D.C. transit rider finds Metro easy to navigate, but only in Paris

Robert Thomson
Columnist August 23

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I’m new to the District and new to Metro travel but have some experience with the Paris Metro. One idea from Paris that would vastly improve D.C. travel is to better mark the stations on the trains themselves.

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. View Archive

I’ve noticed only one Metro map on the rail cars, and unless one is standing next to it, it’s useless. Names on the walls of stations can be hard to see, especially when trains are crowded. And when and if they become visible, they’re too last-minute to prepare to get off the train.

Audio announcements of the upcoming station are not only hard to hear above the noise but also are too last-minute. But there is space above the windows on the trains that could be used to name all the stations on the line — horizontally — with vertical lines to show the transfer stations.

In Paris, where they print several of these signs to make certain they can be seen by everyone, I am always aware of where I am on the line and how many stations I have yet to go.

Claire G. Moses, the District

That’s not only a good suggestion about the future but also an excellent summary of the present predicament.

Of course, it doesn’t affect the regulars as much as the newcomers and visitors. A veteran may recognize a destination by instinct. It’s the sound of the tracks, the curve of the rails or the distance between stations.

Everybody else is pretty much on his or her own. We have a wonderfully designed map of the Metrorail system, but it’s useless if you’re not standing close by.

The clarity of announcements varies with the skill and enthusiasm of the train operator and the quality of a particular rail car’s audio connections. The windows are hazy with wear, and despite a lighting improvement program, many platforms remain dim.

This, too, shall pass. I think Moses will like the next generation of rail cars, because they will give riders several chances to figure out where they are going, and from just about anywhere inside the car.

Of particular note are the electronic and video displays along the rail cars’ walls that will display upcoming stations’ names.

Many riders have seen these distinctive new 7000 series rail cars from the outside as they move through the rail system on test drives. In fact, they were a taunting presence on the day the Silver Line opened.

I watched riders at the East Falls Church station step up to their doors, expecting to meet the future. But the future wasn’t quite ready for them, and it rolled on down the tracks. So they’ll have to take my word on how good the new cars look inside.

That is, until late this year, when the mass-produced versions start arriving.

Silver Line review

This longtime commuter from Fairfax County to the District doesn’t have to do that regularly anymore, but he has tested the Silver Line. He offered this reaction to my early reviews.

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Here are a few things that you reported on the downside that I agree are true or partly true:

1) The same ride into the city is more expensive.

2) It can be a longer ride [than the previous bus-to-Orange Line route], but that advantage generally applied only on the way into the city if you left quite early. Otherwise, the Fairfax Connector buses would get caught in traffic. On the way home, I had to leave 15 minutes early or risk missing the bus I wanted and waiting 10 to 30 minutes for the next good bus.

Here is what is great about the situation now:

1) Fairfax County has done an amazing job with the bus service feeding the new Reston station. I now have midday, evening, late-night and weekend buses on my way into town or back home.

There are three routes within walking distance of my home. This is like a miracle. I don’t typically go in during morning rush anymore, and now I can go into town when I want without a car. Before, it was an agonizing choice as to where to go to try to park near Metro. Between the toll road and parking fees, what I pay now for the Silver Line is a bargain. Kudos to Fairfax County.

2) The station in Reston is modern, and we now have this wonderful indoor bus station. If I am coming home in the rain or late-night winter cold, I won’t have to wait outside anymore. And I may yet get a commuting bike, as we have an indoor locked section to park bicycles.

I’m willing to pay more for that.

— Michael Brody, Reston

Send in your reviews, including tips you think would be helpful for commuters returning from summer vacations who have yet to try the Silver Line.

Dr. Gridlock also appears Thursday in Local Living. Comments and questions are welcome and may be used in a column, along with the writer’s name and home community. Write Dr. Gridlock at The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071.
Or, e-mail drgridlock@washpost.com .

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