The Washington Post

Dr. Gridlock

Jun 02, 2014

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.

I am seeing people in Silver Line t-shirts handing out information about the new line outside of my metro stations. Do you know when it will open? I am counting down the days until my commute gets better! Also, do you know if there will be a bus from Dulles to the silver line? The 5a is great, but connecting to the metro earlier would be much better for me.

I just got off a reporters' conference call with Metro Assistant GM Lynn Bowersox about the Silver Line plans. 

Still no opening date. Metro took charge of the new stations and track last Monday. Metro officials say they've encountered no problems during their testing so far. I think the chances are good that the Silver Line will open before the end of August, but we don't have that officially.

Yes, there will be bus service between the Wiehle Avenue station, at the end of the Silver Line (first phase) and Dulles. Meanwhile, the 5A service will continue.

Write back and tell us how your commute would be better with the Silver Line.

Dr G - in your weekend column you mentioned that Blue Line riders haven't taken Yellow and transferred as much as Metro would like. I'm one of them, and I'll tell you why: Transferring is TERRIBLE. L'Enfant and Gallery Place are both way too crowded during rush hour. L'Enfant's escalators are permanently under repair. This morning I did an experiment. It took me 9 minutes to transfer - 5 to get from the upper platform at L'Enfant to the lower, and then I waited 4 more to get on a westbound Orange train to my stop at McPherson Square. My Blue train was a 10-minute wait at my original station, King Street. Next time I'll save myself the hassle and just wait.

Transferring is always a hassle compared to just sitting in the seat you had in the first place. If you do transfer, the results may be different on different days -- but it's still a hassle.

This is a link to my Sunday column on what happens to Orange and Blue Line riders when the Silver Line opens.

Why are Metro police not on a 911 system? They advertise their number quite a bit, but it seems absurdly risky to count on riders remembering a 10-digit number and having time to dial it in an emergency. What happens if one dials 911 while on the Metro?

In an emergency on a train or in a station, I'd call 911. Think of the longer transit police number as a supplement, something you might use in a less urgent situation. Maybe you want to report a panhandler on a train.

When you call 911 for a transit emergency, there's a good chance the operator is going to notify transit police to respond. Like you say, it's just three digits to remember.

Reports said the accident on the beltway happened shortly before 2:00am, but the road wasn't reopened until after 7:00am. I know there was a fuel spill, but really, five hours to clear the scene of an accident. I fail to see how it could take more than an hour. Traffic at 2:00am should be very light making it easier to clear.

Here's a link to Dana Hedgpeth's report on the outer loop crash.

Dana describes the results as a "major fuel spill."  I'm not sure how the volume of traffic would affect the ease or difficulty of clearing up a fuel spill in the dark.

It certainly would have been better for everyone to get the outer loop open sooner, if possible. That's just about the worst possible spot for having lanes closed during the morning rush. Even on a decent day with no lanes closed, traffic backs up to College Park on the Beltway and north on I-95.

really have to send Tv crews and their trucks to accident on the outerloop at Colesville Rd this mroning. Their trucks were on the innerloop at 510am lights a flashing making the inner loop dangerous. Come on local TV stations dont make the inner loop the next story. Think beofre you send your crews and really why dont you just stay home.

This isn't the first time I've heard about the impact a TV crew can have on traffic. Today, it was just one more distraction in an already-distracting situation, because of the crash.

if you cant remmeber the Mtro Transit Police number maybe you should just stay home.

I keep the number, 202-962-2121, in my cell phone. Things I might use it for include reporting a suspicious package, or a car break-in at a Metro garage. Again, if it's an emergency, I'd call 911.

Light traffic should make it easier for responders to get to the traffic scene. Emergency, tow trucks, wreckers, and other equipment can get stuck in traffic just like everyone else when things happen during the rush hour, but overnight, there is less traffic to delay their arrival. Also, closing down a few lanes of traffic to make room for a cleanup is less a concern when traffic volume is light.

