Dr. Gridlock

Oct 24, 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 notice some questions and comments in the mailbag that have to do with getting stuck because of  weekend events. Check the Dr. Gridlock blog when you get a chance to see some early warnings about this coming weekend. The Marine Corps Marathon is Sunday, and Metro has a lot of work scheduled that will be of particular interest to Red and Green Line riders. Plus, a lot of people will be out partying during the Halloween weekend. Remember that the SoberRide free ride home program will be in operation on Saturday night.

Holy Cow, this event was not publicized enough. I could not get from No. Arlington to my home on 16th Street NW due to every bridge and major street closed this morning around 8 am. D.C. needs to coordinate its road closures and publicize them more. It took me an hour to try to get over near Meridian Hill Park and I gave up and returned to my friend's at 9:15 am. Missed an opportunity to meet my friends visiting from China.

Sorry that happened to you.  One suggestion: Check our Dr. Gridlock blog on Friday mornings and look for a posting called The weekend and beyond. We try to include highlights of the weekend events that might slow your travels. That's not a perfect solution, I know. Most of the transportation departments take note of events,but it's pretty late in the week.

Metro is pretty good about getting information out by the Monday before weekend disruptions.

Good afternoon Good Dr. I am a semi-regular bike commuter, riding 2-3 days a week from Kemp Mill to White Flint. This is a thank you to the drivers who treat us with courtesy. I try my best to follow the rules of the road. I do not run red lights. I stay as far to the right as safe. I try to remember to signal all my turns. And I will readily admit that I am not 100% perfect. So Thank You to the drivers who give me 3' of space when they pass. Thank you to the drivers who follow the standard rules at 3 and 4 way stops so I don't have to guess when it is safe to go. Thank you to the drivers who let me move to the left when I signal that I will be making a left turn at the next intersection. All of us thank you.

Thanks, and I'm sorry that so often these forums involve travelers separating themselves into categories and criticizing the behavior of other categories of travelers.


I have to go to Dulles at the above date/time, and don't currently live in the DC metro area. Will be staying w/family in Annandale, so plan to use the beltway around to the toll road. Given the horrendous continuing construction and changes, what am I in for? Any advice on getting to Dulles w/out terrible problems?? Thanks

Many air travelers write to me and ask what time they should leave to catch a flight at such and such time. I enjoy all our travel discussions, but the "what time should I leave?" questions make me very nervous.

As your traffic doctor, my first rule is do no harm, so I'm very conservative in answers on this topic.

We don't yet have announcements from the various transportation agencies about road work for that week. On the Beltway and the Dulles Access Highway, you'll pass through the work zones for the HOT lanes and the Dulles Metrorail project. Both may be active, and have lane closings that night. Still, I think I'd take the Beltway and the Access Highway, rather than any alternative route. Plan on leaving as much time as you would for a rush hour trip. Check back during the week of Nov. 7 for our blog postings about weekend work. Or send me a reminder note at drgridlock@washpost.com, and I'll tell you what I've learned about the route.

Other suggestions on routing?

Twice in the past month I've been on rush hour Red Line trains that have been offloaded due to door malfunctions in crowded conditions. Two questions: 1) I recall several years ago Metro hired consultants who advised that operators just shut down the malfunctioning car, not the whole train. That happened for a while. Is it no longer policy? 2) This has been a Metro problem since the beginning . Will the next generation of Metro cars have less cranky doors? When I rode the NYC subway this was never an issue, and crowds are worse there. Those doors can take the abuse. Why are Metro's so wimpy?

I'm not sure about the next generation of cars, the 7000 Series, which will provide cars for the Dulles line and also replace the oldest cars in the fleet.

I think that for all previous generations, Metro probably did not include "cranky doors" in the specs. So it's a bit tough to predict our fate on this.

With the off-loading, I think if it's a door problem, the common procedure is to take the train out of service, but try to get a mechanic aboard quickly so that it may be restored to service before it reaches the yard.

Metro does seal off cars and keep trains in service, but I'm more familiar with that happening as a result of an air conditioning problem, or because of a sick passenger.

