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Saturday Not Kind to Travelers

Many people were livid about the difficulties of getting around on Saturday, with events in the District that blocked roads and with troubles on Metrorail.

As Lena Sun reported in Sunday's Post, most of the road closures were prompted by the Nation's Triathlon. Motorists could not enter Rock Creek Parkway and other roadways, including the Whitehurst Freeway and Independence and Constitution avenues.

Here's how one driver described it.

Dear Dr. Gridlock:
I just spent an extra 30 minutes "driving" from Tysons to my Southwest Washington home. My slow drive was shared by hundreds of other drivers at the river crossings into the District.

I knew that the National Triathlon was gumming things up, and knew in advance that there was only one route into and out of Southwest -- I-395 to Maine Avenue or South Capitol Street.

Nonetheless, the traffic jams started on the inbound George Washington Parkway before the Spout Run merge, continued on the GW Parkway exit to the 14th Street Bridge and repeated on the freeway, eastbound, until past the Maine Avenue exit.

All this because many roads into and through the mall and park area of downtown Washington were blocked for the National Triathlon.

Ian Gilbert
Washington

As they always do before a big weekend event, D.C. officials had urged people to take Metro. But Metro was having its own problems on the Red Line: Smoke at the Farragut North Station forced trains to take turns on a single track and a power outage cut train service at Friendship Heights for about an hour.

Here's how a rider described that experience.

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

The lack of service on Metro is becoming laughable.

On Sept. 29, I boarded the Red Line at Farragut North at 12:03 p.m., and wonder of wonders, made it all the way to Woodley Park before being forced to sit ... and sit ... and sit ... while continually being given disinformation by the train conductor.

Eventually, we went one more stop to Van Ness/UDC, where again we were given disinformation by the train operator, variously being told "we would be holding" or "we would be leaving momentarily." After an additional 25 minutes (at this point, it was nearly 1 p.m.), we were told "shuttle bus service had been requested." And we were summarily kicked off of the train and left to our own devices!

We were ushered out of the Metro via an open gate and up the escalator to wait for shuttles that took nearly 30 minutes to arrive (by which point, I had arranged to have a friend drive all the way from Rockville -- where he was waiting for me to arrive at 12:30.)

Gordon Harold Mehlman
Rockville

Telling people to take transit doesn't appear to be the solution. We had very similar traffic congestion problems on a Saturday in March when the first National Marathon was held in the District. Amit Paley wrote in the next day's Post that "Some commuters spent hours trying to move just a few miles. A few ditched their cars by the side of the road and decided to walk. Others just seethed in anger."

Sounds like this past Saturday. The mayor was in that one, too: "Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D), who ran in the race, and marathon officials said they would consider changes to the route next year and decide whether to alter how they inform the public about road closures and detours," Paley wrote.

Something is not working with these things. The capital seems to endure marches on the mall and July 4 celebrations just fine, but these race events have proved problematic.

By Robert Thomson  |  October 2, 2007; 8:08 AM ET
Categories:  Congestion  
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Next: Another Race This Weekend

Comments

As a former Chicagoan, I used to endure countless shutdowns of main Chicago arteries for races throughout the summer. Amazingly, the city continued to function. People heeded warnings and DIDN'T drive.
The issue is DC where everyone thinks they are the most important and shouldn't have to change their patters.
Congratulations to all the athletes who competed.

Posted by: DC Resident | October 2, 2007 9:15 AM | Report abuse

30 minutes from Tyson's to Southwest and the dude is complaining? It takes me 35 - 40 minutes from W.P. to Tyson's everyday...with good traffic, and up to an hour if there is a problem on GW Parkway. I think this guy had a pretty darn nice drive if he made it in 30 mins!

But honestly, do your homework in advance. Find out where the road closings are, where the Metro re-routes are, etc. in advance. If you have web access (which you all do if you are reading this post), you are able to check www.wmata.com and www.dc.gov before you leave home. WHen your in your car, listen to WTOP...I'm sure they said something about the mess. When you hear something is closed, avoid it. Wouldn't you rather take the minivan from your suburban paradise out in Loudoun County up to the air and space museum 2 hours later to avoid the mess? Most of those peoples' trips would have easily been postponed.

On that note, I'm glad I partied Friday night and slept till noon on Saturday.

Posted by: Woodley Park | October 2, 2007 9:44 AM | Report abuse

I had no problems getting to the Mall and back for the Book Festival via Metro on the Orange Line. I never drive into the city unless I have to for that very reason.

Posted by: Herndon, VA | October 2, 2007 10:08 AM | Report abuse

Complaining about traffic in the district is pointless. Hold your breath people.

