The Washington Post

Dr. Gridlock

Apr 09, 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. Thanks for sharing the start of a sunny week with me for. Of course, judging from the mailbag, not all of you are in a sunny mood. Let's take a look.

We'll start on the bright side, though.

I was the person asking about parking for the Nats game last week. We were coming from Anne Arundel County. We chose Prince George's Plaza since the green line meant no transfer. There was parking and made it to the game with no problem.

I'm so glad to hear that worked out for you.

During last week's chat, the concern was whether the parking areas would be full at New Carrollton and Greenbelt. Some of you wrote back to say that there would very likely be some space available at New Carrollton in one of those parking area.

One reader wrote in to say there should be parking closer in on the Green Line at the Prince George's Plaza station.

(In my own explorations on the day of the exhibition game, I found Greenbelt crowded, but there was plenty of space to park in the outer rows.)

Fans will have the same concerns again this Thursday, when the Nats play their regular season home opener at 1:05 p.m.

In Sunday's Post, I offered some tips on getting there by various means:

Following up on the discussion from last week, I've got tickets to Thursday's home opener at Nats Park, and am having a tough time trying to figure out my options. I live in Fairfax not far from the Vienna Metro Station, but am worried that by 11 o'clock or so, there's no chance I'll find parking. Is that true? If that's not an option is there anywhere else to park near one of the orange line stations at that hour? Thanks!

We did well last week with the Prince George's Plaza recommendation and the advice about New Carrollton. How do you travelers feel about Vienna station for this Thursday? I have not been shut out of Vienna when trying it during the early afternoon, but how about late morning? (Would our traveler have any better luck at West Falls Church?)

And for our questioner, would your options include taking a Metrobus or a Fairfax Connector to the station?

I remember riding the Yellow Line a few years back and saw a sign saying future site of Potomac Yards Metro station. Do you have any idea why that never came to be. Besides the mall, there is quite a bit of development in that area that could support a new station.

Still alive. In fact there's a public meeting scheduled for April 19 to discuss the work coming up on an environmental impact statement that will review construction alternatives.

The meeting is scheduled for 7 to 9 p.m. at the Cora Kelly Recreation Center, 25 West Reed Ave., Alexandria.

The Cherry Blossom Festival Parade is this coming Saturday. What should we expect for traffic getting into DC? I remember past years trying to get into DC for the Cherry Blossom Festival during peak bloom. People were lined up in lines that stretched out of the Metro stations waiting to buy passes for their families. But, peak bloom was weeks ago. Are they still expecting large crowds?

I'd take Metro to Saturday's parade, which is from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. The route is along Constitution Avenue NW, from Seventh to 17th streets, meaning it goes from National Archives to the Ellipse.

That's very convenient to Metro stations on all the lines. If you're coming in from the suburbs, you have free parking at the Metro stations on the weekend.

Parking will be a hassle near the parade area, and some nearby streets will be closed.

In general, I think the crowding won't be as bad as what you described for the blossoms. The Tidal Basin is a bit remote and has very limited parking. People heading to the Tidal Basin by transit overwhelm the Smithsonian station.

The parade is different. It's stretched out, and in a more accessible area.


Once the Silver line is opened to Reston, will the Silver Line riders have to transfer to Orange Line trains at the Falls Church stop or will they share the tracks to some point? If they do share the tracks, will there be longer intervals between Orange Line trains in order to accommodate the Silver Line trains?

The way it looks to me, the opening of the Silver Line will be good news for many Orange Line riders.

The Silver Line trains will go from Reston to Stadium-Armory. So someone who boards at Reston just stays on the same train to reach Metro Center, or Federal Triangle, or L'Enfant Plaza.

Meanwhile, if you're waiting at West Falls Church, or Court House, you'll have more rush hour service than you have today. In fact, that's going to start this June -- well in advance of the Silver Line's first run -- when Metro initiates the "Rush Plus" service. That puts extra trains on the Orange Line by subtracting some Blue Line trains from the Rosslyn tunnel.

