Dr. Gridlock

Aug 04, 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.

Welcome, travelers. Anyone get caught up in the street closings and detours for the US-Africa Leaders Summit on the west side of DC?

I got a question on Twitter asking how bad the delays will be for motorcades. I think that's impossible to tell, but those unpredictable delays certainly will be a part of the traffic scene through Wednesday. The summit locations are scattered enough to require some motorcades and temporary traffic stops.

We've got plenty of other traffic and transit issues today.

I never thought I woud have much need for the Silver Line. One issue I have struggled with is having my car serviced by the dealer in Tysons. It was always out of my way and required me to rent a loaner car for the day. But, now I see that I could use the Silver Line to get from the dealer to work since there is a shuttle bus that I can catch in Rosslyn. How pedestrian friendly is the Rt 7 area for people needing to walk to the new Silver Line Metro stations?

I think it's going to depend on your specific path along Route 7 and whether you're using the Spring Hill or Greensboro station. But generally, the Metrorail line has progressed more than the pedestrian improvements needed to support it.

Though Fairfax County has been paying attention to sidewalk and crossing upgrades, the opening of the Silver Line didn't make Tysons a walkable community.

My hope is that the opening of the rail line will focus more interest on speeding up the pedestrian and biking safety improvements.

Metro had a pretty good opening week. As expected, trains are more crowded in the morning from Vienna to East Falls Church, but not horribly so. The human crush at the Arlington stations is now mitigated by Silver Line trains. In the evenings, Orange Line trains are actually less crowded, but the wait times are, of course, longer. Although I did not ride the Blue Line last week, I've heard far less encouraging reports from my friends who ride that line. It will be interesting to see how the system holds up after Labor Day.

I think the real test of the Silver Line's impact will come after vacation season ends, but it's good to have this summer break-in period to let many riders get adjusted.

Seems to me most of the initial Silver Line riders are Metro veterans, not newbies. There was little confusion around the fare gates at the new stations. Downtown in the afternoons, riders showed little confusion about which trains to board for their rides home.

Orange Line riders were better off with the Silver Line last week than they were during the previous week, when the Orange Line cutbacks took effect but we still didn't have the Silver Line trains  to divert some of the riders from the west side of the Orange Line.

From my observations, Blue Line trains tended to be the most crowded last week, with the Orange Line trains a pretty close second. Silver Line trains had the lightest crowds of the three.

Why did VDOT decide to terminate the new I-95 south HOT lanes project in Stafford, VA ? The original proposal continued to Fredericksburg. Thank you.

I don't recall a planning phase with Fredericksburg as the southern end -- at least not in the recent years of planning for the 95 Express Lanes.

Seems like crossing the Rappahannock River would have added a huge expense to the project. And then on the revenue side, I think an extension that far south from the DC region would not have generated much in the way of tolls.

How does Metro transfer their trains from the Red Line to other lines? There does not appear to be any place in the system where the Red Line coincides with other lines allowing this transfer to take place. Are all Red Line trains permanently stuck on the Red Line?

There's a tunnel in the Farragut North/McPherson Square zone that links the lines. You won't see in-service trains using it, but you can out of service trains using it from the Farragut North platform.

When will Metro release figures for Silver Line ridership? So far, it looks quite sparse, but of course it just opened.

By 7 p.m. last Monday, the first commuting day: 24,309 passengers began or ended their trips at the five new stations in Fairfax County.

Wiehle-Reston East was the busiest station. It's at the end of the line, has a big parking garage, and a lot of  commuter bus routes stop there now. By 10 a.m. last Monday -- in other words, at the end of the Monday morning commute -- it was the 12th busiest station in the Metrorail system.

Still, the trains are not crowded going through Fairfax. They get more crowded as they go through Arlington, DC and Prince George's.

In addition to the tunnel Dr. Gridlock mentions connecting McPherson Square (outbound track) to Farragut North (also outbound track), there's a single-track connection between the Red Line and the Green Line near Fort Totten. Readers might recall the old "Green Line Commuter Shortcut" service that ran Green Line trains from Greenbelt to Farragut North during rush hours for several years in the 1990s prior to the Columbia Heights and Georgia Avenue stations opening. That service used the single-track connection near Fort Totten (and did not stop at said station). So another way for Metro to move cars off the Red Line is to use that track, because once they're on the Green Line they can connect to all the other lines by using the bridge over the Potomac.

