Oct 25, 2010

The Washington Post's Dr. Gridlock, Robert Thomson, was online to take all your questions about Metro, traffic throughout the region and other transportation issues.

Welcome, travelers. There's a busy weekend coming up in DC area transportation news, plus, we've got a lot to talk about concerning our regular problems with getting around.

Under David Lacosse's watch, the escalator situation has been a complete and utter disaster. Not only that, but this is a guy who refuses to be interviewed, so he pretty much avoids answering tough questions. Why hasn't this guy been fired yet?

I was thinking about the escalator problems this morning. Just wrote a post for the Dr. Gridlock blog saying that the Bethesda escalators -- the two between the platform and mezzanine -- are working again, after a maintenance project that lasted half a year.

This is something Metro should have figured out how to fix by now. There are many problems with the escalators, but they've been known for more than a decade.

At the same time, I'm not sure that one guy should be the focal point. (Metro has gone through plenty of top managers over the past few years. Do you think Metro service has gotten better?)

The Post's Ann Scott Tyson did interview David Lacosse over the summer. Here's one graph from her July 21 story:

"If I could have 1,000 escalator mechanics, we would be in nirvana, but the budget is not going to pay for that," said David Lacosse, director of Metro's Office of Elevators and Escalators. "So you are struggling with the number of people you have and the amount of area."


Hi Dr. Gridlock, I got to the Court House station this morning at around 7:50 to find the next orange line train was scheduled to come in eight minutes. A few minutes later, I heard an announcement that there was a train out of service at Farragut West, causing delays. I never received an e-alert for this delay, and as far as I can tell it was never up on wmata.com. Do you know why some delays never get alerts? Thanks.

I'm not sure why this is, but I agree that the e-alerts from Metro are spotty. I try to follow what's going on with all the lines, by receiving Metro's e-alerts and looking at its Twitter feed.

Sometimes, there are plenty of advisories about a disruption, and other times, nothing. The gaps don't seem to involve any particular line. Recently, during the morning rush, there was nothing about a lengthy disruption on the Red Line.


Please help! I have a large group coming to town this weekend, leaving from National Airport this Sunday-- MCM day. Unfortunately, they will have lots of luggage and are not Metro-savvy, so I need to coordinate cabs for them.

How long would it take to get to DCA from the Dupont/Woodley area, leaving at various times between 7 a.m. and noon? I'm thinking they should allow at least an hour. I see the long list of road closures; it's just very hard to make sense of visually. Will cabbies know the proper diversions, or should I map everything out for them ahead of time?

For all, the marathon's Web site has course maps on this page:


The annual event is Sunday morning and will affect travel in DC and Arlington near the Potomac River. I'd allow about an hour for that trip, and wouldn't count on cab drivers to know where they're going.

Are you really sure they can't handle getting to the Metro station at National? That seems like a good bet, even with luggage. It does involve a change at Metro Center, but it's not that complicated.


Why during the weekend when traffic is at a stand-still on I-66 do they keep the HOV lanes closed? It's extremely frustrating sitting in traffic when these lanes are closed to traffic. It doesn't make any sense.

There's no reason the HOV lanes should have been closed on the weekend on I-66. Are we talking about the far left lanes in each direction? Or might you be thinking of the shoulder lanes, which are open only during the weekday rush hours?

Your weekend announcement of road closures seemed to have missed a lot of closures in DC. The most significant of them was not warning of the Memorial Bridge closure. It wasn't a very pleasant Saturday morning for me and many other commuters. What happened?

I'm sorry you got stuck. Are you thinking of the posting I do each Friday morning on the Dr. Gridlock blog? The one I call "The weekend and beyond"? To do that, I review the announcements from the local transportation agencies and also whatever I picked up in driving or riding around the region.

I think it's the most comprehensive preview in the DC area, but it's still only about 10 items for the entire region. So I try to spread out the items to cover all parts of the region.

Also, I welcome any suggestions about what travelers would like to see in that guide. If you're worried about a particular upcoming event, or you just think your part of the region isn't getting enough attention, let me know at drgridlock@washpost.com.

For this weekend, I'll probably highlight the Marathon, the Jon Stewart rally and Halloween, but there will be plenty of other stuff.

The news stories tell us that there will be two more years of construction hell in the VA-267, I-495 area. Why can't VDOT and the Airport Authority implement some operational improvements to lessen the impact.

Possible solutions could include: making one more toll booth EZ-path only (perhaps only during the peak hours); allowing HOV vehicle to enter the eastbound 267 just after the main toll plaza to get them out of the interchange traffic; add some thin flexible traffic bollards to the beltway exit lanes/through lane lines to try to eliminate the late mergers who block one of the two through lanes to force themselves into the exiting beltway traffic.

They need to do something! Two more years is a long time.

Those are good questions. Travel on Route 267 is affected by two of the biggest transportation projects in the country: The HOT lanes and the Dulles Metrorail construction.

The airports authority, which operates the toll road and is managing the rail project, is holding a public meeting tonight to discuss issues affecting drivers. Here's how we described it on the Dr. Gridlock blog:

The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, which operates the Dulles Toll Road, is holding an informational meeting for the public tonight.

The forum will provide information on the road's finances, operations and planned improvements. Airports officials said there will be exhibits and representatives from the agency to discuss tolls, increases that have already been approved and financing for the Metrorail extension to Dulles and beyond.

The meeting is scheduled for from 5 to 8 tonight at the South Lakes High School Cafeteria, 11400 S. Lakes Dr. in Reston.

Now that the Capital Bike Share program has started, I see even more bikes on crowded sidewalks. What are the laws concerning bike riding on sidewalks and will police start enforcing these laws? I am tired of having to move out of the way, or get hit while I am walking on sidewalks when there is a bike lane less than 10 feet away on the street. Thank you.

