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Should Holiday Rules Change?

After Veterans Day, I got several letters suggesting that on certain holidays, local governments maintain their regular weekday traffic patterns. Normally, governments ease the rules on lane use and parking, and they keep traffic signals set at off-peak timings.

Is that out of date? Please share your experiences. See if they match what the letter writer here had to say.

Dear Dr. Gridlock:
Can anything be done to maintain normal rush hour traffic patterns on some federal holidays? Many businesses in the District work on some federal holidays, and having traffic flow stay on weekend patterns creates havoc with already difficult commutes.

For instance, the Clara Barton Parkway and Canal Road go one way in and out during morning and afternoon rush. On holidays they remain on two way traffic. Monday was Veteran's Day, but many businesses were open as normal. Traffic backed up on the Clara Barton from the light at both Arizona Avenue and at Chain Bridge almost all the way back to the Glen Echo turn off at around 7:30 a.m. Evening rush was even worse, with M Street allowing the curb lanes to have parking and on lane of traffic on Canal Road.

The situation is the same on Presidents Day and Columbus Day, two other days the feds have off that many in the private sector have to work. Metro has started modifying its schedule for these days, how about NOT changing the traffic flow.

Peter Tietjen

By Robert Thomson  |  November 14, 2007; 5:00 AM ET
Categories:  Commuting  
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Although I don't commute into the city on a daily basis and before this week I had never got into DC on a federal holiday, I'd have to agree with the original comment based on my travel into DC on Monday. Traffic on the GW Parkway was absolutely awful and I think Lisa Baden on WTOP pointed out the reason: everyone trying to avoid Clara Barton Pkwy and Canal Rd (and perhaps to a lesser extent Rock Creek Pkwy) ended up on the GW Parkway and then when all that traffic on GW got closer in towards the city, a good chunk of them had to re-cross the Potomac to get into DC(having already crossed presumably the ALB to get across the Potomac to the GW exits). Traffic on the GW to get across all the main bridges was a nightmare.

I think this problem is specific to DC. I find that my regular suburb-to-suburb commute is ususally a breeze on federal holidays, in part because I think VA does not use off-peak settings on signals on federal holidays. The generally good signal timing and sychronization in place on a typical day along VA Route 7 seemed to be in effect on Monday as well.

Posted by: xyv1027 | November 14, 2007 7:19 AM | Report abuse

It would probably save a lot of aggro if they could let the holiday changes avoid the Veterans Day and Columbus Day holidays without being a big deal. All the other holidays are pretty well attended.

Posted by: Stick | November 14, 2007 8:10 AM | Report abuse

I think the only holidays where you can really truly count on a truly reduced volume of traffic around here are Thanksgiving Day Christmas Day, and perhaps New Years Day. I was traveling north to Laurel from Arlington on Veteran's Day evening and was amazed at the traffic on 395 and New York Ave (was a crawling to US50/MD295)

These 'minor' holidays often see a lot of people and tourists taking advantage of being off, but most businesses being open. Metro and everyone else should plan accordingly.

Posted by: Zizzy | November 14, 2007 8:10 AM | Report abuse

All the other holidays are pretty well attended.

Do what???

Posted by: Anonymous | November 14, 2007 10:29 AM | Report abuse

I think the reason that xyv1027 didn't notice changes in VA is because most VA employers are private sector, and, unfortunately the private sector isn't a fan of recognizing legal holidays anymore. DC is mostly public-sector (especially with many private sector businesses being turned away due to the anti-business climate there), so it really isn't a fair comparison.

I also wonder what exactly the mode split is for driving/transit for federal vs. private sector employees? Do a greater percentage of federal employees take transit than private sector employees? Maybe holidays like Columbus Day take a large bite out of Metro ridership and not such a large bite out of auto traffic?

I think a modified signal timing plan could be used in DC, one which recognizes that there are still some who work downtown on holidays but that the traffic volumes are likely reduced somewhat over normal workdays. The reason for this is simple...on a day when a significant chunk of people are off from work, travel patterns change. If you ever tried driving against the peak flow of traffic, you might notice you hit almost every single light, since lights are timed to favor peak traffic. A special signal timing plan would essentially favor the peak direction less than normal, giving those driving against the peak (those returning from a 3 day weekend heading into the city during rush hour) a fighting chance.

As for reversible roadways, the same principles apply. Is it really fair to penalize those coming back from a 3-day weekend by denying them the use of Rock Creek Parkway or Canal Road if the traffic volumes don't justify the reversal? ANd when I say traffic volumes don't justify the reversal, it could mean that peak direction traffic is reduced, or it could mean that off-peak direction traffic is increased, meaning those vehicles are entitled to their fair share of road space as well. THat is what I noticed on Rock Creek Parkway on Monday...traffic wasn't really any worse than a weekend when I drove to work on MOnday, and there was quite a bit of outbound traffic during what was normally AM rush hour.

Same thing applies to rush hour lanes on roads. The reason why my neighborhood can handle the loss of quite a few prime parking spaces during rush hours is because people actually take their cars out of those spots and drive them to work. If many of those people have off, those parking spaces are needed for people to park their cars in. Besides, being a government holiday, the govt. employees who enforce parking restrictions are off for the day.

Posted by: Woodley Park | November 14, 2007 10:48 AM | Report abuse

I've worked (in DC) in the private sector for 27 years and have always worked on Veteran's day and Columbus day. My commute time doubles on those days for both the morning and afternoon commute mostly due to the parking restrictions being lifted on those days.

Posted by: Jenny | November 14, 2007 3:00 PM | Report abuse

My take is somewhat the opposite of the other folks because I live just south of the Beltway in Virginia. I like being able to use the express lanes on I-395 on these holidays and I find that my commute is generally cut in half. (On this past Monday I did not use the highway the whole way because of the overturned truck in Springfield, which backed up traffic onto the Beltway, but that sort of incident can happen on any day.) The only real difficulty comes when I get downtown and I find that other drivers don't remember that the parking restrictions are suspended, so you get a bit of a schemozzle when people are driving in a lane that suddenly ends due to parked cars. I will note that traffic light timing can be a nuisance, though, insofar as lights that are on a rush-hour cycle (such as, say, the one leaving my neighborhood!) can give far too long of a red light to the neighborhood streets for the amount of traffic actually on the road. But as I have no idea what it costs to adjust the timing for this sort of thing, I have no idea whether it's practical to adjust for Veterans Day, Columbus Day, or King Day (which I think are the three main holidays the private-sector employers tend not to observe).

I imagine my take might be quite different if I used Canal Road.

Two other thoughts on holidays...

(1) I used to laugh at my former secretary because she always looked forward to days like Veterans Day because you could park for free at the meters downtown. Only thing was, she seldom got a free space because everybody else looked forward to the same thing.

(2) It always amuses me on the day after Thanksgiving when people forget that that day is NOT a holiday. The DC parking-ticket chaps make a FORTUNE for the city nailing people (including local residents!) who don't realize that it's legally a normal work day, even though probably 80% of the working population has the day off or takes the day off.

Posted by: Rich | November 14, 2007 5:36 PM | Report abuse

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