Dr. Gridlock

Sep 19, 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. Plenty of road and rail issues await us today.

I would like to thank Metro for installing/turning on the lights over the Green/Yellow Line platform at Gallery Place. I can actually see my paper now without crowding around the big lit-up ad. Now if they would just continue this around the entire system...

Glad to hear about that. The lighting in the underground stations has been a long-time issue for many riders. That includes the lighting on the escalators. Some riders can't see where they're feet are going when the escalators are turned off and being used as stairs.

Dear Dr. Gridlock, A few weeks into September commuting eastbound on the Toll Road and I can report that the dangerous mess immediately after the main toll plaza continues. It is basically a free-for-all once you pass through the gates, with no lane markings and just a mass of vehicles jockeying for position, weaving from lane to lane seeking any open space. Fender-benders occur daily. The left lanes handling the merge from the access road, and then diminishing two more times before reaching the connector to I-66, are worse than ever. Please tell me something good about any progress on this debacle. Thanks

I think probably the best news I can give at this point is that it shouldn't get any worse from here to the completion of the HOT lanes project. The slight shift in the ramp to the Beltway's inner loop (northbound) was the last planned adjustment to clear room for the work zone. Early next year, the northbound ramp will be back to two lanes.

Also part of this project are new flyover ramps from the Dulles Access Highway to the Beltway. That should help with the long-term problem at the interchange of so many drivers needing to move from far left to right to reach the Beltway ramps.

The problem with this work zone, the project managers tell me, is that the space is so tight for the 17 ramps and bridges that they're building.

Good afternoon. Thanks for doing the chat. Is the Circulator a victim of its own success? I can't believe that I'm going to say this, but it's to the point where I'd rather take a regular Metrobus. I use the G'town-Union Station line down K street over lunch (so have a limited amount of time for the round trip), and to say that the arrival times are erratic would be an understatement. "Where's My Bus?" isn't so reliable either. I'd gladly pay a $1.50 fare for better regularity and tracking. Barring that, is there maybe any point in the 12:00-2:30 window when an hour of downtown travel would be relatively more efficient? I'm hoping that the stop consolidation around 19th St will help. Thanks!

I think the gaps between the Circulators are not a function of the system's success, but rather of the traffic through the middle of DC, and all the signals there that area.

Part of the Circulator brand is the 10 minute headway, so you don't have to look at schedules. But that can slide pretty significantly at some hours. If it didn't, we wouldn't need the "Where's My Bus?" feature. But like NextBus, it's dependent on computer calculations about traffic conditions and those can be off.

What's wrong with taking a Metrobus? The newer models have interiors that are quite competitive with the Circulator design. I'd try Metrobus, to see if you find that any better on schedules. But of course, the Metrobuses get stuck in the same traffic as the Circulators.

Where can I go to see what the final planned configuration is for the intersection of the Fairfax County Pkwy with Rolling Road and the Franconia Pkwy will be? Right now we have a mass of construction, barriers, cones and back-ups - how long will this go on?

Here's a shortened URL for the Virginia Megaprojects Web page on the parkway:


Should be done in fall 2012.

but here's my question: is it okay for drivers to be even slightly annoyed when bikers ride on Rock Creek Parkway (Beach Drive) when there is a bike path just steps away? The parkway is a one-lane, winding road with no shoulder. Frankly, it's dangerous to come around a curve to traffic that is stopped due to a biker on the road. I mean, shouldn't cyclists be required to use the bike path when one is available? I think everyone needs to strike a balance in these situations.

Bikers aren't required to use the path, and I know what they say about the trail: That it's in no condition to handle modern bike traffic and is at least as dangerous for cyclists as riding on the parkway.

Sharing the parkways is certainly an issue. The park service recently restated the often-ignored ban in cycling on the George Washington and Clara Barton Parkways. I've done several Dr. Gridlock columns presenting exchanges of views on this.

Here's a link to one: http://wapo.st/nOWYEi

I live in Montclair. Can you give an update on the metro expansion to the Potomic Mills area and what this will mean for traffic?

Metrorail to Potomac Mills? I'm afraid you're going to be waiting a long, long time for that. Might you be thinking of the proposal to create a new station at Potomac Yard in Alexandria?

Here's a link on that:


When is the Pennsylvania Avenue in Anacostia project supposed to be completed? That seems like it is taking longer than planned.

You're thinking of the Great Streets project to rebuild PA Ave from near the Anacostia River to the Maryland border? That project is quite extensive, and was supposed to take about two years, which would mean it should wrap up early next year.

Some new lane closings are coming up that will last from late this month into December.

You can read a bit more about that in a blog posting I did this morning called "The week ahead":


I need some advice on how the commute on 495 would be in the AM and PM from Vienna to Old Town, Alexandria and back. I have a feeling it is a bit lighter than traffic going the other way- but I wanted to get input. Thanks!

I think your biggest issue will be getting through the HOT lanes work zone, especially if you reach the Beltway in the Tysons Corner area. The interchanges can be quite congested. The I-66 interchange was notorious long before the HOT lanes project began.

All: Would it be best, at least on some mornings, for a driver from Vienna to go south to Route 50 and hit the Beltway there?

I've found Beltway traffic is not ghastly south of Tysons, even though drivers have to deal with many lane shifts related to the HOT lanes work.

(Or is there an alternative to the Beltway I'm just not thinking of?)

Hello Dr. - When does Metro release it's weekend work schedule for Metrorail? I need to do some advance planning and I need to know which lines will be impacted when. Thank you.

