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Traffic, Traffic Everywhere

Getting away from the newsroom for a few days, I drove up through New England to Bar Harbor, Maine. This is fall leaf season along the coast and the weather is beautiful. But, oh, the traffic!

After reading so many letters to the column and comments on the blog that bemoan the everyday conditions in the Washington region, it has been interesting to see all of that replicated on highways and secondary roads up the East Coast.

We skirted New York City by taking the Garden State Parkway to the northbound New York Thruway and then cutting east across the Newburgh bridge on I-84. That took us through Hartford, Conn., and up to the Mass Pike. E-ZPass cut at least a half hour off our trip, but that doesn't mean we avoided jam-ups. Probably the worst were around Danbury, Conn., and Hartford. Just volume. Too many drivers for not enough road.

Not sure that it's a great comfort, but it reminded me that the congestion around Washington is not a unique American experience.

By Robert Thomson  |  October 10, 2006; 8:41 AM ET
Categories:  Congestion  
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"Too many drivers for not enough road".

Interesting. But even in light of that reality, I'm willing to bet there still those who think a little more "carpooling, mass transit, and other alternatives" - in other words, ANYTHING but more road capacity - is what is needed to solve the problem.

Posted by: CEEAF | October 10, 2006 4:24 PM | Report abuse

well, CEAFF - you're partly right. All of your ideas are great. frankly, they're essential for our future.
except for just one thing.... increased road capacity has to be part of our future, too. right along side smarter roads, more efficient cars, mass transportation.

Posted by: jt | October 11, 2006 10:11 AM | Report abuse

The thing I notice among many of the transit advocates is that they never give specific proposals. They'll say, "We need rail," but they won't say where they think the rail line should go. I think jt has the right idea on the whole: neither more roads nor more mass transit can be a solution by itself.

For example, consider Virginia from roughly Dulles Airport and the Fairfax County Parkway all the way in to the Potomac. Other than some of the areas in far southwestern Fairfax County, where would a new road go without major demolition of houses and neighborhoods and other existing stuff? It's just not practical to bulldoze whole neighborhoods these days--that was tried in many cities back in the 1940s and 1950s and is generally agreed by many folks to have been a bad move. There just isn't space for new roads. But widening some existing roads, such as adding a lane on each side of I-66 inside the Beltway, seems like it ought to be a relatively simple solution. Rebuilding the 14th Street Bridge so that the number of lanes on the bridge matches the number of lanes on the highway feeding it seems like an eminently sensible idea, too. The huge backup that occurs on inbound I-395 in the morning is caused in large part by the road narrowing from four lanes to three right before the bridge.

I would like to see Arlington County try to reconfigure its roads to add LEFT-TURN LANES. One of the worst things about driving in Arlington is the lack of left-turn lanes and left-turn lights, so traffic often grinds to a halt while people wait for one car to go left. (Sure, it would make more sense to go around the block, but that's not always viable and many drivers seem not to be aware of the idea.) I used to commute on Columbia Pike and I spent a lot of time changing back and forth between lanes to avoid stopped buses and stopped left-turners.

As far as transit, I'd wager that most people would agree that any rail transit scheme in the DC area ought to focus on connecting the spokes of the Metro system in some way. But another thought that has occurred to me is that the suburban Metro stations need to be made more accessible such that people don't have to drive to the station or rely on the bus (sorry, bus transit is NOT practical for many DC-area folks who don't always leave work at the same time). I can think of a couple of areas where a light-rail loop would greatly improve Metro access and potentially reduce traffic. Old Town Alexandria is one--the King Street Metro stop is at the far western end of Old Town and it's a LONG walk to the central part of the area. A light-rail or trolley loop that ran one way down Price Street, then across on Pitt or Fairfax Street to King Street, then back out King (which would be converted to one-way traffic going westbound for vehicles) to the Metro station, would greatly improve access to Old Town. Tysons Corner would be another possibility--the planned Silver Line is to run over Routes 7 and 123, but a light-rail or trolley loop through all the office parks to feed the planned Metro stops would make the subway a lot more useful. Likewise, the College Spark stop is fairly far from the US-1 strip or from the "school," so something similar might work there.

The problem with transit planning in the DC area has been that everybody focuses on heavy rail, including the Dulles Metro extension (IMO a waste of money beyond Tysons), and ignores other ideas.

Posted by: Rich | October 11, 2006 10:26 AM | Report abuse

Rich, there's plenty of DASH bus service between the King Street Metro and Old Town, including the DASH ABOUT service on weekends which provides exactly the function you describe.

Posted by: Cosmo | October 12, 2006 11:21 AM | Report abuse


My comments were tongue in cheek. I was poking fun at those in the Metro DC region - and there are are far too many - who think more mass transit is the only answer.

Believe it not, there are people in our region who think Metro makes roads unnecessary. That's why we have so few highways in this region. We canceled more than we built, thanks to a Metro-centric mentality.

