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September Shock, Or Not?

Back in August, I asked commuters to share their concerns and warnings about September Shock, the annual rude awakening that occurs when we rediscover how crowded the Washington area is.

Daniel Korn wrote to me and offered his multi-faceted commute as one measure of September Shock and promised to get back to me this month and describe his experience.

Here's what he said:

"While I've commuted in the DC area for the last 12 years, until recently, I drove from Montgomery County to Columbia/Baltimore, essentially opposite traffic. Two months ago, I began commuting from my house in Potomac downtown to 19th and E. Since I've only ever known summer commuting into the city, I might be in for a real shock after Labor Day!

"My commute looks like this:
1. 15 minute, 7 mile drive to Grosvenor Metro, starting around 7:30 or 7:45. I get on 270 at Montrose, either jumping off 3 miles later at Old Georgetown, or if the traffic is light, continuing another mile to 355 where I do a (legal!) U-turn and double back to the station. I have experienced almost no delays so far on 270, though I know this segment backs up irregularly, as I took this route on my previous commute. The garage is also only half-full, if that, at 7:45/8:00.
2. 20 minute Metro ride to Farragut North.
3. 15 minute walk, or the S1 or 80 Metrobus, depending on the weather. If it's nice, and I'm not late, then I take the stroll. Also, though the S1 or 80, according to the schedules, should be arriving every 2-4 minutes, it's more like 2-3 buses in a row (I've seen 3 S1 buses stacked up at the same stop), followed by a 10 minute gap."

See what he says so far about this month.

Daniel Korn:

"I was all ready for the September shock, but it's mostly a September bust so far.

"1. I'm seeing somewhat thicker traffic on the 3 miles that I'm on 270, but I knew about that from my trips to Baltimore. If I know it's gridlocked, I can take 355, but that's really rare.
"2. As many complaints as I've heard about Metro, in the 2+ months I've been taking it daily, I have seen not a single delay or breakdown on the Red line. They're still doing the rush-hour turnaround at Grosvenor, so that's a bonus. In both directions, I usually go for the Grosvenor/Silver Spring train, so I can get a seat.
"3. I haven't seen any change in the buses either. Bunching remains a problem, and the buses are certainly more packed in bad weather, but the S1 and 80 buses run frequently enough to make this nothing more than a minor annoyance.
Do things change again when it gets REALLY cold in the winter?

He later added: "I'm not saying that things are the same as the summer -- there are definitely more cars and more people -- but it just hasn't translated into a more difficult commute at the moment."

"Of course, to be fair, we're describing a 15 mile as-the-crow-flies commute (20 miles if I actually drove) that takes about an hour to be a reasonable thing ... "

Tell me about your experiences, too. Are the roads and trains more crowded, as we expected? Is your commute generally more difficult than it was over the summer, or are we making up this whole September Shock thing?

By Robert Thomson  |  September 22, 2006; 6:14 AM ET
Categories:  Commuting  
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Comments

Re: September Shock
I travel daily by car from North Springfield to Bailey Crossroad area. The September shock for me are the many school buses that get back on the road. It is not only the number, but the distance they travel before they even begin to pick up students.

Posted by: Sandra Lawrence | September 22, 2006 8:16 AM | Report abuse

The "September shock" for me has been that the City of Alexandria decided that September was the right time to resurface the Van Dorn Street overpass across Duke Street. Don't get me wrong, it badly needed it, but it chokes traffic down to one lane on each side, and in the mornings it backs up the traffic to beyond Edison High School. Yesterday (Sept. 21) Van Dorn was so bad that I actually went over the Wilson Bridge and took I-295....and got to work SOONER. That's a bad sign! Unbelieveably stupid of Alexandria not to do this work during the summer when it would have less of an effect on the traffic, but then, Alexandria's city council has also made it eminently clear that anyone from Fairfax County can pound sand in terms of the city timing the lights or doing anything to keep the traffic moving on the main arteries.

The other thing I've noticed is the proliferation of the very annoying people who think that the acceleration lane created when an on-ramp enters the highway is a passing lane. It's not, yet a lot of people on I-395 think it is. Very dangerous habit. The early-morning sunshine around 8:00 this week as you pass the Pentagon has made for a rough week on I-395, that's for sure.

