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Reader Proposes Solutions to Washington Traffic

Do you agree with this set of ideas from a D.C. driver, or would you like to add any of your own?

Dear Dr. Gridlock:
On Thursday last [July 16], it took 45 minutes to drive to 1825 18th St. NW from 700 7th St. SW. I left at 9:15 a.m. There were no accidents, closed streets, or any other unexpected delays. Just plain traffic congestion.

What can the city do to lift the traffic curse? I thought of several possible solutions. Here they are:

1. Build a municipal underground parking garage under the site of the old convention center and a park above it. This would give us beauty and our own mini Central Park.
2. Require that all deliveries be made before 8 a.m., except perhaps for FedEx and UPS.
3. Crack down on cars that are double-parked with flashing lights to pick up dry clearing or the like.
4. Create some pedestrian zones on those midtown streets that have no public parking garages. Many European capitals have them.
5. Establish diagonal parking on streets that are wide enough as it has already been done on Eighth Street SE.
6. Make drivers with diplomatic license plates accountable and bar them from parking willy-nilly wherever and whenever they please.

Enforcement of these ordinances might give us a chance to get down from the No. 2 position in the nation for worst traffic congestion.
Renee Gier, Washington

That trip is about three and a half miles, and according to online directions, should take about 13 minutes, rather than 45. Instead of just complaining, Gier is offering ideas.

Here are some quick reactions:
-- A big new garage, besides being expensive, would be more of a traffic magnet than a relief. Still, drivers cruising for street parking are a contributing factor in congestion.
-- Drivers are right to complain about the congestion caused by delivery trucks. Rather than ban then for most of the day, which would be an hardship for businesses and customers, or exempt some companies, I'd enforce current bans on rush hour parking on commuter routes. (One of the complaints I hear most frequently is that current parking rules are not enforced.) Gier also notes that enforcement against double-parkers should be more vigorous.
-- I doubt we have many congested streets where traffic would flow more smoothly or more safely with diagonal parking. Many drivers complain about SUVs and mini-vans blocking their views as they back out of spaces. Other drivers back up without looking.

What I'd add:
-- Consider imposing a toll to get into a downtown "congestion zone." The toll would make some drivers consider other travel options. The money raised would be set aside for congestion relief.
-- Add bike lanes and make bike rentals more available. (I'm not saying the Gier should have biked. But I'd like to make it an easier option for those who want to. It would get cars off the streets.)
-- Pursue the plan approved last week at the Washington Council of Governments meeting to upgrade bus service. Again, I'm not saying Gier should have taken a bus, but the more people who have that option, the less crowded the streets will be.


By Robert Thomson  |  July 21, 2009; 9:12 AM ET
Categories:  Congestion , Driving  | Tags: Dr. Gridlock, letter, traffic  
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Comments

I have made this suggestion before. There are CERTAIN intersections that would benefit greatly from having a separate signal for pedestrians. The one that comes to mind is the intersection of 17th & Constitution. There are a LOT of pedestrians that need to cross Constitution to get to or from the Mall. The result is that very few cars traveling northbound on 17th can make a left turn onto Constitution. Similarly, cars traveling southbound cannot turn right. The result can be heinous backups in both directions on 17th, which I am often stuck in on the rare occasions when I drive from my home near Eastern Market to my office at 18th & M NW. The solution of allowing pedestrians their own signal is so simple and would significantly cut down on the backups along 17th. I'm not suggesting this for ALL intersections, just the ones where traffic regularly backs up on one cross street, due to heavy pedestrian usage.

Posted by: DCLiz | July 21, 2009 10:26 AM | Report abuse

The site of the old convention center is presently zoned for condo/commercial development, according to the sign at the corner of 9th & H (at least, the sign was there as of the Capitals' final game of the season in mid-May). Who knows whether the current economy might alter that.

