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Two Roads Diverged in a Wood ...

While I'm planning to focus later today on the morning commute into Washington from the east, because of the Douglass Bridge shutdown, I want to ask you about something Rich wrote on the blog Friday. As an aside, during an exchange about best routes around the bridge congestion, he said " ... I just like to go a different way sometimes because I get tired of I-395 ... "

It made me wonder about the times in commuting when we occasionally follow a different path for no other reason than that it is different. The view might not be any better, but different. The traffic might be no easier, but maybe the turns and straights are different enough to provide some variety. Or maybe you drive some days and take the train on others because some days you want to read and some days you want to listen to the radio.

In a region as big and congested as this, commuting isn't a path from one part of our lives to another, it actually is part of our lives. We spend most of our time on this blog attempting to offer practical advice to one another about commuting strategies. But there's a little bit of the commuting experience that may have no basis in time and distance reasoning.

My longest steady commmute was a 49.5 mile drive from north of New York City to the middle of Long Island. At various points, I could chose different highways and different bridges. Sometimes, of course, the choice was based on radio traffic reports about congestion, but sometimes it was just to see some different pavement.

Is that type of decision common among you folks, or would you say that other demands in life lock you into your route?

(Reminder: You can join me at 1 p.m. today for a Live Online discussion of all things in local transportation. If you feel like posting a question or comment beforehand, you can use this link.)

By Robert Thomson  |  July 9, 2007; 5:29 AM ET
Categories:  Driving  
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Next: Douglass Bridge: Why Call it Rush Hour?


Absolutely. Sometimes I change routes based on traffic conditions or a stop I need to make on the way, but sometimes I'll go a particular way just because I feel like it. Even if it's a slightly slower trip because of more traffic lights and such, it's nice sometimes just to take a more leisurely pace (preferably not caused by congestion) if you have the time to do so.

Posted by: Cosmo | July 9, 2007 9:47 AM | Report abuse

Some days I take a route that goes by a very scenic lake. I only go that way in the summer and when I don't have to pick up my daughter from school. My choices are usually which suburban route do I take? Do I like this neighborhood better than the other?

Posted by: Medium-sized Mac | July 9, 2007 10:08 AM | Report abuse

I only periodically vary my route for the sake of varying my route when I'm commuting. The main reason is that, coming from Virginia, I'm going to be funneled down to one of a few routes as I approach the Potomac crossings anyway, so my route on any given day is more often determined by the traffic reports. If I decide to commute via an unusual route, like over the Wilson Bridge, I'm more likely to do it at this time of year (summer, when traffic is light) than at any other. The drivers on I-295 or MD-210 strike me as particularly aggressive compared to the rest of the DC area.

But on weekends, or when I'm going somewhere other than the office, I might be more likely to go a different way for a change of pace. Yesterday I went out to Fairfax to visit my mother and father and I took the Fairfax County Parkway to Sydenstricker just for the sake of going via a route other than the Beltway. If I play golf out in Manassas Park, sometimes I take the back route via Yates Ford Road and sometimes I take I-66. In all of these cases, it's a situation where the highway is boring and it's nice to go a different way just to have something to look at.

I think part of the reason I like to do this goes back to when I was a kid. On our family vacations, we didn't usually go to one destination for the whole trip. We'd stay somewhere two or three days and then move on (for example, one year we went up I-81 to the Thousand Islands, on to Montreal, up to Quebec City, further north to the Saguenay River valley, back down to Magog, then home via Vermont). On a trip of this sort you get really sick of the Interstate or the Autoroute, so you look for a road that lets you SEE something.

Posted by: Rich | July 9, 2007 10:19 AM | Report abuse

When my boyfriend still lived in Columbia, I often stayed over Sunday nights to use the commuter bus. It took slightly longer from there, but unlike Metro, has no unruly kids, is never packed, and is always quiet overall. Plus I got to check out interesting houses & some scenery along the way. Occasionally, he drops me off at the Scaggsville stop on his way to work. I have to leave early, but we get a bit of chitchat time, and the ride is pleasant. Quite worth missing a few minutes of sleep!

Posted by: Cowtools65 | July 9, 2007 11:03 AM | Report abuse

"The drivers on I-295 or MD-210 strike me as particularly aggressive compared to the rest of the DC area."

A-men, Rich; I couldn't agree more. I would add the stretch of highway labeled DC-295/Kenilworth Avenue to this list as well. Perhaps it's just me, but it seems like there are also a lot of accidents on these routes as well. There were two serious accidents on MD-210 over the weekend even (one Friday evening and one Saturday afternoon). I don't think the blame rests entirely on the drivers either though. Kenilworth Avenue is just a horribly designed roadway with the large number of exits and entrances, all with little to no merge area and little advance signage. (The newly paved lane on I-295 at the Suitland Parkway merge and the signage for the 11th street bridge, there is none, are perfect examples of both points.) Combine 295's antiquated design with a never-enforced 40mph to 50mph speed limit and you have the perfect receipe for road rage and more accidents!

Back to the original topic, I definitely enjoy commuting via different routes. I use Route 7, Georgetown Pike and the Toll Rd (in order of use from most used to least used) for my daily commute from North Reston to Bethesda (Democracy Blvd). I've learned that the Toll Road saves me very little, if any, time.

The ride in on Route 7 is congested, but less so in summer, but benefits from generally well timed traffic lights and good traffic flow (to include safe drivers for the most part).

The route on Georgetown Pike from Great Falls to I-495 is scenic, tranquil and relaxing, aside from the renegade slow poke or landscaping truck that erractically pulls out into traffic. With the long-term construction on the AL bridge, Georgetown Pike has really become a find as a way of avoiding the stop-and-go beltway traffic the starts in/near Tysons Corner most mornings headed north to the bridge.

Posted by: xyv1027 | July 9, 2007 12:38 PM | Report abuse commute is short and it starts and ends in the same city, Alexandria. While that limits my options, I do vary the route I take, depending on the weather, which car I am driving (convertible versus sensible Jetta) and whether or not I need a little more time to unwind/prepare mentally after or before work. Alexandria offers many ways to get from the West End to Old Town, and my favorite treat is Braddock Road. It's slow and scenic north of King Street, and I enjoy the greenery and envy the beautiful houses I could never afford to live in, heh.

I agree with Rich, the route change up usually comes from wanting to see something, not the same old, same old...

Posted by: CyanSquirrel | July 9, 2007 5:07 PM | Report abuse

I LOVE taking different routes. I will take a different way home just for the heck of it. It is a good way to learn about different areas of our region. From DC to Manassas I have discovered Burke lake, the horse ranches of Clifton, and other places too just going different routes. I also do this when returning from trips or going to a regular restaurant. I discovered the historic charm of Ellicot City and the expansive Tridelphia Reservoir doing that. This area has so much to offer, too bad we are so angry about traffic :-(

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