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Navigating a New Commute

I've got a request of you experienced D.C. commuters: Help me give good directions to a new Post staffer who assists me on the Dr. Gridlock columns. Mark Berman works out of our downtown Alexandria bureau. He's moving to Woodley Park. Some days, he'll be able to take Metro back and forth, but on others, he'll need his car.

Like many people who have either changed jobs or changed residences, he's puzzling through his travel options. What's his best driving route? There are a few options, but they can be crowded during peak times. Should he take Rock Creek Parkway to I-66, cross the river and get onto the George Washington Parkway south? Is that the best path for traffic volume and for reliability? How about Rock Creek to the Memorial Bridge and then onto the GW Parkway southbound?

Is the Park Service's construction along Rock Creek causing you drivers any problems? Is there any value in following one route to downtown Alexandria in the morning rush, but taking another route back to DC in the afternoon? Is this trip going to be better on certain weekdays and worse on others?

(Mark is the traffic cop for the e-mails with questions, complaints and suggestions that readers send in to Dr. Gridlock. He also writes for The Post. For example, he wrote last month about Arlington's interesting iRide program, designed to encourage young people to travel by transit.)

By Robert Thomson  |  June 7, 2007; 7:30 AM ET
Categories:  Commuting  
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One thing to worry about with Rock Creek is the one-way ness of it at times, and if he needs to get to Alexandria off-hours, then he might run into this monster jam. It can really tie things up around there if you have to go reverse commute.

I think RC is his best option, though it can clog up. 66 to the GW Parkway (Southbound?). Is that even an option? I think he has to go up and around Iwo Jime to get back on Southbound GW. Memorial Bridge might be better, but there is an icky merge post-traffic circle on the VA side that can be fun.

Getting through DC it seems RC is his only real option. The other is sucky--CT to Florida to 23rd to GW Circle to NH to 25th to 66--lots of lights.

Posted by: Andrew | June 7, 2007 8:37 AM | Report abuse

Well, seeing as you can't get to the GW parkway southboud directly from the Roosevelt Bridge (you need to go up to Spout Run and turn around), I don't think that is really an option.

Going over the Memorial Bridge would probably be best. From there, there are many options to get into Alexandria. I'm not sure which is the best way to do it though.

Posted by: Missy37 | June 7, 2007 8:41 AM | Report abuse

I would suggest "driving" a bicycle, and taking the Rock Creek trail down to the river (or just going down 17th then along the Reflecting Pool), then over Memorial Bridge to the beautiful Mt Vernon Trail for a scenic ride along the river to Alexandira. It would take him barely more time than driving, and he wouldn't even need to stop at the gym that day.

Posted by: carless | June 7, 2007 9:01 AM | Report abuse

I commute from Woodley Park to Tyson's, and I usually drive about 3 days a week and leave my car at Dunn Loring overnight and take Metro the other 2 days.

Commuting from Woodley Park Metro station is a pain in the rear in the morning, since the trains are packed in pretty tightly by the time they get down here, there are plenty of people who want to get onto the train, and very few people on the train who get off (unlike at DuPont Circle). My advice: go down the escalator, make a "U-turn" at the bottom, and then board the southern-most car. I usually have no problem gettin on, and you are really only packed in like sardines for one station stop (to DuPont).

For driving, I always take Rock Creek Parkway south to the Roosevelt Bridge to GW Parkway to 123 south. Rock Creek Parkway is great if you can use it during the one-way periods during rush hours (though I'd advise to enter from Cathedral Avenue as opposed to the entrance at 24th and Calvert). There is some very minor congestion where the right lane is blocked off....pretty much right where the lane is blocked off is where Rock Creek through traffic can start using the northbound lanes. But the jam lasts no more than about a minute. Then there is some more congestion (again, nothing major, but more than the previous choke point) near K Street...since Rock Creek Parkway through traffic must merge into one lane for about 20 feet until the temporary barricade ends (It helps that more than half of the traffic is staying left for Virginia Avenue and I-66). Then it should be a fairly smooth trip onto the GW Parkway into Alexandria.

