Commuters’ eternal question: Which way is faster?

December 17, 2013

In one of our “Which Way?” tests, we drove from Gallows Road to Westpark Drive in Tysons Corner via express and regular lanes. I got there first, but it cost me the toll shown on this board. (Robert Thomson/The Washington Post)

During my online chat Monday, a commenter made this statement about the search for better commuting routes:

“I have a TomTom GPS that gets traffic data via radio signals. I thought it might be handy to use on my commute as it would find me a faster route. But I find it gets too annoying as it keeps recommending another route that it claims is faster. It can’t make up its mind. While I welcome an alternate route if it will be faster, I don’t want to change routes 10 times. In my opinion, if it can’t pick one route, it must be time to stop for dinner and wait until things clear out a bit.”

It’s good to seek out alternative routes. Like the commenter, I don’t see the benefit of information overload while driving. We have enough to worry about just getting through an intersection safely.

It’s much better to do the pioneering part of the commute from an armchair, someplace where you can study up on alternatives for testing later.

Commuters should know their options, and they could take a variety of forms. A driver should know a bailout course if trouble develops on the highway. That driver might also want to know how to take Metrorail when traffic is particularly bad. Or a Metrorail rider might benefit from knowing where to transfer trains if there’s a lengthy delay on the usual route. Or how to find a Metrobus stop or what walking route might be reasonable from a certain station.

In fact, we may be able to help. Over the past few years, my colleagues and I on The Post’s transportation team have done an occasional feature we call “Which Way?” We take travelers’ questions on which commuting route might work better for them and test a couple of possibilities. For example, when the 495 Express Lanes opened last year, Post reporter Mark Berman and I tested routes from Gallows Road to Tysons Corner using the express lanes (me) or the regular Beltway lanes (Mark). Taking the express lanes, I managed to beat Mark to the roof of the Tysons mall garage off Westpark Drive by three minutes — but I paid a toll for that advantage.

When Maryland’s Intercounty Connector opened, we tested that new route with Mark taking the ICC and me on I-270 and the Beltway into Silver Spring. I got to our rendezvous point first, but was aided by a confusing sign on the ICC that forced Mark into a detour.

We don’t measure time only. Like other commuters, we judge the trip by the entire experience. Where was there congestion? Where was their confusion? Driving may provide a faster trip, but Metro may be less of a hassle — or not.

Depending on what Point A’s and Point B’s you suggest, we may be able to get transportation reporter Ashley Halsey III to join us on his bike. Ashley is an avid cyclist, and I have a feeling he’ll be competitive with some of the driving and transit routes.

So give us some starting and ending points for your commutes in the D.C. area, and let us test whether one route — or one mode of travel — might be better than another for you. (I’ve got a couple ideas of my own for when the Silver Line opens.)

Suggest alternative commutes in the Comments field here, or send them to me via e-mail at drgridlock@washpost.com.

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.
SECTION: {section=local, subsection=null}!!!
INITIAL commentConfig: {includereply=true, canvas_permalink_id=washpost.com/8bvh5zpd9k, allow_comments=true, commentmaxlength=2000, includeshare=true, display_comments=true, canvas_permalink_app_instance=bg52e9xhqr, display_more=true, moderationrequired=false, includefeaturenotification=true, comments_period=14, defaultsort=reverseChronological, canvas_allcomments_id=washpost.com/km4ey0dajm, includevoteofftopic=false, allow_videos=false, includesorts=true, markerdisplay=post_commenter:Post Commenter|staff:Post Writer|top_commenter:Post Forum|top_local:Washingtologist|top_sports:SuperFan|fact_checker:Fact Checker|post_recommended:Post Recommended|world_watcher:World Watcher|cultuer_connoisseur:Culture Connoisseur|weather_watcher:Capital Weather Watcher|post_contributor:Post Contributor, childrenitemsperpage=3, includeheader=true, includeverifiedcommenters=true, defaulttab=all, includerecommend=true, includereport=true, maxitemstop=2, source=washpost.com, allow_photos=false, maxitems=7, display_ugc_photos=false, includepause=true, canvas_allcomments_app_instance=6634zxcgfd, includepermalink=false}!!!

