Feb 14, 2011

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.

Welcome, travelers, to our weekly chat about traffic and transit concerns in the D.C. area.

Any update on the Rock Creek Parkway construction? Cathedral has been closed for 2.5 months, and Calvert entrance hasn't shown any visible progress for weeks.

I'll show you the latest information I have from the National Park Service and the Federal Highway Administration about this week's work:

Crews are installing new inlets and pipe runs along both sides of the Rock Creek Parkway.

These are the traffic restrictions through Friday.

Cathedral Avenue (south of Woodley Road): Southbound - Closed all the time.

Northbound - Open all the time.

Beach Drive: Both lanes open all the time.

Rock Creek Parkway: Temporary lane closures during non rush hours on both sides of the Parkway for the inlet and pipe work.

Shoreham Drive: From 6:30 a.m. to 9:15 a.m. only one lane will be open southbound. Northbound side is closed.

From 9:15 a.m. to 6:30 a.m. only one lane will be open northbound. Southbound side is closed.

Construction involves seven phases. Phase 1 and Phase 2 involve the reconstruction of the intersecting roads Shoreham Drive, Cathedral Avenue, and the Rock Creek Parkway. Phase 1 work began on November 15, 2010. When Phases 1 and 2 are complete, Shoreham Drive and Cathedral Avenue will be fully opened to traffic. This work is expected to be complete by mid-May. Any motorists travelling through this work area should expect to be delayed.

I take the Y bus down Georgia between Aspen Hill area and the Glenmont station. Morning is fine and the bus is usually on time. The afternoon is terrible. Friday waited almost 45 minutes for a bus that is supposed to run every 15 minutes. I know Georgia is very congested but can't something be done? Maybe split the route up?

Metro does so studies on various congested lines, and the result often is to break up the the routes into local buses and limited stop buses. I'm just not aware of any study in the works for that part of Georgia Avenue right now.

Given the way those things usually work, it probably would require interest and investment by the Montgomery County Department of Transportation.

Greetings! Any word on the Idylwood Bridge over 495? That Oak Street detour is congested and the light at Gallows is terribly timed. Looking forward to getting the bridge back. Last I heard this was supposed to be the last month.

There's been no announcement on that yet from the Virginia Department of Transportation people who are overseeing the HOT lanes construction project.

My guess is that it's going to be a bit later than originally planned, because of the bad weather in January and early February that slowed down all the big projects in Northern Virginia.

I'm happy that WMATA now has a webpage reporting escalator and elevator outages, but I wonder if it's really capturing them all. I have some doubts, but haven't been able to check them out. Do you know if anyone has tried to see if the WMATA reports are complete?

The information you see on the Metro escalator/elevator outage page are based on reports from the maintenance teams and from the station managers. 

There have been times when I've noticed a lag in reporting -- either reporting that an escalator is out, or that it's back. But I'm not sure there's any way we can know systemwide if the outage page is up to date.

I do sense that the transit staff is much more focused on attacking the escalator and elevator problems. It's starting at the top with General Manager Richard Sarles. But it's going to be an awfully long slog before riders sense a significant improvement.

Dr. G - In a few weeks I will be commuting twice a week from Silver Spring to Landover. I plan on taking the Beltway to either the BW Parkway or Route 50 towards DC, since both will let me off about equally close to my end destination. Which route is better during AM and PM rush hour?

Others may want to comment on this, but I'm thinking its a toss up. The parkway and Route 50 can be very congested during commuting times, both morning and afternoon. Just based on my own experience with those routes, I can't tell you that one's better in the moring and another's better in the afternoon. I've run into heavy commuter traffic on both.

It sounds like you're going to be doing this for a while, so of course I'd suggest trying both and seeing what works best at the particular times you're going to and coming from Landover. (It's nice to have two main routes to choose between each day. Checking online traffic maps and listening to the radio reports might tell you that one's better than another on a particular day.)

Hi Dr. Gr, after last year, a big deal was made about how many area trails--used by commuters--didn't get plowed. yet, this year the same thing happened. to it's credit, DDOT did manage to get the new cycletracks plowed within a day or two, but more-established and well-used trails like the CCT, Mt. Vernon Trail and Rock Creek Park became icy and treacherous. any thoughts on how we can make clearing these routes more of a priority for the agencies responsible?

Most of the energy at the highway departments seems to have gone into planning how to avoid repeating last winter's problems on the streets. VDOT and MDOT had a big focus on that. I'm sensing the trails were left out in the cold.

Really two comments here.

1) The first is that while normally many of us use this forum to submit gripes about local transportation, I thought I'd counterbalance that with something positive: I submitted a bunch of pothole reports to VDOT through their website, along with a lengthy comment about a lane on Loisdale Road in Springfield that wasn't clearly marked as to whether it was straight-or-right or right-only. They fixed the potholes within two days and sent me a long e-mail about the lane in question and said they'd restripe the road and put up a new sign. So that's pretty good service from VDOT!

2) But I would not be myself without castigating VDOT for bad signs. Do you have any information on why VDOT posts such inadequate signage for the I-95/395 HOV facility? The signs presume that people who might use the road know exactly where those lanes go. Heck, on the Fairfax County Parkway the signs say "TO RESTRICTED LANES" without ever even mentioning that those lanes are on I-95! Shouldn't a sign designed to help people not familiar with the road at least include an I-95 shield? (Federal signage guidelines call for the I-95 shield as well.)

