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If It's Like This Now ...

These next couple of weeks are supposed to be as good as it gets for Washington travelers. As many people are out of town now as there are at any point of the year. At least, that's the theory. It's certainly possible that the rise in gas prices and last week's air terror threat could dampen enthusiasm for long distance travel.

As I make my rounds and try to develop a better understanding of the traffic and transit issues we confront, I'm imagining what it will be like in September, with everyone back. I've done some trips by car, rail and bus at various times of day in Virginia, Maryland and the District -- and I don't like what I see.

The best and worst experiences have been aboard buses. For yesterday's newspaper column, I wrote about riding the Circulator bus, an innovative system sponsored by a public-private partnership that operates three routes in downtown Washington. There weren't many people aboard on any of my trips and downtown traffic was relatively light, so it felt great. Some evenings, I would walk over to 16th Street NW and ride the Circulator to Union Station, the pick up the Red Line train -- just to be out in the open for a little longer than if I had taken the train from Farragut North.

circulator stop.jpg Light traffic, nice bus. (Robert Thomson)

The worst feeling was being jammed into a J2 Metrobus for an evening rush period trip from Bethesda to Silver Spring. You're shoulder to shoulder in the bus and you're stuck in the East-West Highway traffic, for a double dip of unpleasantness.

I could use your advice for a Dr. Gridlock newspaper column I plan to write that anticipates the shock that September always brings us. I want to give Post readers some advice on what to watch out for and what might actually be better because of recent improvements. One obvious example is that the new Wilson Bridge opened up over the summer.

I'll ask around among the various transportation and transit departments, but I'd also like to include your thoughts on what's bad and what's better. Please send them to me at drgridlock@washpost.com. I've gotten a lot of good ideas on various topics from the comments on these blog entries. For this upcoming column, I'd like to use a couple of observations and credit the senders, so please include your names and home communities when you send the e-mails.

By Robert Thomson  |  August 14, 2006; 5:00 AM ET
Categories:  Congestion  
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Next: Metro Responds on Bus Passes

Comments

Best:
They completed the eastbound side of the Roosevelt Bridge.

Worst:
They started work on the westbound side. The pattern they've implemented is ridiculous.

Posted by: Arrrlington | August 14, 2006 9:55 AM | Report abuse

I take the MARC to Union Station and will be changing jobs (right now I can walk) so I would like to take the Circulator to the Convention Center area where my new office will be -- how do I get a transfer? I know they exist for Metro riders. I don't mind paying the $2 a day as it's cheaper then the Metro and parking at Greenbelt, but I could get a transfer, that would be nice. Thanks.

Posted by: Columbia | August 14, 2006 10:19 AM | Report abuse

One thing that I am dreading in September is the area around Dupont Circle. Since they began doing work on the Connecticut Ave. tunnel under the Circle, southbound traffic from at least 16th Street to Rock Creek Parkway is always extremely backed up in the morning rush hour. That one thing has added 15 minutes onto my commute every morning. I know that it will be much longer come September. I am not sure how it has affected the east-west commute through that same point. I tried taking Metro, but I'm pregnant. I found out that Metro is not a good option for me because of the bathroom situation and the fact that it can be hard to get a seat, even though I am visibly pregnant and ask nicely. However, it might be a good solution for those who are not in my situation.

The only other thing I can think of that could help the situation is better planning by the DC Dept. of Trans. -- perhaps lengthening the light for southbound traffic just south of the circle so that more than a handful of cars can get through, and enforcing the parking restrictions in the extended area around the circle, so that all lanes are open on the alternative routes.

Posted by: Silver Spring | August 14, 2006 11:06 AM | Report abuse

I used to commute from Silver Spring from Bethesda and found that taking Metro took the same time as taking the bus, as the bus was always late and stuck in traffic. Plus Metro was less crowded and air-conditioned. I realized very quickly that the J2 was never a good idea.

Posted by: Woodley Park | August 14, 2006 11:18 AM | Report abuse

After living in Charles County for 25 years now, the September worry is always the same. Again, I'm concerned about the back-to-school effect on traffic out of Southern Maryland and in particular Route 5. During normal traffic times, it typically takes 40 minutes to travel the 10 miles between the Charles County line and the Branch Avenue Metro station.

What is particularly upsetting is that I ride a commuter bus. Our bus sits full in traffic clogged with one passenger cars.

We desperately need a carpool lane and I've repeatedly been told there is none being planned. Rush hour shoulder use has been approved in other jurisdictions--why not here?

Posted by: Cathy | August 14, 2006 11:28 AM | Report abuse

I never look forward to the 14th Street Bridge once the schools reopen. The entire northbound approach to the bridge is a general disaster in the morning rush hour. First, you have a five-lane highway that chokes down to three lanes for the approach to the bridge, so the merging slows everyone down. Then you have people who think they're too important to wait their turn, so they drive on the shoulders and they use the onramp acceleration lanes as passing lanes (i.e., they're in a lane of slow traffic, a merge lane comes in from the right, so they cut over to the right and rocket down the end to try to cut back in). Then, prior to that, you have a left-hand entrance to the express lanes just after you pass the area in front of Macy's where two lanes of traffic merge onto I-395 from Washington Boulevard; inevitably, at least half the people coming from Washington Boulevard are determined to cut across three to four lanes of traffic to get into the express lanes, regardless of how many people they have to cut off to do it. Overall, a very dangerous stretch of road. Some days I use Memorial Bridge to avoid it, but that's not always better, especially since the DCDOT has been doing construction work on Independence Avenue for the past year or so.