My husband is a commercial airline pilot. Which means he is extraordinarily"destination driven" and is always looking for the shortest, most efficient routes. I suspect that some of these routes, while efficient, are not entirely legal. Please tell me if this particular flight plan is OK, because it happens fairly often: The Location- Exiting from 395N onto S Glebe Rd (on route to DCA.) At the base of the exit, there are 2 right turn lanes onto S. Glebe. A sign states that only the far right lane can turn right on red. The Situation - Pilot is at base of the exit., in the far right lane. Light is red. Pilot is first in line, poised to turn right on red. Problem - The car ahead of him just turned right on red, but that is the last car to fit onto the far right lane on Glebe. There is no more room for any other cars in the far right lane on Glebe. BUT, there is plenty of room in the lane adjacent (ie, the center lane.) Pilot's Solution - Pulls straight into the intersection to get around the backup to turn right into the adjacent lane (center) on Glebe Road. Is this a legal maneuver? Regards, The Pilot' Wife

The regional traffic laws that I'm familiar with say that a right on red should be done from the lane farthest to the right. I know of signs for certain double turn lanes, such as the one you describe on South Glebe, but I think they're just supposed to be a reminder, like the signs that say yield to pedestrians in crosswalk,

The problem, as I understand it, is that swinging out wide when the traffic coming at you has the right of way adds another element of danger to your turn. It also might put pedestrians in extra danger, since they might not expect to see a car make that maneuver when they're crossing.

So I think I'd revise the flight plan on that one.

Hi Doc! Ever since the closing of the left exit from the Inner Loop to I-66 west, there has been a significant traffic back up on the right exit. The new configuration is the source of the problem. The two-lane exit ramp has to merge with the 2 lanes of I-66 West into a total of 2 lanes -- that's four lanes merging in to two in the span of about a 1/4 mile. Chaos ensues at all hours of the day. I've driven through the area at noon, 2 PM, 4 PM, and 6 PM on weekdays and weekends, and the traffic is bad. Are there any plans once the construction is done to alleviate this? Will there be more merge lanes or a longer merge area?

I'm sorry to hear you're encountering that problem. I have heard of no plans to change that configuration once the HOT lanes project is done at the end of next year. The ramp was modified to accommodate extra traffic because of the closing a couple of weeks ago of the exit.

This might possibly help: The HOT lanes will have their own exit to westbound 66. That may take some traffic away from the exit for the general purpose lanes.

The work on I-66 east outside the Beltway appears to be nearing an end. Most of the stretch from US 50 to the Beltway has new asphalt and is really smooth. The one beef I have with the work done is the lane markings. In the recent rain, the lines painted on the road were completely invisible. I hope the workers are going to add some sort of reflective tape, cats-eyes, or something to make the lanes visible in the rain!

I figure those must be temporary lane markings, since those outer lanes aren't consistently in their final location along the 14 miles of the HOT lanes project. Of course, that's no help to drivers here and now. We have had some problems with lane markings being put down during periods of rainy weather. They've washed away and left drivers confused. I'll ask about this.

Some metro stations (like Farragut North and Farragut West) are primarily exit stations during morning rush hour and primarily entrance stations during evening rush hour. When an escalator is being repaired (like the platform escalator was Farragut North's K Street side), the other escalator is shut off all the time. During morning rush hour, it requres everybody to walk up (both sides) just so the occasional passenger can enter (rare and the other side is open). Why doesn't metro have it going up during morning rush hour, going down during evening rush hour, and off at other times. It would greatly optimize the flow of traffic at the station during the peak times. As it is now, it's a bottleneck can be prevented.

I think it's Metro's consistent policy that if a bank of two escalators has one torn up for repair, then the other one is stopped to serve as a walker. My recollection is that this is done at least partly for safety reasons, so in emergencies, people wouldn't have extra difficulty in evacuating.

What on Earth was going on with Rock Creek Parkway and Beach Drive on Friday? The signs and announcements all indicated an 8:00 pm shutdown, but at 6:25 pm we found Beach closed in front of us halfway down our route, with a really badly signed and badly managed detour that eventually dumped us in Cleveland Circle. Cathedral and others in the area were also all closed before 7:00. Our 45-minute commute from Silver Spring to Arlington took well over 90 minutes. We'd happily have taken another route if we'd had any warning, but everyone everywhere said 8:00 closure. Should we expect "8:00" to mean "before 6:30" for the duration of this project?

That's a surprise to me. The information I have from the National Park Service is different from either your experience or the signs you saw. The NPS bulletin says the weekend work starts at 7 p.m. Friday and continues till no later than 4 a.m. Monday.

