Dr. Gridlock

May 14, 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. Today, Dr. Gridlock discusses bicycle riders sharing the roads with drivers, Rush Plus-related changes and more.

Welcome, travelers. I can see a bunch of questions and comments about the "Share the road" tips for cyclists and drivers that David Alpert of Greater Greater Washington and I wrote for Sunday's Commuter page in The Post. And then I can spot some Metro Rush Plus issues in the mailbag as well. We'll start with a few of them, and get to some of the other transportation topics that concern you today.

You could have saved a lot of space in your Sunday story about rules for drivers and cyclists by simply telling cyclists: YOU MUST FOLLOW ALL TRAFFIC LAWS. Full stop. That's it. Too bad 75 percent of all cyclists don't seem to care about this. Want proof? Go to Second and F Street NE during rush hour. That's a busy intersection on the edge of the Capitol Hill residential area near Union Station. Lots of cars, lots of cyclists. The cars stop at the four-way stop sign. 99 percent of the cyclists do not. Most of these cyclists are on BikeShare bikes picked up from the nearby station. In fact, BikeShare cyclists are the worst of the lot, worse now than couriers. They simply have no clue how to follow the rules of the road.

Most of the suggestions I got after the Commuter page feature appeared were about how David and I should have made it longer and included more tips.

But this is what I said about traffic laws:

"* Obey traffic laws. Good traffic laws aren’t about determining who should get the ticket after the crash. They’re about avoiding the crash by sharing expectations. Drivers don’t expect to see you riding toward them in the same lane, or coming at them from the side of the street. Ride with the traffic."

Here's a link to the Commuter page feature:


From David Alpert: 

 Most cyclists would respond to the commenter who says "you must follow all traffic laws" and point out that at least 75% of drivers, if not 99%, don't follow ALL laws either, such as speed limits. Research by psychologists shows that someone driving is much more aware of rule violations by cyclists than by other drivers, and vice versa. The simple fact is that we have a set of rules of the road which most users follow most of the time. Rather than pointing fingers at another group and saying that "well they don't follow the rules either," both Dr. Gridlock and I tried to point out the places where people can better understand each other's needs. As I mentioned in the intro, I got honked at not for breaking a rule, but for doing the legal thing. Drivers can best encourage cyclists to follow laws by understanding what those laws actually are and accommodating, rather than punishing, cyclists who follow the laws and more importantly exercise safe riding practices.

Is there any way to get a rush hour schedule giving specifics of which trains will be "Blue" and which will be "Yellow"? I need to know if the train I normally catch every weekday morning is still going to take me to Farrugut West or not. The statement 3 trains per hour is not helpful. I usually catch a blue line train about 7:40 AM from Van Dorn Street to Farrugut West.

I haven't seen anything that specific about the Rush Plus sked starting June 18, but I'll check. This is as specific as I have right now: According to Metro, you may wait up to six minutes longer than now for a Blue Line train that enters DC via Rosslyn.

I'm impressed that you can time your train so well. Riders on many other lines say they can't rely on trains appearing at the same time every day during rush hour.

One thing you might test after June 18: Will you be better off waiting for the next Blue Line train via Rosslyn, or getting on a Yellow Line train to L'Enfant Plaza and switching to an Orange or Blue Line train to Farragut West?

Sunday's column regarding cars and bicycles sharing the street with each other did not address what I consider a major point. While I won't intentionally do something that would endanger a bicyclist, I find little reason to respect the "rights" of people who choose to ignore laws that I must obey. I live near a street with a bike lane, and regularly see riders who don't even slow down at a stop sign, and only hesitate at intersections with a red light. Why do they feel that laws they find inconvenient are no more than suggestions?

I completely understand how you feel and see the same things. But I think this is a slippery slope.

Our goal in all "share the road" situations should be to survive and help other travelers survive. Along those lines: We don't have to prove our righteousness to total strangers who may be doing the wrong thing in traffic. We just have to do the right thing.

And there's too much of this dividing ourselves into categories of travelers. Like it's our category against all the other categories -- whether it's drivers, bikers, pedestrians -- or Lexus drivers, pickup drivers, sedan drivers motorcyclists. What's the point?

Cyclists and walkers know how rare it is to see a motorist stop -- rather than just slow down -- for a Stop sign. Why wouldn't they have a similar bad opinion of drivers?

I have no doubts you get hundreds of complaints regarding metro service, but this weekend was really out of line. My sweetheart was supposed to meet me at 7 at a local drinking establishment at the potomac avenue metro station. He got there at 9. He was traveling from Cleveland Park. After an hour and half underground, he got off at capitol south and walked the ten blocks. This is quite simply unacceptable.

