Dr. Gridlock

Jul 01, 2013

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. There's a bonus for you today. We have guests who can address your questions and comments about the new Post poll on local transportation issues. Ashley Halsey III is the Post's transportation report. Dana Hedgpeth cover Metro transit. Peyton M. Craighill is part of the polling team that did the survey, and helped with our stories.

I'll focus on questions/comments on other topics, although if you'd like to talk about the poll results regarding use of the Beltway HOT lanes or the likelihood that commuters will check travel conditions before leaving home, I can address that. (So can Peyton, who helped me with those questions for Sunday's Commuter page feature.)

Her are some links.

Dana Hedgpeth’s Metro riders story : wapo.st/14H4M6f
Ashley Halsey's driving story: wapo.st/17KUWpY

Dr. Gridlock, As someone who has been "caught" in my fair share of Metro delays over the years since the mid-1990s, reading the litany of complaints about the expected (trackwork) and the unexpected (rush hour offloads for a host of reasons) is getting very tiresome. WMATA could and should do a better job of directing people to alternate routes, but riders could also take some personal responsibility and seek out alternative routes, such as walking to a different Metrorail line or taking a bus on a parallel route. I have a friend who made it from Dupont Circle to Glenmont in the usual time more or less last week during the Red Line delay by walking to U Street and transfering to the Red Line at Fort Totten. I've used the N and 30 buses to get around issues on the western side of the Red Line (and would have done so other times if Metro had indicated how long the delays would have been due to trackwork in a more informative manner). You wouldn't sit in traffic if a tractor trailer overturned on the beltway would you? You'd seek out an alternate route. Same goes for Metrorail passengers...

I think riders are right to press Metro for improvements, including how it responds to both the scheduled and the unscheduled disruptions.

There are improvements on both. For example, information about the weekend service schedule is more easily accessible and widely distributed. And Metro seems to be doing a better job with its electronic communications -- including suggesting alternatives -- during emergencies. (It's the organization of the shuttle buses and the communications about them and the alternatives that I think are lagging.)

But the commenter is making very good points about the need for riders to take charge of their own fate during disruptions. I did a series of columns this spring suggesting that riders study up in advance so they know what they'd do if they suddenly had to get off the trains at one of the stations along their train routes.

Even knowing that there's a free transfer with a SmarTrip card between Farragut North and Farragut West would help many riders.

People should check maps and know where they can walk to.

There are limits, though. People who get stuck at the stations in the system's core -- where stations may be close together and transit alternatives are relatively plentiful -- have much more flexibility than those in the outer part of the system.


My husband and I just moved to a lovely house, and now I am fine-tuning my driving commute from roughly the Beltway and Georgia to 16th and P. A colleague recommended taking Georgia in and cutting back over to avoid traffic...I am wondering how early 16th street slows down, as it seems more direct, but of course not if it is backed up (and you've reported lately it's been worse than usual). I hope to be on the road by 7:30 each morning. Is that too late to avoid slow-downs? Thanks for any help you or the chatters can provide. I so appreciate this chat!

I'd like to get other travelers' comments on this one, but my feeling is that coming down 16th Street is the better of the two options, especially at 7:30 a.m.

Sixthteenth Street can be crowded in the blocks just north of P Street, but I think it's still a better bet than going down Georgia and cutting over.

Now, I'm assuming here that there's a reason driving is better than going over to the Red Line's Forest Glen station? You have parking available?

What is the acceptable limit for a discontinuity in the road surface, for example where blacktop has subsided relative to concrete overpass? Example is exit from 50 eastbound to inner loop in MD.

Let the Maryland State Highway Administration know about that. Here's a link to an online form you can fill out:


Call me skeptical, but I would be very interested to know about the user's who gave Metro high marks? What lines are they riding, when are they taking it. If they are only using Metro during inauguration and the 4th of July, maybe it gets high marks. However I highly doubt they are frequent riders or riders who rely on the service on the weekend. Survey's are all about the details, and right now this survey has all the credibility of a election held in the old communist Russia.

Thanks for weighing in on our recent poll. It was interesting in the poll -- 76 percent of D.C.  area residents who ride Metro "very often" rate the system positively; similar 71% among all residents.  So bottom line is people who ride it regularly still rated it in a positive light. Surprising, you may find, but that's what we found.

Dr. G: We all know that hot cars can be a problem, but what about hot stations? Eastern Market, in particular, seems to be at inferno levels since May which the chillers clearly not working and not a fan in sight. I seem to recall that the temps last summer in the station were just as bad which leads me to believe that this is a long term maintenance issue that still hasn't been addressed. I don't have a thermometer to take the actual temp inside the station, but it is hotter below ground than above and we haven't even had a brutal stretch of 100+ days like last summer yet...

I'll ask Metro if there's a particular problem at Eastern Market. Each summer, many riders have complaints about the station temps.