When the Silver Line does open in late 2013, it will be interesting to see how many people who now driving in and park at Vienna station switch to parking at the Wiehle Ave station on the Silver Line.

It looks like my complaints through you, or through the nightmare of 311 have born fruit. On my way to College Park last night I noticed that the temporary striping has been ground away in a few places, and I was able to be in the right-most lane before 29 and not be forced to turn. And of course, the new tarmac has already been cut up for utility work. Hopefully it will be completed soon, as I've seen and been involved in too many close calls there.

I meant to get back to you about this and ask if you'd been there lately. I tried it about a week and a half ago and thought the problem you identified about the lanes at University Blvd and Colesville Rd had been fixed and wondered if you agreed.

The person who wants to go to the baseball game should be able to easily park at Ballston mall which is a short walk from the metro station.

Thank you. This is the first of a few responses for our baseball fan.

One possibility for the person going to the Vienna Metro: Get there right around 10:00 or so. WMATA has a bunch of spaces designated as reserved spots for people who pay an extra monthly fee for a special pass, but those spots become available to anyone on a first-come first-served basis beginning at 10:00 AM.

Good point about the reserved spaces, including the suggestion to get there right around 10 a.m., when they become un-reserved.

When I went to Greenbelt station last Tuesday, I noticed that by my arrival time  -- about 1 p.m. -- they were filled.

One article praising MARC for better on time performance, and the Brunswick Line had 2 hour delays Friday night. Anyone hoping to attend a Good Friday evening service, well, too bad. Please, don't praise MARC any more. They'll just let you down.

Like any of us here thinks we have that kind of pull with the transportation gods.

Although, maybe it was our reference to the "hell train" that got them angry:

A few weeks ago a chatter suggested the book The Great Society Subway as a good history of the Metro. Just read it over the weekend and wanted to give a second shout out for it. It's amazing to learn all the different organizations/interests that influenced the design and construction of the Metro and the compromises that had to be made. Apparently the National Park Service vetoed the idea for a transfer station at Farragut Square (whould have required tearing up the square) so two seperate stations were built instead.

If -- like me -- you weren't around when Metro was built, you have to read The Great Society Subway by Zachary Schrag to understand why some things are the way they are.

I think readers will come away thinking they made some mistakes -- like not paying enough attention to the fact that things would eventually break. But given the obstacles they faced, it's amazing the thing got built.

From my experience 11:00-2:00 at the Vienna garages can be pretty hit or miss. If you go between 10:00-10:30, there are usually a bunch of reserved spots that you can park in (they are up for grabs at 10:00), but once those fill up you can sometimes have trouble finding a spot until after lunch time when some spots start to open up again.

Yes, this makes sense. Post-rush hour drivers know to go for those reserved spots after 10 a.m. Then you don't really catch another break till some of the very early crowd starts to go home. That's okay if the game starts at 4 p.m., as some will, but not so good for a 1 p.m. start.

"When the Silver Line does open in late 2013, it will be interesting to see how many people who now driving in and park at Vienna station switch to parking at the Wiehle Ave station on the Silver Line." Most people who park in Vienna live in Vienna or west along I-66. People who would park at Wiele Avenue most likely park at West Falls Church, so that should be the station to observe when the Silver Line opens, and my guess is that the Silver Line is not going to change parking habits along the Orange line.

So you're thinking that commuters who live out in western Fairfax or in Loudoun would continue to drive to Orange Line stations, rather than divert to Reston?

Or would Wiehle Ave draw an entirely new crowd of commuters?

I live out the Orange Line in Fairfax County, but when going to a weekday Nats game via Metro I always drive in to Pentagon City, park in the large commercial garage by the Fashion Center and take the Yellow Line to L'Enfant from there. There is always parking available there since it's a shopping center lot, not a commuter lot like the Metro parking lots. It will cost a few bucks more to park there than it would at Vienna, Dunn Loring or WFC, but that's partly offset by the lower train fare from Pentagon City to Navy Yard (just four stops total).