The home-bound trip, if done during rush hour, is probably going to be a little worse, since NB GW Parkway jams near the 14th Street Bridge, and traffic is often heavy across the Memorial Bridge trying to avoid the 14th Street Bridge. Once on Rock Creek Parkway, there is some minor congestion for parkway through traffic (that one-lane for 20 feet deal), but the rest of the trip is fast and smooth.

If you can find a decent route between the Memorial Bridge and Virginia Avenue, you can avoid any of the construction related congestion on the Parkway.

A word to the wise though...Rock Creek Parkway is great, and even with the minor construction congestion is still far faster than any of the alternatives. But get there 10 minutes after the one-way traffic pattern goes away and you may find quite a bit of congestion. The two-way operation creates many more conflict points and choke points, and there is still quite a bit of rush hour traffic which all of a sudden has to yield to oncoming traffic again when making left turns. If this happens, Connecticut may become a better option, since its signals seem to be timed fairly well for the rush hour direction (reverse commutes on Connecticut get screwed by the signal timing and not having Rock Creek Parkway. Don't even think about using 22nd Street as an alternate route to get home...that construction at P Street makes rush hours (and even many of the off peak hours) on 22nd Street just brutal.

Posted by: Woodley Park | June 7, 2007 10:24 AM | Report abuse

It all depends on the time of day due to rush hour lane changes. In the morning rush hour, to go to Alexandria, the best is Rock Creek Parkway directly to Memorial Bridge and the GW Parkway south. In the evening rush, reverse this. (Accessing the RC Parkway in the morning may be a pain depending on the time due to the construction. I take Waterside Drive off Mass. Ave., which puts me in the leftmost lane and no construction effect as far as getting on the parkway is concerned.) If you have to go against the rush hour traffic, 23rd street NW to and from Memorial Bridge works well. I access 23rd from Mass. Ave., although it also can be done via Conn. Ave. The against rush hour traffic options have the benefit that on the avenues and streets there is not all that much traffic going your way - you are, after all, going against the rush hour traffic. Caveats to be taken into account are that access to Memorial Bridge from the GW Parkway can take some time due to merging traffic (there is a yield sign and the traffic with the right of way does 50 in a 25 MPH zone). I have found that the most efficient way is going with the rush hour traffic earlier than 7:30 AM and earlier than 5:30 PM. Against the rush hour, these times also seem to apply. Around 8:45 AM and 6 PM things can get messy sometimes. Hope this helps. (This is based on five years of driving most of these routes. I only seldom go all the way to Alexandria, but after the bridges there is little traffic added to the Parkway.)

Posted by: Laszlo in DC | June 7, 2007 11:20 AM | Report abuse

how about metroing between alexandria and woodley park, and using zipcar or flexcar from either location if he really really needs to get around. that way, he's not looking for parking at either location, and he doesn't have to wear down his own car (he can have the post cover the cost of the zip- or flex-car membership). win win situation.

Posted by: IMGoph | June 7, 2007 11:58 AM | Report abuse

why live in DC at all

Posted by: Anonymous | June 7, 2007 1:06 PM | Report abuse

RC Pkwy is bad in the morning because of construction and even worse when it goes to two way configuration, but after that take your pick to get to the GW Pkwy. Connecticut to 17th then Independence to 395 is not that bad either when he needs to leave when RC Pkwy is is two way. Coming back, stay to the left on RC Pkwy and he will be good because the right lane is jammed getting up to Beach Drive almost from the Mass Avenue exit.

Posted by: Sivad | June 7, 2007 1:45 PM | Report abuse

If metro is feasible, I don't know why the complaints about the Woodley Park station. There's about a 15 minute period in the morning (8:30-8:45) when it's crowded. The rest of the time, it's typical metro. The only problem is if trains are delayed, and there's a backup. But that's not a unique Woodley Park problem.

Posted by: ah | June 7, 2007 2:15 PM | Report abuse

I suggest he quit and get a job in Ward 5 as a glory hole maintenance worker.

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