Posted by: Rich | September 22, 2006 8:24 AM | Report abuse

I need to get from Baltimore to Charlottesville this evening. Any suggestions about how to best navigate DC between 4-6 pm?

Posted by: Mitch | September 22, 2006 10:05 AM | Report abuse

I am driving from Arlington to BWI Airport this evening...I will get on the road by 7pm and my flight is at 10pm so I am hoping that gives me enough time. Does anyone have any traffic advice/suggested alternate routes? I would really appreciate it! Thanks!

Posted by: Anna | September 22, 2006 10:43 AM | Report abuse

I drive 2.5 miles to work. But Tysons Corner sits in the middle of that. I'm not so worried about September Shock, as I am "Christmas Shoppers" in a few months (oh right, 6 weeks). In the rain it has taken me 2 hours to get from my office (Leesburg Pike) to West Falls Church to pick up my husband, and back home (less than 5 miles total)

Posted by: MD | September 22, 2006 10:59 AM | Report abuse

I second Rich's note about Van Dorn at Duke St in Alexandria and the City's crappy light timing on major routes. What a pain! And I don't even use it for commuting, thank heavens. But I live near it, and yeah, it's pretty bad. People approaching this from Seminary Road to go south will note that there is NO signage indicating that just up the hill and out of sight, the left lane will suddenly end. Just a small sign saying KEEP RIGHT (no indication of why) and orange contruction work ahead signs. The merge warning/lane ending sign isn't visible till you're, well, THERE. Locals who drive it know to stay over, but the unaware get caught, and they cause the locals to have to wait as they merge right. I think better signage on down the hill towards Sanger MIGHT alleviate this (what to do about the "Me-First"-ers?...No clue.)

September shock seems to have messed up 395 royally. I feel for all you commuters having to drive into DC.

Posted by: CyanSquirrel | September 22, 2006 11:37 AM | Report abuse

"September shock seems to have messed up 395 royally. I feel for all you commuters having to drive into DC."

Actually, it hasn't been that bad. I left my house this morning at 6:45 and walked into my Hill Office building at 7:40, including a stop for gas. Of course, I pick up slugs and Friday mornings are generally a little easier anyway. The real congestion creeps in later in the fall as more HOV cheaters take advantage of the darkness and the left lane hogs slow down even more. February to April are the worst months.

Posted by: Woodbridge Va | September 22, 2006 11:44 AM | Report abuse

Mitch, I would suggest you consider just avoiding the DC area to get to Charlottesville unless you have to pick up someone here. I go to Charlottesville frequently and the westbound roads will be a nightmare in the evening rush hour. If you can, I suggest you take I-70 west to Frederick, then follow the signs to take US-15 south to Leesburg (it runs concurrently with US-340 for a short time near Frederick). Follow US-15 south to the Leesburg area, then stay on the bypass and watch for the sign for where US-15 leaves the bypass (it's the first exit after the Dulles Greenway). Take that exit, then continue to follow US-15 south to its T-intersection with US-29 south of Haymarket. Make a right turn and you'll be on US-29, which will take you all the way to Charlottesville.

You could also take US-340 all the way to Front Royal and then follow US-522 to VA-231 to US-29, but that's way out of the way.

If you must pick up someone in DC, then it's tougher. If you're picking up two people, then you can take the express lanes south on I-395 and I-95. You stay on I-95 to Exit 130 (VA-3 west towards Culpeper), then go about 12 miles west to VA-20. Follow VA-20 to the second traffic light, which is in the town of Orange. Make a left onto US-15 and go nine miles to the roundabout in Gordonsville. Take the second exit from the roundabout onto VA-231 south and then just stay straight; the road will dump you onto US-250 about five miles east of Charlottesville and you just follow it into town. This is the route I use when I go down there for football games because I live just south of the Beltway in Virginia and it's more direct for me.

Posted by: Rich | September 22, 2006 11:55 AM | Report abuse

Anna,

You could try going thru DC; take Rock Creek Parkway/Beach Drive thru DC. When you get to East-West Highway in MD, turn left and take it over to Conn Ave. Turn right onto Conn Ave up to the Beltway.
This makes it possible to avoid the Beltway except for the distance from Conn Ave to I 95 north to BWI (follow the signs).