Doc. Let me first say walking out the door of the apartment I have lived in for seven years and down the street to the McLean metro (whose construction for the past four years has inconvenience me plenty) was a revelation. It made me feel like I live in a completely different place. However, I wonder if you know anything about plans to make this particular neighborhood more walkable. Doesn't make sense that there is no way to walk the 10 mins from McLean station to Tysons. There are no sidewalks or ramps near the beltway aprons, which would make this trek safer. Also, the area near the McLean "Kiss n Ride" is still really dark, especially below the Northrup Grumman complex on Colshire Meadow Dr. and my block, Scott's Crossing, near the Capital One building. Any chance we will see more lighting and safe walking installed in this neighborhood?

I think Fairfax County officials are considering where they're next round of investment in pedestrian/biking improvements will be.

Meanwhile, the McLean community make a persuasive and successful argument that there should be at least a temporary parking lot at the McLean station because it would be so difficult for people in the community to walk to the station.

In response to the first poster, the photo of the Spring Hill metro stop at http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/special/local/silver-line-stations/ clearly shows that a pedestrian does not need to cross Rt 7, as there are entrances on both sides of this busy street. I wish I had had this option when we were using the Toyota dealership.

We kept hearing last week that the Wiehle station was the 12th-busiest. What are the stations above it, for reference?

I remember that by 10 a.m., it was busier than Glenmont or Crystal City.

You can judge "busy" by boardings or exits at different times of the day, but I think the top group overall includes Union Station, Metro Center, Gallery Place, L'Enfant Plaza, Dupont Circle, the Farraguts and Rosslyn.

Here is my take on the Silver Line. Everyone who drives out to the Tysons' area is hoping that others will take the metro so that their drive will have less traffic. As long as everyone has that mentality, the traffic won't ease up. It also doesn't help that many of those in Tysons' are paid a lot of money and given free parking. Start charging for parking the way they do in DC and more people will take Silver Line.

Free parking is a huge factor in attracting traffic. That's true in Tysons and elsewhere in our region.

Another factor you mention -- that people think transit is a great idea, for everybody else -- showed up in a transportation poll we did a few years ago, and I don't believe anything has changed.

But I think you may be underrating the attraction of Metro at Tysons Corner. I think it's going to be big for shoppers and office workers over the next few years. That won't end traffic problems in Tysons. But I think they may be less worse than they would have been otherwise.

In July I noticed Metro's auto-load feature was wacky. Showed three auto-loads on the same day. I logged on to Metro's web site and my SmarTrip history showed 6 auto-loads for July. My bank showed seven, although one or two were "pending." All the pending charges have posted, and now my bank is showing just five (not the 6 the Metro web site shows). Was Metro having problems with the auto-load feature in July?

This is the only recent complaint I have about auto-reload.

Anybody else?

I think my card reloaded three times during July, and I didn't notice a problem. (In fact, I really like this relatively new feature.)

Hi Dr. G, One "successful" week and then a morning rush "offload" on the Silver Line at Ballston today. The train was "experiencing mechanical problems." And it was back to the crappy Orange Line. Sigh.

The five stations and the tracks in Fairfax are new, but everything else is pretty much the same old stuff.

A train on the Silver Line is as likely to break down as a train on any other line.

I have recently encountered lane closures in the morning commute on the VA-267 connector road between I-66 W and I-495 N. This has caused a significant backup in the mornings. Any idea how long this lane closure will be going on?

I'm not sure what this is. There's a long-term project in that area to build sound walls. That will continue into 2015. The daytime work hours should be 9:30 to 2:30.

I am going to Ocean City MD on Saturday. I stay in the north part of the city, right near the DE line, and always take Route 50 to 90 and enter OC in midtown. Google maps recommends going through 404 in Deleware...this looks like a two lane road through towns, is it really any faster than staying on 50? Thanks!

I think Google is giving you the shortest route in terms of miles. Veteran vacationers have often noted that Route 404 is an alternative to 50, especially if your goal is the northern part of OC or Delaware.

But they also point out that 404 is narrow and crowded. Anything you gain in mileage is likely to be cut by congestion.

It's likely to be a toss-up on routes.