So that's his story?

It's not that I doubt him, but these days, Metro's weekend service levels can make any excuse believable.

Unfortunately a lot of cyclists who I see riding the wrong way down one way streets, or riding on sidewalks, are not people who would ever read a newspaper article about "sharing the road" nor pay attention to any road rules. I actually watched a cyclist, riding the wrong way down a one way street in Columbia Heights, yell at a motorist who turned into the street. It was after 9 pm, there was NO WAY the motorist could've seen the person on the bicycle, and just by luck there was no accident. But the guy on the bicycle yelled at the driver -- who was not going faster than 10 miles an hour -- as if the driver had committed some terrible infraction.

I'm sure many drivers can recount similar incidents. That doesn't put drivers on some moral high ground and justify any bad behavior on their part.

Similarly: Cyclists reading our account on the Commuter page would have noted that David got honked at by a driver because David moved into the left lane to make a left turn on his bike. David was doing the right thing.

I am extremely worried about missing my bus at the Huntington end of the Yellow line when this Rush Hour Plus line goes on line. I am worried my I am goind to add 45-minutes to my evening commute

Please write back and elaborate for me. This is the part I don't get: There shouldn't be any fewer Yellow Line trains in and out of Huntington at rush hour. While I certainly understand your concern about missing a bus at the end of the rail ride, I'm not sure how Rush Plus would make the connection less likely.

(By the way, I'm pretty sure I don't yet know all the ways that riders would be affected by Rush Plus. So I would like to hear your individual concerns, to make sure we can offer any advice before Rush Plus starts and to look for problems after it starts. You can e-mail me any time at drgridlock@washpost.com)

From my office, I can see the bike lane on Q Street, NW at 16th. Routinely, and I do not exaggerate, I see cyclists riding the wrong way on Q Street. More often than not, they are on BikeShare bikes (but not always) and generally don't have helmets on. I also see cars that veer into, and sit in, the bike lane on red lights. We're all selfish (says this driver/cyclist/pedestrian). I think everyone needs to watch out for everyone else. Being dead right on your bike is still being dead. And I would think that being the cause of the death or maiming of another human whether on the right side of the law or not would be a horrible thing to carry through life.

Yep. I think you've gotten to the bottom line.

Travelers sometimes write in and say, "Dear Dr. Gridlock: Who's right in the following situation ... "

I love to discuss such issues, because it can raise our consciousness about traffic situations, but I worry about creating the appearance that under some circumstances, it's okay to hit somebody.

Travelers are never in season. As our commenter pointed out, the fact that you didn't get a ticket won't be much consolation if you wind up injuring another person.

As one of the thousands will be negatively impacted by Metro's plans to take away blue line service next month, I am wondering if the computer system can be programmed to offer those of us who will not be receiving rush hour service a lower, non-rush hour fare? My trip takes me between Ballston and King St.

I wonder if it occurred to Metro officials when they came up with the Rush Plus name how many times riders would be turning it into "Rush Minus"?

No, Metro has no intention of offering discounts to anyone who disagrees with Metro's definition of "rush hour service."

I see Fairfax Connector is planning service changes in June, including a new route (981) to run between Tysons and Dulles Airport. I heard at one point that that new route might be intended to replace Metrobus Route 5A, which is very succesful. If so, is that the end of a one-seat ride from L'Enfant/Rosslyn to Dulles? How would riders on the new 981 transfer to Metro?

I haven't heard of any plans to discontinue 5A service to Dulles -- at least not until the second phase of the Silver Line opens.

I'm a cyclist and I obey the rules of the road. I'm a stickler for them because whether I like it or not, when I'm on a bike, I'm representative of cyclists and I don't want to be lumped into that category of "75 percent of all cyclists don't seem to care about this." I'm also a driver. But come onnnnn. Let the sinless driver cast stones. What driver out there hasn't eked through a red light or slowed at a stop sign rather than stopping or sped or talked on the phone while driving or cut someone off? It's such a lucrative way to collect money that government budgets count on a certain number of tickets! So please don't be so high-and-mighty when it comes to the cyclist who breaks the rules. *People* break rules, whether they're walking, biking, or driving.

It's good to hear from cyclists and good to know you're trying to set a good example. But I don't believe that you and other cyclists should have the burden of being a category.

There's too much transportation ideology.

Travelers tend to obey rules when they're most likely to get hurt or fined by disobeying them. As the commenter notes, it's just a fact of life.

