Dr. Gridlock

Jul 18, 2011

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. The roads and the trains seem somewhat less crowded, now that we're deep into summer vacation season. But there are plenty of issues in mailbag.

Hi Dr. G. I emailed this question before, but you didn't have time to get to it. Currently there are several orange safety/traffic barrels that make the west bound entrance to the beltway from Kenilworth very short... maybe 30 feet or less. It doesn't always look like the entry was that short. Is there a plan to remove the barrels and make the merge/entry lane longer?

Kenilworth, Write back to me so I make sure I know what you mean. There's a big rehab project on the bridge, as you probably know. I wasn't aware that this project involved any reconfiguration of the ramp. Is that what you're saying? As I recall, there's a lane shift in the area for this project.

The latest road work advisory I have on it is as follows:

Drivers will find up to three lanes closed on the Capital Beltway’s inner loop (I-95/I-495 South) Sunday through Thursday nights at the Kenilworth Avenue bridge, which is undergoing a rehabilitation scheduled to be done by fall.

The phased-in lane closings will start with a single right lane closing at 8 p.m. and progress to a three-lane closure by 10 p.m. One lane will remain open to traffic.

The overnight lane closures will last several weeks while the concrete deck is removed. All lanes will reopen by 5 o’clock each morning.

Dr. G. - Happy to report that the high speed EZ Pass lanes are open in both directions at the Newark toll plaza and passing through was painless. The Tydings Bridge on the other hand... yikes. Yesterday traveling south it looked like there was a good 10 miles of backed up traffic coming north to try to get past the toll plaza.

Tydings is the I-95 bridge over the Susquehanna River, just south of the Maryland toll plaza, where drivers pay going northbound but not southbound. I don't know of any special problems yesterday. There does tend to be a lot of traffic going north on Sunday afternoons in the summer.

But I'm very glad to hear that report about the Newark toll plaza. It matches just about everything else I've heard from travelers since the new highway-speed lanes opened. That's good news.

I was going to submit this as a comment on the blog post for today (as suggested in the posting), but "comments were closed." It's confusing when you refer to some roadways by their route numbers and some by their names. Could there perhaps be a standard convention - either both route numbers and names (which would eliminate all confusion) or one or the other? Thanks.

I'm interested in what readers think on this point because my goal in those road work announcements is -- of course  -- to make the route information as clear as possible.

My habit is to use the designation that I think most people will get. For example, I'd say Constitution Avenue  rather than Route 50, or K Street, rather than Route 29.

There are points along some routes that change names. When I see a project that's pretty close to the name-change point, I tend to use the Route number rather than the name. I might say "Route 29" rather than Colesville Road or Columbia Pike, if I think that might avoid confusion on a certain project.

I have particular trouble trying to figure out the best way to identify something happening on the Beltway: inner loop, outer loop? I-95/495? I-495 north, south, east, west?

Hello Dr. G, I've observed as a slugger on 395, almost comically, the blatant number of cars violating HOV restrictions. any insight from virginia authorities on this issue that you are aware of?

I-95/395 is one of the easiest areas for HOV enforcement, because of the lane separations. (Compare that to Route 50 in Maryland, or I-66 in Virginia.) But I hear pretty regularly from drivers who obey the rules about drivers who don't.

The police mount enforcement campaigns, and they publicize them pretty well. (Some traffic experts refer to the Three E's of behavior modification: Enforcement, Enforcement and Publicity About Enforcement.)

I don't know the real answer on this. Enforcement causes its own problems. Any time the police stop a lot of drivers, it causes a lot of congestion and creates a safety issue for those on the sides of the highways and in the travel lanes.

Dr. Gridlock- After the accident two years ago on the red line, metro stated that it was only going to use the 1000s Series Cars in the middle of the train due to their increased likelihood of crumpling in a collision. Yet I have noticed that some trains use the 1000s Series cars as either the front train, or more commonly, in the back on all the lines. What gives?

