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Speed Controls In Effect Near Wilson Bridge

There are three experiments in speed control underway in the Washington region that combine engineering, education and enforcement in various ways. Which experiment do you think will work out best?

Variable Speed Limits: The program is expanding this morning. I told you months ago to watch out for the new electronic signs indicating the speed limits on the eastern side of the Capital Beltway in Northern Virginia. Some of you said you don't see much action on those signs, and it's been true. When they've been in use, switching speed limits, it's been mostly at night.

vsl%20sign%20outer%20loop3%20%282%29.jpg Signs will post speed limit. (Thomson)

That's changing. The technology now will be in use from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m. weekdays. It will continue to be used overnight as well. The idea of changing the speed limits is to slow down traffic approaching a construction chokepoint. If drivers don't speed, they won't have to hit the brakes when the reach the bottleneck. Traffic will flow more smoothly through the Wilson Bridge Project zone

Problem: This has great potential benefits for drivers -- if they'll actually slow down. Police enforcement could help persuade them, but it's difficult to enforce in that zone because police activity itself slows traffic.

Traffic Calming: On Route 50 in eastern Loudoun County, the Virginia Department of Transportation is trying to engineer slower, safer speeds by building roundabouts that require drivers to slow to about 25 mph and cooperate with each other in getting through the road junctions. One roundabout is open. Three more are planned. Unlike the Variable Speed Limit Zone on the Beltway, drivers approaching the roundabouts and going through them have no choice but to slow down. The road is engineered that way.

Roundabout Gilberts Corner (2).jpg Roundabout plan for Gilberts Corner. (VDOT)

Problem: It's an education process. Drivers trained on traditional intersections, controlled by red and green lights, are often unfamiliar with the roundabout rules. Sometimes they stop at the yield sign. Sometimes they stop inside the roundabout, where they have the right of way.

Speed cameras: Maryland is expanding the pilot program now operating in Montgomery County. They can be set up in school zones and road work zones statewide.

Speed camera web.jpg Camera in Montgomery County. (Thomson)

Problem: No problem really, it's just that drivers hate to get caught speeding, even though they'll have to be going 12 mph over the speed limit to get a $40 ticket. Drivers think they have a better chance of avoiding a police officer than a camera permanently attached to a pole.

The program is so new that it needs to build political support. People need to see that the cameras are positioned in places where safety is an issue.

Road Essentials:  Incident Map  |  Traffic Cams   |   Key Routes

By Robert Thomson  |  May 4, 2009; 5:27 AM ET
Categories:  Advisories , Congestion , Construction , Driving  
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