Sometimes, there's a busted chiller. Sometimes, the equipment is just old. Sometimes it's about a station that's near the transition point between tunnel and above ground. (That wouldn't be the case for Eastern Market. Union Station is an example of that one.)

Sometimes, it's just really hot out and the equipment just isn't designed to keep temperatures that far below the street level temp.

The Post has a poll out today that shows high satisfaction with WMATA's bus and rail service. Did the Post poll anyone who actually takes Metro to work or (god help them) on the weekend? Between the frozen escalators, Red Line delays, poor communication etc., I don't understand why Metro's favorability is so high. Am I missing something?

Yes we did poll people who ride regularly -- 76 percent of D.C. area riders who ride Metro "very often" still rated it positively -- in spite of broken escalators, delays, communciations. My sense from talking with some of those surveyed is that people had a reasonable long view -- basically for the 10 times a week they commute, Metro gets them there ok for 9 of 10. Still, it is that one time that can be a real pain.

Can the DC DOT have a look at the lights on L Street N.W., eastbound, between 25th and 21st Streets, and on Florida Ave. N.W., northbound, between Mass. Ave. and Conn. Ave ? They are all out of synch, and causing long back-ups.

I'll pass that along to DDOT. Many travelers have complaints about traffic signals. Sometimes the lights are out of synch. Sometimes, it's the pedestrian call buttons that are affecting the sequence. Sometimes, they're accommodating cross traffic.

(In D.C., drivers can use the Mayor's 311 call center to complain about paraticular signals.)

Nobody I know thinks that Metro is doing an acceptable job. I think that your poll did not have a large enough sampling of daily commuters in it. It's daily commuters who bear the brunt of Metro's failings. I think that you would get a much less favorable picture of Metro if you polled only daily commuters.

The beauty of a random sample poll is that it allows us to look at the answers of all people in the area. Metro's popularity actually spans all groups of riders, including the most frequent users and those who ride less frequently. Among those who ride "very often" some 76 percent give it positive ratings, as do the 77 percent who ride rarely or never. 

My observation has been that people DO take responsibility. The problem is that when Metro has a meltdown, bus lines may become so congested that buses can't accommodate all passengers. Or it may take 2-3 buses to get where you're going, (doubling or tripling your travel time) so in some cases you may be better waiting out the meltdown from your home or office. Even if there were viable alternatives to the train in every instance for every rider, the fact remains that Metro service is awful. It's awful at rush, it's awful on weekends, it's awful at lunch time. And WMATA doesn't seem to take responsibility for THAT.

You raise a great point that many transit experts, riders and even Metro seem to agree on -- their communication during a meltdown has to be better. It is unclear to many of us who ride -- and write about the system -- why this doesn't get better at each crisis. Not a clear answer but so noted.

While I'm actually pretty satisfied with my commute on Metro, I have been caught a couple of times recently unable to exit the Orange line at Metro center if I'm in a rear car. The driver hits the button, the door chimes, and those exiting haven't had a chance to get out, never mind anyone being able to enter. What's the right way to report this? What info should I get (car number? time? what else?)? While I understand the need to move along the trains, it honestly makes me want to prop open the doors until the train goes out of service.

Yes getting the number on the rail car and noting the time and day is good info to get if you report it to Metro. Not sure what kind of response you will get or where to report it but it should be somewhere on their web site, I think.

I find it odd that WMATA doesn't really do much to publicize this other than a somewhat cryptic reference on their website. The proposed revisions to the subway map don't show it, for example. I understand the desire not to clutter up the map, and I understand why they're concerned that showing a transfer icon might confuse some riders who think it means you just walk down a tunnel. On the other hand, New York has allowed MetroCard users to change trains in this manner in two or three places for many years and has long showed it on the map using a dotted line. It sure seems to me that both WMATA and riders would benefit from showing this option on the map somewhere, as it'd reduce crowding at Metro Center and perhaps Gallery Place. It might also encourage some of the Luddites to get SmarTrip cards. Can you shed any light on why they downplay the option?

I don't believe transit staffers think they are downplaying the option. I think it's a good example of how whenever they think they've done enough to publicize some service -- or an upcoming disruption -- they need to do some more.

People move as quickly as they can through stations. Most aren't pausing to read posters. Many don't check the Metro Web site, where a lot of these service tips are available. Many are occasional riders who don't see this stuff at all.

OK, of those 70% plus of those frequent riders who rated Metro favorably, what's the total number? Over 100? 15?

Among all adults in the metro area, 14 percent say they ride metro "very often." 

According to the article in Express, the 1,100 surveyed were "people in the District and close-in suburbs..." How is this at all considered and accurate representation of ridership? These are the areas where people have the most alternate options. And why aren't surveys conducted online, tied to SmarTrip card numbers? Is it because WMATA know that is where truly accurate results would actually come from?

I think you may be a little confused. We, the Washington Post, did our survey indepdent of Metro. However, Metro does its own survey of a large swath of its riders. We're working to get more details on it and will share when we do.

You raise a good point about doing it online, I'll talk about that with our poll gurus.