That shouldn't be happening. It's definitely against Metro's policy. You should report it to Metro whenever you see that.

Dr Gridlock: Why does the DC government allow construction on Constitution Ave during morning rush hour? There were enormous traffic backups on the Roosevelt bridge this morning. Once in DC, the "numbered streets" connecting to Constitution were backed up as far as you could see because drivers couldn't get on to Constitution. The city should allow construction on the westbound portion of Constitution during morning rush, not eastbound. Also, how long is the work expected to continue for? Thanks!

It's not the D.C. government. That's the National Park Service rebuilding Constitution Avenue. What the park service has said is that this isn't just your average resurfacing effort. This reconstruction goes right down to the foundation of the road, so the crews won't always be able to restore the lanes in time for rush-hour traffic.

This was in the park service report about road work for this week:

From 5:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. each day through Friday, expect up to two lanes in each direction to be closed between between 17th and 23rd streets for the avenue’s reconstruction.

From 7 p.m. to 5:30 a.m. each night through Friday, expect to find up to three lanes closed in each direction between 16th and 18th streets. From 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, drivers may find up to three lanes closed in each direction between 17th and 23rd streets.

What the heck was going on at Silver Spring metro this morning? About 7:20 a train pulled in (marked Silver Spring), just sat there for a few minutes, then flipped its sign to Grosvenor and proceded down the wrong side of the tracks. Didn't let passengers get on first. And I didn't see any other trains turning around at SS for the next ten mins or so. VERY odd.

There was a problem at Silver Spring early this morning that caused delays in both directions. I don't know the exact nature of that problem.

What you describe about the train switching signs sounds to me like one of the things Metro does when it's trying to get a line back on schedule. There's a rail switch south of Silver Spring. Metro can bring in Glenmont-bound trains on either track, change the sign for Grosvenor and board passengers. It might take an extra little while to reopen the doors to board those passengers if the operator first has to walk from the northbound side of the train to the southbound train.

When the seats say for handicap and seniors, how old does one have to be to be senior?

Well, that's an interesting question, and I'm not sure there's a right answer. To qualify for the reduced "senior" fare, you have to be 65. But to qualify for the priority seats, you don't need to have a specific disability, and I don't believe you have to be a certain age. You definitely don't need to show some sort of card as you ask a person to give up the priority seat. You just have to need the seat.

The able-bodied person occupying the seat isn't supposed to judge whether you're disabled enough or old enough. The person is just supposed to do the right thing and stand up.

So I've read the press releases and news articles regarding these new cars and it seems like they're putting in some good designs (poles on every seat, non-skid flooring, better signeage, etc). I noticed that they say that the cars are matched in pairs of 4 rather than 2. So wouldn't this mean that they would lose the option to run 6 car trains and be forced to run 8 or 4 car trains instead? If so - here's hoping they run 8 car trains!

I did a blog posting on this topic called "How will Metro split new trains?" Here's a link: http://wapo.st/q1NxNj

It's a good question. There's nothing stopping Metro at some point in the future from operating these new 7000 series cars as four-car trains, rather than eight-car trains. But that certainly isn't the way Metro planning is going. The goal has been to provide more eight-car trains.



How are the comments running about the bike lanes?

Not too much lately. Cyclists seem pretty happy with them, including the new lanes on 15th Street NW in DC. Drivers never like sharing the road with cyclists. They tend to object either to setting aside space for cyclists or to having the cyclists in the regular travel lanes.

The recently completed links connecting Eisenhower valley through the Wilson Bridge are wonderful. There's now a "missing link", that if constructed, would be a boon to VA, PG County, DC, Nats Park, new Arena Stage, the rapidly rehabilitating Anacostia waterfront, etc . It would also facilitate a significant new non-car commuting capability to/from the military bases along 295, as well as the huge new DHS complex at St. Elizabeth's, and the Navy Yard area. That missing link is a bike/running trail between the Wilson Bridge and the South Capitol Street Bridge. Are there ANY plans for that, or even discussions about it?