I rode Chicago's "L" this weekend and although it is an older system/train, the announcements were crystal clear. It was a refreshing change from Metro's garbled announcements.

One thing I noticed in a test ride aboard the new 7000 series rail cars is that the announcements are much clearer than on the old cars.

For one thing, all the regular announcements are automated. It's a digitized voice. Also, the communications equipment is better than what we have now. And the 7000 series cars will be the only cars that make up that particular train set. No mixing and matching of different generations of cars, which contributes to the garbles.

... when I witnessed a Metro suicide a couple of years ago. It never occurred to me to call Metro Transit Police (and I still wouldn't do it, because this was possibly a medical emergency).

I live off of Columbia Pike and work in Foggy Bottom. This will now open up the possibility of going to Ballston, Courthouse, and Rosslyn which are too packed to access now, as well as going to the Pentagon and taking the blue line up or the 16y. It should also ease my husband's trip to Herndon. Hopefully there will be lots of new silver liners going to Tyson and less traffic on 50 and 66.

Thanks for the response on our earlier exchange about the Silver Line commute, and you surprised me, because I thought you were going to say you lived in the Herndon/Reston area and would be driving to the Silver Line's Wiehle Avenue station for an easier commute.

On your trip from one of those Arlington Orange Line stations, I hope the Silver Line will help. I think it will, at least in the early going, because you should have some less crowded trains arriving on those platforms. In fact, I'd look for the SV trains, which should reach the platforms every six minutes.

Because of where they're coming from, they should be less crowded than the Orange Line trains.

So how long until all cars are the new 7000 series so we can understand the announcements?

We'll be living with the old cars -- and the old announcements -- for quite a while. The 7000 series cars should start entering service late this year. They will first replace the oldest cars in the fleet, the original 1000 series cars.


That the accident involved a state trooper car would have taken longer to "clear" the accident scene. Whenever a government vehicle is involved it takes longer to perform the additional detail work.

Cedar Lane is to be closed staring June 6 due to construction. Any idea how long we'll be forced to find another route to the NIH from Conn. Ave? This is going to dump a lot of traffic onto Jones Bridge Rd and/or Strathmore.


The timing is tricky, because the Maryland State Highway Administration wants to get Cedar Lane reopened in time for the new school year.

The commenter knows this, but for all: A 1000 foot section of Cedar Lane between Rockville Pike and Elmhirst Parkway (by the Stone Ridge School) is scheduled to close Tuesday. The workers will replace  pipes that run underneath  Cedar Lane, but this is just part of a larger project to re-do the Conn Ave/Cedar Lane intersection to ease the traffic generated by the base consolidation at the new Walter Reed.

The Cedar Lane closing is supposed to end by mid-August.

I'll get something about this onto the Dr. Gridlock blog this afternoon.

Good Morning Dr. G, Heading in to town Saturday I was very frustrated there was no overhead signage on onramps to 66 East about the E Street/Potomac Parkway exit being closed. Apparently no one else did because the Roosevelt Bridge was packed. Does DDOT share info with VDOT, vice versa, and with Maryland? Could have saved a lot of folks a lot of time if they had..

Agencies are supposed to share that sort of information, and the communications mechanisms are certainly in place to do that. Seems to work better on big events then on road work.

I live in Maryland and do not often have occasion to drive the Dulles Toll Road. Nor do I have an EZ-Pass -- little use for it, I don't want to submit to the monthly charges or the zero-interest loans I'd have to prepay, and I find the idea of having one firm monopolizing the toll-processing devices reproachful. Anyway, on a recent weekday afternoon, I was on the outbound Toll Road when I came to the Spring Hill tolls. EZ-Pass only to the left, lanes open to all transactions to the right. It should have been easy, except three of the five open lanes that were not EZ-Pass only were exact coins only. The resulting squeeze of vehicles into the other two lanes caused a back-up of nearly half an hour for cash customers. Exact coins may have made sense when the cost there was 50 cents, but now drivers would need a bucket of change to pay their subsidy to the Silver Line. Three of five lanes for that? Even one seems extravagant at today's prices. The decision to have all those coin lanes seems to make no sense unless it is an act of spite toward non-EZ-Pass drivers. Any thoughts or explanations?

