The Washington Post

Dr. Gridlock

Jan 09, 2017

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 to our first chat of 2017. The big travel event of January for our area is the Jan. 20 presidential inauguration, and I've got some questions and comments from you, so let's start there.

Why is there no information on the Metro site nor the Post pertaining to the closures of stations around the mall and Metro Center? It would help businesses prepare personnel for the commute on that day.

On Friday, Metro GM Paul Wiedefeld announced that these stations will be closed for security on Inauguration Day, Jan. 20: Mount Vernon Square, Archives, Federal Triangle, Smithsonian, Pentagon.

I know for many of you this will be a difficult day to get to work in downtown DC. I've seen no estimate on the size of the crowd anticipated for the noon swearing-in at the Capitol and the Pennsylvania Avenue parade. Many regular commuters will have the day off, and many of the close-in school systems will be closed. Given that Monday is the MLK Day holiday, I suspect that many people may have arranged to take the entire week off.

Still, for those of us who are going in, there will be plenty of transit and traffic issues.

Have you gotten any inkling of what the road closures will be like around the inauguration? As I remember, President Obama's first inauguration, most bridges, I-395 and the GW Parkway were closed. It made for some unusual commuting routes.What's the word for this year?

There's a lot of travel information collected on this Web page: inauguration.dc.gov.

On the Dr. Gridlock blog, we're going to have many postings consolidating road and transit information and addressing your concerns.

The highway and bridge restrictions won't be as severe as what you remember from 2009. They'll be more like what we experienced in 2013. The GW Parkway will be open. The Potomac bridge restrictions aren't as intense.

But it's still going to be difficult getting around central DC.

 

I just saw all the Inauguration Day road closures. It's almost as bad as 2008, except the bridges are open. However, all the tunnels will be closed. I need to get from Springfield to North Capitol St at L at noon and I'm likely to be there fairly late. Metro won't be appropriate for a number of reasons. Ordinarily I just take the 3rd St tunnel. In looking at all the closures I don't see any way to get where I need to go from any bridge. Am I missing an alternative route that will work?

I'm very sorry to hear you won't be able to use Metrorail since it's such an obvious solution for a Springfield-North Capitol St/L Street trip at that time.

After a quick glance at the security zone map, I'm thinking you might want to take the Beltway to 295 to New York Ave and come in that way.

 

Hi Dr. Gridlock, it's been years since I've worked in DC itself, but am now in that situation (so grateful to have Inauguration Day off!). Any predictions on what traffic and public transit will be like on Thursday the 19th, as everything is getting set up for the inauguration?

This is a very smart question, because I think many commuters will have their worst experience of the week on Thursday, Jan. 19. Many of the road restrictions start at 3 a.m. Thursday.

Many of the government employees who have Friday off will still be working on Thursday. I think the streets in central DC are to be avoided on Thursday if at all possible. Metrorail will be a much better choice under the circumstances.

We're going to leave the area during the inauguration. We plan to leave Thursday afternoon, 4ish. Do you think we should wait for after rush hour?

I think the Thursday afternoon rush in central DC will be difficult. Many drivers will be confused and frustrated by street restrictions.

If you're starting point is north of K Street/Mass Ave, or south of the Potomac, you will have much less difficulty. (I think I'd still wait till after rush hour if you have that option.)

My wife is pregnant and due right around Inauguration Day. We live over in the NOMA area around H Street NE. We're supposed to deliver at George Washington hospital, but worried about getting there if we need to on Inauguration Day. Any suggestions on the best route to take and how to get into the "green zone" if we need to around the hospital?

Looks to me like the hospital is just outside the Vehicle Restricted Area, which is bounded by K Street NW and 23rd Street NW. I think the traffic north of the restricted area won't be too much of a problem on Inauguration Day. So if you swing north of K Street/Mass Ave to reach the hospital, you shouldn't have any more difficulty than you would on a normal day.

What should a MD commuter expect commuting to DC on the day before via metro and MARC train? Are all trains/stations operating? Should I expect large crowds?

I don't expect large crowds on Thursday. I expect confused crowds -- which I guess could be just as bad. But if you're doing MARC to Union Station and then a Metrorail ride on Thursday, you should be okay.

I have an 8:35 flight out of National on the day of the inauguration. Headed to the airport from Fairfax. Any reason to think I need some kind of extraordinary amount of time to get there? I'd typically leave the house around 6am. Thanks!

I'm very conservative about airport travel times. If I had an 8:35 flight from National on an average day, I'm probably be at the airport by 6 a.m.

On Inauguration Day, I'd certainly leave extra time, even though plans now call for the GW Parkway to be open in both directions. In fact, I don't see any scheduled road closings on the Virginia side that would affect your trip.

Any Metro closures planned for the day after the inauguration?

No, no planned station closings.

 In fact, I would hope Metrorail would be able to provide some extra service to get people to and from the Women's March on Washington.

Starting Thursday early morning! I might telework that day and just not deal with the confusion.

I think people absolutely should telework if at all possible on Thursday and Friday next week. That's helped us so much in getting through big, disruptive events in the past couple of years.

