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Posted at 8:46 PM ET, 01/25/2011

Snow guide for roads and public transit

By Robert Thomson

Driving | Public transit | Streets | Resources | Share your tips

The Washington area could get several inches of snow from Wednesday afternoon through the overnight hours. When the snow hits, here's a look at ways you can ease your travels. This advice comes from transportation officials, Metro maintenance staff, plow drivers and ordinary travelers who have been getting around the area for years.

DRIVING


roadssnow80.jpgGet snow or ice off the vehicle, including the roof and side windows. You will be doing yourself a favor, because you will be able to see all around. And you'll be doing other drivers a favor, because they hate it when cars finally pick up speed and lose that crown of snow on top. Also:

  • Be sure the battery is charged.

  • Check wiper blades, tires, the tire jack, antifreeze and lights.

  • Keep the gas tank at least half full.

  • Carry an emergency kit that includes a small shovel; a bag of rock salt, sand or cat litter; a scraper and brush; a flashlight with extra batteries; jumper cables; blankets; and a first-aid kit.

  • Don't use cruise control.

  • Allow extra room for stopping or for taking evasive action.

  • Turn your lights on and use your turn signals.

  • Stick with the main roads as long as you can rather than detouring onto secondary routes.

  • Watch for pedestrians: During heavy storms, the streets may be in better condition than the sidewalks, so pedestrians will hop over snowbanks and walk wherever they can.

  • Don't crowd the plow: Plow operators ask, What's the point of trying to get ahead of trucks that are making the road behind them safer to use? Also, a plow operator has blind spots, especially behind and to the left.

TRANSIT TIPS

metrosnow80.jpg

Metrorail: Metro clears the areas around rail station entrances, but the walk to the entrance may be a struggle. Platform paving tiles can be treacherous beneath ice and snow. Metrorail will shut above-ground service when the snowfall reaches eight inches, so watch for announcements and be prepared to adjust your schedule. There's the possibility that this could happen if portions of the area served by Metrorail get enough snow Wednesday

Metrobus: Metro does not plow around bus stops. Bus routes and schedules become very fickle in snow and ice. Seek out buses that follow snow emergency routes. Don't rely heavily on the NextBus information system. It can't account for detours or traffic incidents.

MetroAccess: Car and van service for riders who are disabled operates in bad weather, but as conditions deteriorate, trips are canceled. People with appointments should seek status updates.

YOUR STREET

shovel80.jpg

Clearing sidewalks. Rules vary, but most jurisdictions expect property owners to get out within a certain number of hours and clear their sidewalks. They don't expect you to throw the snow in the street. When clearing the driveway, toss the snow to the right. That makes it less likely the plow will push that snow right back across the driveway entrance.

Clearing streets. Much of the clearing work goes to contractors, whose trucks might not bear the emblem of the agency that hired them. The D.C. departments of public works and transportation team up on street clearing in the city. The Virginia Department of Transportation takes care of interstates, main roads and neighborhood streets within its turf. The Maryland State Highway Administration handles the state's numbered roads, while counties and municipalities take care of the rest.

Snow emergency routes. Some jurisdictions require owners to get their vehicles off snow emergency routes after the jurisdiction declares an emergency. This affects many District residents, where the Public Works Department tows vehicles remaining on those routes and imposes stiff fines.

RESOURCES

Maryland

Before leaving home, check conditions by going online to marylandroads.com. There, under the Ice & Snow logo, you'll find a link to a list of all the county highway department phones. Click on the CHART information center to find more snow emergency information, traffic camera views, weather updates, maps showing average travel speeds on highways and road-closing reports. Go to "Contact Us" and click on the "Service Request" link if you spot a problem. There's also a Winter Storm Hotline at 800-327-3125 for updates on conditions. Maryland also sends out road information on a Twitter feed: twitter.com/#!/MDSHA.

The District

Monitor media reports in case a snow emergency is declared or trash and recycling pickups are suspended. To report problems, call the D.C. Service Request Center at 311, or go to the District Department of Transportation Web site at ddot.dc.gov/DC/DDOT and click on the Service Request Center button in the upper left. There's also a button marked Traffic Alerts. DDOT has a very active Twitter feed, at twitter.com/#!/DDOTDC .

Virginia

To report road hazards or to ask questions about the state roads, call 800-FOR-ROAD (800-367-7623). The 511 traveler-information service provides updates on weather and road conditions. Call 511 from any phone in Virginia, or go to 511virginia.org and view traffic cameras, a map of road conditions and a detailed road condition report. The 511 system also has a very active Twitter feed, at twitter.com/#!/VaDOT .

Metro

Metrorail, Metrobus: Go to Metro's home page at wmata.com and look at the lower left for the link that will allow you to sign up for e-mail alerts. Service updates are available by calling 202-962-1212. Report a problem by calling 202-637-1328. Check Metro's Twitter feed at twitter.com/#!/metroopensdoors .

MetroAccess: Passengers with scheduled rides should call 301-562-5360 for a status update.

Has experience taught you valuable lessons about traveling in the snow? Share your wisdom with other Washingtonians by posting a comment below.

By Robert Thomson  | January 25, 2011; 8:46 PM ET
Categories:  Driving, Metro, MetroAccess, Metrobus  
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Next: A difficult day for commuting

Comments

Something I would add to the driving tips: Know whether your car has antilock brakes. If it does, know how they work. With antilock brakes, you should not pump the brake pedal to try to avoid a skid, regardless of what you may have been taught in driver's ed way back when. (Consider that antilock brake systems have only become prevalent since around 1990; prior to then, they were generally seen only on very expensive cars.) If you have antilock brakes, keep the pedal depressed firmly and do not let up even if it starts vibrating and making a chattering noise that sounds sort of like popcorn popping. That vibration is the system doing what it's supposed to do--pulsing the brakes far faster than you could ever do.

I've known quite a few people who have said that they thought they had damaged their antilock systems because they felt this weird vibration, so they let up on the brakes. That defeats the purpose of having them!

Posted by: 1995hoo | January 26, 2011 9:16 AM | Report abuse

Are there any maps of the snow emergency routes in the area (DC/MD/VA)? I have a general idea of what roads are snow emergency routes, but I don't know them all. It's a lot easier to predict if a bus is going to come at all if I had a map to compare to the normal bus route. Sometimes I am unsure if a bus will run at all if portions of the route are on non-snow emergency roads.

Posted by: UMDTerpsGirl | January 26, 2011 12:59 PM | Report abuse

I disagree with this advise: "When clearing the driveway, toss the snow to the right. That makes it less likely the plow will push that snow right back across the driveway entrance." DON'T shovel snow into the street at all (same goes for snow blowers). Throw it in your yard. It might be a little extra work, but it keeps it out of the way for good and is better for the environment, because it melts more slowly.

Posted by: claygott | January 27, 2011 11:34 AM | Report abuse

I disagree with this advise: "When clearing the driveway, toss the snow to the right. That makes it less likely the plow will push that snow right back across the driveway entrance." DON'T shovel snow into the street at all (same goes for snow blowers). Throw it in your yard. It might be a little extra work, but it keeps it out of the way for good and is better for the environment, because it melts more slowly.

Posted by: claygott | January 27, 2011 11:50 AM | Report abuse

Another driving tip that should be obvious, especially given the name of this column: don't enter an intersection if you're not sure you will get out of it before the light changes. I saw people violating that rule several times last night, preventing cross traffic from moving when it had the green light. This behavior gridlocks the system and just makes it take longer for everyone to get home.

Posted by: mstein | January 27, 2011 1:17 PM | Report abuse

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