Dr. Gridlock

Aug 12, 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. From looking at the region's traffic maps and cameras during this morning's rush, my guess is that there are many fewer people commuting and many more people enjoying vacations.

So thanks for joining me today. I'm going to begin with a couple of questions and comments that could use responses from drivers, cyclists and transit users.

I ride the blue line daily between Alexandria and Rosslyn, and am baffled when Metro decides to skip the Arlington Cemetery station as since it is solely serviced by the blue line. The last time I saw this was Friday August 2nd during the evening rush hour. Service on the blue line, as we all know, is far less frequent than on the other lines, compounding the problem.

The station skipping "service adjustment" annoys and inconveniences many riders. Metro does that when trains bunch up, especially during rush hours. The other option is to hold trains for a while so the following train can catch up a bit.

The way it should work, when a station is to be skipped, is that the operator announces ahead of time which station is to be skipped, so if that's your destination, you can get off and wait for the next train. One rider wrote to me recently to complain about the doors being closed before the announcement was made, so riders for the skipped station had to backtrack.

As the commenter here is pointing out, there can be a big gap between Blue Line trains. So even if a rider bound for Arlington Cemetery station is warned ahead of time about the skip, it can still be a long wait till the next Blue Line train.

The cycletracks on L Street are working fine, for the most part (the biggest problems being delivery trucks parking in the lanes and an alarming number of cyclists who use them going the wrong way). But I think it's time for DC to start adding more left-turn arrows for automobile traffic, starting at 15th and 16th (they already exist at 18th and 20th). Pedestrians rarely heed the don't-walk signals, meaning very few cars get a chance to make left turns at each light cycle, leading to backups in the left lanes, leading to more cars blocking the cycletracks. Left-turn arrows would be a pretty easy fix, no?

I also think the L Street NW bike lane is working well, despite just about every kind of occasional bad behavior by every kind of traveler -- drivers, delivery people, bikers and walkers.

And I understand why drivers would want those left-turn arrows to ease the turn queue. I think the problem would be that if you add a left-turn arrow on L Street, you're going to take away time from the north-south cross traffic. Rather than being a simple thing, this would take a bit of study on traffic impact.

How much longer with the lane closures on the SE/SW freeway? This morning it was moved to right lanes on the eastbound. I thought that these couple week closures were supposed to be done by now.

The plan may have been confusing because it came in three phases, but this District Department of Transportation project was scheduled to be complete at the end of August -- and not a day too soon for many commuters I've heard from.

The project involves building the structure for overhead message signs. They eventually will have time travel information and emergency alerts, like the overhead signs you seen in Maryland and Virginia.

DDOT said the nature of the sign construction meant that the work zones couldn't be put up and taken down on a daily basis, or done just overnights.

The closing of the right lane on the eastbound side from the South Capitol Street exit to Sixth Street SE -- which I think is what you're seeing today -- was to be the third and final phase of the project.

Every evening last week (Aug. 5) traffic was terribly backed up on Rock Creek Parkway on the Shoreham Drive side. I'm used to the jam heading north to Beach Drive, but the traffic going up to Shoreham/Calvert St and to Cathedral is new this week. Any idea what the cause is or when it might be resolved? If it's this bad in August, I can't imagine how awful it will be once normal traffic patterns resume after Labor Day.

When I opened the mailbag just now, I found three questions/comments like this about traffic congestion on Rock Creek Parkway. I had not heard of any pattern changes or construction in that particular part of the parkway, so I don't have a good answer on why people were experiencing these backups.

Have other drivers experienced this? The National Park Service, in charge of the parkway, puts out a weekly bulletin of road work and traffic changes. I just looked back at that. Nothing that would suggest change in that zone.

The only District Department of Transportation change in that part of DC was the reconfiguration of Wisconsin Avenue up to Calvert Street, but I don't know that the traffic impact would extend to the parkway.

Pedestrians have to cross three lanes of traffic to get from Union Station metro to Columbus Circle, as do MARC/VRE commuters coming out of Union Station. We have to dodge taxis, tour buses, and cars dropping off passengers. Is this really what the people who recently redesigned the traffic pattern in front of Union Station intended? Is the traffic pattern redesign completed?

Yes, I think it is complete. I know that some drivers and pedestrians have expressed dissatisfaction with the resulting traffic pattern.