Re tying it to SmarTrip numbers - not sure that is something Metro does or if that would cross over into privacy matters.

Our polling guru can give more details on the survey method. ...


From the pollsters:

Just to follow up on Dana's point, our poll is based on a random sample of all adults in the metro area. That means everyone - riders and non-riders alike - have a chance of being in the survey. Online polls don't reach everyone and they typically rely on people who agree ahead of time to be polled. That can produce different results that don't necessarily reflect the broader population.  

I am traveling to Hershey Park on Sunday and am hopeful that the traffic I encounter will not be so bad. However, I am coming back on July 12th and that day I am concerned about running into a lot of traffic. When would be a good time to leave without running into a great deal of traffic? I am staying in Harrisburg, PA just outside of Hershey Park.

I think traffic might be worse for you this  Sunday, July 7, than on Friday, July 12. This Sunday, many people will be returning from four-day weekends that started with the July 4 holiday.

On the following Friday, July 12, I'd wait till after 9 a.m. then start the trip south. (I'm assuming that you'll take I-83 south from Harrisburg, loop around the Baltimore Beltway and pick up I-95. What you'll be trying to do is avoid hitting somebody's rush hour.)

How many of the people that gave METRO high marks are government employees that have their travel subsidized for them. If my employer paid my travel expenses I probably wouldn't care as much. But when I'm spending $15 a day out of my own pocket it becomes a lot more annoying.

You raise a good point. Everyone is raising good points so really thanks for tuning in folks. It is fun to see so many people really intersted in generating smart, insights on this stuff.

To answer you -- I don't think we broke out government employees versus those who pay out of pocket.

You raise an interesting point that if people pay for it v. not they probably have a different viewpoint. Still, everyone wants as smooth a commute as possible, I think.

Given that many people will probably be taking Friday off, and that many may want to avoid crazy get-away traffic on Wednesday evening, do you think Thursday morning might be busy? I need to get from Rockville to BWI.

I think you should be fine on that route on Thursday morning. (From Rockville, I might take the Intercounty Connector to I-95, even though there's a toll.)

Traffic Wednesday afternoon and evening is likely to be extra heavy, but I very much doubt we're talking about the equivalent of a getaway on Thanksgiving eve. People have much more flexible schedules this week, and many will already be where they want to be.

The dissatisfied are always the loudest. I occasionally think about composing a tweet or some such that is more positive, but usually I just go back to doing my crossword. I drove to work for a decade until 5 years ago when I hopped on metro. I believe that my metro commute delays me far less often than my driving commute did. I'm glad the Post and other advocates are pressing for better communication, but I am pretty satisfied with metro.

Too bad you don't join the twitter conversation with your comments. But I know it can take time and crosswords are fun.

You raise a good point that I've heard from others -- while every rider (frequent or not) may have a long list of complaints about Metro -- sometimes it is better than the alternative of driving in traffic.

That's why there are crosswords, ipads and talk to your fellow riders.

Still, I'm not saying that's an excuse for bad service or not communicating with riders but it is pretty amazing we live in a place where we have Metro at all.

As a transit guru said to me - it is ONE option for getting around.

I am driving from Arlington to Charlotte, NC on the morning of July 4th. What do you expect traffic to be like, on 95-SB? Any suggestions on what time to leave?

I'd leave early, but I think you should be fine. The worst part of the trip might be the first part, getting along I-95 through Northern Virginia where the 95 Express Lanes are under construction, but work will be suspended for the holiday.

Long distance traffic on the Fourth generally should be on the light side.

I think of the survey like one of the "ad promos" in the movie Crazy People - http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0099316/?ref_=sr_1 "You may think phone service stinks since deregulation, but don't mess with us, because we're all you've got. In fact, if we fold, you'll have no damn phones. AT&T - we're tired of taking your crap! " Yes, Metro isn't what it was 10 years ago but, for me, it's still a lot better than driving everyday.

I don't know the movie Crazy People but sounds like I need to see it.

Again, you bring up something that I often hear riders say - they tell me of their most recent war story (or stories) of riding Metro and then they sigh and say it is better than the alternative.

I sometimes ask people if you're so frustrated and hate Metro so much - why don't you drive?

Their response (not scientific polling here, just shoe leather reporting) -- well, it basically gets me there easier, or cheaper (in some cases).


Don't forget that this weekend there will be a lot of events in the Gettysburg area for the 150th anniversary of the battle. It's bound to increase the traffic both there and in the Harrisburg area as people head home on Sunday. That's a good reason to use the I-83 route this weekend even if you live on the western side of the DC area such that normally you'd go up Route 15.

Thanks for the reminder. There are many activities at Gettysburg all this week that are likely to draw extra crowds. And that's a pretty popular summer destination in the first place.

It's Route 15 north of Frederick that I'd watch out for in particular.

You just said that "Everyone is raising good points" in today's chat. But are we? According to your poll, people who complain on Twitter or in the comments of Metro stories are outliers. We're the vocal minority. Apparently, nothing is wrong with Metro so I guess we should just shut up and shuffle along those frozen escalators like everyone else.