That said, it's unrealistic to think we can continue investing only in "substitutes" for roads. I frankly don't see how any type of mass transit is going to help my drive from say, DC to Portland, ME or Miami. Or from Bowie to Reston, for that matter.

And no matter how "efficient" we make our cars, they will STILL waste fuel when stalled in traffic on an overcrowded road that's overcrowded simply because it's too small for the traffic it carries and there are no alternate routes.

And that's the case all over this region, even with a mass transit system that's centered around the nation's second-largest subway.

Posted by: CEEAF | October 12, 2006 9:11 PM | Report abuse

"There just isn't space for new roads."

Not exactly so, Rich.

The planned route for the canceled I-95 through NE DC still exists - they're the brownfields of mostly open space and vacant warehouses/light industry buildings along the existing Red Line between downtown DC and Takoma Park.

Did you know that the original plan for I-95 through DC and Takoma Park would have taken only 56 homes? That's less that were taken to build the Orange Line through Ballston.

Also, the planned route for the Intercounty Connector is mostly state-owned vacant land, so don't believe the lies opponents try to propogate. "Green" Glendening tried to sell off the land in an effort to permanently stop the ICC after he caved in to environmentalists and reneged on his 1998 election campaign promise to build it.

Most of the homes in and along the ICC's path were built AFTER the road was planned, and with the full knowledge that it was coming. The law REQUIRED home buyers in the area to be informed of the planned road.

Posted by: CEEAF | October 12, 2006 9:24 PM | Report abuse

CEEAF, I was referring solely to Virginia when I said that about space. DC definitely has some room and Doug Willinger's site at has some decent ideas about how to use it. Just think, all the construction on the Springfield Interchange would not have been necessary (or would have involved a lot less work) had I-95 gone straight through DC.

Posted by: Rich | October 13, 2006 8:09 AM | Report abuse

"Rich, there's plenty of DASH bus service between the King Street Metro and Old Town, including the DASH ABOUT service on weekends which provides exactly the function you describe."

Sure, but how many people from outside Alexandria know about it or know where to find out about it?

I used to ride the DASH bus to the Van Dorn Metro on occasion when I dropped my old car at the mechanic, and their service seemed reasonably reliable compared with what I hear on this blog about Metrobus.

Posted by: Rich | October 13, 2006 8:11 AM | Report abuse

Wow... it wasn't construction in CT? I thought they started working on I95 in CT the day I was born and planned to finish shortly after I die? hahaha But really, CT is to new england is DE is to the mid atlantic... god knows ya never GO there for anything, but its a pain in the rear to pass through!

Posted by: PJB | October 13, 2006 9:16 AM | Report abuse


I'm familiar with Doug's site (that's how I learned about the results of DC's failure to complete I-95). There's a wealth of information there. Thanks for sharing the link. Perhaps others can learn from it.

You're 100% correct about the the springfield Interghange being one of the consequences of DC's decision that ALL of the region's highway traffic belonged in the suburbs. That's why I have no sympathy when DC residents whine about commuter traffic crowding and speeding on their streets. They had a chance to put freeway traffic where it belongs - on freeways - and they chose not to in favor of a transit-only approach .

Perhaps one day their "leaders" will face the fact that everyone - in fact most people - can't "Take Metro!".

Posted by: CEEAF | October 13, 2006 1:35 PM | Report abuse

I can't get onto
It says I need a username and password.

Posted by: JJ | October 16, 2006 12:33 PM | Report abuse

"I can't get onto
It says I need a username and password."

That's something new...

Posted by: CEEAF | October 16, 2006 2:35 PM | Report abuse

Weird. It just did that to me too. I can't help you there; it never used to require that. His proposal for an "Orb" interchange at US-1 and the Beltway in Alexandria was really interesting and far better-looking than the tangle of flyovers VDOT opted to build instead.

CEEAF, did you used to post on the Post's traffic forum? Your use of the phrase "Take Metro" sounds familiar.

Posted by: Rich | October 17, 2006 10:36 AM | Report abuse

It usually takes me no less than 30 min. to go 3 miles to work. I would love to walk or even ride a bike, but on Brandywine Road & Old Branch Ave. your lucky your safe in a vehicle. This morning it took me 57 minutes, yes, 57 minutes to travel 3 miles. The congestion is horrible. People cheat and cross the double yellow line, while all others try to follow the rules. Police? We're lucky to have any left down here, they just pass right on by. And to think they are going to build thousands more homes, and not accomodate the citizens paying taxes now. I hope people will vote the ones out that have okay'd all this.

Posted by: T. Turner | October 17, 2006 3:34 PM | Report abuse

Haha! hartford is the worst part about driving up the east coast! I84 through Hartford is a nightmare. If ever heading north through CT, take I84 until you get to I691, take that to 91, then follow that until 291, which will take you back to I84 north of hartford, but without the nightmare of that winding narrow "interstate."

Posted by: a.r. | October 19, 2006 1:42 PM | Report abuse

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