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Posted at 9:25 AM ET, 01/26/2011

How did you check A.M. commute?

By Robert Thomson

As you settle in at work after an interesting morning commute, tell me this: What did you know and how did you know it? Did you hear about the delay on the Blue Line? Did you hear about the accidents on the inner loop?

Because of the temperature and the timing, this morning's precipitation created constantly changing conditions on the main routes to work in the D.C. area. It's very unlikely you knew last night what you would be in for on your route this morning. So it was the ideal time to seek updates before leaving home.

Meanwhile, news organizations have been adding more ways to get those updates. You can find a string of examples just below this posting. Each morning, my colleague Mark Berman posts advisories about the latest traffic and transit conditions. On television, many of you can find local traffic camera views, as well as traffic updates from reporters and anchors. The radio stations -- most prominently WTOP, with its reports every 10 minutes -- offer frequent updates for the region.

Other private services, such as and, also have a wealth of information about current conditions.

Government transportation agencies have expanded their communications systems to include social media such as Twitter and Facebook. The Virginia Department of Transportation also has its 511 road information service. Metro provides e-mail alerts about trouble on the lines. I find these developments very encouraging, because I think a big part of the 21st century transportation system will involve managing information about the current state of the transportation network, so that travelers know what their options are.

But at this point, what do travelers actually do before leaving home? I often ask commuters this question. The most frequent answer: Just get in the car and go. Maybe they turn on the radio, maybe they look for an overhead message board. But in many cases, that's about it.

Given the vast amount of free information that's now out there to guide travelers through their commute, how do you choose your sources? Or if you choose not to use any of them and just wing it, how does that work for you?

By Robert Thomson  | January 26, 2011; 9:25 AM ET
Categories:  Transportation News, Weather  | Tags:  Dr. Gridlock  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Slick and icy roads this A.M.
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Commute was great until I reached Arlington County. Apparently only the state maintained roads were treated. Which means that about 95% of the roads were not. Heavily traveled roads were fine, due to the shear number of cars, but less traveled roads were slushy and/or covered except for two paths for tires, unlike those in Maryland which were treated.

Posted by: yell53 | January 26, 2011 9:27 AM | Report abuse

My clock-radio is tuned to WTOP, so that's my first news regarding weather and travel conditions, especially the federal government's status. I don't check on-line for tweets or webppage updates. I do turn the TV on to a local station to supplement WTOP. I guess I'm a luddite when it comes to these things.

Posted by: WashingtonDame | January 26, 2011 9:55 AM | Report abuse

Arlington would like to be car-free.

Posted by: getjiggly1 | January 26, 2011 9:56 AM | Report abuse

I depend on the TV news which usually announces major delays on Metro, though I often find something has happened between the time I leave the house and when I arrive at Metro. The TV stations don't cover the minor delays, such as a train going out of service, which can muck up the works for at least a half an hour.

Posted by: ehardwick | January 26, 2011 10:35 AM | Report abuse

Watch ch 4 during breakfast and just before leaving. WTOP during the drive.

Posted by: wiredog | January 26, 2011 10:47 AM | Report abuse

"[W]hat do travelers actually do before leaving home?"

I always listen to the radio, usually WTOP. My bedroom radio is tuned to that station and I seldom change it. When I worked downtown, I found that it was critical to listen to the traffic report before leaving because I had to commit to one of the several route options fairly quickly. If I didn't listen to the traffic report, I could be stuck on the "wrong" route for a given day if there was a problem and I didn't know about it.

If for any reason I'm unable to listen to WTOP, or if I get in the car at the wrong time and it will be almost the full 10 minutes before the next report, I listen to the XM traffic channel in the car as I leave my neighborhood. I have less faith in them than I do in WTOP because their reports are recorded and are only updated every half an hour or so and because the reporters do not seem to be familiar with the DC area (example: they often refer to Triangle, Virginia, as "the Triangle"). But those 10 minutes are key because by the time I have driven for 10 minutes, I will have had to choose one of the different routes. So it's better to have some information than none.

I do not go online or watch the TV for morning traffic information. I react better to the info from the radio. I'm sure part of this comes from not having a TV in the bedroom until I got married last year and we put my wife's TV in there. Longstanding habit of preferring the radio is hard to break (although on days like today I find it immensely frustrating how they waste so much time blathering on about every little private school closing instead of talking about the news that affects the entire listening audience...listing the school systems, sure, that makes sense, but every last little private school?).

Posted by: 1995hoo | January 26, 2011 11:25 AM | Report abuse

From Dr. Gridlock: Thanks for these responses. I love hearing about what travelers actually do and why.

Here's a variation on my original question: Are you more likely to seek traffic and transit information before leaving home when the weather is bad? Bad weather is an obvious motive for doing so, but in a region as congested as ours, you really never know what problems might be out there for you on any given day, even in good weather.

My own pattern before setting out: I always check the blog for any alerts, but I realize that's not typical commuter behavior since I do this for a living. When I get in the car, I listen to WTOP for the traffic reports, though sometimes, I can run into trouble within 10 minutes of leaving home. There's always something fresh and exciting out there that isn't accounted for on any site or station.

Posted by: rtthomson1 | January 26, 2011 11:41 AM | Report abuse

I usually have the local news on while getting ready but I generally check this blog on my smartphone before heading out. Generally the news doesn't focus on metro delays unless there is some major incidence. This blog give me more specific info regarding transit.

If the weather is bad I may also check the capital weather gang blog, but I usually just read that in the afternoons and that's sufficient for the next day's commute.

Posted by: UMDTerpsGirl | January 26, 2011 12:40 PM | Report abuse

I check the road and traffic conditions on my Blackberry before heading out the door. I use Google Maps' "show traffic" option, which is refreshed often (although sometimes it's behind actual conditions), and I point the web browser to my Dr. Gridlock bookmark to quickly scan the morning commute roundup for any issues along my route. With those two items checked, I also go with my intuition as I'm on the road and bail off the Beltway if there's even a whiff of funky driving/backups.

Because I use my blackberry to view this blog, it's important not to clog up the entries with Twitt-head feeds. Thanks!

Posted by: CyanSquirrel | January 26, 2011 2:10 PM | Report abuse

Oh and I don't listen to the radio - ears don't work, winks. So I do go out with just the latest info posted by the traffic level indicators and the updates on the blog. Glad you're asking these questions, as I'm sure it'll help improve the service you give to readers!

Posted by: CyanSquirrel | January 26, 2011 2:23 PM | Report abuse

From Dr. Gridlock: Yes, CyanSquirrel, along with the general guidance that travelers are giving about their information sources and habits, I am hoping to pick up some tips on how we could improve our travel information delivery.

Posted by: rtthomson1 | January 26, 2011 2:29 PM | Report abuse

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