UGC FROM ARTICLE: !!!

FINAL commentConfig: {includereply=true, canvas_permalink_id=washpost.com/8bvh5zpd9k, allow_comments=true, commentmaxlength=2000, includeshare=true, display_comments=true, canvas_permalink_app_instance=bg52e9xhqr, display_more=true, moderationrequired=false, includefeaturenotification=true, comments_period=14, defaultsort=reverseChronological, canvas_allcomments_id=washpost.com/km4ey0dajm, includevoteofftopic=false, allow_videos=false, includesorts=true, markerdisplay=post_commenter:Post Commenter|staff:Post Writer|top_commenter:Post Forum|top_local:Washingtologist|top_sports:SuperFan|fact_checker:Fact Checker|post_recommended:Post Recommended|world_watcher:World Watcher|cultuer_connoisseur:Culture Connoisseur|weather_watcher:Capital Weather Watcher|post_contributor:Post Contributor, childrenitemsperpage=3, includeheader=true, includeverifiedcommenters=true, defaulttab=all, includerecommend=true, includereport=true, maxitemstop=2, source=washpost.com, allow_photos=false, maxitems=7, display_ugc_photos=false, includepause=true, canvas_allcomments_app_instance=6634zxcgfd, includepermalink=false}!!
Comments
SECTION: {section=local, subsection=null}!!!
INITIAL commentConfig: {includereply=true, canvas_permalink_id=washpost.com/8bvh5zpd9k, allow_comments=true, commentmaxlength=2000, includeshare=true, display_comments=true, canvas_permalink_app_instance=bg52e9xhqr, display_more=true, moderationrequired=false, includefeaturenotification=true, comments_period=14, defaultsort=reverseChronological, canvas_allcomments_id=washpost.com/km4ey0dajm, includevoteofftopic=false, allow_videos=false, includesorts=true, markerdisplay=post_commenter:Post Commenter|staff:Post Writer|top_commenter:Post Forum|top_local:Washingtologist|top_sports:SuperFan|fact_checker:Fact Checker|post_recommended:Post Recommended|world_watcher:World Watcher|cultuer_connoisseur:Culture Connoisseur|weather_watcher:Capital Weather Watcher|post_contributor:Post Contributor, childrenitemsperpage=3, includeheader=true, includeverifiedcommenters=true, defaulttab=all, includerecommend=true, includereport=true, maxitemstop=2, source=washpost.com, allow_photos=false, maxitems=7, display_ugc_photos=false, includepause=true, canvas_allcomments_app_instance=6634zxcgfd, includepermalink=false}!!!

UGC FROM ARTICLE: !!!

FINAL commentConfig: {includereply=true, canvas_permalink_id=washpost.com/8bvh5zpd9k, allow_comments=true, commentmaxlength=2000, includeshare=true, display_comments=true, canvas_permalink_app_instance=bg52e9xhqr, display_more=true, moderationrequired=false, includefeaturenotification=true, comments_period=14, defaultsort=reverseChronological, canvas_allcomments_id=washpost.com/km4ey0dajm, includevoteofftopic=false, allow_videos=false, includesorts=true, markerdisplay=post_commenter:Post Commenter|staff:Post Writer|top_commenter:Post Forum|top_local:Washingtologist|top_sports:SuperFan|fact_checker:Fact Checker|post_recommended:Post Recommended|world_watcher:World Watcher|cultuer_connoisseur:Culture Connoisseur|weather_watcher:Capital Weather Watcher|post_contributor:Post Contributor, childrenitemsperpage=3, includeheader=true, includeverifiedcommenters=true, defaulttab=all, includerecommend=true, includereport=true, maxitemstop=2, source=washpost.com, allow_photos=false, maxitems=7, display_ugc_photos=false, includepause=true, canvas_allcomments_app_instance=6634zxcgfd, includepermalink=false}!!
Show Comments
Next Story
Dana Hedgpeth | December 17, 2013