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The Rantings of a Lunatic Mom

We all have our peeves with getting around this region, but we're also all used to it. We generally know where to go and what to anticipate -- District traffic circles excepted, of course. What we don't know is what it's like for an outsider to get around. That's where my mom comes in. She was here all last week, staying in Falls Church with my brother so she could see her grandkids. Her main travels were between Falls Church, Old Town and Adams Morgan, where I live. These are her rants, with more than a couple suggestions for VDOT and DDOT:

DC drivers are low-rage, courteous, and understanding of the need to allow others to enter lanes, whether for merging or the not-so-rare last minute error.
However, the last-minute-error situation is to be expected, as it is impossible to safely drive in DC and read all the signage.
Routes are labeled, but without any indication where they may take you. In most major cities in this country and in Europe, route names also indicate destination names, giving the end of the route and some localities along the way, similar to Metro indicator poles, but not naming every stop. In Europe, all cities include "town center" signs along with all other listings. You can always get back to the center and try again (without crying).
At least on the bridges leading out of the city it would be helpful to know where that bridge is taking you. Then perhaps you would know which to take.

The hours of street limitations (no left 4:00 to 6:30) are not possible to see if you are lined up behind a string of SUVs. Some are also too low on the poles and are obliterated by pedestrians and vehicles. The lettering is too small for those of us older than 50.
If you err, and have no choice but to take a route out of the city, there are no signs to help you return. There are way too few "downtown DC" signs.

The digital second clocks under traffic lights are fantastic. They allow drivers to gauge whether to enter the crossing grid when congestion is high.

Now to my favorite, Interstate 66. An outsider cannot possibly understand the restrictions on this route. Entering from DC to 66W, there is one sign on the right, around a bend, to the side of about 4 or 5 lanes of merging and crossing traffic. By the time you see and interpret this sign, you have already had to commit to entering the route, or get hit in the rear. The diamond HOV symbol does not clearly explain that the ENTIRE route is limited. In most other places, particular lanes are restricted, not the entire highway. Obviously occasional visitors would be confused, and trapped. It cannot be ASSUMED that all drivers know the limitations of a route. The signage should provide fair, adequate, and advance information.

Entering DC on the Key Bridge, the right lane has a turn right before M street. It lists the name of the street, but not where it takes you. How would you know? And how would you know NOT to take it? No advance signage.

On GW Parkway from Alexandria to DC. Locals know that up ahead there will be a right turnoff for 395 into DC. But only locals know that. Visitors, trying to stay out of trouble, often do the smart thing and stay in the right lane. In this case it would cause much lost time if the driver did not want to exit at 395. There is no way to know that the slow moving right land is due to the 395 exit. The signs for 395 are too near the exit for those stuck way back and not knowing what is ahead.

I should add that her son, the transportation reporter, directed her right into the construction on the Roosevelt Bridge one day, sentencing her to more than an hour of sitting in traffic. I should read those press releases more closely.

I should probably also clarify the part where she says "DC drivers are low-rage, courteous, and understanding." She comes from northern New Jersey, so basically anyone on any other part of the planet qualifies as low-rage, courteous and understanding.

She makes some good points (and cooks a mean chicken). So what are y'all's peeves? What else do we need to tell the local DOTs to do?

By Washington Post Editors  |  May 25, 2006; 10:30 AM ET
Categories:  highways  
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Once thing I do not understand is why there are two exits for I-66 West, one left and one right, on northbound I-495/Inner Loop. Traffic slows down across all of the lanes right there on top of the delays exiting for Route 50 and to Tyson's.

Posted by: Leroy | May 25, 2006 11:27 AM | Report abuse

Here's a suggestion to address a pet peeve of mine that traffic reporters make: Please use road names as well as route numbers. It doesn't help me to know that there's a backup on Rt. 234 or Rt. 676 because I know streets by their names, except for the major roads.

And you talk waaaaayy too fast. Can you pause between sentences for a half a second? That way I'll know that you've moved on from Rt. 50 to another location.


Posted by: Not a numbers person | May 25, 2006 11:34 AM | Report abuse

Oh, I don't know... how about sticking a traffic cop on the intersection of Wilson Blvd. and N Lynn Street during the morning rush hour? It's taken me over 35 minutes on some mornings to simply come down Rt 29 onto Wilson (3 miles!) due to the fact that drivers on N Lynn heading into D.C. block the intersection when their light turns red. I've counted 4 consecutive green lights where, due to the other drivers blocking the entire intersection, only ONE car was able to make it across the street!