That's a good one. (And I'm thinking you feel better about parking at Pentagon City than coming across the 14th Street Bridge and using one of the ballpark lots?)

This also reminds me of a travel tip I thought was pretty good for Yellow Line riders: Instead of making your transfer to the Green Line at L'Enfant Plaza, consider continuing north to Archives, where you can just walk across the center platform, and you may have a better chance of getting a seat on the Green Line train.

I work on a one-way street with bike lanes. You would not believe (or may be you would) the number of cyclists going against traffic. Can you please get the word out that people get killed that way. The bike lanes follow the same rules as the regular lanes. A great deal of these folks are riding the red rent-a-bikes and riding without helmets. I like Bike Share but perhaps some read of the rules should be a requirement.

"Never ride against traffic" is one of the safety advisories from Capital Bikeshare, and a real no-brainer. (Or maybe a way to save your brains, which should be protected by a helmet.)

Is there any plan for a station between Fort Totten and Takoma? Just wondering as the ride between them is long.

It does seem long. Kind of bouncy, too. But I know of no plans to put in a new Red Line station there. The infill stations, like the one at New York Avenue and the one in the planning states at Potomac Yard, have a lot to do with focusing community development plans.

There's a lot of new development around Takoma, Fort Totten and Rhode Island Avenue on that side of the Red Line, but haven't heard about any development push between Fort Totten and Takoma.

There will be a grand opening of a sculpture exhibit at Farragut West (17th and I) at 3:00 Wednesday, complete with the mayor and other VIPs. How much of a mess should I expect? I go through that station daily around 4:00.

These are the 20 aluminum spheres on the station walls? That looks kind of nice.

It's a little hard to say how disruptive the ceremony will be, but if it's like others I've been to, you should be fine by 4 p.m. -- and if it does look bad there, you could walk three blocks east to McPherson Square.

Who makes the decision on which direction to run the escalators? At the Foggy Bottom Metro stop for some reason whoever that is seems to think it's better to have 2 escalators going up during the evening rush hour. That creates a huge bottleneck of people trying to enter the station with long lines to use the down escalator while the up escaloators remain virtually empty. This makes no sense at all and in fact is quite dangerous.

Metro decides which direction the escalators should go in. At many stations with a bank of three escalators between the street and mezzanine, you'll find two up and one down all day long.

It's partly because Metro thinks that if they're going to be a bottleneck, it's safer to have it on the street than down inside the station. And it's partly because Metro is afraid that if the escalator direction is switched frequently enough, the escalator will breakdown.

You were kidding last week when commented that the beltway construction won't be finished until late summer, right? How could a project that was supposedly a few weeks from completion until we got a lot of rain last fall take an additional 10 months to complete? It sounds like something is going on in this zone that no one is talking about. Perhaps the contractor is not sufficiently incentivized to finish the work, or there are technicial issues with the completion of the work in this area. To the lay person, the only things left to do here are put a final coat of asphalt and restripe to new pavement (one weekend of work). Can you please explain why this is going to take 5 months.

I don't recall hearing they were a few weeks from completion when they had to stop for the winter. I do remember that last spring, the project managers were hoping that they might be able to do the paving before winter set in. But they told me it was iffy.

Turned out they were right. It was iffy.

Dr G - With some talk about beltway widening and another crossing, is it safe to assume the sparsely trafficed ICC is really the first phase of an outer beltway that now has to be built to justify spending $2 billion on a road to nowhere? Also, why was no exit ramp included from 355 south to the ICC? Ther seems to be plenty of space, and certainly no dollar was spared on this project. I commute from Gaithersburg to north of the beltway in Silver Spring, but between spending 10 minutes to get onto the road, the extra $3 each way isn't worth it.