After a game, I often take the Green Line from Navy Yard to Archives and switch to the Yellow Line there rather than at L'Enfant. It's easier to walk across the platform at Archives than to go up and over at L'Enfant, and I can get a seat rather than deal with the crush at L'Enfant. On some occasions, though, there is a Yellow Line train going from Archives to L'Enfant just as I am on the Green Line going from L'Enfant to Archives so I "miss" a train. As I approach L'Enfant, is there an easy way to tell if I should get off there or go to Archives? I know it's generally only a few minutes' delay but my concern is more with safety, as I am generally traveling alone and would rather be on a full train.

Many fans leaving Nats Park take the Green Line from Navy Yard to a connection with the Yellow Line, so they can head home to Virginia. While the first chance to do that is at L'Efant Plaza, it's much easier -- just as the commenter says -- to stick with the Green Line up to Archives, where you can just walk across the platform to the Yellow Line bound for Huntington.

It's also less crowded there, since most transfers occur at L'Enfant Plaza.

Now, the only thing I can think of that would solve the commenter's issue about knowing where the trains are is to use one of the online services or apps that give the next train arrival information by station.

Metro's mobile site does this. The one app I can think of off the top of my head is DC Rider. (Because it's ours.) You can download it for iPhone and Android. But I know there are others that work just fine.


Dr. Gridlock--I don't travel 395 under the Capitol very often, so I really need good signage to get me where I need to go. There is none until it's too late to change lanes safely. It seems like this should be an easy fix, with a sign as you go into the tunnel indicating where you need to be.

If I understand correctly the repaving on 355 commenced last night and will continue for a couple of months. Added to the construction that has closed a portion of Woodmont, traffic in the area will be even more problematic than it is right now. Does the state take other disruptions into account when scheduling its work or does it just not care? I'm close to both disruptions and am busy looking for alternatives for what used to be straight forward trips to stores and doctors' offices. It's gonna be an adventure!

Yes, the State Highway Administration takes other projects into account. But a lot of resurfacing work gets crammed into the summer months.

This is the situation on MD 355, as reported by Post writer Luz Lazo:

The work includes resurfacing one mile of Wisconsin Avenue, from Jones Bridge Road to Montgomery Avenue in the heart of Bethesda, and more than a mile of Wisconsin Avenue, from the District Line to Bradley Boulevard in the Chevy Chase area.

Crews will close one lane on weekdays between 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. and two lanes, overnight, Sunday through Thursday, between 8 p.m. and 5 a.m.

Use this link to read her full story:


Is there a reason the 3rd lane of the thru lanes side of the beltway from where they split in VA to where they re-converge on the MD side of the Wilson bridge was never painted? The pavement width was designed for 3 lanes and the traffic volume certainly warrants 3. Seems like a waste of money not to finish this last little bit.

I think you're talking about the space that exists right now as a breakdown lane? The pavement width was designed to provide a transit lane, once somebody figures how what type of transit to put across the bridge linking VA and MD.

Till then, the traffic engineers think it would be better for safety and for traffic flow to provide a breakdown lane.

Daily I come across Calvert St. from Adams Morgan past Conn. Ave. and past the light before the Shoreham Hotel. That light at the top of the hill from Rock Creek has a totally new timing. I used to have to stop Westbound at Conn, AND at at that light every day, but in the past week I noticed that I have plenty of time to sail through both. I'm betting that's the culprit.

Thanks, and that seems like a very good bet. I'll pass this along to the District Department of Transportation.

When the Express Lane project is finished, will one need an EZ Pass Flex to use the carpool lanes/slug lines between Old Keene Mill Road and DC? My current understanding is that this portion of the road will not be affected by the project.

There will be an access point to the 95 Express Lanes at Old Keene Mill Road, but I've heard absolutely nothing about carpoolers getting any exemption from the requirement to have an E-ZPass Flex to get the free trip up to where the express lanes end at Edsall Road.

Far as I know, that access point is the same as all the others in the project. Drivers who don't meet the HOV requirements will need an E-ZPass and will pay the toll. Those who meet HOV3 will need to get the E-ZPass Flex, the switchable transponder now used by carpoolers on the 495 Express Lanes. (The 95 Express Lanes, now under construction, are scheduled to open in early 2015.)

As I said, there already are long-established left-turn arrows on L Street at 18th and 20th streets, and they don't seem to have any sort of impact on north-south traffic. Plus, in the grand scheme of things there simply is not all that much automobile traffic on 15th Street right now (shhh, don't tell anyone!).

Then why did I get so many complaints from drivers about the installation of the 15th Street cycletrack? (That included a lot of Posties, since it's right in front of the newsroom -- till Bezos decides to move us.)