I don't want much, I just want the trains to leave the Greenbelt station when they're scheduled too. If the sign says the train isn't leaving for 2 minutes when I pass the fare gates, then I don't think I should hear the door chiming when I'm halfway to the escalators or halfway up them. The station is not that big and I am moving at a fast clip. Somebody needs to either adjust the signs or give the Metro personnel better watches.

I'm pretty sure it's not the watches. Metro train operators don't get to decide when they leave the stations.

I have noticed mismatches between what the next-train signs say and reality. You might see that not only on the mezzanine signs but also on the platform signs.

when is the best time to leave for Rehoboth from DC tonight [Thursday] to avoid most of the rush hour traffic? Thanks

The question came in last Thursday, so I fear it's too late to help this traveler, but for all others, these are the best travel times for crossing the Bay Bridge, which is likely to be the key bottleneck on the way to the Eastern Shore:

  • Thursday and Friday before 10 a.m. and after 10 p.m.
  • Saturday before 7 a.m. and after 5 p.m.
  • Sunday before 10 a.m. and after 10 p.m.

Please sir, can anyone explain those inane signs welded onto the back of the THOUSANDS of dumptrucks trundling around Northern Virginia that state "DO NOT FOLLOW. WORK VEHICLE"? I understand staying back 500 ft from a Fire or Rescue Vehicle (distance specified on back of said vehicle) but a dumptruck?

I'm having deja vu again. This question sounds so familiar, though I can't trace it to a previous chat.

Anyway: The signs aren't the same as the ones that say, Don't follow too closely.

I this case, they don't want you to follow the work vehicle behind the construction barriers, where something bad might happen to your vehicle.


The map from the press release for the road closures this week is very confusing regarding Constitution Ave on Wed. I understand some lanes will be closed, but will it be possible to get from Rock Creek Parkway to Constitution eastbound in the morning and the same thing in reverse in the afternoon by bicycle? Also, it's unclear how sidewalks are affected -- are sidewalks on Constitution going to be usable? I recall the 50th anniversary of the MLK speech closed a number of sidewalks and also people were prevented from crossing Constitution. Thanks for any information you can provide.

I think you will be able to do that trip on Wednesday, but it will be slower than usual.

This link will take you to the best map.

If you were looking earlier at the Secret Service map, that was pretty overwhelming.

Did the roll out of the SL cause changes to the schedule for Rush Plus YL trains? During the SL testing week and this week's official launch, I've noticed that the morning YL train to Greenbelt has been consistently running 6 or 7 minutes later than I'm used to. I also noticed later trains during the evening commute, though I'm not sure it's been consistent since my departure time in the evening is less predictable.

When I check Trip Planner, however, it gives me the departure times I expected pre-SL. Any ideas what's going on?

Metro's online Trip Planner sometimes gives some odd results. I don't know if that's related to the Silver Line opening, or if we're just looking at Trip Planner more right now because of the widespread changes in the train schedules. that accompanied the start-up of the Silver Line.

There's definitely been a change in the Rush Plus Yellow Line schedule. Metro has added two trains per hour at peak periods.

At Farragut North, I see the signs saying "arriving" as the train is sitting on the platform and the signs says "boarding" as the train is pulling away.

Yep. That's what I'm talking about.

There might be other issues, though, at an end of the line station like Greenbelt, where the computer brain that controls the next-train displays is saying one thing and the people who actually control the train movements are  doing something else.

I live on Kent Island and it seems the crossing the bay bridge is worst on Thursday evening than Friday evening.

I have driven to the Delaware/MD beaches almost every weekend this summer. 404 is normally faster getting into DE, but all it takes is one tractor or slow driver to make it horrible. Getting out, there are a bunch of backups as two lanes go down to one lane for no reason. You can get burned, but normally it is fine. We still almost always go 404 and normally luck out if we go off times (typically we leave before 9am or after 9pm)

It's great that Metro is expanding, mass transit is a wonderful thing. But I just do not see making Tysons a walkable neighborhood as any sort of practical reality. The real problem is that there is no gridded layout, as with most downtowns (see, e.g., Bethesda, which was a commercial downtown in the early 20th century). The best they will be able to do, IMO, is create something faux like Rockville Town Center, which is not really a walkable, livable downtown area.

Plans call for rebuilding Tysons with a grid pattern of streets. But you can imagine what a massive undertaking that will be. Give 'em a couple of decades for that one.