Posted by: Willis | October 2, 2007 10:10 AM | Report abuse

I agree that people should plan for announced road closures by taking public transportation. But what happened on Saturday was that the city's public transportation system didn't function properly and left people stranded. I attempted to take Metro from Friendship Heights back to Arlington early Saturday afternoon--and then the Metro shut down because of smoke/a power outage. So instead I attempted to take a bus, but the buses headed down Wisconsin Avenue were packed (because the Metro was shut down) and the driver wouldn't let anyone else on. So a trip of only a few miles ended up taking me two hours to complete. If roads are closed and people are encouraged not to drive, we should at least be able to rely on public transportation. The problem on Saturday was that we couldn't.

Posted by: Arlington, VA | October 2, 2007 10:20 AM | Report abuse

I tried to go to the book festival via Metro-Red line, from Bethesda. The station was shut with NO information available. The Metro needs to improve its customer communication/emergency management skills (no, really).

Posted by: db | October 2, 2007 10:34 AM | Report abuse

My biggest complaint is that the announced road closings were (at times) grossly inaccurate. The Post/DC's government website mentioned Constitution being closed between 7th and 12th, and no mention of the E Street ramp from the TR Bridge being closed, or any of the other cross street closures between Rock Creek Parkway and 12th. While sitting in my car, WTOP mentioned the E Street closure (the cop standing there told the car ahead of me that it was a late change to the road closures), and WTOP said Constitution closed at 15th. Well, it really was 17th (at least at that time), which was closed south of Constitution and has ongoing construction so the three lanes from Constitution become one lane.

I agree that a big city holding big events will have issues like this...but the coordination and accurate publication of what was being affected, as often occurs in this region, was sorely lacking.

Posted by: Arlington, VA | October 2, 2007 10:41 AM | Report abuse

when i lived in arlington and wanted to get around during these events i would scoot over 395 to the 14th st bridge and cut through the city. i always avoided 'expressways' and large thoroughfares. i even found i could get from tysons to arlington in about 25 minutes using the back/side roads during rush hour.

Posted by: nall306 | October 2, 2007 10:41 AM | Report abuse

Compounding the issues on Saturday, was diverting Constitution Avenue traffic onto 17th Street which had right lane closures to allow for construction work. Why does the District Department of Transportation allow for these lane closures on special event weekends?

Posted by: bw | October 2, 2007 10:48 AM | Report abuse

My question for those who drove is why so many of them seem to think that the only ways to get around by car involve the highways. I find that NOT using the highways is often faster than using them.

Posted by: Rich | October 2, 2007 10:55 AM | Report abuse

I wonder how many of the people backed up on the roads REALLY had to get wherever they were wanting to go right then? I-66 was backed up past the Key Bridge exit and I was just looking at these cars thinking "Where the heck are all these people going and why right now?"

Posted by: Stick | October 2, 2007 11:18 AM | Report abuse

I'm not sure DC needs to be hosting all of these races - who goes to these anyway? You could argue that racers and people watching bring money in, but this is canceled out by the people that don't want to come into the city when all of the roads are blocked off. At least if you are going to hold a race, don't block off major arteries.

Posted by: Svenskporr | October 2, 2007 11:49 AM | Report abuse

I think the last weekend was especially chaotic as there were multiple large events that took place in parallel.

The Nations Triathlon was one, then there was the book fair and then we had a big anti-war protest going on around the Capitol.

On top of it Mr Bush decided to close down all down-town street around hte white house a few times durign the day, as I was going in and out in a motorcade -- most people know here when he leaves MPD has to close down 5 block around the White House bcs they do not know until lastm inute which of the four exits he will use. This cause another lcosure of the main streets for another 25 minutes each...

In the end, the mall is a National Park ( and should not be a commuter race track anyway) so people should be going around it on the weekends.

Posted by: Anonymous | October 2, 2007 11:52 AM | Report abuse

I waited at Medical Center with hundreds of people trying to go to the Book Fair by getting on the Metro at Shady Grove (after driving from WV, Frederick, Hagerstown, etc.). Of course, we never got there due to the closure of Friendship Heights. It took them over 1 hour to get shuttle bus service going(and we waited more than 30 minutes at Medical Center before even learning F. Heights was closed). It was a 3 hour trip, just Metro alone, to go from Shady Grove to Medical Center and back. Not counting the 1-2 hours of driving most of us did. I know these things happen, so I gave myself an extra 2 hours to get there. It would have been nice to be informed before getting on Metro that problems were already occurring. Or to be told once off-loaded at Medical Center that it was a major problem that wouldn't be resolved shortly.