I don't like diagonal parking at all except as a special exception, such as around the churches on Sundays. One reason I dislike it is that DC typically requires that drivers back into diagonal spaces, and a lot of drivers can't do that worth a darn and wind up parking at all sorts of cockeyed angles, sticking out too far, parking too close to the car next to them, etc., such that it becomes more trouble than it's worth.

I also think DC wouldn't like diagonal parking if it allows more cars to be parked per block. DC's mantra is that everyone should "take Metro" everywhere, and allowing for more parking would undercut that policy.

The diplomatic plates suggestion will never fly because the feds will never allow it--foreign countries would retaliate by doing the same to US diplomats abroad. There was a huge firestorm when New York City wanted to start enforcing traffic laws against diplomats going to the UN. I do not remember what the outcome was, however.

The place where the SmartBike program needs to be expanded to is Nationals Park. Talk about a place that ought to be a top bike destination. While there is a bike valet there, SmartBike users can't use it because of the risk of a game going more than 3 hours (which I believe is the maximum rental period). Having a SmartBike station with more spaces than the number of bikes made available would allow for people to use this.

Posted by: 1995hoo | July 21, 2009 10:48 AM | Report abuse

I love 1995hoo's suggestion about more smart bike spots and especially at Nat's stadium.

Also, I have to agree with Ms. Gier about delivery trucks. They literally take over the street and make it impossible for traffic to move. The onus should be on the companies requiring deliveries to provide a delivery dock or bay from an alley. Most streets in DC are not 6 lane roads. You take out one lane on each side from a lazy delivery driver and you have one lane left, which gets backed up if someone wants to turn left. It's just a mess and DC SHOULD be more proactive about alternatives to this practice.

I also agree with Dr. Gridlock that more public transportation should be made available to get people off the streets. BUT, it needs to be reliable. After my own bus fiasco this morning that caused me to be an hour late for work, I can't stress enough that without reliable bus service the people won't ride it. They'll get in their cars and know they'll be there faster (even if they do sit in traffic for 45 minutes).

Posted by: Ellvee | July 21, 2009 11:05 AM | Report abuse

"Consider imposing a toll to get into a downtown "congestion zone." The toll would make some drivers consider other travel options. The money raised would be set aside for congestion relief."

Only after Metro becomes more reliable and able to get me to work on time (I've ranged from 30 minutes early to 30 minutes late because I can't determine exactly when Metro's going to be backed up and when it's not anymore).

Posted by: forget@menot.com | July 21, 2009 11:19 AM | Report abuse

I say, enforce current parking rules. Ever try and drive up RI Ave near the metro station? Seems like a certain church can let their people park on both sides (blocking thru lanes paid for by the residents of DC) not to mention, they have shuttle bus service from the metro parking lot--- which is against the law. If you add pedestrian lights, which is a good thing, then we should also have traffic cops that give out j-walking tickets. Peds block traffic just as those from out of town in cars do. MPD should have a complete traffic control division that focuses strictly on traffic and pedestrians (bikes included).

Posted by: Aimhigh2000 | July 21, 2009 11:25 AM | Report abuse

"-- Consider imposing a toll to get into a downtown "congestion zone." The toll would make some drivers consider other travel options. The money raised would be set aside for congestion relief."

The Red Line is NOT by any stretch of the imagination a "travel option." It is dangerous, over-crowded, dirty, and completely unreliable. As bad as driving is downtown, it's better than the Red Line.

Posted by: WashingtonDame | July 21, 2009 11:42 AM | Report abuse

NEWS FLASH: Report: 98 Percent Of U.S. Commuters Favor Public Transportation For Others

http://www.theonion.com/content/news/report_98_percent_of_u_s_commuters

Posted by: stuckman | July 21, 2009 11:44 AM | Report abuse

Aimhigh2000: I live near the area that you describe, and I have never found the church parking to be an impediment to traffic. When are you having this problem anyway?

Posted by: stuckman | July 21, 2009 11:45 AM | Report abuse

Renee - excellent idea. Build a giant parking garage (who will pay for it -- you?) in the middle of downtown. That will sure help the traffic /sarcasm

Posted by: blah1233242 | July 21, 2009 12:38 PM | Report abuse

"It is dangerous, over-crowded, dirty, and completely unreliable."

Um, I believe that description is more apt for the beltway and the major roads heading into DC.

Posted by: supersmax | July 21, 2009 5:31 PM | Report abuse

"It is dangerous, over-crowded, dirty, and completely unreliable."

Um, I believe that description is more apt for the beltway and the major roads heading into DC.

Posted by: supersmax | July 21, 2009 5:31 PM | Report abuse

You must be Graham, Catoe, Holmes Norton, or any of the other politicians who just LOVE the Metro, but NEVER EVER actually use it.

Posted by: WashingtonDame | July 21, 2009 6:56 PM | Report abuse

One should never be BACKING OUT of a diagonal space.

Posted by: SAF_dc | July 21, 2009 10:20 PM | Report abuse

I did a study of diagonal parking recently. Statistics don't lie...they say back-in parking is safer than head-in diagonal parking.

If a driver can't manage a simple maneuver like backing into a space or parallel parking, they shouldn't be driving. It's really not that hard...I do both regularly without any problems.

Posted by: thetan | July 22, 2009 12:10 AM | Report abuse

Also, many taxpayers dont want their money going for municipal parking garages downtown. There are plenty of private sector companies that would love to build parking without taxpayers footing the bill.

Problem is, though, it is much more profitable for a real-estate investor to build condos or offices than a parking garage. Unlike a city like Atlanta where pretty much everyone drives to work and new buildings have to have parking decks, DC doesn't have that requiremnt, so given a choice, the developer is not going to build a permanent garage.

Parking is a great "transitional" land use though. Developer buys an old office building and tears it down. While waiting for funds and permits for a new building, he paves over the land and lets people pay to park, so he at least has some income. Then the parking closes and the building goes up. We should have more of that. Parking, while not the ideal land use, is better then a weed filled lot.

Posted by: thetan | July 22, 2009 12:16 AM | Report abuse

Great, then I would be happy as a resident of the District of Columbia to tax you for driving into the city during peak hours. That would suck for you, but guess what, your choice to pay it or take the Metro.

You wrote:

"-- Consider imposing a toll to get into a downtown "congestion zone." The toll would make some drivers consider other travel options. The money raised would be set aside for congestion relief."

The Red Line is NOT by any stretch of the imagination a "travel option." It is dangerous, over-crowded, dirty, and completely unreliable. As bad as driving is downtown, it's better than the Red Line.

Posted by: WashingtonDame | July 21, 2009 11:42 AM | Report abuse

Posted by: rawk | July 22, 2009 3:20 AM | Report abuse

Rather than ticket people who double park for 5 minutes and leave their lights flashing, the city should provide one or two designated 10 minute parking spaces on commercial blocks. This would keep the people who have quick errands to run from circling the block multiple times, creating traffic congestion, while largely eliminating the double parking problem. It would also benefit quick in-and-out type businesses who would no longer lose money from customers who can't find parking - and keep them from having to build designated parking for themselves.

Of course, enforcement would be key!

Posted by: wrybread | July 22, 2009 8:36 AM | Report abuse

Eliminate half the bus stops. The misdated schedules and broken benches are testaments to the inability of local transit authorities to maintain the great many of stops.
Maybe if buses didn't stop every tenth of a mile, people would be more willing to use them and cars wouldn't be so adverse to being stuck behind them. It's embarassing to see just how clogged the right-hand lanes are in DC and the suburbs.

Posted by: cprferry | July 22, 2009 10:46 AM | Report abuse

In response to the poster who noted that New York attempted to reign in law-breaking diplomats, here's a link: http://www.nyc.gov/html/om/html/97/sp124-97.html

The State Department agreed that New York could and should enforce these laws. It has worked out well for them; of course, New York has had a pair of mayors who are good at their jobs. And speak English. Washington's mayor, however...

Posted by: RonBurgundy | July 22, 2009 12:54 PM | Report abuse

I too am amazed sometimes at how long it takes to drive just a few blocks downtown. The crazy part is, a decent amount of the congestion could be relieved if people were just considerate. Such as:
--Don't double park or even stop for a minute. Your "quick stop" backs up at least two lanes of traffic for several blocks, which in turn grid locks intersections. All because you stopped to drop off your wife. Find the first open opportunity that's not in a traffic lane and make her walk a few extra feet. Or wait until traffic is stopped for a light.
--Pedestrians crossing willy-nilly. Unless you drive occassionally, you don't understand that a "don't walk" sign during a green light means that the cars either have a green arrow or the walk signal is timed to give cars a chance to turn at all. At busy intersections with a lot of foot traffic, such as NB 17th turning right onto H, when pedestrians keep crossing, it means only one or two cars can scoot through, tying up traffic all the way down 17th. I walk sometimes and drive sometimes...I've seen that it's not just drivers who are inconsiderate.
--Construction sites taking up even more lanes. I understand that construction sites need to take up some road space, but it's the ones that keep creeping further and further out beyond the two lanes they already get.
--Please use your turn signals! Why is it so hard to let someone know you want to come over? I'm not a mind reader!
--Bikers who want it both ways. You ask to be treated like cars, then you zip into intersections against the light, weave in and out of traffic, etc. I have a lot of respect for bike commuters...except when the stupid ones ruin it for everybody.

Car, foot, bike, metro--everyone's being rude to everyone. We all need to show more respect.

Posted by: sunny617 | July 22, 2009 2:32 PM | Report abuse

Suggestion 1: Leave for work earlier.
Suggestion 2: Adjust your expectations. How long would it take to DRIVE those 3 miles in LA, Philly, NYC, Miami, or Boston? Yes, those cities are larger than DC, but we have the added unpredictability of tourism, special events, and the motorcades.
Suggestions 3: Considering yourself part of the solution. It's great that the reader is offering suggestions rather than complaining. However, with the exception of one suggestion, the reader's view of the problem is from out her windshield. I am not impressed by someone who has lots of ideas about what everyone can do to solve the problems, but is unwilling to adjust her own travel.

Posted by: bikes-everywhere | July 23, 2009 8:23 AM | Report abuse

"If a driver can't manage a simple maneuver like backing into a space or parallel parking, they shouldn't be driving. It's really not that hard...I do both regularly without any problems."

That may be, but unfortunately, you know as well as I do that a lot of DC-area drivers can't do these things. Parallel parking isn't even something you're required to learn to get a driver's license in Virginia (at least, it wasn't 20 years ago when I first got my license, nor 40 years ago when my mom first got hers....indeed she waited until she married my father and moved to Virginia because in Brooklyn it IS required). I taught myself how to parallel park very quickly once I went off to college. I think another reason these skills are often absent around here is the many out-of-staters who might never have had to do these things. Down South in a lot of the towns that have diagonal parking, the parking is done on a head-in basis. That obviously works fine in towns and smaller cities where there is far less traffic (and people who are more polite) than we have in the DC area. I must say I find it rather odd compared to normal parallel parking, though.

The thing I hate is when a municipality stripes designated "spaces" for parallel parking, especially if they use the new pay-and-display meters. Arlington has done this on Clarendon Boulevard near the Fresh Fields, for example. It's silly and pointless. Down South the concern is that someone with a big pickup wouldn't be able to park if a smaller space were left, but so what? You just go around the block and look for another space. The pay-and-display meters are good for parking more cars on a block because you need not tie a meter to a given space--if there is room for your car, you should be allowed to parallel park if they're not using the old-style "one meter per car" system.

Posted by: 1995hoo | July 23, 2009 11:11 AM | Report abuse

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