I did a Commuter page feature shortly after the Wilson Bridge trail opened. This one: http://wapo.st/ddYcYC

But I can't remember the prospects for connecting with a trail to the north. (Perhaps some cycling enthusiasts could help in this?)

I know that plans for the new 11th Street Bridge include a bike path but don't know how far south that might take you.


I was driving under the pedestrian bridges near the Pentagon for the umpteenth time and wouldn't it be nice if they carved the faces of our famous generals to look at like the faces under the Pont Neuf bridge in Paris?

Famous US generals like, say, Grant, Sherman and Sheridan? That would be quite a sight for Virginians. This project may involve some more controversies than the Pentagon would wish to encounter.

So what happens if these lanes dont generate the revenues necessary to pay the bonds etc? Who is the hook for the costs? Better not be the VA tax payer? The Greenway has gone through multiple bankruptcies and owners.

Of course it's the taxpayer. Virginia already has agreed to provide a sort of safety net of financial compensation to the private company if not enough toll payers use the HOT lanes. If, at some future point, the company went out of business, the state government might be forced to take over operations. (We certainly have a history of governments having to take over transportation assets when private companies have failed.)

Why? It makes I66W in the afternoons very unsafe because of the wonderfully bright knuckleheads who slow down to 40mph to see what is going on. Even worse is when the VA state troopers make a big show of getting dressed for enforcmeent on the cut throguh just after the Metro tracks end. It can slow traffic down to the Rt 7 exit. Lets just do away with HOV altogether. Its unfair and violates my Constitutional right under the VA Constitution.

Not sure I understand the state constitutional issue. Haven't heard that one raised before.

HOV enforcement is also a challenge because police need to sort out the cheaters from those allowed to use the lanes due to the exemption for hybrids. The enforcement challenge will only grow when the lanes become HOT lanes in the near futrue - has anyone ever explained to you how htey will sort out the cheaters from car pools and those who paid the toll as they whiz past at 65 mph?

Yes, but I definitely want to learn more specifically how this enforcement plan will work, as the planners develop it.

I do know that all drivers using the HOT lanes will have to have an E-ZPass style transponder. The regular E-ZPass unit will work. But there also will be one that carpoolers will have to get. It will have a switch with settings for regular E-ZPass use and for carpool use. Police, under a contract with the private company operating the lanes, will enforce the rules.

Do you have any thoughts re how Kwame Brown's sacking of Tommy Wells as Public Works and Transportation Committee Chair will affect transportation priorities in the District?

Tommy Wells hadn't really had a chance to develop as a Metro board member, but he was doing a fine job as a defender of the interests of transit users. There was nothing about his performance as a Metro board member that would have caused a mayor to remove him.

That said, I think DC has some Metro priorities that won't change. It wants bus fares to stay low, would rather see parking rates go up than fares, would rather have fares based on distance than go to a flat-fare system where everyone pays the same rate. Those bottom line things won't change no matter who holds the DC seats on the Metro board.

Could you just remind your readers that not all disabilities are easily visible? Particularly with the jerkiness of manually controlled trains, there are many out there who look like able-bodied twenty-, thirty-, or forty-somethings, but for whom a long ride standing is, in fact, quite difficult or painful.

Of course. That's why I said people in the seats shouldn't be making some sort of assessment of just how disabled the seat requester is.

But I also urge the standees to speak up for themselves and ask for the seats.

Travelers, I need to end our chat here, but will be back next Monday at our usual noon time. Write to me anytime at drgridlock@washpost.com.

Of course, there are still many questions and comments in the mailbag that I'll look through and see if I can address on the blog this week. For example, I'm pretty sure I can post something about what's going on along Canal Road and the Clara Barton Parkway.

Stay safe -- and cool -- this week.

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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