Posted by: Medical Center | October 2, 2007 12:06 PM | Report abuse

One word...Bicycle. You can be anywhere in DC in 15 minutes.

Posted by: CJ | October 2, 2007 12:19 PM | Report abuse

I'm so glad I left the Dc area and moved south to a better job and no traffic. In just a few more years DC will be total gridlock - wait and see - and Metro is and always will be a third world transportation system.

Posted by: Moved Away | October 2, 2007 12:34 PM | Report abuse

Woodley Park, the person driving from Tysons to Southwest notes it took him/her an EXTRA 30 minutes to get home to Southwest (not 30 minutes total).

Really I think Dr. Gridlock is right on this one. Its true that the city can withstand large July 4th celebrations and weekend street festivals, but not such large scale events such as this past weekend's triathlon. The main reason this weekend was worse than ever was because so many of the main arteries, namely the Whitehurst and Rock Creek Parkway were also effected. Plus, DC DOT chose to do construction on 17th street and on the ramp from I-66 to the Whitehurst. (Of course, Metro's complete bondoogle didn't help anyone; I won't even go there.)

Thankfully I chose to do a daytrip to the Old Dominion Kennel Club Dog show out in the horse country of Faquier County this weekend. The drive along Route 50 out through Middleburg and points west was as scenic as it always is. Even a flagging operation in one of the small towns (that led to a 10 minute delay due to alternating traffic) didn't dampen our spirits. Sounds like I picked the perfect day to escape.

Posted by: xyv1027 | October 2, 2007 12:41 PM | Report abuse

To Svenskporr:

The idea that we curtail civic events to allow easier travel for drivers to their own personal events is backwards.

CJs got it - bicycle - there's never any variation due to traffic, you get some exercise, and nobody dies in a war to feed the bicycles.

Posted by: Tommy's the man | October 2, 2007 12:48 PM | Report abuse

Question for nail306 and Rich, how does one get from VA to DC using backroads? At some point, you still must get on the Chain, Key, Roosevelt, Memorial of 14th street bridges, correct?

Posted by: what backroads? | October 2, 2007 12:48 PM | Report abuse

It wasn't just in DC or on Metro. I was trying to get from Arlington to Baltimore and the Beltway was a disaster. I got warning ahead of time from a friend so I took 395 to 295 instead, but then hit stop-and-go on most of 295 as well. No accidents, just volume. This is an increasing problem on weekends and is why I seem to be drifting away from friends north of DC more and more. I don't drive much on weekdays...take Metro and walk as much as I can. But what other solution is there on a weekend going to places where you can't bike or Metro. It's just the new reality of living here.

Posted by: Kate | October 2, 2007 12:52 PM | Report abuse

On 395 Saturday, the exits for both 14th Street and 12th Street were blocked. Once you got past that the traffic eased up, but the problem is that a lot of the people trying to get downtown have no clue how to do it if BOTH those exits are closed. If at least ONE of those could be kept open, even if some of the streets they feed into are blocked, that might help ease the traffic. Between at least 10am and noon on Saturday, the jam on 395 North extended back well before the Pentagon, just like a regular morning rush hour.

Posted by: Cosmo | October 2, 2007 12:56 PM | Report abuse

Don't give away your secrets nail/Rich!

Regarding Bicycles: I've notice a lot more of them the last 6 weeks or so with the pleasant weather we've been having, and I think it would be scary if more people followed the trend when winter comes. The city roads are not equipped with enough Bike lanes, and many of the cyclists are just asking to get hit. It's hard enough having to deal with bad drivers and slow pedestrians, but cyclists can literally come from nowhere (unanticipated) and it is often hard for a driver to see them in such instances.

I hate to say it (bc i love pleasant weather), but I am convinced that good weather only causes increases in traffic due to more people wanting to go out - both in car and by foot - leading to more traffic in popular areas due to pedestrians on the street.

Regarding Metro: It is horror stories like the ones being posted - today and over the summer - that keep me convinced to hold onto my car in the city. As long as parking is free on evenings and weekends, it is usually more convenient to drive and have more control over your own fate.

Bottom line: Bikers be careful, traffic will likely ease a bit when weather gets COLDER, metro is often unrealiable during weekends/off peak times, avoid main highways like I-66, 95, Beltway (if u can)

Posted by: DC 21 | October 2, 2007 1:07 PM | Report abuse

Lucky for me, I was out of town this past weekend, so I didn't have to contend with the aforementioned mess. But in general I agree with Svenskporr. I have to question the cost-benefit analysis to DC of holding some of these events, especially with the inadequate traffic planning -- or capacity -- that seems to pervade them.

I have to fight NoVa-to-DC traffic every day during the work week, so I avoid it like the plague on the weekends. Especially when I see any info about a special event that will close off major streets.