I don't think I called Twitter folks or the people in the polls "vocal minority."

We polled 1,100 people. That compares to the 750,000 rider trips on Metro each week day on average.

I'm not claiming we talked to everyone and I'm not saying twitter represents everyone.

These are snapshots of people and their thoughts.

And never shut up, express yourself -- to us, on twitter, to Metro, to Metro's board. The more voices, the better.

Regarding the Metro survey, the results of which many people (including myself) seem to find surprising... I'd be interested to know how the questions were phrased. I love living in a city with public transit. I'd much much rather have it than not. I don't want to drive to work. In that sense, I am very happy that Metro is here. But I've ridden public transit all over the world (often as a resident, and even more as a visitor), and Metro is BY FAR at the bottom of the pile. So my answer to the question "how do you feel about Metro on a scale of 1-5" might be relatively positive - but if you asked me "do you feel safe on Metro" it would be much different.

The full question wording and poll results can be found here.


Metro's safety ratings are one of the strongest points in the poll, according to riders. Some 81 percent give positive ratings for safety. 

how about you do this type of polling: ask 1000 riders that take WMATA 5 days a week. 1000 riders that take it once a week and 1000 riders that take it only on weekends. I'd say the numbers would be drastically different.

That's an interesting question. We didn't ask about ridership during the week vs. weekends. But we do know that the most frequent riders are just as happy with metro as those who only ride occasionally or never. 

Every time there is a major meltdown, Metro does a poor job of communicating. And every time this happens, they say they will do a better job next time. Next time happened last tuesday, when there was a major meltdown on the red and orange lines, followed by a massive power outage at union station. Why is nobody held accountable for the lack of improvement?

Good question. These issues do keep happening often and from where I sit, it does seem that it is the Metro board's job to hold the agency accountability. And TOC - the Tri-State Oversight Committee.

They are the overseers of Metro and its management.

Why aren't they asking harder questions??? I am not sure (sorry to not have a clear answer for you.)

As someone who sits in on many Metro board meetings, it seems they've taken a more back seat role in Metro's day to day operations and seem to be satisifed with things.

Few are asking hardline questions when things go wrong.

Tommy Wells sat down with some riders and suggested they form a Straphangers club, a group that would be more vocal about Metro's service and performance. Good idea, I think.

There really aren't enough coordinated grassroots, rider voices out there, it seems to me, standing up to Metro and the board demanding better service.


In Mr. Hiatt's editorial today he quotes Mr. Sarles as blaming the surly culture of Metro's employees on the union and the fact that bad bus drivers get promoted to being station managers. While the station managers are sometimes OK, most often they seem to hide from the public and do as little as possible, especially during what the airlines would call "irregular operations". Surely there must be some way for Metro's culture to be changed to be more accountable to the public. From the top down to the bottom. You've got Metro's PR department telling half truths and often outright lies to the public. It's not a surprise that the front line employees are likewise unaccountable.

My personal experience with Metro employees has been very positive. And I've observed them going to great lengths to help people, like on Inauguration Day or Marine Corps Marathon Day, when there are huge crowds of people who have no idea how to use fare cards or get where they're going.

I've certainly received many complaints about surly station managers.

The main problem I've witnessed is a passivity among employees in dealing with the public when the situation calls for more activism. That would include controlling safety on crowded platforms and managing the crowds pouring off the trains during a disruption.

On the latter, I think a key issue is that the station managers are almost immediately overwhelmed by a crowd of a thousand people -- and then the next train arrives.

Metro will use it to dismiss complaints as coming from chronic naysayers. It will take the views that a majority of users are happy with the way things are, so why improve?

Well Metro's chief claims he is not going to "rest on his laurels" in fixing and improving Metro when we shared the results with him from our poll.

Actions, speak louder than words (sorry to use a cliche.)

I encourage you all as riders -- and readers -- who seem concerned to keep on all of us to watch the system and see what happens.

If only 14 percent of the people polled were regular metro riders, that means you didn't poll 1,100 metro riders, it means you polled 154 regular metro riders. That's hardly a standard sample.

The poll was taken among 1106 adults in the DC metro area. We examined the results among those who ride frequently and less frequently and found few differences in opinions. 

Suggestion: Don't take I-95. Take I-66 west to Gainesville, then Route 29 all the way to Greensboro, and then down I-85. Other than I-66, and a work zone in Gainesville, there will be very little traffic on Route 29, and the speed limit is now 60, 65, or 70 pretty much the entire way except around Charlottesville (understandable). The difference in distance is less than 40 miles and you're likely to have a faster and more scenic trip than you would on I-95. Whichever route you use, however, know that there is about a 20-mile work zone northeast of Charlotte on I-85 that will cause a slowdown.

Thanks, and I'd welcome any other getaway guidance that might help travelers heading in any direction.