Posted by: Rich | August 14, 2006 11:36 AM | Report abuse

One September change that I'm not looking forward to is the return of Anne Arundel County school busses to northbound MD Rt. 4 in the mornings. Around 7:30 AM an AA school bus makes a stop on norhtbound 4 at Talbot road, just after a series of hills and dips locals call "the roller coaster" between Lower pindell Road and Talbot.

As traffic backs up behind the stopped bus into the roller coaster the northbound 55(+) MPH traffic crests the hills and suddenly faces a panic stop to avoid hitting the rear end of the backup. Most mornings everyone slides to a stop in time but at least once or twice a month there is an accident when a car or truck can't stop in time.

Meanwhile, the school bus that caused it all drives off, unaware of the carnage it left in its wake.

Posted by: Bill | August 14, 2006 12:39 PM | Report abuse

While the work on the TR bridge hasn't been fun, there has been a large plus: the opening of the ramp to the Key Bridge from the GW parkway southbound, which was formerly closed during AM rush. I fear that once the bridge work is done, this ramp will be closed again, making it harder to get over to the Whitehurst Freeway and K Street from the Parkway. I don't know why this ramp was ever closed during morning rush, but given that there have not been significant delays onto the parkway, it should stay open for good.

Posted by: Arlington | August 14, 2006 1:47 PM | Report abuse

Like Bill, I am not looking forward to the return of school buses. I don't so much mind it when they are driving, or when they are stopping to pick up or let off kids, however, I do object to both (a) when they park in a no-parking zone on a busy street during rush hour AFTER they have let the kids off and (b) when they pick up kids/let kids off on a busy street when an area to pull off the street (a parking lot, a circular driveway in front of the school) is right next to them. This often happens on 16th St, NW.

Posted by: 16th Street Driver | August 14, 2006 2:17 PM | Report abuse

Columbia - the DC Circulator website says nothing about MARC transfers. They do take transfers from Metrobuses (free) and Metrorail ($0.35). However, if you're going to use it to commute every day and potentially use it on the side (say to snag lunch a little bit away from the office), you might want to consider the $40 monthly pass.

Website: http://www.dccirculator.com
Phone: 202-962-1423

Posted by: Chris | August 14, 2006 3:24 PM | Report abuse

Parking in no parking lanes during rush hour is the worst. I'm sure that when all the cars come back, we'll end up with even more cars in the way.

Just so you know, if there is a car illegally parked and obstructing rush hour traffic- the city encourages citizens to call in and report the vehicle. 202-727-1000. Just remember to use a headset when you're in your car!

i like to think that maybe if citizens got tough on illegal parkers, eventually people would start to get the point that it's not okay to block rush hour traffic. but maybe i'm just mean.

Posted by: Jared | August 14, 2006 4:27 PM | Report abuse

I give up on Metro. For several months, I was riding the blue line from Foggy Bottom to the Yellow line to Huntington. I gave that up after 10 minute waits for 4-car trains became common. The cars were overcrowded, and the conductor would announce that there was another car right behind him--when the truth was that there was another 4-car blue line 8 to 10 minutes behind him.

I now take the red line from Farragut North to the yellow line at Gallery Place. The past three work days, I have waited for a yellow line train while 3 virtually empty green line trains have come through the station. There is absolutely nowhere to sit from Gallery Place (the second stop on the line) to Pentagon City.

My metro commute costs over $9 a day with parking at Huntington. I can park at work for $9--and I will have an easier commute. Instead of taking 45-50 minutes to get to work. It will take 20 at the most.

Posted by: Dearbhla | August 14, 2006 6:59 PM | Report abuse

I give up on Metro. For several months, I was riding the blue line from Foggy Bottom to the Yellow line to Huntington. I gave that up after 10 minute waits for 4-car trains became common. The cars were overcrowded, and the conductor would announce that there was another car right behind him--when the truth was that there was another 4-car blue line 8 to 10 minutes behind him.

I now take the red line from Farragut North to the yellow line at Gallery Place. The past three work days, I have waited for a yellow line train while 3 virtually empty green line trains have come through the station. There is absolutely nowhere to sit from Gallery Place (the second stop on the line) to Pentagon City.

My metro commute costs over $9 a day with parking at Huntington. I can park at work for $9--and I will have an easier commute. Instead of taking 45-50 minutes to get to work. It will take 20 at the most.

Posted by: Dearbhla | August 14, 2006 7:01 PM | Report abuse

I recently moved to Ballston and take the Orange Line to work. Lately, during the morning rush hour, the trains have been running 6-7 minutes apart, and every other train or so is a 4-car train. I've been late to work twice now because I had to wait 7 minutes for a train, and when it arrived, it was a 4-car train that was so packed I couldn't get on, meaning I had to wait another 7 minutes for another crowded train. Metro really better fix this before September.

Posted by: Megan | August 15, 2006 9:54 AM | Report abuse

I have to defend the J2.

* It's way cheaper than taking Metro from the S-Double to Bethesda. This matters if you're working data entry and paying from your pocket, as I was. Plus buying the bus pass allowed me unfettered access to Ride-Ons for shopping and play as well as to the Js for my commute.
* Now that traffic at the light at East-West and Connecticut has been cleaned up somewhat, the buses (like everything else) move better.
* Nothing on the Metro compares to the sheer visceral thrill of an irresponsible bus operator allowing gravity to accelerate him down the twisty curve leading up to Beach Drive. Banzai!
* Our caveman ancestors laugh at people who complain about inadequate air conditioning.

Posted by: Lindemann | August 21, 2006 11:43 AM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
 
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