I am not the OP. Transportation dollars are always the question, but it would have been better for the 95 Express Lanes to have ended just north of Fredericksburg but not over the river. The lanes would have ended around around MP136--Centerpoint Parkway.

Dr. G, you said in response to a commenter "But I think they may be less worse than they would have been otherwise." That's a point to bear in mind - Metro in DC hasn't made traffic a breeze, but it certainly keeps it from being utterly impossible. The same will be true of Tysons - it will help Tysons NOT choke to death as it continues to grow.

Yes, I agree.

Sometimes, I think, planners and advocates for projects leave people with the impression that transportation projects are going to have immediate and decisive impacts on traffic congestion. And I don't recall that ever happening.

The projects still were worthwhile for many reasons -- including giving people options for getting around -- but they may have been oversold as "congestion relief."

Is there a way to walk to the Galleria mall from the new Tyson's station?

I think you just walk north on Tysons Boulevard from the Tysons Corner station. (I didn't test that route. I used the skywalk over Route 123, went down to the street level and walked into Tysons Corner Center. At street level, that's a mess. There's lots of construction around there.)

Is is possible to ask metro if they are running the Blue trains at faster speeds since the Silver line opened? Heading home these days, I am catching a blue train from Farragut West that leaves a few minutes later than the pre-Silver line schedule. But I'm getting to Franconia Springfield at the same time as before. My husband has a similar commute and has noticed this too so I don't think I'm crazy.

I'll ask, but just off hand, I don't see how it would be possible to operate the Blue Line trains any faster. The only stretch they have to themselves is the track between Rosslyn and Pentagon.

Since I know you are bound to get many Metro-related complaints - I just wanted to say I am so so so happy about the opening of the Silver Line. I can now walk to the McLean station, whereas I previously had to drive and park at West Falls Church. My experience with my new commute has so far been excellent! The Silver Line train has been getting a little fuller each day, as has the parking lot by the McLean station (actually might have had the most people on Saturday). I suffered through construction for the past 4+ years, but it has all paid off. The only thing I wish was better was pedestrian access along 123. Ideally I would walk to Tysons Corner Center (as opposed to drive). I just can't see myself paying to go one stop on the Metro.

Yes, that McLean to Tysons walk, going under the Beltway, is impossible.

That, plus the walking situation around Tysons Corner Center, are the types of things I mean when I say that the Metrorail project is way out ahead of the local infrastructure for pedestrians.

But getting the rail line done creates a great incentive to advance the pedestrian projects.


Doc, what were the Arlington Orange Line stops like before Metro? In other words, did Metro make Ballston-Rosslyn more pedestrian friendly or were those areas always conducive to walking? I ask because I've heard a lot of people say that first comes Metro, then comes pedestrian-friendly development, but I was wondering whether there were any examples of this occurring along Metro in similarly busy driving traffic areas over the years.

Several good things came together in Arlington. There was the Orange Line and there was smart local planning. People knew what they wanted.

That doesn't necessarily happen. Leaders in Fairfax have the Silver Line and they have a good plan for Tysons, but they need to see it through.

Dr. G - Trip Planner is definitely off for Yellow Line Rush Plus trains. I take Metro from Franconia-Springfield to Archives and so have always tried to time my arrivable for a Yellow Rush Plus train. The times on Trip Planner shown for Yellow Line Rush Plus trains are pre-Silver Line times. They are definitely not accurate. I actually just e-mailed Metro asking them to fix this as it is frustrating for those of us who try to time our arrivals to the station.

I had planned to take the Metro from Greenbelt to Shaw for lunch next Saturday and then on to Arlington Cemetery until I did the trip planner and found out it would cost $18 round trip for my wife and I. Since you can part at Arlington for $1.75 and on street in the Shaw neighborhood for not too much on a Saturday I have decided to drive my 41 mpg car and use the savings for more food and beer at Right Proper. Wouldn't it make sense for Metro to offer lower rates on weekends to attract local tourists from places like Baltimore?

Metro does offer free parking and discounted rates on the trains on weekends. But people who travel as families, or at least in groups, often point out that it's still cheaper for them to drive.

It used to be that people would trade the extra cost of Metro to save the hassle of driving. But traveling on Metrorail during the rebuilding program can create its own hassles on weekends.

Thanks for joining me today. Stay safe, and come back next Monday, when we'll do it again.

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 the Get There blog, as well as in the Metro section of The Washington Post.
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