".... But the commenter is making very good points about the need for riders to take charge of their own fate during disruptions. ...." Wrong. We shouldn't have to. When we board Metro we are paying for a service, and if Metro can't provide the service we expect them to provide explanations and alternatives. At the very least, it is up to Metro to explain clearly over the PA, face-to-face and by all other available means what our alternatives are ("you can catch the 32 bus two blocks away, you can walk to the next station," etc.) Is Metro so unreliable that we need to have a Plan B always ready? And what percentage of Metro riders are tourists and visitors? Are they supposed to get out and start walking at random? I have ridden subways around the world, including Beijing and Shanghai, and no place is as systemically problem-ridden as D.C.'s. Nothing should excuse or minimize Metro's negligence.

A 2009 poll of New York City subway riders found far lower positive ratings of their system than for DC's metro. Just 53 percent of riders gave it excellent or good marks. 



My own experience with the metro in the past few months has been pretty negative. I live near the Glenmont metro, and every time I want to use it, there's been track work or - disturbingly often - mechanical failures. And with the endless litany of elevator and escalator outages, it's impossible to find out when the next train will arrive. If Metro can't offer better service, can't they at least communicate the failures before people are on the platform? And maybe let people leave the station free of charge?

Free of charge is a great idea. We all love something for free, especially me!

I've asked Metro this question after major chaotic events - of why people aren't let out for free. And from what I remember off the top of my head -- I never really get a straight answer on this. I'm not sure why, honestly.

Maybe if enough riders spoke up? Or protested? They'd do it... I don't know what it would take. I wonder if other transit agencies do that of a free ride when they've had a major problem.

Intersting concept.

It's probably an imperfect poll, and can probably be sliced and diced a million ways, but some people have to just admit there are a LOT of people who are more happy than unhappy with metro. And I doubt that government employees view metro as something they don't pay for. just like any benefit (insurance, time off, etc.) for anyone in any sector, most people tend to think of these benefits as things that "belong" to them and expect results accordingly.

Not to be a smartie pants, but life is imperfect. (This is Dana Hedgpeth answering by the way, not Dr Gridlock)

You're right - everyone who rides Metro whether government employee or not -- should expect results from something they ride and pay for (in some way.)

No disagreement here.

I am a frequent metro rider (commuter, ball games, trips downtown etc) and am basically happy with metro, espacially as I always check on weekend work and avoid metro when it is a problem (I am more unhappy with idiots who try to block closing doors). I am primarily an orange line user. I am wondering whether there was any correlation between line used for the majority of the trip and satisfaction. I expect if I were depending on the red line to get around, I would be very unhappy.

That's a great question. We find no difference in opinion of metro based on those who ride the various lines. Specifically, 80 percent of those who mostly ride the Red line give it positive ratings. 

It's not a popular stance, but I Red Line from SG to Dupont each weekday and if I were surveyed I'd give good marks. I get on early - 6:30am and 4pm - and have to say I rarely, rarely encounter issues or delays. I refuse to take it on weekends but I've commuted to the city from the MD burbs for 15 years, some driving, some on Metro and some MARC and on weekdays I prefer metro to any alternative.

Actually your stance may be more popular than you realize (Dana Hedgpeth answering you here.)

I talk to A LOT of Metro bus and rail riders and usually people have a horror story of riding but when they stop and think about it as a whole they might actually give it an ok mark. Not consistently but I'm always amazed that even after horrible experiences of being stuck on hot trains, or super late riding Metro or waiting for a bus that never shows up -- people keep coming back to it.

Not sure what that says but people still ride it.

Yes they've had some drops in ridership but not huge, huge ones that you might expect at times.

I live near the Greenbelt metro station, and I keep hearing that there were/are plans to extend the Green line all the way to BWI... eventually. Is this urban legend, or is there any fact behind this tale I've been told?

There's been talk of that for a long time. Just talk. Don't expect to see it in our commuting lifetime. The cost would be astronomical, and Maryland would have to pick up a lot of it. I'm not sure the ridership would justify it. Better would be to improve MARC service.

I missed the bus this morning, but one of the supervisors gave me a ride to catch with the bus. It was a nice start to a humid Monday morning. Very thankful!!

"I encourage you all as riders -- and readers -- who seem concerned to keep on all of us to watch the system and see what happens." We do. All of the time. And nothing changes. We get polls like the one today, which Metro management and board will hold up as an example of how wonderfully they're doing their jobs.

Sorry if you felt like my answer wasn't good enough (Dana Hedgpeth here).

Yes, it is frustrating to speak up and not get heard or feel like things are not changing. You're totally right.

I guess my answer to you on that is this -- keep at it. As cheesy as that sounds.

And that means sharing your observations with me, Dr. Gridlock too about Metro and commuting in the area. We will certainly listen, I can guarantee that.

Can we change it? And fast? Never would I promise that but it is our job to listen and check out your concerns. We will do our best to pursue it and put it out there.

Will the change come? Don't know but at least it is out there.

