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Fastest way to D.C.?

Need your advice: A new commuter is planning a trip from Frederick to 18th and L NW in downtown Washington. The new commuter has heard this should take about an hour, but can't believe that. (Neither can I, not during regular commuting times.)

The new commuter and I are thinking it would be best to allow two hours, whether the trip is by car all the way, or by transit.

Do you think that's too conservative? What would be the best driving route? After driving down I-270, would you use Connecticut Avenue to reach downtown Washington, or swing farther south and drive along the George Washington Parkway before entering the District via the Key Bridge?

On a transit trip, I think I'd drive to Shady Grove and take the Red Line to Farragut North. That would be faster than a MARC train trip from Frederick to Union Station and a switch over to the Red Line, don't you think? The tricky part would be getting to Shady Grove early enough to be sure of a parking spot, despite the 5,745 spaces.

By Robert Thomson  |  March 16, 2010; 9:49 AM ET
Categories:  Commuting  | Tags: Dr. Gridlock, Fastest commute  
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I would use the Roosevelt Bridge as opposed to the Key Bridge, get far left and take the E Street Expressway, turn left onto 18th street. However this all should be done at minimum before 8am.

Posted by: charlotte7 | March 16, 2010 10:05 AM | Report abuse

Simply for the value of having a parking spot (as opposed to fighting traffic and then maybe not having a parking spot), I'd actually be inclined to take the MARC to Union and head to Farragut North that way. Shady Grove is full really early so unless you plan on being in the office by about 8 AM it's probably not worth bothering with unless you know the MARC isn't running.

Posted by: | March 16, 2010 10:14 AM | Report abuse

I drive from the Twinbrook Metro Station into Capitol Hill everyday. I leave at 7:15 and usually arrive between 8:15-8:30. The route I take is Connecticut Avenue to the Rock Creek Parkway. Though this route still takes a little over an hour - it is very consistent with the traffic level as long as there is not a major incident.

I used to take Georgia Avenue, which I would AVOID! There are way too many big streets that cross Georgia, creating major backups at lights.

The reason I do not take the GW parkway is the consistency factor. Though it might get me into the city faster some days, it may take 2 hrs other days. I have to be in at 8:30, so I cannot risk those bad traffic day.

When I used to take the Metro from Twinbrook to Farragut North, it would take about 25 minutes, give or take about 5. Probably add about 10 or so going in from Shady Grove, but don't forget the possibility that you get to the station and have to wait 5+ min for a train.

I am always interested in new route suggestions, so thank you for posting this question to your readers.

Hope that helps!

Posted by: lecheeka | March 16, 2010 10:22 AM | Report abuse

MARC to Rockville, then Metro the rest of the way.

Way to add another car downtown Dr. G.

Posted by: anarcho-liberal-tarian | March 16, 2010 10:47 AM | Report abuse

If you have any choice in where you live, do not live in Frederick if you intend to commute regularly to downtown DC. Have some respect for your time.

Why not live in Leesburg instead? Probably about the same cost of living, but you can use the wonderful Loudoun County Commuter Bus Service, which will drop you off right by your office.

Posted by: afsljafweljkjlfe | March 16, 2010 10:55 AM | Report abuse

I park at Shady Grove regularly. As long as you get to the station before 9:30 or so, there is almost always a spot somewhere on the top level of the small garage or in its adjacent lot (from 370, just drive past the entrance to the large garage, around the tight corner, and look for the entrance a few hundred yards on your left)

Posted by: HydroxCookies | March 16, 2010 10:56 AM | Report abuse

From Dr. Gridlock: Thanks for these helpful comments about the trip downtown, and please keep them coming. I think they're not only useful to my letter writer but also to others either contemplating a new commute or wondering if the way they've been doing a commute is the best way.

I see some variations in your trip planning that I hadn't thought of, both for driving and transit.

For a trip that involves transit, what's the most difficult transition? Is it wandering around looking for parking? Or just getting into a garage or lot in the first place? Or is it the wait on a platform?

When I discuss route planning, travelers often tell me I'm not accounting for the transition time from one mode to another. They say that's the part of a trip that annoys them the most.

Posted by: Dr_Gridlock | March 16, 2010 11:17 AM | Report abuse

The trip can be done in an hour - but you have to leave by 5:30 AM.

Whatever time you leave - if you are driving the whole way - the most consistent route is 270 -> 495 to Connecticut. Once the lanes switch on Connecticut it moves very well.

MARC is a viable option switching to METRO at Rockville and getting off at Farragut. When I used this route to get to 19th and L it took an hour and 45 minutes consistently - including the 3 blocks from Farragut.

Driving the whole distance leaving after 6:30 usually took an hour and 30 minutes with bogey times in excess of 2 hours.

The reverse trip is largely the same.

Posted by: merricksummers | March 16, 2010 11:50 AM | Report abuse

- Drive to Shady Grove, Metro to Farragut North
- Drive to MARC Frederick, MARC to Union Station, Metro to Farragut North
- Drive to MARC Frederick, MARC to Rockville, Metro to Farragut North
- Drive to MARC Monocacy, commuter bus to Shady Grove, Metro to Farragut North

In general though, if the commuter could choose to live closer to DC, life would be a lot easier for the commuter.

Posted by: trossc | March 16, 2010 1:49 PM | Report abuse

I would consider 270 to 495 to Cabin John pkwy to Canal Rd and take that to the Whitehurst and onto K street before considering the GW Parkway.

Posted by: dkf747 | March 16, 2010 2:25 PM | Report abuse

Take Marc to Rockville and then the Red Line to your destination. I ride the commuter train and that is a great way to go.

Posted by: canklam | March 16, 2010 2:26 PM | Report abuse

While I have no view on the overall route, I strongly agree with Charlotte about taking the Roosevelt bridge instead of the key bridge from the GW Parkway. However instead of taking the E Street Expressway exit I would take the exit for the Whitehurst Freeway and then take the right exit for Pennsylvania Ave. You can then get on L Street (this is a little confusing if you're not familiar with the area because L and Pennsylvania intersect at a very awkward angle here). L is one of the fastest ways to drive downtown, and you don't have to worry about driving across from E.

Posted by: ZachMorris | March 16, 2010 8:52 PM | Report abuse

On the MTA Commuter Bus option (#991) mentioned:

If you purchase a MARC Monthly pass from Frederick/Monocacy to any stop between Germantown and Union Station (in this case, either Rockville or Union Station), riding the #991 is free between the Monocacy MARC station and Shady Grove. This gives you a pair of options. If traffic is terrible, hop on MARC. If the trains are acting up, take the bus. Both of which trump driving.

Also, if you go with the MARC option to Rockville, I would highly suggest paying the extra $84 for the MARC Transit Link Card. This grants you unlimited Metrorail trips. At $4.40 peak fare in each direction between Rockville and Farragut North, you'll make up the $84 difference in about two weeks.

Posted by: pikamander007 | March 17, 2010 2:02 AM | Report abuse

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