Thanks for the link to the DC government website that lists road closures. The site refers to an event at Union Station on Thursday 1/19. What is the event? Is it inside the station? I'm planning to take a train out of Union Station that morning, and now wonder whether I need to get there extra-early.

I notice that the parking restrictions right around Union Station are scheduled to start at noon. So if you've got a morning train you shouldn't be affected by that.

However, given that other road restrictions in central DC will be in effect by then, I'd still leave extra time if driving. If you're taking Metrorail, you should be okay.

Aside from the specific restrictions around Union Station for noon to 11 p.m. Thursday, I'm sure travelers will want to avoid the plaza in front of Union Station on both Thursday and Friday. That's likely to be even more of a mess than usual.

If I need to get from Friendship Heights or Chevy Chase on Inauguration Day around dinner time is my best bet to walk? A 4 mile downhill walk is pretty easy for us and seems like the easiest option for maneuvering. Is that the correct instinct for the evening and the weekend?

I can't disagree with anyone who wants to walk at any time. Of course, we have no idea at this point what the weather is going to be like.

But my recollection from the past two inaugurals is that traffic around dinner time was pretty messy as people left the inaugural parade along Pennsylvania Avenue. That would be my biggest concern for your trip from Friendship Heights/Chevy Chase.

Call 911 and have your wife transported by ambulance.Why risk getting stuck in traffic on. EMS and fire department would much have you call 911 from home then trying to get to stuck in traffic. Also who knows what the weather will be. At least in FFx Cty the fire department loves to respond to calls like this and would rather everyone be safe.

From the March's website: The starting point will be the intersection of Independence Avenue and Third Street SW, near the U.S. Capitol. It seems like taking Metro to L'Enfant will be the best option to the starting point . Any reason to think otherwise (besides Metro's general ineptitude)?

I'd definitely take Metrorail to the Women's March. My only hesitation is about using L'Enfant Plaza.

Metro will open at 7 a.m. and the march is scheduled to start at 10 a.m. I'd expect a great deal of crowding at L'Enfant Plaza. Not sure what you're starting point is, but it might be worthwhile to get off at another station and walk to the starting point.

I've been trying for weeks to find some helpful information on the WMATA website about the speed restrictions south of National Airport. This page was linked in a tweet this morning. https://www.wmata.com/service/status/details/20161207-speed-restriction-bl-yl.cfm But I can't find a way to locate it from within the website. Is it common for WMATA to build information pages that are this difficult to locate? Also, as a daily blue line rider, it typically adds much more than 2-3 minutes when a half dozen trains get bottlenecked there. Any idea when things might return to normal here?

It's one of the service alerts you can get to from the home page.

Many riders are expressing their frustrations with the safety speed restriction south of Reagan National. No date for lifting it.

I think this rider keys in on the problem. To Metro, the time it takes a train to get through the speed zone isn't a big deal. You do the math and it's like two or three minutes extra in the zone. What I think many riders are experiencing is the backup getting into the zone. It's seems similar to what they go through at the entrance point to single-tracking zones.

And riders also are expressing frustration with Metro's revamped website. Many are having difficulty finding things they knew how to reach before the redesign.

Can you give any advice on DC road closures, Metro issues for Saturday, January 21? Last I looked over 100,000 people are expected to join in the Women's March on Washington?

I haven't seen a list of road closings yet. In fact, it's unclear to me what the marchers' route is going to be from the starting point at Independence Avenue and Third Street SW on the south side of the Mall.

I'd also like to see a Metrorail schedule. It's not track work I'm worried about for that day but rather the frequency of service.

Our friend lands at DCA at 4pm, on Inauguration Day, and wants to know how best to get to our home on Capitol Hill (near Eastern Market.) I think even attempting travel across town at this time of day is useless, and that she should have a cocktail at the airport, then hop Metro after 6pm. What are your thoughts?

I completely agree with your entire plan.

Thanks so much for the suggestion to take 295 to NY Avenue! That hadn't occurred to me. I'll just have to leave way earlier than usual, but it should work. I am kinda surprised at the closure of the 3rd Street tunnel. They didn't do that in 2013.

I don't remember it being closed in 2013. I do remember walking through the Third Street Tunnel in 2009 -- unless that was just a transportation writer's dream.

I've been talking about Thursday restrictions during the chat, so I should point out that the Third Street Tunnel closing is marked at Friday only, starting at 6 a.m.

Yikes! I work on First St NE a few blocks from Union Station, and now I'm hoping that OPM will authorize teleworking for Thursday. Otherwise, it's going to be a nightmare for me to get to and from work.

I have a 4 p.m. flight from National on Jan. 19. I live in Southeast DC. What do you recommend as a time to leave for the airport.

You will have noticed from my previous answer on airports that I'm very conservative on those travel times, because I don't want people missing their flights and there are so many obstacles that can come between your home and the airport gate.

Your extra concern on the afternoon of Jan. 19 is the road restrictions in central DC. You should have no extra difficulty getting to the airport via Metrorail. If driving, I'd just count on some extra traffic diverting away from downtown streets.