Dr. Gridlock, you're comparing your poll which only consisted of 154 regular riders, to a NY poll, which didn't say how many riders it polled. If they polled 1000 riders, then its results are MUCH more reliable than a poll that only polled 150.

Our poll included over 1100 respondents. The sample of the MOST FREQUENT riders was smaller, but the results are reliable and valid. There are virtually no differences in opinion between those who ride "very often" vs. those who ride sometimes, rarely or never. 

Its easier said than done to take action and question the board for more accountability when they hold their meetings in the middle of the day, so that regular riders can't take off work to be part of the public comment.

I am so glad you brought this up. (Dana Hedgpeth answering here)

You reminded me of a thought I've often had when I'm sitting there at this day long marathon meetings. I get paid (not much mind you) to be there and listen and write but I have often wondered what would happen if they were at night so more people could go - or even weekends.

People want to be heard but we all have busy lives and board meetings in the middle of a work day and telling the public they can make comments at them isn't convenient to as many riders as possible.


when I drive, I know about alternate routes. when I walk, I make a note of how to avoid busy or dangerous intersections. when I bike, I have a plan B in case of rain. getting on a metro train doesn't mean that is suddenly someone else's responsibility entirely. so you can stay stuck in a crowded system when a train malfunctions and be right, or you can be armed with alterantive walking and bus routes (and even short cab rides) and get home with as few delays as possible. seems like an obvious choice.... no matter what you think *should happen.

I agree that all travelers need to take responsibility, whether they're riding on a train, driving on an Interstate or crossing an intersection on foot.

I don't see any particular type of traveler doing this any more or less than any other.

Ex: Travel information -- both for transit and driving -- is much more readily available than it was a decade ago. And it's not that hard to check before leaving home or office.

One thing our poll found was that a minority of people actually do check. 

Regarding exit stations free when there's no service: Farecards and gates are computerized. How hard would it be to program the system so that if someone leaves a station, say, 20 minutes or so after he entered the same station, he wouldn't be charged? It doesn't seem like it would be hard to do, and would go a long way to soothing customer frustrations.

Very good point.

And I am sorry to say I don't know the answer.

I'm sure there are some techies out there who do know and you should send this question to Metro. I will too and we'll publish the answer another time on a Dr. Gridlock chat.

I got an answer from Metro spokesman Dan Stessel in a quick email on the why Metro doesn't offer refunds question -- he wrote in an email -- "Not on the table because it opens up a huge potential for fraud/gaming the system."

I'm not sure what that means and have asked him for more follow up. We will share at some point (maybe not today but in future chats.)

I think the answer to that question is pretty obvious. Most people who use Metro to commute don't have a lot of alternatives. So they keep coming back despite that fact that the escalators are always broken and the trains are overcrowded. We're a captive audience for the most part. For me the trains operate pretty OK most of the time. I've even gotten used to Rush Minus even though it still makes me mad. I can drive in less time but my office pays for Metro and not parking so it is an out of pocket thing for me as much as anything

The Rush Minus reference made me LOL (Dana Hedgpeth here). I am sure others may feel that way too.

Sorry about that.

You are totally right - we are a captive audience of riders -- for the good and for the bad.

I am always intrigued by commuters who split their weeks -- drive a few days, ride Metro bus or rail a few days.

I would love to take their blood pressure riding v. driving and chart that.


In London, with its similar Oyster Card, if you exit the station you entered within a half hour, there is no charge, in case there is a disruption, or you went into the entrance without the elevator (I've done that), or you forgot something at home. It even gave them an rationale when they put Paddington's "Left Luggage" Window inside the gates. This would probably be the simplest computer software change in the world for Metro.

Interesting point you raise on London (Dana Hedgpeth here).

It is possible that as Metro is looking to replace its fare collection system that it will have such a feature. I'm not sure but it could.

I'll be writing more about that as it goes along and I'll ask about that one.

"..... Not sure what that says but people still ride it...." It says that we are stuck with the alternatives we've got. We ride Metro because it's the transportation system we have. The highway system here is overloaded, and downtown parking is wildly expensive (in part because the D.C. parking magnates have blocked the creation of municipal garages). We are like an abused spouse: We stay in the relationship because we have no place else to go.

Whoa! Hold on a second -- (Dana Hedgpeth here answering you) -- I think we may be a bit over the top bringing in the reference to an abused spouse.

Let's stick with transportation related comparisons please and continue an enlightened discussion.

Your points on parking and roads are good ones.

We do have our whole team addressing your questions and comments, as I said at the beginning, but you might not be able to tell that.

If you see ROBERT THOMSON at the start of the answer, that's me, Dr. Gridlock. I'm answering the non-poll ones. My colleagues, Dana, Ashley and Peyton, are handling the poll ones, though I think their names aren't showing up right now.

Yes, but the sample of those who don't ride metro was much greater than those who do ride. You can't reach a conclusion for regular riders based on a 150 person sample.