We should do the right thing for the sake of doing the right thing. Not because we have something to prove to some other type of traveler.

Yes, sir, it is. He was coming to watch the Caps game and he was insanely frustrated to be trapped underground for the first two periods.

Actually, I'm sure he didn't need the incentive of playoff hockey to want to be on time to see you.

But I stand by the rest of my statement about Metro weekend delays becoming so routine as to make any travel excuse believable.

This is a serious problem for us: The unacceptable is becoming routine. Metro now builds in travel delays at any time besides rush hour throughout the week.

How are there not fewer trains going into Huntington when some of the yellows are going into Franconia?

Those are the former Blue Line trains. It's not a deduction from Yellow Line service.

This morning was the SECOND time I've had a bicyclist go right past a stopped bus that had its red stop sign out and lights flashing at my son's bus stop in Bethesda. When I stood in front of the bicyclist to stop him, he asked me if I spoke French because he didn't understand me. At the beginning of the semester at the same bus stop, I motioned a car could pass because the bus driver was waiting to give all students a chance to catch up (first day of the new bus stop). The driver was adamant that she would not pass the bus because he had his stop sign out and lights flashing. Why am I to give bicyclists a pass when they zoom right past stopped school buses? Do these cyclists not believe that a child could dart out of the bus to get/tell something from their parents and get hit- even MORE easily by a biker than a car? Why do they feel they are exempt from this state-wide law?

Cyclists should obey all traffic laws. They can inflict a lot of hurt on pedestrians, including little pedestrians.

Same time: Montgomery County is going to mount video cameras on buses, because the county sees a signficant problem with motorists driving around stopped school buses.

I get on the same train at the same time every morning at 6:55 or so at Silver Spring, Times are reliable early in the rush at the ends of the line.

Thanks. I think you're adding important perspective when you note that it's "early in the rush at the ends of the line."

I'm thinking of the complaints from commuters heading toward downtown DC later on from the west side of the Orange Line. They're waiting for trains that already have gone through crowded downtown stations on their way out to Vienna and are coming back. By that time, there can be big gaps between trains. Similar experience to the "bus bunching" that Metrobus riders complain of.

Dr. Gridlock, just a heads up that in addition to Police week parades, the National Association of REALTORS will be holding a rally on the Mall Thursday morning. It will be located on the Washington Monument grounds, on the corner of 15th and Constitution. Buses will be loading and unloading 10,000+ REALTORS just off of Independence. This will be going on all morning long - rally is scheduled from 9:30am-11:00am - and will likely add plenty of congestion to that area for the morning commute. Just wanted to let you and your readers know as a heads up to perhaps take an alternate route that morning if possible.

Thanks very much. On Monday mornings, I do a blog post called "The week ahead for traffic, transit," and it's really long, but I know I haven't accounted for all the likely causes of traffic delays coming up each week. So I appreciate the assistance provided by other travelers in identifying obstacles.

I follow unsuckdcmetro tweets. There were several tweets this weekend complaining about 40+ minute waits. Add a transfer and its easily 1.5 hours. One tweeter left to get a cup of coffee and still caught the train.

I was up in New Jersey for the weekend, but saw that rider's comment about going for the cup of coffee.

These weekend delays are very serious. They render the transit system virtually useless for thousands of travelers.

In fact, it's at the point where I don't understand why so many people still ride on weekends. That's what I was thinking when I saw the coffee comment. I'd do just about anything to avoid waiting 40 minutes or more for a train. That's excruciating.

I'd drive, take a bus, walk -- just about anything. Why do so many people still ride Metrorail on weekends? Is it really their only option?

I know Dr. Gridlock has argued for the expansion of bike lanes. However, that's only going to propogate the poor interactions between bikes and cars. What this region needs is a better network of bike-exclusive trails. Sure, this city has a great network of trails in the area, but so many of them are too rough to ride with anything other than a monutain bike, too rough and/or curvy to ride quickly, and/or too littered with pedestrians, leashed and unleashed pets, and other slow moving objects that they're essentially useless for bike communting. Is there any effort to upgrade and extend the quality and quantity of bike trails that can be used by road bikes?

Local governments are doing a lot to expand the network of bike trails and bike lanes, though I wish they could do more -- or at least, do it faster.

I very much would like to see cyclists have the opportunity to ride separately from the car lanes. (Many cyclists don't agree with that.) Also, the existence of a bike trail doesn't mean it's actually rideable. I hear many complaints, for example, about the trails in Rock Creek Park.