The Washington Area Bicyclist Association offers great guides about the rules. They are helpful for cyclists and for motorists:


On the crowded streets in downtown Washington, cyclists are supposed to stay on the streets, not the sidewalks. That doesn't happen, and it's dangerous. Cyclists come at pedestrians from all directions. You'd have to have Linda Blair Exorcist style 360 degree vision to be ready for that.

Police do enforce the traffic laws, which cyclists are subject to. But they're not going to be in enough places to stop all the bad behavior that you're seeing.


If you enter a Metro station and see that the platforms are overcrowded, etc., and then just turn around and go back into the office, you are charged for entering/exiting the same station (minimum fare).

Metro claims that they do this so as to prevent a conspiracy of two people exchanging farecards/SmarTrip cards and then entering/exiting "same" station. The problem with this response is that there is still a monetary incentive to do this type of conspiracy because of the the distance charge.

Furthermore, couldn't metro just have a 10-minute grace period of entering/exiting same station? You go in and realize it's terrible. Or, they could just apply zero charge for entering/exiting station to SmarTrip cards and have triggers whereby it's not allowed more than X number of times per month. Can we just get Metro to admit that they are just trying to get more money out of us even when they have disaster days (not uncommon)?

I think what Metro should do is make sure that its station managers are alert enough to discover problems on their platforms and have the means to quickly post signs warning incoming riders about severe delays.

Right now, riders don't necessarily have a way of knowing what's going on before they see the platform. (We talked about this a moment ago regarding the lack of consistent e-alerts about disruptions.)


Speaking of the rally, how much lead time do you think people need to have to get downtown via Metro (red line from Glenmont)? I have friends coming from out of town to go.

For all, the Jon Stewart rally is scheduled for noon to 3 p.m. Saturday on the National Mall, between 3rd Street and 7th Street NW.

It's hard to say how many people are going to attend. I haven't heard anything about Metro putting on extra service for that. I think the event sponsors would have to pay for it. (As is the case with the Marine Corps Marathon.)

Metro says it's going to be working on the elevated tracks at Rhode Island Avenue again this weekend. That suggests you should add 20 minutes to your regular travel time getting downtown.


Heading south is great - heading north, out of Ft. Belvior, you are forced to link up with the existing parkway at Rolling Road.

A two-lane section of traffic will need to line up in the right lane, wait for the light, and then merge onto the parkway.

Is this the best we can do? What happens when 1000's of workers come out of the new NGA and other buildings and clog this one-lane exit?

Even though the parkway extension has opened, we're still about two years away from having all the planned connections constructed.

Yes, I think that will be a problem in the early going concerning the BRAC relocations. But I'm more worried about what's going to happen farther north at the Mark Center.


Why can't Metro retrofit some of the escalators to boring, old-fashioned stair cases?

Obviously, some places this will never work (Bethesda, Rosslyn), but on others it can (Clarendon). You can also have stairs between the upper and lower platforms like at Navy Yard, Courthouse, and L'Enfant. That would allow Metro to use its limited staff on fewer systems.

That's a good idea. And in fact, there are plans to add staircases at some stations, such as Foggy Bottom. But that's still a fairly expensive undertaking. I think the local governments would have to kick in extra money -- taxpayer money -- to finance some projects, or deals would have to be worked out with private developers who want to build by the Metro stations.

How come most cyclist don't believe they have to follow the rules of the road? They regularly blow through stop signs and red lights, and never yield when they should. It's not only dangerous for them but they are putting others at risk as well.

Saturday night in Adams Morgan I watched as a cyclist blew threw a stop sign into the path of a pedestrian in a crosswalk. Didn't even slow down.

But I can't conclude from that -- or other incidents we all could describe -- that "most" cyclists do any one particular thing. I watch traffic for a living and can't conclude that "most" drivers do any one particular thing either.

What I notice is that many travelers -- motorists and cyclists -- will obey traffic rules when they have no other choice and ignore them when they can.

The construction site in the middle of the Dulles Access Road is illuminated at night using very bright overhead lights, some of which are partially aimed at oncoming traffic on the access road. This has the effect of blinding drivers and making it very difficult to see the darker areas beyond the lights - which creates a hazard (even at the posted speed limit) given the narrow shoulder and the way in which lanes frequently shift due to the construction. Are there any rules in terms of how these lights are used? Is anyone thinking about the safety hazard created here?

I'm not sure what the "rules" are but that certainly doesn't sound like a safe setup. I'll ask the project about the lighting. I'm sure they have no interest in blinding drivers entering a work zone.

Hi, Dr. Gridlock. My sister and I raced the Army Ten Miler this past weekend. We were on the middle escalator at the Pentagon Metro station, which was packed with racers and spectators, heading up to street level. All of sudden, it came to a jerky stop. Luckily no one was hurt. All of the escalators had been ascending but this one was stopped so people entering the station could use the escalator as stairs.

Of course we all just walked up but it seems like it would have been safer if someone had prevented people from getting on the escalator and then stopped it when it was empty. There was an elderly woman next to me who probably would have preferred not to walk up.

I can't believe that any Metro employee turned off the escalator while people were on it. Certainly, that's not what's supposed to happen.

The escalators have sensors that will stop the machinery if there's a lot of pressure from riders. Most often, it happens when people run on the escalators, but I think it could also happen if they are extremely crowded.

You're certainly correct that Metro often stops escalators to use them as stairways under crowded conditions, but the normal procedure is to place a barrier across the entranceway and let everyone get off the other end before stopping the escalator.

Thanks for joining me. That's all the time we have for today's session. I'll copy the remaining questions and search for answers.

Please come back and join me next Monday. And remember that you can contact me anytime during the week at drgridlock@washpost.com.

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