I'm not sure what the story is in this case. On other projects, there's certainly a history of contractors trying to get an early jump on the work and closing lanes early, without approval from whatever highway department is in charge.

Two weeks ago I tried to drive from Arlington to the National Zoo via Rock Creek Parkway, and got stopped by the Army 10 miler. This past Saturday (Oct 22) I wanted to try again, and checked the Post for any major events that might cause problems. I didn't find anything. So, it was quite a shock when it took 90 MINUTES to get from Rosslyn to the DC end of the Roosevelt Bridge because of the Best Buddies event. My question: is there one comprehensive site to find all DC events that will impact traffic? It seems that unless you know the name of the event to search for, you're out of luck. Please help before I waste yet another weekend morning sitting in traffic with disappointed kids in the back seat!

I'm not aware of any Web site, paper, radio or TV station that produces a comprehensive listing of all weekend events. I don't do that. I do give what I think is a pretty extensive listing each Friday morning in that posting I described earlier, the one called "The weekend and beyond." But it does take a lot of searching to find the information that goes into that.

This interchange is such a mess with all the construction - but here's one for you: Why isn't the interchange complete? There is no access to the inner loop from 66 westbound, and no access to 66 eastbound from the outer loop. Who planned that one? This problem isn't being corrected with the HOT construction, as far as I know. I understand that using VA 7 or the access road are the alternates here, but this seems silly for two of the busiest interstates in the country to not have a complete interchange. That can't be up to code! Explanation?

I don't know of any code that says an interchange must be "full." I feel sure that drivers trying to make connections between I-295 and 395 would have discovered such a code during the past three decades if it existed.

Wait. You can certainly get from the outer loop to 66 eastbound via the left-hand exit. I think that's 45B?

Dr. Gridlock, with the closure of the Red Line between Fort Totten and NY Ave, Metro really added insult to injury by turning around the yellow line at Mt. Vernon Square all weekend. (Relatively) frequent trains to cover the combined Red & Green Line crowds would have been the perfect solution. I saw that there was work on the Green Line beyond Ft. Totten, so I am sure that this is the reason, but even with 8 minute headways, that should be enough time to turn around yellow line trains around at Fort Totten? I realize that work needs to get done, but as far as I am concerned Metrorail doesn't exist on weekends anymore around here.

I'm pretty sure that the problem is with the Yellow Line turn around time at Fort Totten. That's been an issue since Metro started sending the Yellow Line trains that far north (about a decade ago now, I think?). My recollection is that Fort Totten's tracks weren't built with this type of frequent turn around in mind.

I have noticed after a tragic accident when a man accidently fell onto a Metro track and was killed that Metrorail has discontinued single tracking. That is actually a very good idea. As we saw by this man's unfortunate death, the Metro platforms are not designed for single tracking. Often, especially, during busy weekends, the platforms are too narrow to handle the crowds and accident such as the one described are bound to happen. Anyway, my question, is does Metro have any plans to re-enstate the single tracking? I hope not. I think it is just too dangerous. Thank you...

I'm not aware of any time when Metro discontinued single tracking, and feel sure that weekend riders will back me up on this. In fact, there's a lot of single tracking scheduled for this coming weekend.

What happened earlier this year was that Metro got more aggressive about weekend work and made station shutdowns a part of the routine. When stations are shut down, free shuttles are used to get riders around the disruption. But elsewhere in the system, single-tracking continues.

You'll see both types of operations this weekend. Part of the Green Line will be shut and buses will replace trains. But there will be single-tracking through downtown on the Red Line.


I drove up 95 this weekend - and the detested Delaware toll plaza is FINISHED! EZPass only lanes split to the left both northbound and southbound, with "readers" overhead in each lane. No slowing down to have your pass read, no booths. Speed limit plus the whole way. Now I can die (since I never thought I'd live to see this project completed).

Yep. I've been hearing good things about the toll plaza since the highway speed E-ZPass lanes opened for the summer. It will be interesting to see what happens at Thanksgiving, which will put the maximum stress on the new system.

Thanks, travelers. I need to wrap up now, but will be back again next Monday. Stay safe. Check the Dr. Gridlock blog for updates on the weekend work we've been discussing. Write to me any time at drgridlock@washpost.com.


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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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