Tips for traveling in Tuesday’s storm

December 9, 2013

Drivers face problems with visibility when snow falls rapidly at rush hour. (Robert Thomson/The Washington Post)

A storm bringing snow or sleet could disrupt the Tuesday morning commute, the Capital Weather Gang says.

The storm that just moved through the D.C. region drew complaints from travelers about each other’s behavior. The villains don’t clear their car roofs, crowd plows and leave their sidewalks unattended. The incoming storm could highlight even more of our bad habits in bad weather, because it’s scheduled to arrive around the time of the morning rush.

The Capital Weather Gang’s Jason Samenow says the storm could bring two to five inches of snow. During the morning rush, it could fall at the rate of one to two inches per hour, with falling temperatures. Road, airport and school disruptions are a decent bet, Samenow says. (Watch for further updates.)

That forecast covers one of the worst scenarios for local travelers. Too many commuters set out to defy the elements. Too few look out the window and decide it’s a great day to telecommute.

Here are a few suggestions collected from travel and safety experts, with a special emphasis on concerns expressed by commuters.

Driving
Before driving. Get snow or ice off the vehicle, including the roof and side windows. Though the storm that just passed through wasn’t a major one, plenty of drivers complained about being on the receiving end of the snow crowns sliding off the cars ahead of them. Check wiper blades, tires, tire jack, antifreeze and lights. Keep gas tanks at least half full.

When driving. Don’t use cruise control, allow extra room for stopping or for taking evasive action, turn your lights on and use your turn signals. Stick with the main roads as long as you can rather than detouring onto secondary routes. If traffic signals are disabled, treat the intersection as an all-way stop.

Watch for pedestrians.
When a few inches of snow fall, the streets may be in better condition than the sidewalks, so pedestrians will walk wherever they can.

Don’t crowd the plow. What’s the point of trying to get ahead of trucks that are making the road behind them safer to use? Also, a plow operator has blind spots, especially behind and to the left.

Stay off the roads during the height of the storm. You will be safer, and if congestion is reduced, the snow-fighting equipment will have a chance to treat and clear the roads.

Think through your route before starting. If you’ve lived in a neighborhood for a while, you know the traditional trouble spots.

On transit
Metrorail. Metro clears the areas around rail station entrances, but the walk to the entrance may be a struggle. Platform paving tiles can be treacherous beneath ice and snow. If this storm conforms to predictions, it’s unlikely to disrupt the above ground rail service, but watch for updates.

Metrobus. Metro does not plow around bus stops. Bus routes and schedules become very fickle in snow and ice. Seek out buses that follow snow emergency routes.

MetroAccess. As conditions deteriorate, trips on the paratransit service may be canceled. People with appointments should seek status updates.

On your street
Clearing sidewalks. Rules vary, but most jurisdictions expect property owners to get out within a certain number of hours and clear their sidewalks. They don’t expect you to throw the snow in the street. When clearing the driveway, toss the snow to the right. That makes it less likely the plow will push that snow right back across the driveway entrance.

Clearing streets. Much of the clearing work goes to contractors, whose trucks might not bear the emblem of the agency that hired them. The D.C. departments of public works and transportation team up on street clearing in the city. The Virginia Department of Transportation takes care of interstates, main roads and neighborhood streets within its turf. The Maryland State Highway Administration handles the state’s numbered roads, while counties and municipalities take care of the rest.

Snow emergency routes. Some jurisdictions require owners to get their vehicles off snow emergency routes after the jurisdiction declares an emergency. This affects many District residents, where the Public Works Department tows vehicles remaining on those routes and imposes stiff fines.

Robert Thomson is The Washington Post’s “Dr. Gridlock.” He answers travelers’ questions, listens to their complaints and shares their pain on the roads, trains and buses in the Washington region.
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