No, I have no idea why the lanes were set up that way at that particular time.

Generally, the number of exact change lanes at toll plazas has been shrinking in favor of more E-ZPass lanes. One thing I don't like about that outbound toll plaza is that there's no E-ZPass only lane over on the right side, where a driver would want to be for the Route 7 exit.


So let me see if I understand this. Our wise and wonderful leaders in Fairfax County pushed the development of Metro West on the south side of the Vienna Station, under the false conceit that all traffic generated there would occur on Metro. And then Metro is going to reduce Orange Line service to accommodate the Silver Line, because Our Fearless Leaders in Fairfax County want to turn Tysons Corner into an urban jungle. Am I missing something here?

I think claims about how many people are going to go car-less because they live near a Metro station are dubious. But when the Silver Line starts, Orange Line service from Vienna should be about what it was when the Metro West project was planned.

What will happen is that Metro will end the Orange Line Rush Plus trains, a service that was added two years ago as a temporary measure pending the start-up of the Silver Line. 

Dr. Gridlock- Help. I am a 95 road warrior. I commute a few times a month from my home in Raleigh to Arlington, and with all the work on I-95 it really is like hell. I have tried so many different arrival and departure times. If I arrive in Fredericksburg area (from NC) too early in the day, the road crews are still working with lane closures. Too late, and I sit in traffic. And same story for leaving DC. And weekend traffic is just as bad, and summer traffic makes me want to pull my hair out. I am fortunate to be very flexible what day and time I travel, and would love to know if there is some 'sweet spot' I need to aim for. Thanks--Katia

I hope some other I-95 warriors will see Katia's question and offer their advice. I think it's a tough one. The days when there are the fewest local commuters on the D.C. region's highways are Mondays and Fridays. But Friday afternoons -- especially in the summer on I-95 -- add lots of long-distance travelers.

There's nothing about this summer that's going to lighten the burden on trips to and from Raleigh on I-95. Work on the 95 Express Lanes is going to continue through this year.

Katia, Is Amtrak from Raleigh or Richmond, or VRE from Fredericksburg not a possibility for you?

Just keep a big baggie of quarters in the glove box. It sounds nuts, but it works. And make sure you have a few extra quarters ready; a few weeks ago, I went through an exact change only booth and the dang bucket didn't register a dollar's worth of quarters. I had to keep throwing quarters in to get it to register and get the green light. I think I paid an extra $1.25. Annoying, but at least I don't live out there and have to pay (via EZPass or whatever) those rates on a regular basis.

One thing to keep in mind: Virginia will eliminate its monthly fee for the E-ZPass accounts on July 1.

In your article, you talk mainly about changes in AM rush. What about for those heading to the Orange stations past Stadium Armory in the PM? Will that be the same as your AM figure of 11 trains per hour? Thanks for helping us (try to) understand this stuff in advance!

I think Orange Line service in the afternoon rush between Stadium-Armory and New Carrollton will be the same as what you have now, but I'll double check on that.

I wonder if one reason there is no "E-ZPass Only" lane to the far right of the westbound toll plaza at Tysons is due to the Spring Hill Road onramp entering from the right there. The speed limit in the E-ZPass lanes varies from 15 mph to 35 mph, but we all know people go much faster than that.

Yes, the lineup at toll plazas generally puts the faster E-ZPass lanes over on the left side, for safety reasons, as you suggest.

My thought about the Dulles plaza is that many drivers will use the left-side E-ZPass only lane, then swing right across all the lanes to reach the Route 7 exit, which may be just as hazardous for traffic as opening an E-ZPass lane on the right side.