You can reach a conclusion on a group that size. The sample size of a poll is very important for interpreting the accuracy of poll results. Smaller groups are subject to larger error margins. But we see that very frequent riders have virtually the same opinions as others. 

A poster asked a few weeks ago what was going on at the interchange. You stated that you weren't aware of any construction in the area. Well, I for one can tell you that there's a lot of construction going on at this interchange including the installation of soundwalls and some shifting of exit lanes. Could you please report as to what precisely is going on at the Beltway and Georgetown Pike, and no, it has nothing to do with the shoulder lane use project or the Express Lanes project.

Soundwall construction, according to VDOT.

As you say, VDOT plans to open 1.5 miles of the left shoulder on the inner loop to traffic between Old Dominion Road and GW Parkway, but that's a ways off.

Having reviewed my share of customer satisfaction surveys, I can say that many number are just that. The meat of such surveys are the comments provided by the customer. That where you see which customers give poor ratings because they (for example) don't have a metro seat to themselves, their transfer train left as they were approaching, and nonsense like that. The people you take strong note of are the ones that actually tell you what they would like to be improved and offer suggestion for improvement, and that understand they aren't the only customer that needs to be benefited at the cost of others.

You hit the nail on the head.

These are well done pollls but they are the bones. Talking to people is the meat behind them and we did that in our stories.

"Our poll included over 1100 respondents. The sample of the MOST FREQUENT riders was smaller, but the results are reliable and valid. There are virtually no differences in opinion between those who ride "very often" vs. those who ride sometimes, rarely or never." And what number of respondents said they "rarely" or "never" ride the system? If you discount those two groups (which is really more telling how well the media is doing their job than anything else), what are the results? The more I read about this survey, the more statistically invalid it is becomming.

Among those who ride "very often," 76 percent give a positive rating to metro.

Among those who "sometimes" ride, 82 percent give a positive rating.

Among those who "rarely" or "never" ride, 77 percent give positive ratings. These are not meaningful differences, in a statistical sense. 


On nearly every blue line round trip I take, the train stops in a tunnel and riders are informed that the train will be "moving momentarily" - often several times between stations and during lengthy delays. Is this statement one that train operators are trained to make? It's quite annoying and about as useless as flight attendants telling passengers that "once again" something will happen. Is there any way to get operators to use more informative language when describing a delay?

Haha the word momentarily is annoying, I agree (Dana Hedgpeth here answering you.)

Maybe you could suggest to Metro or reach out to your representative on the Riders Advisory Council and ask them to raise this issue to management.

I don't know why they use that word. Maybe it is in a manual that tells operators to use that? Not sure.

Depending on where you are coming home to, Rte. 15 to I-270 may be a better option. I drove back from a business trip to Harrisburg last week and it was relatively traffic free until I hit the DC beltway.

Over the year, I've heard from many travelers who prefer taking a combination of I-270 and Route 15 as part of their Northeast trips, even if for some it means they have to take something other than the most direct path.

I do enjoy Route 15. Very scenic. I'd just be careful of it till Sunday, because of the Gettysburg activities.

One reason WMATA doesn't want to allow people to exit the same stop for free is that they're concerned about the possibility of people gaming the system. That is, say you ride from Ballston to Metro Center and your friend rides from Metro Center to Ballston. WMATA's concerned that you'll find a way to meet each other halfway (I'd assume Foggy Bottom or Court House, both of which have center platforms) and trade farecards or SmarTrip cards. You then exit using the other person's card and you're charged the minimum fare. That's all a possibility right now and they recognize it can happen, but they're concerned that if they allow people to exit free, people will use this method to game the system in order to get free rides. I'm not saying they're right or wrong, just passing along a paraphrased version of what they've said in the past.

Well there you have it. Interesting. Thanks, Dana.

Hi Dr G., VDOT has made some terrific improvements on the Parkway in the Fair Lakes/I-66 area. However, going south on the Parkway from just after I-66 area, there is a new lane that was added that just, poof, disappears rather suddenly! I've noticed quite a few panicked looks from motorists, because it's not clear what's going to happen to the magical third lane. There is one sign on the far right just after folks get onto the Pkwy from I-66 indicating that the far left lane ends soon, but it's really not obvious to folks traveling in the far left lane. I'm afraid we'll end up with a serious accident there one of these days!

Thanks, I'll go take a look. By the way, folks, some of the worst traffic I can spot on the maps and cameras during the a.m. rush is eastbound on I-66 in the area around VA 50.

The intersection at 7th and H, NW, made it illegal for drivers to take a right or left turn some time ago. However, I continually see drivers attempting to turn, slowing down traffic significantly and always putting pedestrians in harms way. Why doesn't the city just add a bigger sign on top of the light post, like what is on top of other light posts at other intersections throughout the city, that lights up and always has a "no turns" notification? Seems like a simple solution that would solve a lot of problems.

I like the idea for a more prominent sign, though I don't believe that would entirely solve the turning issue. I think some drivers are just ignoring making illegal moves.