For major track work -- closing stations and using shuttle buses -- Metro has a schedule posted through June:


But for all the other weekend work, the usual single-tracking stuff, Metro publishes a list of that on Monday mornings for what's coming up during the next weekend. I just did a blog posting with all those details for this coming weekend:




Hi. Is it legal for dogs to sit in their owner's lap behind the wheel? I see this a lot and even witnessed an accident which appeared to be caused by the dog interfering with the driving. Thanks.

I've never seen a specific reference to dogs -- or cats, or weasels -- in drivers' laps. Police certainly can charge a motorist with reckless driving. (I guess they'd have to let the dog off with a warning.)

HELP! This area has become a seething black hole that sucks all my time up every single morning. Short of rising at 4 AM and getting to my office 3 hours ahead of everyone else, what can be done to increase the traffic flow rate from the toll road eastbound to the northbound beltway? Actually, most days the only "easy" path is to the southbound outer loop - but even those drivers still have to fight through the rest of the congestion from Route 7 until about 1/2 mile past the toll plaza.

I have to tell you that VDOT has no plan that would significantly ease traffic there till the Beltway HOT lanes project starts to complete portions of the new interchange with the DTR.

I said it a few comments back, but let me say again, because I know it's a big deal for so many drivers: The last planned change in the work zone was the shift that occurred about a week ago on the northbound ramp. The next will probably be the completion of the ramp early next year, when it will have two lanes. VDOT and project officials tell me they've tried to squeeze the most space possible for drivers on the northbound ramp while still leaving a safe work zone.

Newly broken ankle, and on my way into work this morning, no one on metro would give up their handicapped-specified seats. Some feigned unconsciousness even when raising my voice (not rudely, just enough to be heard), others stare into space until one of them blinks, then glares at the others since they "lost." After I sat, the unconscious ones suddenly got a second wind (surprise!). Forgive the grumpiness, but people suck.

I'm sorry that happened to you. I won't sit in those seats for fear I'll either miss someone's request, or that there will be someone nearby who is reluctant to ask for the seat because they don't want to go through what you did.

The darkness at Farragut North is a mugging just waiting to happen. Add this new mood lighting to the escalator mess and it's getting to be one dangerous station!

Farragut North has been a mess for nearly two years, and repair work is going to continue for months, my colleague, Dana Hedgpeth, reported:


Some of the single tracking scheduled for the Red Line this weekend is to clear a work zone at Farragut North.

If you are traveling east on Constitution the far left lane is a turn only lane. If you are in the next lane over (to the right of the turn lane), can you turn left also?

I think that next lane over can either turn left or go straight.

Eastbound 66 has been remarkably slow recently. It has taken over an hour to get from McLean to the Roosevelt Bridge. Any idea why? Is this BRAC related and the "new normal" or could this be due to construction on Constitution and we can hope for some sort of abatement at some point?

I don't know of anything related to the federal base realignment that would affect your travel in that particular area. The only project I know of with lane restrictions is on Constitution. That certainly could slow you down. Is this something you've noticed in September? You think it might be related to the increased traffic we experienced with everyone back at work and school?

Depending on the exact starting place, cutting over to Rte 236 (little river tpke/duke street) might be a better option. I commute Springfield to Bethesda on the Beltway and I always feel like the other way has it easier. Let's just agree that it stinks both ways.

When I do that drive in the morning, it almost always looks tougher for northbound traffic approaching Tysons and then continuing on. The southbound side is tight getting to Tysons, but then eases up. There's no really easy area, as you say.

How does Metro plan on dealing with snow that accumulates on the outdoor tracks that hover over traffic in Tysons Corner? I assume when the train snow plow comes through, all the snow will be dumped from the tracks and on top of traffic below.

I'll ask. But even though Metro is not building the new line, Metro officials have been involved with the design and say they're comfortable that it meets standards. I've never received a complaint from drivers who travel under other elevated portions of the Metrorail system.

The main problem with snow removal during the big storms is getting it off the elevated platforms. It can't just be pushed onto the tracks. Metro has to big in special equipment to haul it out.


Dear Dr. "G"-- I'm happy to "share the road" with cyclists, IF they follow the rules. But when they whiz dangerously past me on the right when I'm properly stopped at a red light, and then they do a "fake-right-turn, fake-U-turn, fake-right-turn" maneuver at the crossroads to run the red light that I am stopped at, and then they glide on, blocking the road beyond the intersection when the light changes, I wonder who is sharing what with whom? If this cyclist had been in an auto, "road rage" would be the term for her/his behavior. "Share the road" can work, but we need rules. To be allowed on public roads, all bicycles should be required to have officially-issued licenses and large legible license plates. They should have warning bells and should use them whenever overtaking autos or pedestrians. The cycles and their riders should have lights and bright reflective markings at night. And they should operate on the public roads by the same rules as motor vehicles - including not cheating at lights and turns. Funny -- in the small town I grew up in, this was all required sixty years ago. "Share the road" can work. But it will NOT work if the cyclists want it all their own way. Alongside the President, I am an optimist -- but my optimism is so far a hope, not a reality. Cyclists, WABA, all -- hey, folks, be positive and do your share. Help set some rules -- visible, enforceable rules -- so the bad actors with two wheels can be identified, and the rest of the pedalers don't suffer. Thanks.

As I know the folks at WABA would say, cyclists are required to obey the same laws as drivers when they're on the public roads.

Like you and many other travelers, I've seen cyclists ignore those laws, especially at intersections. In fact, I'm surprised at your description of the elaborate technique for getting through the intersection. More often, the cyclists I see just blow the stop sign clean and ride straight across.

But to me, the bottom line is that if you believe in sharing the road, you share the road. You don't decide that one category of traveler is the official representative for the entire category and if that person violated the rules than no one else in that category is entitled to courtesy.


Thanks to all for joining me again. I've got to wrap up now, but will be back with you next Monday. Stay safe.

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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