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Blue Line routing problem is about commuters, not tourists

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Dear Dr. Gridlock:

It seems to me that the biggest problem with the Blue Line and Rosslyn tunnel involves keeping the Arlington Cemetery station open.

If Metro switches the Blue Line so it followed the Yellow/Green lines up to Greenbelt, it would solve the problem in the tunnel (although travelers to Foggy Bottom might not like having to switch trains).

That leaves only the problem with Arlington Cemetery. I can think of several alternatives.

1. Run Circulator-type buses from the Pentagon to the Arlington National Cemetery and then to Rosslyn and back.

2. Run Circulator-type buses from the Smithsonian station to Arlington Cemetery.

3. Run a short route using maybe only one or two cars from the Reagan National Airport station’s turnaround to Arlington Cemetery. Because the Blue Line is the only user of that part of the system, a turnaround at Arlington Cemetery shouldn’t be a problem.

It seems to me that this would allow for a better use of the Rosslyn tunnel and Potomac River rail bridge than trying to fit three routes through the tunnel.

Do you know whether Metro has ever considered other alternatives such as these rather than just reducing Blue Line service?

Douglas Smith, Alexandria

DG: Keeping the Arlington Cemetery station open would certainly be an issue, but don’t think of it as the primary issue. The crucial thing is connecting Virginia commuters with Rosslyn, so they can go on from there.

Zachary M. Schrag pointed out in the book “The Great Society Subway” that “Metro was designed for commuters, not tourists.” We probably wouldn’t have the relatively little-used Arlington Cemetery station if the federal government hadn’t paid for it, but it did. Any proposal to close the rail station would have to survive a congressional review, and that seems unlikely.

But there has been no serious proposal to do so because of those commuters, not the tourists. The commuters want to go past Arlington Cemetery to Rosslyn, then either continue through the Potomac River tunnel to stations on the west side of the District or change to Orange Line trains heading west through Arlington County and into Fairfax County.

Metro’s staff did look at some different arrangements of train schedules but concluded that they were either impractical for the equipment involved or that they wouldn’t follow the probable ridership patterns of the future.

If I could channel Blue Line riders’ sentiments on the issue of a rail shuttle, they wouldn’t be crazy about the idea of changing trains at the Reagan National Airport stop for the ride to Rosslyn, where they might have to change trains a second time if they need to reach those western Orange Line stations.

The Metro staff does continue to study some additional bus service that could help out the transit riders trying to reach the Rosslyn station. It’s unlikely that buses could completely solve the concerns of Blue Line riders confronting cutbacks in train service through Rosslyn. They just can’t match the capacity and speed of a train.

I say these things not to discourage suggestions such as Smith’s — in fact, I think riders’ ideas very much belong in the discussion — but rather to point out that by adding the Silver Line, we’ve got ourselves in quite a bind regarding Metrorail’s current riders.

Considering Crossings

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I’m writing to disagree with Paul Wambach’s objection to using flashing lights at crosswalks. The button-activated standard stoplight for pedestrians crossing Westbard Avenue, between Massachusetts Avenue and River Road, in Bethesda is rarely used (at least during non-school hours), but it triggers a much longer delay for cars than necessary.

Wouldn’t a flashing red stop signal protect crossers just as well without imposing the long red-light delay the planners now employ to permit a slow person to cross this wide street?

Ken Howard, Bethesda

DG: Wambach wrote to describe what he saw as a well-engineered crossing on Veirs Mill Road where it intersects with the Matthew Henson Trail in Montgomery County.

It has concrete segments that create refuges for pedestrians and bikers while allowing them to see oncoming drivers and the drivers to see them. He did wonder whether the unusual style of pedestrian-activated signal, with its flashing lights, might confuse drivers and suggested that a traditional green-yellow-red signal might be more obvious to them.

The signal on Westbard Avenue is a traditional one, with solid lights, set up for pedestrian activation along a roadway bordered by schools, apartments and shopping areas. I think such a familiar style is appropriate for that environment.

The flashing signal on Veirs Mill Road was a special design worked out to accommodate the needs of both trail users and drivers on this high-volume roadway, with a traditional traffic signal in the area where drivers also must stop. That’s an appropriate balance for its environment.

We don’t need a one-style-for-all standard, and I admire the efforts to accommodate different needs, but the key need is safety. I wouldn’t want drivers to have too many types of signals to consider.

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