For all: This is the intersecton by the Chinatown arch that has a very high volume of pedestrian traffic, so much so that the District Department of Transportation set up a special crossing configuration called a Barnes Dance, where there's a cycle allowing people to cross diagonally. To work properly, there can't be any turning vehicles.

The traffic light going East down K Street, NW.,, at 16th Street is out of synch. So, cars are backed up during the morning rush, because the light doesn't stay green long enough for more than 3 cars to go through (this is at 16th & K Street). HELP!

What is the listed capacity of this bridge? I would think that we are somewhere close to it, and if so, what is Maryland doing about it? They're significantly increasing tolls on bridges and tunnels across the state along with a highly unpopular gas tax increase to fill the coffers. Add to that a billion dollar express toll lane project in Baltimore that hasn't seen a lick of construction or progress in nearly a year. Meanwhile, one of the most critical situations in the region (Potomac River crossings) are decades behind even the most conservative population growth estimates. VDOT has the infrastructure in place, and two major thoroughfares that would require minimal extension to cross the River, yet Maryland sits idly by as commuters slog across a bridge that could barely handle rush hour traffic 20 years ago. What will it take to get another (or 2 or 3) new Potomac River crossings (including one for Metro) to at least bring this regions transportation infrastructure into the 1990's?

One of the worst travel problems in Maryland is the congestion on the west side of the Beltway between the Legion Bridge and Bethesda (the area around the I-270 split.)

Maryland has shown zero interest in new Potomac River crossings. Somewhat more likely is an improvement affecting the Legion Bridge, the skinny part of the Beltway and I-270.


Leaving Bethesda for the Danbury, CT area at 2:30 pm on Tuesday. Should be hitting the NY area between 5:30 and 6:00 PM depending on all other traffic issues. Should we detour up and take the TappanZee or just muscle our way through on the Turnpike to the GW Bridge and then wend our way up 87-other thruways I can't name-684? Leaving earlier is not an option. If doing the TappanZee, where do you detour?

If I'm getting to the NYC area at the evening rush, I don't want to be on the GW Bridge, the Cross Bronx Expressway and any of the parkways heading north into Westchester County.

I'd take the Garden State Parkway north to intersect with the NY Thruway and head east to the Tappan Zee Bridge, take the Cross Westchester to I-684 north and then I-84 east to Danbury (where I used to live).

Still, I expect you're going to encounter heavy traffic. Just maybe not as bad as on the GW Bridge route.

Will the Express Lanes operator have more freedom to reverse the direction of the lanes when they are tolled, or will they continue to operate on the existing schedule?

I think the plan is basically to operate on the existing schedule. The 95 Express Lanes have to link up with the I-395 HOV lanes. Any time I ask VDOT people about being more flexible with the directions, I think they have visions of cars hurtling toward each other because someone didn't make absolutely sure the lanes were cleared before being reversed.

So I think that while there could eventually be some adjustment of the hours, it isn't like they're going to adjust the hours day by day.

(The main complaint -- or anxiety -- I hear about the conversion from HOV to HOT is that drivers who now use the lanes for free on weekends will have to pay the toll.)

You can tell when someone is making a left turn, the horns start blaring. I have seen police in the morning, never in the evening, stop drivers. The only police I see in the evening are foot patrols handling crowds. This intersection needs cameras

I've also seen police there giving out tickets -- I think my observations were at midday.

There's a limit to what they can do on enforcement without creating an extra-bad traffic jam near Verizon Center.

As follow up to the earlier question, why is Maryland not interested in new bridge crossings?

Lots of reasons. Maryland officials aren't as eager as Virginia officials to build new highways. Montgomery County residents do not appear anxious to host a bridge and highway. (Neither do Virginians. See our stories about the Bi-County Parkway.)

Also, I'm not sure why Maryland officials would prioritize a project that helps Marylanders get to jobs in Virginia.

Dr. Gridlock, How can we re-educate drivers? Last Friday knocked power out in parts of Arlington. Like last year, I witnessed black intersections wehre nobody wanted to stop. It's like people have forgetten about this- it's dangerous and there's no way for the people that don't know to ever be tested on how their knowledge has dropped!

I've seen that plenty of times during power outages when the intersections go dark. Many drivers don't even slow down. Of course, those drivers can get tickets, but there aren't enough police officers to deploy for all the intersections.

Travelers, thanks for joining us today. I'm going to sign off now for the whole crew.

I'd like to thank those of you who contributed travel information for the people heading out on vacation trips this week. You gave me some ideas for travel tips to post on the Dr. Gridlock blog over the next couple of days. Then we'll see how this Wednesday getaway goes.

Stay safe, and rejoin me next Monday.

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.
Ashley Halsey III
Ashley Halsey covers transportation for the Washington Post.
Dana Hedgpeth
Dana is a Metro transit system (WMATA) reporter for The Washington Post.
Peyton Craighill
Petyon Craighill is the polling manager for The Washington Post.
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