I normally take the metro from Olney to DC for work, but next week I need to drive to the Metro Center area during morning rush hour. Will schools be back in session and will traffic be back to normal, or will it still be light? Also, it's been a long time since I've driven downtown, so which route do you recommend? GW PKY, Connecticut? Georgia?

First day for D.C. and Montgomery County public school students is Monday, Aug. 26.

If your driving is just next week, you should be in pretty good shape. Traffic will be deeply into its summer lull -- not that any commute in the core of the D.C. region is smooth.

From Olney to Metro Center next week, I'd just come down Georgia Ave.


I've been trying to take the yellow line out of the Franconia/Springfield station for over a year. It amazes me that the destination is blank on many trains sitting at the station. People often ask one another if it is blue or yellow. The overhead sign does not always display the train destination either. Is Metro trying to trick people to get on the train to improve their ridership numbers on one line vs. the other. Metro never seems to improve on their lack of communication with the customer.

If you were into conspiracy theories, then you'd probably just note that Metro could make up any ridership numbers it wanted without going to the trouble of fiddling with destination signs.

But yes, other riders have complained about signs at Franconia-Springfield during the Rush Plus hours, when trains could either be Blue or Yellow. So I'll check on that.

Have I missed something? It seems that drivers now think they can turn left in on-coming traffic when the green light appears at intersections with no left-turn light. Especially bad intersection for this: Wayne Avenue and Sligo Creek Pkwy. These drivers think they have the right of way!

I've seen drivers make that move at that intersection since 1989. Nothing in traffic law has changed, and I don't believe those drivers are misunderstanding traffic law.

My readers have sometimes described this maneuver as a "Pittsburgh Left," but that history suggests the facing driver gives a wave of permission for the other driving to make the left turn. Other readers have referred to the aggressive turn in front of oncoming traffic as a "Boston Left."

(If the Purple Line gets built, it will be interesting to see how that affects turning traffic on Wayne Ave.)

To follow up on the earlier poster, there is approximately 10-15 seconds to cross both sections of traffic by foot. Without literally running and being there from the start its almost impossible to make it. The result is large groups of people try to run from the Cap Hill side to the other hoping not to get hit. Traffic comes fast from the Mass Ave NW side of the circle and has to break during green for the pedestrians to cross. Its a disaster waiting to happen and hopefully it will be resolve before a group of people are hurt or worse. We should be able to walk at a normal pace across all the lanes without having to wait 2 light cycles.

I've experienced that particular difficulty as a pedestrian, but my first experiences with Mass Ave in front of Columbus Plaza were in 1988. So while I'm not disputing that it's a problem crossing, I wonder if this is new since the reconstruction?

Drivers also have trouble in this area. One problem is that pedestrians will cross at any time they think they can, with or without a traffic signal. The other is that traffic on the eastbound side backs up at the turn into Union Station, and drivers will stop in any lane they can to make the left turn.

Good day Dr G, Do you know of any plans to fix the left turn lanes of Jones Bridge Road onto Conn Ave? Trying to go straight across Conn Ave is so difficult due to the cars who decide that they don't want to wait in the very long line for the left turn lanes so they go down the straight across lane then sit there with their signal on waiting to jump in line, effectively blocking those of us who want to go straight. Any given day there are at least 3-4 of them at once and it is getting worse.

I think the Jones Bridge/Conn Ave reconstruction that was part of the base-realignment traffic plan is nearly done and that what your'e seeing with the traffic pattern is what you'll get, but I'll clarify that.

Where are drivers supposed to report mafunctioning red light and speed cameras? I've noticed a couple of speed cameras flashing when no cars are driving past, and red light cameras going off like strobe light for 10 seconds at a time. I tried calling Metropolitan Police, the DMV, and DDOT, and they've all said it wasn't their responsibility, but didn't offer another agency to call. I'd hate to be driving past one of these when they're flashing like this, becuase they're probably sending out tickets too, but so far, I've been unscathed.

Report it through the Mayor's 311 call center. You can phone 311 in DC or use this link:


I just wanted to second the traffic issues last week on the hill going up to Calvert from Rock Creek. It has been pretty bad each evening backing way up down the hill to the lane split. This is a big change and quite bad.

Thanks for joining me this week. I need to break away now, but will check on some of those issues you raised today.

This is our last chat during August. I'll be back with you again on Monday, Sept. 9, one week after Labor Day.

Write to me anytime at drgridlock@washpost.com, and stay safe out there.

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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