Posted by: I got no mas | May 25, 2006 12:42 PM | Report abuse

Lunatic Mom? How's about lunatic son who would ask his dear mother to drive into Adams Morgan. Your mother made lots of excellent points, and they were just based on driving to three destinations. She should be hired as a consultant to VDOT. I would just like to add that, as a native of this area, I feel exactly the way she does about navigating this area, except the part about the nice drivers.

Posted by: Anne Sansbury | May 25, 2006 12:53 PM | Report abuse

To answer Leroy's question about I-66: The left exit is there because I-66 used to end at the Beltway. For many years it was in doubt whether it would ever be constructed into DC, and it only opened in 1982. The right-hand exit was added at around that time and was added in part because of the difficulty of merging across from US-50 to I-66. Bear in mind that when the Beltway opened, it had two lanes on each side, not four, so changing across two lanes was a lot easier than changing across four.

I have a whole host of pet peeves to do with the design of area roads, but I will limit this post to two issues to do with Virginia's exit numbering on the Beltway. Back when the Beltway opened the exits were numbered sequentially from 1 to 38 going clockwise all the way around from US-1 in Alexandria to I-295 in Maryland. Fair enough. Sometime back in the early 1980s Maryland renumbered all its highways to use milepost-based numbering. No big deal there. Virginia retained the old numbers 1 to 14 on its portion of the highway.

So about four years ago, Virginia decided this was confusing, even though everyone is used to the idea of exit numbers resetting when you cross state lines. Virginia decided that the numbers would continue on up in anti-clockwise order beginning with Exit 43 (GW Parkway) and continuing.....UNTIL you pass Springfield, when they suddenly imposed I-95 numbering. This is really stupid. I suppose they think it's better for the two-digit Interstate numbers to be used since it's the "primary" route, but it destroys any intent of having consecutive, logical numbering on the Beltway to have it jump from Exit 57 at Springfield to Exit 173 at Van Dorn Street just three miles later when you stayed on the same road.

And there's my second beef--you stay on the same road when you go straight on the Beltway. You don't exit. Yet VDOT insists that going straight through Springfield on the Beltway is an "Exit," complete with a center-mounted exit tab on the big green signs on the Outer Loop. Back when only the western half of the Beltway was I-495 and the eastern half was just I-95, I understood the highway engineer's logic behind this--to go from I-95 to I-495, you must "exit" from I-95--even if nobody else did (it was a major gripe people raised in Dr. Gridlock over the years). So now that they're rebuilding the Springfield Interchange, they could have fixed this, but NO--they made it WORSE because on the Outer Loop they can't even get the numbering right, as the first pull-thru sign for the Beltway says "Exit 57C" but then when you get up to where the purported "Exit" is, you see "Exit 57A" (never mind that Exit 57A is the ramp to I-95 towards Richmond). The whole thing is just dumb. If you're going straight through on I-495, you're not exiting. I realize that the eastern half of the Beltway is not "officially" I-495 in the federal route logs, but who really thinks most drivers know that????

Posted by: Rich | May 25, 2006 1:04 PM | Report abuse

I love Anne Sansbury.
I still defend DC driver demeanor. And, I failed to mention that DC area drivers seem to obey the speed limits. That is just craziness, but refreshingly nice.

Posted by: Lunatic Mom | May 25, 2006 1:07 PM | Report abuse

I forgot to mention that if VDOT's system in Springfield of an "exit" for straight-through traffic made sense, then Maryland would do the same thing at the corresponding place over there where I-95 meets the Beltway. But they don't--the straight-through lanes are just the straight-through lanes, and traffic going to I-95 is to take Exit 27. It seems to me that this makes sense. Even if I-95 is the "primary" Interstate as a 2di route versus the 3di I-495 and as a national route, it's beyond dispute that I-95 merges onto the Beltway and that traffic LEAVING the Beltway is "exiting" in a very real sense.

Posted by: Rich | May 25, 2006 1:07 PM | Report abuse

I have a pet peeve. The Springfield Interchange is not the "Mixing Bowl." Since the 1940s that name has applied to the Pentagon interchange where Washington Boulevard meets I-395. The Washington Post for some reason decided to apply it to Springfield around 1999. It's silly to have two interchanges so close together with the same name.

