Interstate drivers using tricks in merge lanes

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I have lived in the Washington area since 1979, but maybe I missed the memo. Can you shed any light on the following questions?

When did it become legal to use the merge lanes of entrance ramps as passing lanes? I see this daily below Falls Road and Democracy Boulevard on southbound Interstate 270 in the mornings and at Democracy Boulevard on the northbound spur in the afternoons.

Conversely, is it just a Maryland thing for drivers to put on their right turn signals and move over to block merging traffic from getting by them?

D. Wood, Rockville

DG: You see drivers using turn signals?

The traffic laws haven’t changed, just the drivers.

One more example: Drivers using the Interstate 95 merge lanes for the Intercounty Connector as passing lanes. They roar along the right side to get past some drivers traveling in what everybody tells me is supposed to be the lane used by the slowest traffic on the four-lane interstate.

This rebellion against the driver’s manual and common sense isn’t limited to the Maryland side of the interstate system.

The worst new thing on the Capital Beltway is how some drivers treat the split for the THRU and LOCAL lanes on the outer loop east of Springfield in Virginia. Since late last month, the split has been in a new spot, and drivers must pick their lanes earlier. All the lanes go through to the Woodrow Wilson Bridge, but only the LOCAL lanes on the right provide access to the nearby exits. (Till paving is done July 30, there’s only one LOCAL lane.)

Drivers who didn’t make their choices soon enough are saying, “No problem, we’ll just cut between these big barrels and come out on the right side.” The problem is that other drivers don’t expect to see cars emerging from the barrels, and neither do the construction workers who might be in that area.

reviewing rush plus

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Both my wife and I commute on the Blue Line between Braddock Road and Rosslyn. I work in Rosslyn, and my wife works in Georgetown. Here are two of my preliminary observations about Rush Plus.

1. The 12-minute interval between some six-car Blue Line trains during rush hour needs some rethinking. This evening, my wife waited 13 minutes for a Blue Line train to service Rosslyn. Obviously, the train was overcrowded when it arrived and could not accommodate all passengers on the platform. This meant some folks (not my wife) had to wait an additional six minutes for the next Blue Line train.

I think Metro should seriously consider running eight-car Blue Line trains — even if only on the train that comes after a 12-minute gap. People shouldn’t have to wait almost 20 minutes to board a train with space!

2. What happens to Rush Plus on the Orange Line when the Silver Line commences service? Won’t some of the Orange Line trains have to switch to Silver Line trains because the Rosslyn tunnel and points east remain at capacity, and won’t that in turn reduce the number of rush-hour trains originating back to their pre-Rush Plus levels of service?

Jeff Regan, Alexandria

DG: Regan’s first point reflects the top complaint among riders about Rush Plus, and that’s the state of the Blue Line service. Metro fares increased this week, and they’re feeling shortchanged.

The rush-hour train that arrives after a big gap is almost certainly going to be packed. Routine disruptions that take trains out of service or just require a longer-than-normal wait at a platform widen the gap still further and worsen the crowding.

Putting extra cars on those Blue Line trains would help, but that would mean taking them from somewhere else, and it might create problems with the traction power for getting trains through the Rosslyn tunnel.

Why doesn’t Metro just go back to the old way? One key reason relates to Regan’s second concern. The Rush Plus program is driven by the need to clear room in the Rosslyn tunnel for the start of the Silver Line service late next year or early 2014.

Some of the Orange Line trains will shift over to the Silver Line. They’ll join up between West Falls Church and East Falls Church, so there still will be as many trains serving the stations in Arlington County and going through the tunnel as there are today.

destination unknown

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Well, [June 18] was the big day. I was at L’Enfant Plaza at about 8:15 in the evening trying to catch a train to Huntington. The message board said that the next two Yellow Line trains would be Huntington.

When the first train arrived, there was no sign whatsoever on its front, and on the side, it said “Special.” On every car. I entered and asked the man next to me where the train was headed. “Huntington,” he said, and so it was. But no thanks to Metro’s signs.

Jim Currie, Alexandria

DG: Three points here. First, if Metro is telling riders that they need to pay more attention than ever to the destination signs on the trains, then more than ever, the trains need to have destination signs. Most destination signs I’ve seen since Rush Plus started on June 18 have been correct, and so have most of the information signs on the platforms. But there are still too many with no information, garbled information or incorrect information.

Second, those southbound Yellow Line trains would have only one destination at 8:15 p.m., and that would be to Huntington. During Rush Plus hours, southbound Yellow Line trains could wind up at either Huntington or Franconia-Springfield. But the Rush Plus hours are limited: 6:30 to 9 a.m. and 3:30 to 6 p.m. weekdays. That’s not even all of rush hour, and it can be a bit confusing for those of us who don’t have these schedules memorized.

Third, the letter writer did the smart thing. When he was in doubt, he asked another rider. I wish the transit authority had put more personnel on the platform to answer riders’ questions over the past several weeks, but riders are always well placed to help other riders.

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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