There also ought to be a sign, prior to a driver entering the express lanes, that states where the exits are (this is more important for northbound traffic than southbound given that there are fewer exits going north). I know there is a hard-core HOV/slug community that wants to keep as many people out of those lanes as possible, and so confusing signs might benefit that constituency, but the purpose of road signs is to provide information to people who do not already know the area (recognizing that someone who knows the road doesn't need a sign).

VDOT does seem to be putting more emphasis on its very basic customer service. Many of you have probably heard the ads inviting people to request road fixes at any time by calling 800-367-7623.

2) I'm not familiar with those particular signs. Generally, I notice I hear more complaints about the road signs in Virginia than about those in the other local jurisdictions.  I certainly heard a lot of complaints about the signs at the Springfield interchange after the reconstruction. Also, I've heard from Beltway travelers who were frustrated about what they felt was a lack of helpful signage directing them to the THRU or LOCAL lanes as they drove the outer loop.

One thing I've seen elsewhere that I wish we had here: The road emblem painted onto the pavement.

I was driving in Europe lately, and I noticed that the traffic lights there go from solid green to flashing green before the yellow comes on. I found it was a useful way to see that a yellow light would be coming soon. Has there been any thought given to doing the same in the US? It seems like it works well in Europe, and maybe there would be less red light running if people knew a yellow light was coming up.

I know what you mean, but I haven't heard any serious discussion of this among our local traffic engineers or safety officials.

For my own part, I see how it would help responsible drivers, but worry that it might cause other drivers to speed up and make intersections even more dangerous than they are now. There's far too much of that now with yellow lights.

Hello Dr. Gridlock, What is your take on the ICC actually improving commutes between the Moco & PG and the toll rates establish thus far?

This is a very interesting question, but I think we're not really going to begin knowing the answer about the Intercounty Connector's impact for a long time -- even though the first segment is opening next week.

The first part is just the segment between Shady Grove and Georgia Avenue. It will take drivers a while to figure out if that's useful to them. And don't you think many who might ultimately benefit from using the the new highway when it's completed will just ignore it for now?

And will it create a bottlenck at Georgia Avenue, where all the eastbound traffic will have to exit when the first segment opens?

I'm going to write about the ICC for this Sunday's Commuter page in The Post, so if you get a chance, send me a note at drgridlock@washpost.com and tell me some things you'd like to know about the ICC. One thing I want to do is present some information in a Q&A format.


Which route is generally better after I-70 -- I-68 to U.S. 40 and PA-51 or the Pennsylvania Turnpike?

We've had several debates in my newspaper column and online about this, without coming to any real conclusion. I've heard from plenty of drivers who like one over the other, but don't really feel there's a majority on either side.

The problem with the Turnpike route is the Breezewood bottleneck. The most frequently stated problem with the 68/40/51 version is winter weather and the fact that it's not Interstate all the way to Pittsburgh.

They also have a combined red/yellow that comes on to wake people up BEFORE the light turns green, which is handy... Their yellow lights are also much shorter, which necessitates the flashing green as a warning. I seem to recall in some parts of Canada, a flashing green means you can make a left turn...

Yes, I've seen the wake-up version, too, but have the same concern: That some drivers would come to think of the flashing light as the equivalent of a green light and step on the gas. (You may be able to tell I don't like what I'm seeing at local intersections in terms of traffic safety.)

You can see one of the "To Restricted Lanes" signs if you take a look at the right-hand big green sign in this Google Street View image. You might have to pan up and to the right a bit depending on where the link puts the image: http://maps.google.com/?ie=UTF8&ll=38.757433,-77.215641&spn=0.000728,0.001742&t=h&z=20&layer=c&cbll=38.757622,-77.215715&panoid=KSd4_o2I_29X3Npa5JPW9Q&cbp=12,21.77,,0,-5.67.  

I know what the sign means, but I've lived here since 1974. There are similar signs on the other roads in that area (this one is on the northbound Fairfax County Parkway, the part that used to be Rolling Road) and I daresay they are all useless for non-local folks!

Thanks for this followup. And yes, I know the locals get used to these things -- whether we're talking about signs for roads or for transit use -- but it doesn't take too many confused non-locals to mess things up for everyone.

I took the orange line out to Vienna this morning and see there is a lot of construction back of the parking lot. What's happening? Thanks.

I don't know of any transit authority construction at Vienna. Might that be the private MetroWest development?

One thing for the person driving to Pittsburgh from Maryland: There is roadwork on the Pennsylvania Turnpike for 10 to 15 miles to the west of the New Stanton interchange. It didn't back things up at all on the way to or from the Winter Classic last month, but it's something to bear in mind. There are no shoulders through that area while the work is underway. Incidentally, here is a way around Breezewood: Coming north, take the exit marked "TO US-30" and follow the trailblazer signs bearing the US-30 sign. The road parallels I-70 up to a spot just west of Breezewood. You can then go right if you like, go through Breezewood, and get on the Turnpike having bypassed that first annoying light below the McDonald's. Or you can go left and follow US-30 west for 20 to 30 miles to Bedford and get on the Turnpike there. The US-30 bypass route is perhaps best on your way HOME because you can bypass the Breezewood toll plaza, which usually has but a single E-ZPass Only lane located all the way to the wrong side (the right, whereas most of the traffic comes from the left).

Thanks, especially for the extra detail about a Breezewood dodge.

Thanks for joining me once again, travelers. We won't have a chat next Monday, because it's the President's Day holiday, but please join me when we're back on Feb. 28.

Meantime, write to me at drgridlock@washpost.com and comment on the Dr. Gridlock blog here on the Web site. We'll have more discussions this week about the impact of the Intercounty Connector, since its our first major new road in decades.

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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