a view.

Travelers, thanks for joining me again. I hope to get more about the morning Metro service to post on the Dr. Gridlock blog. Plus, I see some other topics about which I'll try to learn more and report back. Talk to you next week.

Stay safe out there.

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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