More Transportation Chat
During our biweekly online discussion on Monday, I ran out of time before I ran out of questions and comments from readers. That's the usual scenario. But this time I thought I'd post some of the ones that I didn't get to. Your thoughts on these would be most welcome.
The chat was very heavy on Metro issues, naturally enough, since the Metro board just approved its biggest every fare and fee increases. People argued all sides of that.
Metro-area Resident: "For me, Metro is what it is. Really, Metro is not that bad. I think what folks don't realize are its problems are the result of "niceties" they like the most when comparing Metro to older subway systems.
"Metro generally has nice facilities, and is thankfully clean. However, Metro is an over-capitalized system, which requires high ops and maintenance costs. I know this seems like a crazy question, but has anyone asked Metro to look at the long-term costs of maintaining the escalators within the system?
"In my simple commute, my origin and destination stations have a minimum of four escalators each. Of which, one is typically down bi-weekly, and one station just had them all re-done which was completed this summer. Not knowing the costs, it just seems to me that low rise/run staircases could accommodate the general public needs. The staircase at Capitol South is a good example. With the proposed fare increase, has anyone reviewed the long term operating cost of the rail system with an eye to reduce costs?"
The heavy dependence on escalators is a chronic problem for Metro. Like the two-track system that prevents the use of express trains, this problem has been present since the system's creation, and no one has thought up a practical way around it. Metro stations are built deep. The escalators could not be replaced by stairs, though that would certainly keep us in shape if it didn't kill us. An elevator system big enough to handle the needed capacity would be too expensive.
Metro GM John Catoe did a review of Metro's costs before proposing this round of fare increases. Metro continues to look at other cost saving measures. Eliminating the carpet in the rail cars is a promising idea. The short-lived experiment with four-car trains was not.
Falls Church, Va.: "My 88-year-old mother was visiting and we took Metro. I use a Smartcard, but we armed her with paper tickets. Why does Metro print them in such pale green ink? The panda is the only thing you can see on the card if you are old. She could barely make out the arrow in daylight, let alone in the gloom of the stations."
The paper cards seem especially annoying after experiencing the ease of using the SmarTrip card. The main reason I went to the SmarTrip was that I hated trying to shove the paper card into the fare gate slot. (Easily annoyed, I know.) Metro is trying to get us all to convert to the electronic card.
One reader was asking for thoughts on why the commute between the District and Waldorf seemed to be getting worse. That drew this response:
Waldorf, Md.: "Branch Ave. gets backed up in two places, where the three lanes go into two near the hospital, and the Brandywine lights. The Brandywine lights needs to go away and that intersection completely redesigned. I haven't figured out what is going with 210, but I suspect it is the timing of the lights.
"There are times the light in front of a green is red, and with hundreds of cars on that road, it simply backs up. This is why Maryland needs to get their act together and get a rail system to Waldorf and La Plata. If MARC goes into West Virginia, there is no reason a train can't go to southern Maryland."
Do you have any other ideas on what might be happening with the Southern Maryland commute?
Alexandria, Va.: "Hi Doc,
I am deeply concerned about the curbside HOV lanes on Washington Street in Alexandria. They pose a significant threat to the safety of folks trying to make a left turn across the oncoming traffic. Three people I know have been T-boned when trying to make left turns across two stopped lanes of traffic, only to find out too late that someone is moving from half a block away in the HOV lane.
"I also witnessed a fourth accident in which a Fairfax County police car T-boned a car making a left turn across the three lanes. I would recommend getting rid of the HOV lanes on Washington, or moving them to the left lane so that vehicles making left turns can see what's coming, as their vision isn't blocked by stopped cars. An informal poll, taken by me standing the corner, found that more than half the HOV traffic had only one occupant in the vehicle.
Thanks for listening."
Washington, D.C.: "I drove through Seven Corners this weekend and found it the most frustrating thing I've experienced in quite a while. I was on Route 7 heading west (from Alexandria to Tysons) and the traffic lights were out of sync, meaning long stop-and-gos, from Columbia Pike all the way to Seven Corners.
"And then once you approached the actual intersection, the signage was so poor and so close to the intersections that everyone had to make decisions too late and depend on other cars to let them in. What a disaster! This could be avoided if there were signs well ahead of 7 Corners that advised drivers which lanes to be in."
Boonsboro, Md.: After arriving 45 minutes late today because my MARC train "was following a freight train," I am again tempted to start driving to work. How can we get across to the decision-makers that people will not pay a premium for bad service when there is an alternative? I don't go back to restaurants that give bad service, either."
I wouldn't blame any of those long-suffering riders on the Brunswick Line for converting. CSX owns the tracks and CSX puts its freight trains first.
Your Advice Sought
Mitchellville, Md.: "I am interested in finding some other way to commute to D.C. other than Metro because of the scheduled increases. Presently I park at Landover and ride to Farragut West. I've checked online and there doesn't appear to be any alternatives that make sense financially and/or logistically. Is this conclusion accurate?"
Washington, D.C.: "Colonial Parking in my building raised their monthly rates to $240. The best price I can get within walking distance is $210. My wife's building is $275 per month -- up $100 in 3 years. I need to drop off two kids from two different schools no earlier than 8 am and pick them up no later than 6:00pm. Are their any options you can think of other than to drive? I drive my wife to her office, so there are four people in the car and no room for carpooling."
This sounds like an example of a commuting problem that traffic planners have not been able to solve: "Trip chaining." People need to do lots of stuff on their way to and from work. It's not easy to switch from driving to some other mode of transportation. Any solutions here?
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