Posted by: Long-time DC-area driver | May 25, 2006 1:18 PM | Report abuse

One of the myths about this region is that driving into the city is harder than getting around the suburbs. You can almost always find an alternate route in the city, whereas if you get stuck on the Beltway you've got no hope at all. It's actually easier for my folks, who drive from the Eastern Shore, to come into Adams Morgan than to circle the Beltway to get to my brother's house in Falls Church. Of course, he has a bigger house and two cute kids, but we're just talking traffic, right?

Posted by: Lunatic Son | May 25, 2006 1:54 PM | Report abuse

My pet peeve is the intersection at 15th and Constitution NW. It is a nightmare for westbound traffic during the PM rush. I watched the light cycle at least ten times yesterday while covering about half a block. The traffic from the far left lane is constantly trying to merge right rather than turn left, and now the restoration of President's Park has taken away blocks of the right lane on Constitution Avenue. Couldn't some reworking of the timing of that traffic signal help with some of the back-up? That intersection's redesign has never worked properly, and it's gone from bad to worse in recent months.

Posted by: VaMom | May 25, 2006 1:56 PM | Report abuse

That poor dear woman being called lunatic by her ungrateful son. She probably cleared up his congestion many times in his youth & how does he repay her - by directing her into a congestion that there is now cure for - the D. C. traffic.
Oh the pain of it all.

Posted by: jj | May 25, 2006 2:18 PM | Report abuse

"And, I failed to mention that DC area drivers seem to obey the speed limits."

Try driving on the innerloop between Maryland and the Springfield interchange in the morning! If you drive slower than 75, you'll get run over!

Posted by: SR | May 25, 2006 4:34 PM | Report abuse

Oops, I meant OUTERloop. See? I am still frazzled! ;)

Posted by: SR | May 25, 2006 4:37 PM | Report abuse

My pet peeve: the trees that block half (or more!) of a sign. Please, the traffic stops often enough, have someone circle the Beltway with tree trimmers and clean it up!

Posted by: Anonymous | May 25, 2006 6:09 PM | Report abuse

Strange, living in Alexandria, I've noticed the exact opposite of some of the comments here. Drivers in this region are TERRIBLE. They have a me-first attitude, wait til the last second to merge, speed up when you try to change lanes, the whole nine yards. And I find it far easier to get around the suburbs than DC itself. Perhaps that last one is because I live in the suburbs, though....

Posted by: Mike | May 26, 2006 11:10 AM | Report abuse

I'm going to have to agree and say that drivers here are probably the worst I've seen in any region of the US. (And I grew up in NJ too!) However, it seems that 9 out of 10 of the drivers that are downright DANGEROUS (drive too fast in general, weave in and out of traffic at that speed, speed up when you're trying to merge, cut you off, flip you off, don't use turn signals, etc etc,) have Maryland tags. (This point is made as the result of a long, independent study.) Anyone have any idea why?

My personal pet peeve is the merge lanes for the Dulles Toll Road. There is never any indication that that far right lane is an exit only lane. Therefore those drivers that are unfamiliar, who are trying to stay out of trouble in the right lane, end up having to try to merge back to the left at the last minute. The worst seems to be on Rt. 7 in NoVA. There are several other times there too that the far right lane just ends in a right turn or exit only lane, with absolutely no indication.

Posted by: UV | May 26, 2006 1:09 PM | Report abuse

The License Plates of Doom are diplomat plates. All other license-plate profiling pales in comparison. Diplomats seem to think that, by virtue of their status, they are immune from all local traffic ordinances and may continue to follow those governing traffic in their country of origin.

Virginia has too few road signs, placed too close to where you would need to make a decision regarding whether or not to turn or exit.

Posted by: Lindemann | May 30, 2006 9:44 AM | Report abuse

The commute into DC for work is a nightmare. I used to drive into work as I would often use my car during the day to run personal errands during lunch and even to get to meetings. I stopped doing that as it would take me up to an hour and a half to get home and I came to realize that I was wasting so much time in the car. So, I started using public transportation to get to and from work and Flexcar. I am so impressed with Flexcar. I use it during the day to get around town to run errands or for meetings. It is so easy to use and I can book out the car for a half an hour or more. Even better is that they pay for GAS! There is a credit card in the vehicle so you don't have to worry about submitting receipts and getting reimbursed. On top of that, they use hybrids which are enviornmentally friendly and it was great to drive one as I was thinking of purchasing one someday. For those who have not used Flexcar before I would highly, highly, check it out!

Posted by: Cindy | June 2, 2006 10:21 AM | Report abuse

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