I don't use that toll plaza anymore if I'm going from the Beltway outer loop to the west side of Tysons. What I do now is take the 95 Express Lanes to the Jones Branch Drive exit, then take Jones Branch Drive and Spring Hill Road across the north part of Tysons to Route 7.

My question for the person describing the trip between Raleigh and Arlington is, why use I-95? I lived in the Triangle area for a few years and I tended to have the same experience about how I-95 can slam to a stop at a moment's notice. So I found several other routes. The most direct ones involve I-85, of course, but one thought about the northern end of I-85 where it hits I-95: Most people (including, recently, a writer from the Post's Travel Section) think you have to use I-95 through Richmond to connect to or from I-85. Hogwash. It is only four miles back to the south to the I-295 junction. You can bypass Richmond and Petersburg on I-295, which is a nice wide road with a 70-mph speed limit and relatively light traffic until you hit I-64. As far as the next stretch from Richmond to the DC area goes, try exiting I-295 onto US-301. Yes, it is a two-lane road, but it gets very little traffic because it's relatively isolated and because the mapping services direct everyone to I-95 a short distance to the west. Follow US-301 up to Bowling Green. From there, you can take the Gov. Harry Nice Bridge over to Maryland. I like to cut west at Waldorf via MD-228 to Accokeek, where I pick up MD-210 (Indian Head Highway) to the Beltway. For Arlington, you can then head up US-1 through Alexandria or use some other route like Quaker Lane if you prefer. Other possibilities going to the Triangle area include taking US-29 to Culpeper and then US-15 south, or taking US-29 to Lynchburg and then US-501 to Durham, or taking US-29 all the way to Danville and then NC-86 to Hillsborough, NC, where you pick up I-40. They all go further west and involve the roll of the dice known as I-66, so I would suggest trying the I-85/I-295/US-301 combination first.

Thanks very much for taking the time to write out this guidance for Katia.

ANy update as to what the status of WMATA returning to Automatic Tran Control? I would have thought that with the SIlver Line and time, the ATC would be back in operation...

There's still no date for a return to the automatic train operation that was suspended after the Red Line crash in 2009.

(I think automatic train control is a bit different. ATC is the overall system that locates the trains and assists in spacing them out. That, we have. It's the more specific system that automatically operates the trains we don't have -- and Metro officials studiously avoid saying when they expect to restore it.

Whenever it comes back, it probably will come back first on the Red Line, because that's the one that operates independently of any other.

This is original poster, Katia. I commute with my two co-pilots (two very large golden retrievers) which negates any sort of train or bus travel.

Katia, Make sure you see the traveler's guidance above on alternative driving routes.

A few times at Fort Totten over the last few months, I've seen a Greenbelt-bound green line train come up to the edge of the platform while another train (usually a yellow line train that is ending service) is still on the platform. That seems dangerous, and I always thought trains were supposed to keep a much bigger distance. What's the deal?

I haven't seen this, and don't know why, under any circumstances, it would occur. You mean there will be a six-car train at the platform, and the following train is at the edge of the tunnel behind it?

As a followup to the previous chatter, to get from Richmond to Arlington, this is where Google Maps is your friend. We see where it is red and hop from I-95 to Route 1, bypass the traffic, then get back on I-95. For us, bypassing is always faster than the 301 route. You just have to be careful, because sometimes Route 1 has worse traffic than I-95.

What I find most difficult in offering route advice is that the travel conditions may be very different from one day to the next. What this traveler is suggesting -- having options available for when Plan A isn't working -- is a very good idea.

Thank you from Katia to the poster on alternative routes. I will try it out this week.

Soon (July 1), Virginia will stop charging the monthly EZ Pass fee. Other states (ie. Massachusetts) don't charge a monthly fee. For the zero-interest loan, at most, you have to keep $50 on the account. At today's interest rates (less than 1%), you lose less than $0.50 per year in interest. Worth the 30 minute time savings in my opinion.