I used to come home from Arlington this way (I haven't worked in Arlington is a few years.)

Does anyone else have a better idea to help Anna?

Posted by: Historian | September 22, 2006 12:22 PM | Report abuse

Mitch--

Rich's advice is good, just be aware that you will hit about a 4-mile backup on I-70 coming into Frederick (typical for a Friday). It doesn't take too long to get through and once you are past I-270 and onto US 340 you'll be OK. You'll also have some backups coming into Harper's Ferry, but probably not any worsr than you'll encounter elsewhere. It will beat going through DC.

Posted by: cb | September 22, 2006 1:26 PM | Report abuse

Anna--

You could also get to New York Ave and take it to the BW Parkway. The 395 to 295 route (someone else will have to explain it) may work also--not sure where in Arlington you are coming from. BW Parkway should be clearing out by then. You should have plenty of time.

Posted by: cb | September 22, 2006 1:30 PM | Report abuse

Mitch--

I should have said if you go through Harper's Ferry...(you won't if you take US 15). Regardless, it's a prettier drive than coming through DC.

Posted by: cb | September 22, 2006 1:40 PM | Report abuse

I think that if you don't need to drive out of a suburb, you won't notice a September shock as much. It's really a combo of parents waiting to leave until after their children's bus arrive and the bus stops themselves which cause a lot of cars to back up and hit the main roads all at the same time. Whereas in the summer, the traffic is more spread out.

Posted by: tallbear | September 22, 2006 1:49 PM | Report abuse

Doesn't seem like Sept Shock has creeped in too much to my Rockville-Springfield commute. But, I do notice a few extra cars lingering around when I leave at 9am, and as tallbear said, it's probably the parents waiting until the kiddies are on the yellow elephants.

Posted by: Dakota Pants | September 22, 2006 2:04 PM | Report abuse

For the person who gets stuck between Tyson's and West Falls Church --

From the intersection of Leesburg Pike/Gallows Rd/International Dr, take Gallows Road south.

Make a left onto Idylwood Rd.

Idylwood intersects with Leesburg Pike right before the I-66 entrance for the Metro at West Falls Church.

It's the long way around, but avoids the huge backups from Tyson's to I-66 on Rt. 7.

Posted by: Jendeis | September 22, 2006 3:43 PM | Report abuse

What gets me about the Cheese Mobiles is that every single stop seems to have 10-15 kids who cannot get on or off the bus in an orderly fashion. Also, I have to wait for the kid who is designated safety monitor for the week to step off the bus, get back on the bus, etc etc. That is one extra kid I have to wait for, multiplied by however many stops the bus has on its route.

Also, whatever happened to the minimum distance between stops? I could have sworn it was at least half a mile back when I went to school.

Posted by: DB | September 22, 2006 4:45 PM | Report abuse

DB, you sound like Scrooge hahahaha. Screw the kids! Just run over them!!! I mean god forbid you have to wait for children to exit the bus in a safe way! What has our society come to hahahaha. Your probably the same type of person that honks the horn at somebody as soon as the light turns green.

Posted by: SMA | September 22, 2006 5:22 PM | Report abuse

Rich - Thanks for the advice. I had theorized that was a good way to go (I'm originally from Western VA and take 70W to 340 to get to my parent's house regularly), but wasn't sure how 15 through Leesburg would be. I do whatever I can to avoid 495 and 66, especially at rush hour. Thanks for your help!

Posted by: Mitch | September 24, 2006 6:12 PM | Report abuse

SMA,

LOL Nah, I give them a second or two to react before I horn them!

Posted by: DB | September 25, 2006 10:19 AM | Report abuse

My morning commute into Tyson's from Sterling is 15 min longer now than during the summer. How about that for troubling and shocking?!

In another case of bizzaro world, Rt 7 in Sterling is three lanes, but going to Tysons and other points east it is two. Why didn't anyone bother during the tech boom (and bust) to considering making Rt into three lanes? All together now: thanks VDOT, greedy developers, and ineffective local governments!!

Posted by: In Sterling | September 25, 2006 11:55 AM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
 
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