I'd probably choose to approach National -- if driving -- by going south on 295 and taking the Wilson Bridge, then north to the airport.

I saw above that you suggested to a reader to leave the day before Inauguration after the rush hour. If I have the option to leave work at noon the day before inauguration to get out of town is that far enough before the rush hour to leave? I am contemplating leaving Wednesday night and missing the half day of work that I have on Thursday.

If I worked downtown and had the option to get out of Dodge on Wednesday night, I'd do that. It looks to me like getting in and out of central DC on Thursday is going to be a hassle -- although I'd much rather leave at noon Thursday than during the p.m. rush.

In 2009 and 2013, I saw many complaints about traffic restrictions the day before the inauguration.

I'm coming from VA to the Women's March. Heading to a friend's place the night before. Is it better to metro I from Springfield to Columbia heights or drive?

It certainly will be better to take Metrorail in and out of Columbia Heights rather than driving.

So I had applied to be a Riders' Advisory Council member for my jurisdiction. I was not selected but when I attempted to find out who was I noticed that all RAC web pages read: "No agenda items have been assigned for this meeting." https://www.wmata.com/about/calendar/events/120716-RAC-Monthly-Meeting.cfm

The online place to look for a list of RAC members is here:

https://www.wmata.com/about/riders-advisory-council/members.cfm

But I think that hasn't been updated yet with the new appointees.

At the Metro board's meeting in mid December, the board appointed these folks to the RAC: Dexter Williams, representing the District of Columbia; Sareana Kimia, representing Maryland; Yvette Washington, representing Maryland; Colin Reusch, at large, Valerie Cook representing DC; Joseph "Joe" Lee Suh, representing DC. (Some of those are reappointments.)

 

leaking from the walls at the U St/Cardozo station?

I can't picture it at U Street, but my guess is it's the same evidence of water leaks we see at other underground stations.

Why does the Silver line have to end at Ballston almost every weekend? Is this something Metro is considering doing permanently if the budget doesn't improve?

So far, it's not a budget thing. When there's track work in the tunnel between Rosslyn and Stadium-Armory, Metro operates the Silver Line between Wiehle Ave and Ballston only, to clear track space in the tunnel.

Metro has a slogan of Back2Good. I suggest instead that it should be Make Metro Great Again.

Metro officials were upfront in saying that they knew riders wouldn't accept any slogan that implied transit greatness in 2017.

Dr. G, What, if anything, is going on behind-the-scenes to restructure Metro's disfunctional tri-partite governing structure and to bring some budgetary predictability to Metro? Between grandstanders like Jack Evans and Maryland's government, seems like Virginia's reps are the only adults in the room.

Metro's governance needs reform to reduce the ability of jurisdictions to block needed changes. I don't see that happening any time soon. It's not going to come from within the board. And it's very difficult for the three jurisdictions to get together on changing the Metro Compact.

OK, not a transit question per se, but why is it still called 'telework'? I imagine that goes back to the early days of the Internet when you to had to connect via your landline and a modem or via conference call. But why not just call it 'work-at-home' or something?

I guess it's like "dial a number" and other phrases that live on after they've been superseded by technological change.

But then there's also the fact that people don't need to be at home to work remotely.

I agree that the new WMATA website is difficult to use, requiring multiple steps to find basic info. I'm also puzzled by the Metro speed restriction south of the airport - it's supposedly to protect track inspectors, but is in place at night as well - are the tracks being inspected at 10 p.m.?

Track workers could be out at any time. I think the idea is that the train operators aren't supposed to guess about when there might be someone working up ahead.

I have yoga teacher training starting at 4pm on inauguration day. I live one block from the Verizon center and plan to take metro to Columbia Heights. Is this crazy?

I think you'd be doing the best thing by taking Metrorail that afternoon.

Here's a guess about 4 p.m. travel: It's likely that there will be a travel lull around then. The inaugural parade will likely be underway along Penn Ave., fixing spectators in place. Meanwhile, people who were going to the swearing-in ceremony only probably will have cleared the area.

Will it be possible to get to Arlington National Cemetery on January 20th? My mom will be in town and wants to place flowers on her mother's grave (Jan. 20 is grandma's birthday). I've told her we should probably go a different day that weekend, but she really wants to go the 20th.

There's a wreath-laying ceremony scheduled for Thursday, the 19th, but no special events planned for Jan. 20, so I think you'll be fine. But do take Metrorail if at all possible.

We are having to head to CT on Saturday. Any thoughts on how the road traffic will be heading out of town the day after inauguration?

I think if you're not near the Mall on that Saturday -- the date of the Women's March -- you should be fine on road traffic.

Thanks for joining me. I focused on questions related to inauguration week, because I figured people needed to make plans. If I didn't get to your inauguration question, write to me at drgridlock@washpost.com, and also, watch the Dr. Gridlock blog for some postings about these travel issues.

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 Dr. Gridlock blog, as well as in the Metro section of The Washington Post.
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