Dr. Gridlock

Oct 17, 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. I was off on vacation in Maine last week, but am glad to be back with you.

I live on the VA side of the Chain Bridge, and the weekend closures are driving me mad. With constant weekend activities downtown, I count on CB to sneak into DC, but am often tripped up by the closures. The poor signage of impeding closures on the VA side just adds to the madness.

The weekend maintenance closings are scheduled to continue into December, says the District Department of Transportation. They start at 8 p.m. on Fridays. Here's the schedule:

    * October 21 – October 23

    * October 28 – October 30

    * November 18 – November 20

    * December 2  – December 4

    * December 16 – December 18

This project was supposed to be wrapped up almost 2 years ago. Why are they still working on it and closing it on the weekends?

DDOT said most of the repair project was finished in spring 2010, when the closed lane reopened, but that additional work might be necessary.

The rehab for this bridge has been a sore subject with many travelers.

I went to DDoT's 11th Street Bridge project website this weekend and was shocked to see that it hasn't been updated in over a year! 

http://ddot.dc.gov/DC/DDOT/Projects+and+Planning/Capital+Infrastructure+Projects/11th+Street+Bridge+Project #mce_temp_url#

The latest item under "News Items" is dated Aug 31, 2010. Dr Gridlock, do you happen to have an idea on when the ramp from 295 S to the SE/SW freeway is to open? I keep hearing "this year" but the website is so out of date, its hard to get a feel.

The two new commuter bridges are scheduled to open at the end of this year. (Those are the ones that will let drivers who, say, live in Bowie and work at the Pentagon, avoid having to get off the highway.) Then the third span, the one linking neighborhoods on either side of the Anacostia, is supposed to be done by late 2012, early 2013.

Why do drivers get so furious and impatient with me when I drive the speed limit but not above? Did you know that the speed limit in DC is 25mph unless otherwise posted?

They want to go faster. Many drivers think the speed limit is as fast as they want to go.

Dr. G - Why hasn't metro apologized for the debacle at Rosslyn last Tuesday after the attempted suicide at Clarendon? It took me, and thousands of others, over thirty minutes to get off of westbound trains to the street level at Rosslyn after the Orange Line was shut down. The platforms were packed to the brim - if there had been a fire, or any kind of panic, people would have been injured or killed. Why hasn't this been picked up in the press? There were few metro personnel at the scene and it was total chaos.

Here's a link to what our staff had on the Dr. Gridlock blog last week: http://wapo.st/qbIyWd

Metro does pretty well handling scheduled disruptions, like the ones on weekends, but it's still got a long way to go in communicating information to riders on platforms and trains -- and those about to enter stations.

An incident like that one Tuesday on the Orange Line is bound to cause extensive delays. There's nothing much Metro can do quickly to provide an alternative for thousands of riders at rush hour. The shuttle buses don't help much.


It seems that whenever a Metro station needs to be evacuated (because of electrical fire, loss of power, etc.), there are many reports from riders on the scene that station managers are not directing them correctly, or not directing them at all, that escalators never get switched over so that they are going in the direction to take people OUT of the station, or that station managers are nowhere to be seen. I think that this worries many of us and am wondering why these evacuation problems continue to happen and if you aware of whether Metro is doing anything to address it? So many times I read comments from people saying in effect "if this had been a terrorist incicent, we'd be in big trouble".

Riders have been expressing concern about such situations for years, and for years, Metro leaders have said they are aware of the communication problems in emergencies. But complaints continue. The station managers are crucial in these situations, but they can easily be overwhelmed. It takes a while for Metro to get extra personnel to the scene of the problem.

Where can I view a schedule of the construction at this intersection? I would like to know when it's safe to get back on at WolfTrap -- right now I bypass this by traveling through Tyson's Corner on 123/Chain Bridge because it's such a mess.

The work zone delays there are one of the top sources of complaints from drivers, and it's been like that since late spring. This is the work zone for the high occupancy toll lanes.

It shouldn't get any worse, but it probably won't get any better till spring, when new ramps start to open up. That area is going to remain a work zone till late next year.

I did a Commuter page report recently on the HOT lanes project. You can see it here: http://wapo.st/qbIyWd

Any idea when the left lane of 123 N under 495 will reopen? It is pretty treacherous out here in Tyson's for the afternoon rush.

I think that may have as much as another year to go. The lane had to be closed for construction of the bridges for the expanded Beltway, another part of the HOT lanes project.