When I first moved to this area, in the early 80s, I came into DC on a regular basis for pleasure and entertainment trips -- and disposed of a lot of my disposable income here. These days, I tend to stay put "across the river" on weekends, or take day trips out of the area, because of the traffic hassles here. And so my disposable income goes elsewhere. And I suspect that I am not alone... and that more and more folks are adopting that philosophy. C'est la vie.

P.S. And when I can retire from this government job that keeps me here in DC, you can bet that I'll be looking to resettle elsewhere. Life is too short to spend so much of it stuck in traffic!

Posted by: NMR | October 2, 2007 1:10 PM | Report abuse

With respect the comment about bicyclists made by DC 21: Yes, DC's major roads (the ones named after states) are awful for drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians... but the answer is not to chase them from the streets to some other form of transportation. Having more cyclists out there makes it safer to ride a bike. Sure, there are lots of riders that need to brush up on the rules of the road. But if drivers are upset about having to share the road, then they should also be lobbying for more bicycle facilities, right?

Posted by: cyclist | October 2, 2007 1:20 PM | Report abuse

You are absolutely right cyclist about the need for bike infrastructure. Originally from FL, driving in DC took a few years to get used to. Yet, I still question if so many cyclists will be out on the streets come December, for I can not recall in the past having a period of such good weather here AND having so many cyclists on the road - perhaps partially the reason the bike infrastrucuture is lacking. I was being a bit sarcastic/cynical with my comments overall, and for that I apologize. It's already been a long day at work.

Posted by: DC 21 | October 2, 2007 1:31 PM | Report abuse

You don't drive in my car lane, and I won't drive on your bike path...

I just wanted to say that I walked from the Book Festival back to my apartment in Arlington, and it was probably faster than anyone trying to do that drive or futily use Metro.

Posted by: Dakota Pants | October 2, 2007 1:36 PM | Report abuse

We don't take Metro to the National Book Festival because we're traveling with a toddler and it's tough enough in the car where we can control the environment for her (and we're the only ones annoyed by her screaming, if it occurs). Plus, it simply requires too much gear for Metro to be feasible for an all-day event. It's absolutely stupid for the city to allow an event that requires blocking most of the major arteries into the city on the same day as one that draws THOUSANDS of people to the Mall. We had not heard about the triathalon and blithely left home early enough to arrive on the Mall well before the festival started. We got off 66 in Arlington after sitting still for some time and went over to the 395 ramp by the Pentagon. We could see that it was as bad, or worse, on the 14th Street Bridge and as far as the eye could see on 395. So we jogged to the airport and got on the GW Parkway and took Memorial Bridge, hoping we could get onto Independence that way. But those streets were also blocked off, so we had to drive up 17th into downtown and then back down 4th to the Mall, where much of the parking on one side was unavailable due to the road closures directly adjacent to the book festival. TERRIBLE LACK OF PLANNING on DC's part. Have the race on a Sunday or another Saturday when there's not a huge event. We will happily take Metro when our child is older, and even more happily when there's a station here in Reston. However, the Metro station at Smithsonian was utterly swamped early on Saturday, so that's not the solution to everything either.

Posted by: restonmom | October 2, 2007 1:40 PM | Report abuse

"It's absolutely stupid for the city to allow an event that requires blocking most of the major arteries into the city on the same day as one that draws THOUSANDS of people to the Mall."

Somehow it works on the 4th of July. Same thing...an all day and evening event on the mall, and another event in the morning which shuts down the streets (the 4th of July parade)...many of the same streets were impacted on the 4th of July as were the other day. Maybe people think the 4th of July is a much bigger deal and steer clear of the city...maybe DC just needs to get the word out better to surrounding jurisdictions that people shouldn't drive there that day. I wonder if VDOT activated its electronic message signs telling people to stay away from DC or if it was just another case of jurisdictions not talking to one another.

"Have the race on a Sunday..."

But then some right-wing Evangelical Christian (like our president) might complain.....

Posted by: Woodley Park | October 2, 2007 2:55 PM | Report abuse

I didn't go anywhere north of the river on Saturday, knowing that all these events were happening. I spent the day cleaning house! Ha...fact is, it is precisely because of the crapshoot nature of traffic and Metro rides going into and out of DC on any given day that I just don't go to DC unless forced by work for a meeting. I spend my money and free time in local community events and businesses here in NoVa. None of the events in DC is worth the aggravation and destruction of otherwise serene weekends to attend. It may be once a year that I will go into DC for a night out. And that's too bad for DC's restaurants and tax base. NoVa gets my business now.