"When you call 911 for a transit emergency, there's a good chance the operator is going to notify transit police to respond." What? "There's a good chance?" If I'm dying or somebody's shooting at me, "a good chance" isn't good enough. The question was why doesn't Metro have direct 911 service to police. What's the answer?

911 is a central dispatching agency for all emergency responders. The idea is to get you the quickest response. There's a good chance an emergency within Metro would be routed to the transit police, but it also could be DC or Montgomery County or Arlington police, etc.

Watched the J2 to Silver Spring go from being 2 minutes away (for 5 minutes) to 1 minute away (for 5 minutes) to being 25 minutes away (for 5 minutes) and then drop from 24 minutes to 3 minutes over 30 seconds. Why is this system still not working? And why is Rideon and other regional buses incorporated into it?

I think the problems we sometimes experience -- like the ghost bus you describe -- is with the central computer that takes in the GPS information from the buses and makes a calculation about when they should arrive at your stop. I wish the system could just tell me where the bus is, rather than making a calculation about an arrival time, which could turn out to be based only on the printed schedule.

I think you are right that those of us east of EFC in Arlington will probably have less crowded trains. I don't expect the Silver line to be that well used, at least not for a while anyway. But for people like me who live in Ballston and work in Alexandria any savings on the orange will be more than eaten up by the ridiculous wait times for Blue line trains. The platform already gets very crowded at Rosslyn waiting for the blue line. It's only going to get a lot worse. The crowding is just moving from the orange line to the blue line.

I think there will be a bunch of side affects from the start-up of the Silver Line. And I'm not sure we've figured them all out yet.

If riders have questions like this, please send an e-mail to me at This is the sort of thing we want to offer advice on as the service changes occur.


Any thoughts on what long-term impact the DC Council's decisions will have on realizing a larger streetcar system in DC beyond the Disneyland ride on H St NE? Would it help if they would spell out a plan and however long it takes, at least people would know that these are the intended routes, etc.?

I think DDOT has a plan. It's for the 22-mile system it wants to build over the next two decades.

Given the slow pace converting that plan into reality, I'm not sure the council's move to cut the mayor's proposed funding schedule is going to make much difference to the long-term program.

I was on the Metro during the Cherry Blossom festival, and because it was crowded the train operator had trouble getting people to clear the doors so they could close. After about 5 minutes of attempts, the operator announced that the train was going out of service and unloaded everyone. This isn't the only time I've had this happen- why do they do it? The tourists were especially confused, since they weren't used to the irregularities with riding. I wonder what purpose this procedure serves, and if it is really because they think there's something wrong with the train, or just that they're giving up on people clearing the doors. Can you shed any light?

If the operator spent five minutes trying to get the doors closed, I'll be the problem was with the doors themselves rather than with the riders getting in the way of the doors.

This, as I'm sure you know, is a chronic problem with the rail fleet. A train can't stay in service if an operator can't get a signal saying that all the doors are working.

Sometimes, when a train gets taken out of service, a mechanic can board at another station and get the doors working again, so that the train can get back in service before it reaches the yard.

This happens a lot at cherry blossom time, as tourists who don't know any better try to hold the doors open.

(The 7000 series cars will be better, but as we discussed earlier, that's still a ways off.)

New York (MTA) offers an EZ-Pass which requires no upfront deposit (you do need to provide a credit card as backup) and links to your checking account. Every time you use the EZ-Pass, it debits your checking account.

People can shop around for the best deal from the many agencies that issue E-ZPasses.

Thanks for joining me today. I think I have some more I can tell you on your Silver Line issues and on what's about to happen Friday to the Cedar Lane traffic in Bethesda.

I'll post that stuff on the Dr. Gridlock blog.

And please join me again next Monday at noon. Stay safe on the roads and rails.

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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