Last weekend, there was track work scheduled for all lines, single tracking, and closed stations. All of this on a holiday weekend, when there were 3 big events going on in DC (Adams Morgan Festival, Taste of DC, and the Army 10-Miler). This weekend, they stopped track work on Sunday and extended hours for one big event, the MLK dedication. Why? I can't believe it was because of the number of people using the system. What made this one event yesterday more important than 3 events last weekend, when just as many (if not more) people would have wanted to get out and about?

Back when the dedication of the memorial was scheduled for late August, planners anticipated it might draw as many as a quarter million people from across the nation. When it had to be rescheduled because of Hurricane Irene, the crowd estimates dropped to about 50,000. That's still a lot of people going to a part of DC where parking would be impossible. It was in everybody's interest to make sure the crowd had access to transit.

And indeed, it would be in everyone's interest to make sure there's always access to transit on weekends. However, Metro this year got more aggressive about it's maintenance program and increased the amount of weekend track work. It's not unusual to schedule a lot of work for holiday weekends, or for other weekends when there are several festivals likely to draw crowds.

Driving the speed limit on the SE/SW freeway is a catch 22. The speed limit is 40 and 45 depending on the section of roadway. The road is clearly designed for much higher speeds. If you drive the speed limit, you will get run off the road. If you drive faster, you run the risk of a ticket by a police officer parked on the side with his automated speed camera on his car.

I think it isn't our call to drive at what we think the speed limit would be if we were setting the speed limit. The drivers following us need to worry about their own behavior.

I get it -- I was on the Orange Line too and it definitely sucked, but people need to manage their expectations of Metro. The infrastructure of the system only allows them to do so much, so for all of the people that were complaining in comments that their Orange train went to Arlington Cemetery instead of Rosslyn -- that was for your safety. I absolutely think the station personnel at Rosslyn could have done a better job communicating/getting people out of the station, but before everyone goes off, let's keep in mind that it was an emergency situation.

Over the past few years, Metro has expanded the ways it can communicate with riders in emergencies -- the eAlerts and Twitter messages, for example. And that's very good. But it's not a substitute for voice communication and sign communication in the stations and aboard trains.

But as you say, in an emergency like that, it's not realistic to expect a quick resolution and a short delay. Riders should go into the transit system with a personal plan for what to do in an emergency.

Is there any information on how long the current traffic pattern (only one entrance from the outerloop to 66W) will be in place? I'm loosing 15 min each time I roll - or shall I say, crawl - through there. That merge now backs the high way up to near the route 7 exit during rush.

The recent change that I'm aware of affected the inner loop to 66W. (Might that be what you're referring to?) The left exit was permanently closed. Now, everyone has to use the right exit, which has been widened for that purpose.

This also is part of the HOT lanes project, but it wasn't a temporary measure, like some of the changes at Route 123 and at the Dulles Toll Road.

I don't recall that there ever were multiple exits from the outer loop to 66W.


May I suggest that Metro keep the down escalator shut down during the morning rush at Foggy Bottom? That gives another lane of access for people leaving the station. The crowds to exit get too big for just one escalator and not that many people are coming down the stairs.

Complaints about the Foggy Bottom exit go back years -- long before the project began this year to replace the three escalators and add a staircase and a canopy. The work is scheduled to be done by the end of the year.

I'm so glad I bypassed this mess. I normally take the Orange line from Farragut West to Vienna. When I got to Farragutt West and heard that I'd have to not only wait a long time to get on a train, but would also have to get off at Rosslyn and take a shuttle to Ballston, I decided to take a cab. So I took a cab from downtown to Ballston, beat the rush and got to Vienna quite easily. Another thing people could do is take the 38B bus to Ballston. It pays to familiarize yourself with alternate options for times like this.

Yes, the 38B is "The Orange Line with a view" and a decent alternative. But the regular bus routes and the free shuttles added in emergencies still are no match for a train. The buses can be easily overwhelmed by just one train load of riders. And it always takes a while -- especially at rush hour -- to assemble enough buses to create a bus bridge between stations.

Thanks for posting the so-called schedule, but DCDOT does NOT adhere to it! In fact, Chain Bridge was closed this Saturday, which was not part of the schedule. Also, sometimes the bridge opens for Sunday, although trying finding that information anywhere without actually driving near the bridge. After I gave DCDOT an earful on Twitter, whoever was tweeting said that last weekend MIGHT be the last closure of the year (but he wasn't sure).

Yes, I've heard from folks over the past month saying that they found the bridge open on Sundays when they expected it would be closed. I had not heard about the possibility that this might have been the last weekend closing this year. I'll check with DDOT for an update on that.

Thanks for joining me today, and I hope you can come back at noon next Monday, too. 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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