Posted by: CyanSquirrel | October 2, 2007 2:59 PM | Report abuse

I'm not sure I like Dakota Pants's comment that bikers stay out of his travel lane. Bicycles have two wheels and are lawfully allowed (ONLY allowed in some jurisdictions) on the roadway, with the exception of limited access roads like highways and expressways. The sidewalk is for pedestrians, and bike paths do not go where all cyclists need to go. Share the road! Good heavens...your big hunk of steel on wheels is not going to rot if you have to wait a few seconds to safely pass a cyclist on an otherwise busy street.

Posted by: CyanSquirrel | October 2, 2007 3:04 PM | Report abuse

Amen to MovedAway! I wouldn't come back to DC for all the money in the world.

Posted by: MovedAwayToo | October 2, 2007 3:22 PM | Report abuse

"Question for nail306 and Rich, how does one get from VA to DC using backroads? At some point, you still must get on the Chain, Key, Roosevelt, Memorial of 14th street bridges, correct?"

Yes, and of course's that's the ultimate issue in that all Virginia traffic must funnel to those chokepoints. But nobody said that you have to use I-66 or the GW Parkway to go from Tysons to downtown.

I shan't discuss specific routes, however, lest I give away all my detours! I've lived in the area since 1974 (unless you count my three years of post-graduate school) and thus I know multiple ways to get almost everywhere.

Posted by: Rich | October 2, 2007 3:29 PM | Report abuse

Why does metro continue to get away with its utter lack of planning and communication? Yes, breakdowns will happen (of course, on metro it's a given that it will happen somewhere at least once a day), but it's the complete lack of explanation of what to do that boggles my mind. If there's a major malfunction that precludes metro from running properly, then that should be communicated at all stations AND on the metro trains so people can make an informed decision. Furthermore, when you're involving shuttle busses and whatnot, it would be nice to have one metro employee directing people where to go, where to wait, etc. That does NOT happen and then chaos and anger ensues.

There are so many EASY things that metro could do to make their customers a little happier, yet they refuse to do it. I think metro should hire someone to read these rants and blogs on a daily basis and then report back to management. Maybe then, they'd get it.

As for Saturday, it's large events like these that metro has the chance to shine (prove that they are a wonderful alternative to hitting the roads). But metro never seizes that opportunity. I'm just sorry so many of you got stuck up in the quagmire. I guess I'm glad I was stuck home with the flu.

Posted by: Anonymous | October 2, 2007 3:37 PM | Report abuse

Red Line Saturday -- One of my five worst trips ever in 10 years.

Roughly 2hrs and 10 minutes from Shady Grove to Archives. I checked the web before I left the house and the only problem was track work around Fort Totten. I get to the Metro and there is single tracking at Farragut North and an Emergency Situation at Teneleytown/Frienship Heights. Also no information was conveyed other than we'll be holding. The signs in the station never said anything other than a minor delay. No I know why I almost never go back downtown on the weekend.

At least the Medical Center attendent let me use the bathroom, when we got tossed from the train there.

Posted by: MK | October 2, 2007 4:34 PM | Report abuse

Rich, I think when they said they used backroads, they meant that they try to avoid big highways until they need to. I usually don't travel too far into VA when I drive out of DC. But here are routes I use a lot:

For Tysons or even Dulles, I usually use Roosevelt Bridge, GW Parkway and 123 and (Dulles Access road - even to go west of Dulles). I use Memorial Bridge and 110/US1/GW Parkway to go south usually. I pretty much avoid 395, 495, and 66 like the Plague. And, I rarely take 395 into the city unless its really an off time.

From the Northeast into DC, I avoid NY Avenue and take 295 to Capital Street, to 17th street south, to the little manouver onto 395, to Maine Avenue, to Independence Ave, loop along the river - usually totally avoiding the mess that is city traffic.

Usually these methods work out okay.

Posted by: DC 21 | October 2, 2007 5:16 PM | Report abuse

DC on a Saturday? Please! I cut that out months ago because it's draining enough during the workweek. Plus I'm not that sweet on DC. There's more to do in N.Va that's only a short bus ride or walk away.

Posted by: YourStrawberry23 | October 2, 2007 5:18 PM | Report abuse

The real problem here is closing a lot of DC streets so that a small number of athletes can have a race. Nothing against runners or triathletes--it's impressive what you do, but the routes invariably close off roads used by thousands of people so that far fewer can compete in a race.

DC or whoever determines street closings needs to encourage these races to start out in the suburbs and then have only the finish in DC.

Posted by: ah | October 2, 2007 5:46 PM | Report abuse

Actually over 1,000 people competed in the race, so I am not sure that qualifies as a small event.

At any rate, I am glad for any activity that is going to get people thinking about safety of the Potomac.

Posted by: Anonymous | October 2, 2007 6:05 PM | Report abuse

I agree that we would be better off with more support for bikers. However, there are an excessive number now who have absolutely no idea about the rules of the road.

Posted by: Bikes | October 2, 2007 6:20 PM | Report abuse

When you live in a large City, you should expect events like this every weekend and plan accordingly. Quit your griping and deal with it. How about instead of driving into the city, get on a bike? Or, are you the obese guy I witnessed in the white pickup truck who had nothing better to do that morning than to sit in your vehicle, eating fast food, smoking, and screaming at the Metro police officer?

It is my understanding that the race coordinator had to deal with 10 different national and local government agencies to pull this event off. In addition, he dodged every roadblock they threw at him, including making him purchase a floating dock so triathletes (who swim countless hours in the pool) could safely enter the Potomac. Well done Chuck! For the many local athletes in the area, we want more!
There should be more events like The Nation's Triathlon available in the immediate DC area.

Posted by: Dan | October 2, 2007 8:50 PM | Report abuse

I am glad I moved very far away from the area.

Posted by: Gentry | October 2, 2007 10:42 PM | Report abuse

Dear Dr. Gridlock

Back in the springtime, I moved to your fair city. I was aware there was a lot of traffic here, but how bad could it be? Now, after six months and having suffered the slings and arrows of many an outrageous fortune, I can attest to the fact that it's bad - very bad, mortally bad, indeed.
There is much to learn in a new city and I seem to have developed an affinity to learning everything the very hard way. The morning news here seems to be a summary of roadkill reports. Maybe you should play Highway to Hell in the background when you do the traffic reports.
Besides the entanglement of your roads and their various conundrums, there are the nuances of the Metro to contend with. In checkout lane, in the parking garage at the Metro I learned what a Smart Pass was when told neither, cash or a credit card would be accepted. And I thought I was doing good to have figured out where the Red Line transferred to the Orange Line! Could an exception be made for an unknowing out of town person? Alas, fifteen cars were made to back up in the parking garage as I was sent to correct my grievous omission. My next great Metro error occurred in the parking garage on the third floor. It was nearly dark and it flat never crossed my mind to look for No Parking Signs between 2:00 and 10:00. In my next of the woods, there are no such signs of the third floor of a parking garage. Forty bucks for this mishap! Not long after I was stopped in the Metro station with my Smartcard. I was told my Card had not registered. It was checked and there was more than enough money on it. However, I count myself as fortunate as I escaped with only a written warning that if such a thing happened again I would be fined fifty dollars and charged with a misdemeanor. Am I the sole person in this fair city to have had a Smartcard that failed to function?
Dr. Gridlock, your city is lovely and it's obvious that someone took a great deal of care in designing it. However, then you all hired a kid with a crayon to do the roads - oh and if we turn this sideways, we can even get a mall in here too. When I came here, I was unaware of what H.O.V. lanes were. I spent some time wondering if perhaps the military had something or other hovering. One never knows in this town.
My great demise and accident took place on your infamous Route 66. There's no point mincing words, it was flat my fault. Traffic was massive and I flat goofed. I explained to the judge that part of my error was because I had confused the times the expiration occurred on the Outer and Inner Loops. The judge related he could tell I was not from around here, because I wasn't on either loop. He did agree with me that I was on my way to, and near a loop.
The next great revelation came when I was parked in downtown D.C. and found my car gone! Gone! Imagine my surprise! There was plenty of time left on the parking meter so now what? Someone finally pointed out a sign to me that between 4:00 and 6:30pm I was in a No Parking Zone. (It was twelve feet in the air, partly hidden by a tree branch, but again my error for not scanning the skies for such a thing.) Believe me when I say that the place you have to go to retrieve your car will never make any of the tour guide books. Going by Metro leaves one to wander a few blocks before hoping that the beat up trailer, with the cracked Plexiglas is not your destination. And then, it turns out that it's exactly the place! A truly memorable evening in your fair city!
Alas, there is more. I entered onto the Ramp of the infamous Route 66 only to find myself stopped, again! Now what? The officer explained I was on an H.O.V. Ramp. There's such a thing as an H.O.V. Ramp? Wow! I had to ask, because I honestly didn't know - what does a single person in a car do to access the Highway? I was told about a ramp a few miles down the road? To make sure I understood, I asked the officer if I really had to drive a few miles east in order to go west - around Tyson's Corner no less?
Thus, Dr. Gridlock this is the summation of my tale of woe and misery. I am beginning to feel paranoid. Maybe there is a satellite up there that photographs and trails me and my car - or newcomers in general. At the very least, something should be published identifying some of these nuances to the new driver in town. Within a few short months, I have been ticketed, totaled and towed - all in separate incidents. Are my feelings of paranoia justified?
Your New Friend,


Marianne

Posted by: Marianne Taylor taylmarianne@yahoo.com | October 3, 2007 8:09 AM | Report abuse

RE: the discussion on supposed backroads in the DC area. I commuted from Reston to Georgetown (Thomas Jefferson St.) with my neighbor for four years, and in that time, I think we learned just about every possible route, including secondary routes and neighborhood cut-throughs. However on the worst of days (roughly twice a month or so) when the commute took 90 minutes, there was no escaping to any backroad. Every backroad was simply clogged with traffic. I probably still know every imaginable cut-through off GW Parkway, Georgetown Pike, Old Dominion Dr, and Lee Highway in McLean and Arlington, plus we got to know the Canal, Reservoir, MacArthur corridors on the MD side as well. (Oddly, the commute in on the MD side was generally more favored and more predictable.) My bottom line though goes back to the other poster, at some point, we were still forced onto one of the big bridges into DC.

Back in late May after too many 2 hour plus commutes during the evening (due in large part to the American Legion bridge project I think), I quit my job in Georgetown and looked elsewhere.

Although surprising to some, my new commute from Reston to Bethesda (near Montgomery Mall) is half the stress and half the time as the old one, rarely taking more than 30-35 minutes. Plus, I've been able to get out and explore more backroads, of which there are plenty in Great Falls, VA and on the MD side of the river as well. And thanks to some well placed traffic cameras, I never end up in traffic on the Legion Bridge. Most mornings are a breeze on 495 ever since the ALB construction was lifted; afternoons are more hit or miss (surprisingly Friday afternoons are very light often times). Even on the worst of days, I enter 495 from the Clara Barton Parkway ramp and exit a 1/2 mile later (at the VA side of the bridge) towards GW Pkwy/VA193.

This job change and the escape from dealing with auto traffic in DC and Georgetown is well worth it.

Posted by: xyv1027 | October 3, 2007 9:12 AM | Report abuse

Marianne, you are not the only one who has/had no clue what an HOV lane is. (An out of town friend asked me a similar question about them a few months ago, referring to them as "hove" lanes vs. simply stating the letters in the acronym.) In case you're not aware, HOV means High Occupancy Vehicle. Frankly, I think its an overly technical as most of the country just says "Carpool lanes".

On a recent trip to Seattle with a business partner, we inquired at our hotel as to whether the main freeway (I-5) had HOV lanes going into downtown. You should have seen the perplexed look on the face of the hotel staff. They had NO clue what an HOV lane. Of course, I corrected my question and instead asked if I-5 had carpool lanes.

So, does anyone know why we use the odd term HOV lanes to refer to Carpool lanes, the latter terminology being more practical to most, particularly those not from the area?

Posted by: Anonymous | October 3, 2007 9:20 AM | Report abuse

Oct. 3 9:20am, we use HOV because it's illegal to use clear language in the DC area when there's an acronym available.

Posted by: Anonymous | October 3, 2007 12:29 PM | Report abuse

Some people are just oblivious and have absolutely no sense of direction, and in a sense make their own luck. Yep, the roads can be crazy around here, but I always advocate examining maps and google maps to familiarize yourself with the area, which roads are one way, where entrance and exit ramps are, etc. To some people it is not fun to do this, but it definately saves time and frustration and is helpful to friends when they call you for help finding stuff.

By the way, the acronym HOV is used in a few other parts of the country as well.

Posted by: Anonymous | October 3, 2007 2:06 PM | Report abuse

"So, does anyone know why we use the odd term HOV lanes to refer to Carpool lanes, the latter terminology being more practical to most, particularly those not from the area?"

That term has not always been used in the DC area. The first time I remember seeing it was in December 1982, when I-66 inside the Beltway opened to traffic and was designated HOV-4 in the peak direction. Prior to then, the only other such restriction in the area was on Shirley Highway (I-95/I-395) in what were universally known as the express lanes (and which ended just south of Springfield). The signs for the express lanes said "Buses and 4-Person Carpools" (or a very similar choice of words). Signage using "HOV" only appeared there after I-66 inside the Beltway had opened.

I remember everybody having the same reaction Marianne has--"What in the world is this 'HOV' stuff?" I recall seeing an article somewhere, probably in the Post, that said that "HOV" is one of the terms the Federal Highway Administration allows for expressing carpool-lane restrictions and that VDOT opted for that usage because they thought it was easier to make a clear sign using this terminology. I'm not sure why, given that the signs use about the same number of words as the prior version cited above. Maybe the concern was that because I-66 inside the Beltway was **entirely** HOV-4, they needed an easy designation that could be used on a multitude of signs, especially those variable message exit signs that appear on the Inner Loop as you approach the exit for I-66.

Incidentally, I've seen the "HOV" usage in New Jersey too. I believe the outer carriageway of the New Jersey Turnpike has an HOV lane between Exit 11 and at least Exit 13, if not further north.

Posted by: Rich | October 3, 2007 4:11 PM | Report abuse

I too did not know what HOV lanes were when I first moved here 5 years ago from rural Ohio. But precisely because I did not know what they were at first, I stayed off of them. I just realized I-66 (666?) is HOV-2 only during peak hours like a year ago. Yeah...sad.

However, with the parking and Metro woes Marianne talks about, my admittedly self-righteous reaction is: ignorance is no excuse. Why? Because in my effort to avoid a fine, I religiously scan an area, especially if it is new, to make sure there are no restrictions or obscure signs before walking away from my car. I also do just a little bit more than the average research on rules, routes, and other information necessities when using a transit system because I am hearing impaired and can rely on no one but myself for assistance. I had never ridden on a subway in my life before coming here, either, but have not had any of the experiences as Marianne because I am informed before using the system.

I am tempted to wonder if all of these oops moments occurred after she was on her cell phone and not paying attention to driving/her surroundings enough? Not saying it's so, but it's probable because so many people in this regions have phones glued to their ears behind the wheel.

In any case, marianne, I feel your pain. I'm sorry you've had to go through such hair-raising experiences with DC metro area transportation quirks. While you can't change the past, the best thing you can do is warn all other people you know who may be tempted to test their skills here to heed the warning that it really is THAT bad here and sharpen up their sense of ESP if they want to avoid the same fate as you. Smiles. Thank you for sharing your story. I did enjoy reading it and I hope it was cathartic for you!

Posted by: CyanSquirrel | October 3, 2007 4:38 PM | Report abuse

Congratulations to all of the triathletes! I am glad that we have a mayor who is taking care of his body and setting a good example for the residents of the city by participating in healthy activities. The triathlon registration "sold out" and included more that 350 volunteers and over 1,000 athletes. Outstanding and inspiring! I wish that the Sports section had a story about it. I am in agreement with several others who have posted comments - a bicycle is the BEST way to get around DC. I park for free, meals are my fuel, and I'm happily moving when people in their motorized vehicles are sitting and going nowhere. If you don't like the traffic or the metro, then stop driving a car and/or riding the metro. Granted, there are occasions when a bicycle is impracticle such as if you are trying to go from Dupont Circle to Germantown, Maryland, or if you have a very large package to carry. "Poor" weather, on the other hand, should not be a reason to leave the bicycle at home. If it rains wear a rain jacket and rain pants. It so rarely snows that there's no point in even discussing how to deal with that. Just look where you are going, pay attention and ride predictably. Also, please wear a helmet and purchase lights. If you are scared of the cars, keep in mind that it is legal to ride on the sidewalks in most of the District of Columbia. I find that riding on the street is preferable except on streets that have wide sidewalks that are not crowded with pedestrians. Having said all of this, I hope that the triathlon next year does not occur on the same weekend as other major events. It really is wonderful for DC to have this type of sporting event. I think that if the race did not conflict with other major events (and if the metro system worked) then it could be pulled off without resulting in so much upset. I hope that the race will be repeated because I have become inspired to do it. I've always wanted to swim in the Potomac River.

Posted by: CAK | October 4, 2007 1:04 AM | Report abuse

As a participant in the Nation's Triathlon, I appreciate all those that support us on this forum. While I do agree with the need for better communication about road closures, I'm surprised at the number who say we shouldn't close the roads at all. Though most of you aren't triathletes.. maybe you should realize how 'big' this sport really is. Plenty of major cities shut down their streets with a great amount of support from people coming to see what its all about. New York City, LA, San Fransisco, Columbus, Cleveland, Annapolis, Chicago... they are able to do it without any problems.

Posted by: Anonymous | October 5, 2007 11:24 AM | Report abuse

"I've always wanted to swim in the Potomac River."

Ew. Hope you get your shots.

Good for your Cyan. I think a lot of people would have a lot less headaches in this area if they just did a little research before they headed out. Is metro running on time? Are there any major accidents on the roads? Are the roads i'm traveling on closed or have road work? What other route can I take if my main route is blocked/has a problem? We obviously all can get on the internet here. These things are easy to figure out and only take a couple minutes to do. So many people seem to not be able to think ahead though.

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