Sounds like the Intercounty Connector isn't for you.

On our larger point, I don't hear the Maryland Department of Transportation talking about widening the Beltway or about building another river crossing. I did see a report last week from a group supported by the construction industry suggesting that Maryland's top priority should be widening the Beltway, for about $5.8 billion. I don't detect much interest on the Maryland side in either widening the Beltway or building another bridge.

WFC parking is often full, but there is overflow at the VT lot across the street.

And I've got some more Nats game intel coming up.

(And I'm thinking you feel better about parking at Pentagon City than coming across the 14th Street Bridge and using one of the ballpark lots?) I only do the Pentagon City/Yellow Line maneuver for midweek day games. Otherwise I drive and park in Lot HH ($5) on S Cap St under the freeway. But since lot HH is also a commuter parking lot it's frequently not available for Nats parking during business hours. Also, leaving Nats parking after a 1:05 weekday game puts you in the height of rush hour. I used to take Metro to games all the time, but due to their maintenance schedule the service is completely unreliable outside of rush hour. So now I almost always drive to games - and I go to around 30 games a year.

Thanks for all that. Your point about the HH lot under the Southeast-Southwest Freewayalso being a commuter lot will be of interest to a fan who wrote to me today, curious about where to find the $5 parking I mentioned in my Sunday feature on getting to Nationals Park. I should tell the fan it's a better bet for night games.

Dr Gridlock - why did Metro decide to overextend themselves and build the Tysons/Dulles line? It seems to me that they cannot keep up with the current system so why add additional responsibilities and expenses? The money for the Tysons/Dulles line could have been used to pay for the upgrades to the escalators, track work, new cars, etc. - all of the items that the ridership is going to end up paying for with the increased fares.

I understand why the result seems irrational, but the way we got here was a bit complicated.

Metro isn't paying to build the Silver Line. The money is coming from Virginia and the federal government. While Metro has endorsed the Silver Line and agreed to run it, the force behind it came from the Commonwealth's desire to improve mobility in Northern Virginia and build up Tysons Corner.

It's extremely unlike that any of the money that's going into building the Silver Line would have or could have gone to maintaining the existing Metro system.

I was a passenger on the 8 car green line train that originated from Branch Avenue. Upon arriving at Gallery Place at 9:37 am Tuesday. The operator started closing the doors before passengers could even get off the train. There was no concern or patience for passengers getting off and no time allowed for new passengers to get on the train. This operator needs to be seriously reprimanded.

Riders have been writing in about this more and more during the past few months. The complaints usually come from downtown stations during busy periods.

My colleague, Dana Hedgpeth recently wrote a story about Metro door issues:

The doors have to close at some point, but the riders should at least be able to get off the train at their stations and not be held hostage.

Just to be sure- we have AT MOST 8 months left of mess on 495 and all the related exits/interchanges, correct? (except maybe near Tyson's with Metro...)

The 495 Express Lanes project -- the Beltway HOT lanes -- is scheduled to be done by the end of the year. That's the four new lanes in the middle of the Beltway and the reconstruction of the bridges and interchanges along the way.

The construction disruptions from the Metro Silver Line project should be focused mostly on the Route 7 part of Tysons, west of the Beltway and north of Route 123.

I believe you've answered this before, but why do the BWI airport police patrol the ICC and not Staties or MoCo cops? Perhaps this is the reason why traveling 56 mph gets a ticket, and keeps the relatively few cars from wanting to drive on this road.

I'd be really surprised if BWI police are patrolling the ICC. That's the jurisdiction of the Maryland Transportation Authority police.  Other departments do use the ICC. It's very convenient for some connections.

(And if anybody got a ticket for going 56 on the 55 mph-ICC, please write to me and give me details.)

Thanks for joining me this week. I'll be away next Monday, so please come back on April 23.

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.
Recent Chats
  • Next: