All travel still difficult in D.C. area
We are in the midst of a natural disaster, and no part of the D.C. area's transportation system is functioning very well. Residents say many neighborhood streets haven't been cleared. Drivers are crawling along main roads, which is good, because if they got up any speed, it would be dangerous. Bus riders often don't have a stop at which to wait. Train riders are complaining about long waits on crowded platforms.
On neighborhood streets that have not been made passable, the snow has hardened, making it difficult for plows to gain the upper hand. Different equipment is needed. Some residential areas will see small front-end loaders working to break up snow piles.
Main roads are much more crowded today. It's as though the morning rush never ended. The condition of these roads is somewhat better than on Monday, but more people came out of their neighborhoods to reach work or do errands in the brief window before the next storm later today.
A driver breaking free of traffic is tempted to step on the gas. Resist that temptation. Some road obstacle is in your immediate future. These are the key problems I encountered:
Lanes disappear. On East-West Highway and Brookville Road in Montgomery County, there is no eastbound lane. As drivers come down the hill and enter a curve, the lane vanishes into the snow and their only move is into oncoming traffic.
There's no place to put the snow. At points where the roads narrow or bend, there's likely to be frozen slush in the roadway and piles of hardened snow on the sides of the road. Medians are piled high with snow that occasionally spills into the left lane and creates bumps and slippery spots.
Visibility is limited. Interchanges and intersections are particular problems. At many intersections, the snow piles are so big, they could hide a basketball team. At these points, drivers will not see pedestrians stepping out into the roadways. Be particularly careful making a right turn.
Pedestrians in roads. What else can they do? People are walking out of neighborhoods to get supplies. In many cases, the sidewalks are under more than a foot of snow, even along main roads.
They don't exist. At least, not in the normal sense. Stops identified only by poles and bus shields are surrounded by hardened snow in many areas. A prospective passenger would have to stand in the travel lane or stand atop the snow pile and hope for the best.
Shelters don't shelter. Benches inside shelters are partly buried in snow. But who would want to wait inside the shelter, anyway? The bus, if it comes, is going to stop out in a travel lane, yards away across a snow bank. At some stops, though, people have cut a hole in the wall, allowing one passenger at a time to move between the travel lane and the shelter.
It will get worse. Metro said more than 300 buses were operating on 98 routes as of 11 a.m. but that is likely to change later today as road conditions deteriorate. The snowfall won't help the condition of the stops and shelters, either.
Why so few trains? That's one of the two most frequently asked questions I'm hearing about Metrorail service, which has been restored to all but five Blue Line stations. Metro spokesman Steven Taubenkibel told me it was a question of supply and demand. As of 11 a.m., he said, Metrorail had carried 83,333 passengers. About 45 trains were operating, serving platforms every 20 minutes.
With the federal government closed, he said, it was not necessary to mount a regular rush-hour service. Also, he said, Metro was playing it safe as it resumed above-ground operations. Because snow and ice continue to be problems, the speed limit for the trains today is 35 mph.
Why so long to restore service? That's the other FAQ. It took less time to restore above-ground service after the December storm, riders say.
Taubenkibel said that clearing the snow and ice took longer because there was a lot more of it this time. And it was constantly refreezing. Plus, the snowdrifts would form three- to six-foot mounds. In fact, along the Blue Line from Stadium-Armory to Largo, the drifts has been as high as eight feet.
Remember, the Metro policy is to stop above-ground operations when the snow levels along the tracks reach eight inches, the point at which trains often begin to lose power. It's a little more difficult to predict when we'll reach that point in this storm, since we already have so much snow on the ground.
February 9, 2010; 1:50 PM ET
| Tags: Dr. Gridlock, Metrorail, snowstorm, tips for travelers, washington snow
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