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Where to Live?

Letters from people planning a move to Washington offer a chance to think about our transportation assets and liabilities. Here's one I'm hoping you can help me answer.

Dr. Gridlock:
I am only now discovering your column after years of reading the Washington Post, and that's because I'm moving to DC next month! I'll be working in Arlington, and living there for a month until I find a place. I was most intrigued by what I read about VA vs. MD commuting. It was from January and I was wondering if there's any updates on this debate and where I might find more information to help us decide.

Just because I'll be working in Arlington, I'm not yet convinced that I should move my family there. My wife used to live in DC more than a decade ago and favors Maryland. I only know that I do not want to be in DC when it snows. Last time was during the government shut-down/blizzard of 1996, when a two-day weekend with my wife turned into a four-day nightmare of trying to get around. NY has its faults but we know how to clear snow!!!

Don Ennis
New York

These are some of my thoughts in response. Are these notes fair? What other traffic and transit issues should our new neighbor consider?

-- Washington has one of the best transit systems in the country. The District, Arlington and inside-the-Beltway Maryland are particularly well served. The Metro subway system is second only to NYC in size.

-- Arlington prides itself on the convenience of its transit options, and in many respects is a national model of planning for transit oriented communities. That's particularly true in Arlington's Rosslyn-Ballston corridor, in the northwestern part of the county.

-- Driving and parking around here are something else. The traffic won't shock you after NYC, but it won't be a pleasant experience. Washington has some of the worst traffic congestion in the nation.

-- The Potomac River is a big factor in traffic congestion. There are too few bridges for the volume of traffic, particularly during rush periods.

-- There's not much of a reverse commute in the central area. In other words, I wouldn't count on an easy trip from Maryland or DC to Arlington in the morning on the theory that you're going against traffic.

-- During 2007, I've gotten a lot of columns out of the difficulties in commuting between Maryland and Northern Virginia. Construction at the American Legion Bridge west of the District and at the Frederick Douglass Bridge across the Anacostia River in the District exposed the limited options for drivers heaving from MD to Arlington and Alexandria.

-- I'd cut the District some slack on the Blizzard of '96. I don't recall any jurisdiction in this region looking great those first few days. In recent years, we haven't had a real good test of snow-removal abilities. The weather has been just too mild. During routine snow storms, I get letters of complaint from all across the region.

-- Best source of information: Your colleagues at work during that first month you're down here; plus, any test commutes you can do before you have to decide. (Weekend trips don't count. Traffic patterns can be very different.)

-- Our region's best Web site for learning about commuter options is based in Arlington: www.commuterpage.com

By Robert Thomson  |  November 27, 2007; 5:32 AM ET
Categories:  Commuting  
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