From David Alpert:

Trails are great, but there is only so much room for them. Lanes like the ones on 15th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue NW, and planned for L Street NW, accomplish much of the same goal in more urban spaces. DDOT recently did a study of the 15th and Pennsylvania lanes and found that drivers also felt like the amount of conflict with cyclists declined with the lanes. 

David Alpert's Greater Greater Washington is all about cyclists' accessibility, when it should be more about cyclists' RESPONSIBILITY. Read any GGW post about an auto-cyclist incident, and the default finding, by a writer who was not there and doesn't know all the details, is that it's the driver's fault. Alpert screams for balanced reporting from the WaPo and other outlets, yet his reporting is farcically one-sided, and rarely are cyclists taken to task for not following the rules of the road. In fact, by not condemning bad cyclist behavior, GGW encourages cyclists not to follow the rules of the road with which they disagree. Winking endorsement of such behavior is wrong.

From David Alpert:

I think Bob did a great job of addressing comments of this nature earlier in the chat. 

I disagree with the characterization of what "any GGW post" says. One thing we have often pointed out, however, is that police in many areas automatically assume that a cyclist is entirely at fault for anything that happens. There have been some high profile cases of this, such as the cyclist who got a ticket for not wearing a helmet when that's not actually illegal (though it's safer to wear one, for sure), and a WABA study that found that most police don't understand the "riding abreast" law. There was the police spokesperson in Prince William who announced that they wouldn't even investigate a pedestrian being killed because he wasn't in a crosswalk; turned out he was the VDOT contractor who was there to put in a stoplight and crosswalk. There is the Atlanta- area prosecutor who tried to put a mother in jail because her kid ran into a street and a drunk driver killed him.
I drive, too. When I drive, I see some people on bikes do some really dumb things. I also see some people driving do some really dumb things. Our goal needs to be safe streets. Our streets are going to have people biking, and people driving, and people walking. We can only get closer to safe streets when we can all move beyond trying to lump one group of people all together and shouting hateful things at that group. We try not to cast all drivers or all cyclists as being monolithic (though we can't make every commenter do the same), but we would like to see police investigate traffic deaths with an open mind.
For those who drive but never bike, please recognize that people on bikes feel much more vulnerable than you do. There's the constant danger of getting hit with a car door. Cars pass really close. People honk, which feels like a physical assault. That doesn't excuse bad behavior, but it's easy to be in the comfort of a large metal box and shake one's fist at others. I sometimes start to do the same and then stop myself. Please recognize that many people feel in danger, that your actions can help increase or reduce that danger, and that just because some people - drivers and cyclists - don't obey every law doesn't mean it's right to drive or bike with anger toward others.

I think the Yellow line user to Huntington might have the same concerns that I have as a Green line user between L'Enfant and Navy Yard. Although WMATA is saying that there won't be any negative impact on other lines, which will have the same number of trains, that only works when everything is exactly on schedule. The fact is, with additional trains sharing the same tracks, there will be more opportunities for conflicts or delays. My evening Metro trains often have to wait outside L'Enfant for a Yellow line train on the platform; now there will be more of them and more such conflicts causing delays to the Green line trains; this can make a big difference when your schedule is tight and you are trying to make your connection with the VRE train.

Yes, I agree that adding trains to the Yellow Line bridge creates the potential for more Yellow/Green conflicts going through downtown DC. That's something we'll be watching for when Rush Plus starts.

Dr. Gridlock, I am the person who wrote in to your chat last Monday to grumble about the delays caused by weekend track work (what makes me angry is that I see no tangible positive results from the work that causes these endless delays). I actually do whatever I can to avoid using my portion of the red line when it's affected, because it takes FOR EVER to get anywhere. I will walk or take multiple metro buses rather than be stuck underground. UGH.

Looking back, it seems to me we just slid into this open-ended "more aggressive track work" schedule. Metro officials knew what they were signing us up for, and they thought -- still think -- they were doing it for good reasons related to safety and reliability.

But I think for the riders, the burden of the week in and week out delays had been building up.

Grumbling about it is something we can all partake in. But that doesn't really get us anywhere. The satisfaction of venting wears off by the next weekend.

So what do we do? Either we vote with our feet and find other ways to travel, create pressure on Metro to change its repair schedule, or put pressure on Metro to communicate better about the delays.

Or something else. Write to me about that.

Travelers, this was a good one. I see two big themes in today's chat, and in the comments still in the mailbag: The road sharing, and the impact of Rush Plus. I'll add some more comments to the Dr. Gridlock blog over the next two days.

Join me again next Monday, and please stay safe out there. Look out for each other.

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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