Mar 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.

Hello, travelers. Today we have a mix of traffic and transit issues from across the D.C. region, plus some questions and comments about finding our online discussions and the Dr. Gridlock blog in the new format The Post launched today.

Hi Dr. G. This is probably more of a question for your web producer but where is your blog on the new website? I can't find it. I can't even find a list of blogs anymore. Help!

I also was having some trouble finding my way around our site this morning. Thought about reaching for my GPS. But our producer offers the following guide.

There are a few different ways to navigate to the Dr. Gridlock blog:

1. The direct link has thankfully remained the same in the redesign:

2. From the homepage, there is a link to the day's "Live Discussions" on the right-most column, about half-way down the page. This will list featured chats as well as link to a full listing for the day.

3. To see a listing of all our local  blogs/columns, scroll over the "Local" tab in the navigation bar at the top of the page, and click on "Blogs and Columns" in the drop-down menu. Dr. Gridlock is the third one down on the left side. (You can find the Washington Post's full blog directory here.

4. Alternatively, you can find the latest Dr. Gridlock posts on our new Traffic and Commuting page. You can navigate to that page by scrolling over the "Local" tab in the navigation bar at the top of the page, and clicking on "Traffic and Commuting"  in the drop-down menu.

I hope this helps!

Hi, why do the trains stop in between stations on the weekends? Yesterday morning I waited 20 minutes for a Red Line train at Takoma on my way downtown and the train stopped for about 30 seconds or so between RI ave and Union Station. Why?

I often notice that late-night Red Line trains will come to a complete stop and wait for a while between Ft. Totten and Takoma too. It can't be a schedule adjustment b/c trains aren't frequent.

PS. Sort of like the new WaPost format, but HATE that the discussion list is nowhere to be found. Didn't we go through this once before and a bunch of folks wrote in that they wanted to see the discussion list on the front page? C'mon!

I think you're right that this is unlikely to be the schedule adjustment more typical of rush hours, when trains get bunched up and have to be separated. (So the following train stops for a while.)

It more likely involves workers on the tracks in those zones and single-tracking through work zones. There's a lot of work on the Red Line, which at the moment, is the focus of Metrorail rehabilitation.

Speaking of rehab, our producer provides the following information, which should help you navigate our redesigned Web site:

Here is the full discussion list and links to Washington Post chats, user photos, polls, etc.

What did you think of the Post's editorial in support of Metro bag searches?

Travelers can follow the link to read The Post's editorial. Here's what I think about the bag inspections:

In December, the transit authority announced that it would treat its riders as terrorist suspects, picking some of them at random and requiring them to prove their innocence before boarding trains.

In announcing this change in approach, the transit authority said it was not being done in response to any specific threat to our trains.

No Metro official I've talked to, including the general manager and police chief, has described the rider examinations as "necessary." Rather, they say it's "another tool in the toolbelt" of security.

Providing security is crucial. This particular tactic is not. It's insulting and unreasonable.

Husband & I live in Olney and were hoping the ICC would get trucks off our local roads, particularly Muncaster Mill Road & Bowie Mill Road. But I heard that the ridership is way down since the (exorbitant!) tolls began. Why must they be so high when they're defeating the purpose of reducing the traffic on local roads? BTW I enjoyed your "who got there first" regarding the ICC yesterday! But EVERYBODY knows that Route 97 is Georgia Avenue!

Apparently not everybody! I'll bet my colleague Mark Berman is not the only one who would benefit from having that exit marked as "Georgia Avenue."

About the ICC generally, I think there's no way to tell about it's longterm impact until the whole thing is open in about a year. That will give drivers more distance to travel on an uncongested highway and more options about where to enter and exit.

I've driven the ICC lots of times now, and written about it in blog postings and columns and Mark and I did the "Which Way?", but I think all that amounts to traffic reports -- what's going on right now. The longterm impact is still to be determined.

I do agree that's a high toll: $1.45 at rush hour to go about six miles. My suspicion is that people will resist it, but then try it once, like it, swear they can "quit at any time," and start using it when they want to give themselves a break.

Is it legal for DC residents with Residential Parking Stickers to park less than 25 feet of the stop sign at the end of a street after hours and on weekends in their own neighborhoods? I remember an article about that about ten years ago, and how most parking enforcement people don't know about this exception. Can you point to the part of the law that allows this?

I cannot. If anybody else has discovered this, please let me know. District traffic officials have always told me that when in doubt, drivers should obey the street signs,which do not mention any exemption for people with parking stickers.

Heading to BWI for a 9 p.m. flight this Friday; figure to leave Germantown around 6. Is it worth it to take the new section of the ICC and then continue on 108 to get to 95 at that time of day? We're also considering heading north and hopping on 70 to get over to Baltimore, just to avoid 495...

One thing about the first segment of the ICC is that it doesn't show up yet on your online map programs. So it's difficult to calculate whether it's useful for any particular trip.

I do think that either of your proposals -- the ICC or I-70 -- is going to be better than dealing with the Beltway's inner loop at 6 p.m. Friday.

Is NextBus actually GPS enabled? I ask because there is one particular bus that is always listed on NextBus (online and on the phone) that has never once actually arrived at the bus stop. 6pm H1 bus going North at New Hampshire and M. It does not exist, but NextBus keeps saying it does. Is this a scam so metro can pretend they provide more service than they actually do?

Next Bus depends on GPS and on its computer calculations. There are flaws in both. The GPS might not be operating properly, or might be turned off.

The computer is supposed to be using the GPS information in combination with other information about routes, schedules, traffic. But sometimes it produces faulty results. What you see -- or don't see -- is what I've been referring to as a ghost bus. It's happened to lots of travelers. I was hoping it would have gone away by now, as the system got fine-tuned, but that isn't the case.

Read your blog post about yesterday's Commuter page, but I was unable to post a comment (I am reading this on my phone; don't know whether that makes a difference). I thought the point about the MD-97 signs was interesting. Federal standards require the the road number be more prominent than the name, but certainly on the Beltway the Georgia Av signs use both. Seems odd to me that they omitted the name this time. On the other hand, I'm not too sympathetic to your colleague since it's been amply publicized that Georgia Av is the only current exit from the ICC!!!

In my five years as Dr. Gridlock, I've been humbled to discover that not every traveler is memorizing what I write. But I notice that's also true of the publicity put out by the transportation agencies about their roads and transit systems.

The ICC opening was heavily publicized -- Maryland needs that toll money -- but I think there most likley are many drivers, like my colleague, who will discover something about the connector that confuses them. I think that's one of the values of these test drives: We find things we can pass along to the state as suggestions.

Maryland transportation officials say they're looking at the traffic patterns and the signs and so on, to see what needs to be modified.


Not me. I have been driving here since 1969.


With the proposed Blue Line split-I'm assuming that Metro has thought about the fact that Farragut West and Rosslyn are very busy Blue Line stations and now these people are going to be asked to change trains at L'Enfant and backtrack to get to those two stations, creating a new crush at L'Enfant and asking the folks who need to get to Rosslyn to have to wait for a Blue Line train keeping its tru route either on the Alexandria side or the dc side?

Why do Metro "solutions" to solve one line's problems come at the expense of another lines use?

The Blue Line split would take three Blue Line trains per hour at rush hour and send them across the Yellow Line bridge, rather than through the Rosslyn tunnel.

I think if my destination were Rosslyn or Foggy Bottom or Farragut West, I'd still wait for a Blue Line train heading that way and pass up the new train heading for L'Enfant Plaza. (This would start in summer 2012.)

Some Blue Line riders whose destinations are on the eastern side of downtown DC would benefit from this shift, but definitely not all. Many will be inconvenienced because they have to wait longer for trains heading to Rosslyn and the western side of downtown DC.

We are going to Rehobeth for the weekend, leaving Saturday morning. Any expected major road works along the way? thanks!

I think you should be fine. I don't see any big road work projects out to the Eastern Shore, and this late-winter traffic is still light heading that way and back.

Doc: Two related questions - On Saturday, while crossing the street with the walk signal, i noticed that the countdown jumped from 20 seconds remaining to 5. At first I thought I was mistaken but my friends noticed the same thing at another crossing while walking up 7th. Can this be right? Also, while crossing Pennsylvania Ave in front of the Newseum at 6th and Penn, I noticed a bunch of trees in huge planters. Nice trees but they completely blocked the pedestrian crossing signal. I guess security of the Newseum is more important than people crossing the street.

I've seen similarly flawed countdown signals. That's not supposed to happen. One option for anybody seeing this sort of thing is to report it to the mayor's call center, by dialing 311. There's also an online form at

Thanks for responding about the page for the discussions. However, I mis-typed. The chats are missing from the front page. Those are the fun things. I want to read what you are saying live in only one click.

I appreciate how many of you have found your way to the chat today. I also miss seeing the discussions listed on the home page. I know the bosses are asking readers for feedback on the new design.

I'm not sure that makes sense. There is a 5:30, 6:00, and 6:30pm bus on the printed schedule. The fact that a bus doesn't show up isn't a flaw in the GPS, it is - seemingly - intentionally misleading information being provided by Metro. This 6pm bus has been on the schedule for more than 2 years and I have never *one time* seen the actual bus. As far as I am concerned, Metro HAS reduced service on this route and has intentionally failed to update the information they provide riders.

I'm not saying that particular situation is a flaw in the GPS. I think it's a flaw in the computer. It doesn't make any sense to me that Metro would go to so much trouble just to annoy bus riders.

is logon to Dr Gridlock to see if there are delays on the Red Line. This morning after 10 minutes of searching I found the blog and it talked about the Metro and the Thanksgiving holiday. I have since found it but I have an older and slower computer. Did some measurements yesterday and loading Post pages involves many servers and does take a long time to load. Hate the new format!

Mark "Mark in the Morning" Berman, who does our a.m. traffic and transit reports, will appreciate hearing that you check for the Metro report.

I share some of your confusion about the new format. About loading time, I've also had difficulty using the blog's comments field when I want to respond to one of your comments there, and have heard from other readers who experience the same thing: Either it takes several minutes to post the comment or you get an error message. (This problem pre-dates the redesign.)


Hello, Last night at 1am, I was awoken by work being done at the White Flint metro station. Some of my neighbors mentioned it too. The noise included men shouting, trucks beeping, and loud machines working. At 1am. Does Metro not account for the fact that outside work means outside noise? Thank you.

Sorry that happened. Metro was working on the platform at White Flint this weekend. There's an intense level of repair work along the Red Line right now, and they won't be done anytime soon. Much of the work is concentrated into the overnight hours when the system is shut.

Now that the bike lanes have been around for a while and the novelty has worn off (and drivers are hopefully used to them), how well-traveled are they? Were they worth the fuss and cost? Are they well maintained? Potential cyclists (looking forward to warmer weather) are curious.

I haven't seen any recent stats about bike lane usage. Some -- like the 15th Street NW lanes in DC -- haven't been open all that long, and the planned network of bike lanes isn't complete. I do think the lanes will become more popular, especially with the Capital Bikeshare program getting more locations.

Too bad if you also use the ICC> Early on I wanted to see its progress and never saw anything on these map porgrams. Now we can drive on the ICC and still not see it on Google Maps or Bing. And I know they have lots of cash. They should buy some updated maps where it counts.

Yes, I know that Maryland has asked the mapping services to include the ICC, but am not sure how long that will take.

The best maps I've seen for informing drivers are on this page at the Maryland Transportation Authority Web site:

It doesn't really matter, but why do they insist on calling the new routing for blue line trains following the yellow line bridge in the morning rush hour blue line trains? It seems to me that what they're basically doing is running more yellow line trains, but the last two stations in Virginia will follow the blue line. Overall the route is much closer to the existing yellow line route than the existing blue line route. I think it would be a lot simpler and less confusing if metro just said they were running more yellow line trains in the morning, but some would be yellow line trains to Franconia.

My bet right now is that those shifted Blue Line trains will be renamed Yellow Line trains, for the reasons you suggested. But Metro hasn't made a decision on a variety of naming issues. For example, there will be some Orange Line trains that wind up at Largo, rather than New Carrollton, under this plan.

Metro's early research suggests that riders don't want more colors. But that means riders will have to look more closely at the destination signs.

This is a fairly major change for our transit system. Until this thing, it was difficult to wind up at the wrong destination if you got on the right color train.

do you know if there will be a re-working of metrobus, dash or other bus lines that service the outer alexandria metro stations? If i have to wait longer to get from rosslyn to braddack road, I am also going to miss my connecting bus going home that only comes every 20 minutes up til 7pm and then every hour and I can't be the only one affected by this. Have you heard anything about coordinating schedules?

I know that the bus service is one of the things Metro is looking at in conjunction with the Blue Line split. Metro has been studying the split for a few years, and it's pretty easy to see why it's taking so long. Just think of all the maps and platform signs that will need to be revised. It's expensive and disruptive, so the transit authority wants to make all the map and sign changes at once.

DDOT tweeted that 15 cars got tickets for parking in the bike lanes on 15th street (after former DDOT director Gabe Klein tattled on them). BUT there are signs allowing parking and working parking meters on 15th street where the bike lanes are! Why should anybody be penalized for obeying parking signs?

I think the scene on 15th Street with the new bike lanes is confusing. Seems like those parking meters should have been removed by now.

I beg to differ with the poster who labeled Farragut West as "busy" for the Blue line. Coming down the escalator at Farragut West in the evening rush hour, I can tell which train is which by how crowded it is. Blue line trains are consistently less crowded than Orange line trains. And if there's that much room on the Blue line that far west downtown, I don't see that the Blue line has a problem. As an Orange line rider, I frequently cannot get on the first Orange train to come into the station, even if there's not a posted delay. It's an obvious and frustrating disparity (especially for this rider trying to catch a bus that only comes every twenty-thirty minutes at her Metro stop).

Metro -- and its riders -- definitely have a problem on the western side of the Orange Line, morning and afternoon. This Blue Line split will create a temporary happy time for Orange Line riders, because it will add three OL trains per hour during the rush period through the Rosslyn tunnel. But then, the new Metrorail line will open, drawing in more riders from the west.

We tried out the ICC during the free period. Today we got a notice showing the time and of course no charge. No where in the push to have us sign up is a word about monthly maintenance fee. I found the mailing spooky & very deceptive. The ICC won't help us until it is completed and then I hope it will just take traffic off 28/198 to Laurel..

I'm curious about that notice. I drove the ICC many times during the two-week free ride, and haven't gotten any notices in the mail. (Anybody else? Write to me at

If you sign up for a Maryland E-ZPass, there's a fee for the transponder and a $1.50 a month maintenance fee. Other drivers have suggested signing up with Virginia or Pennsylvania or Delaware. But make sure you read the details of the online agreement for each transportation agency.

Hi Dr. G - Is the HOV lane on I-270 really that effective? Traffic on that roadway is so heavy. Wouldn't it help to get rid of it and just open up all the lanes to move the traffic? Thanks for your opinion.

The HOV lanes that were best are the ones that are separated from the rest of the higway, because that makes it more difficult for drivers to cheat.

But my own recent experience on I-270 in the mornings was that the lanes are well used, don't have many cheaters and move better than the regular travel lanes. If that's consistently true, then the lanes are doing what they were built to do.

Travelers, thanks for finding your way to the chat today. I need to break away now, but please stay safe this week and rejoin me next Monday.

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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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