Dr. Gridlock’s traffic, transit tips: Vacations end, congestion returns

Robert Thomson
Columnist August 31, 2013
September shock awaits

We often will refer to the post-vacation commuting experience as September Shock, though it usually doesn’t come as a sudden blow on the Tuesday after Labor Day. Usually, it’s a few weeks before travelers realize they are a bit more on edge than they were in July and August.

As vacations end, school resumes and Congress returns, highways in the D.C. area will be more crowded; it will take longer to get through busy intersections; and transit riders will find trains and buses more congested.

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

One important contributor to the September travel slowdown is the newness of some commuting experiences. There are people traveling to new schools or new jobs, perhaps from a new residence. They may be a little unsure about the directions, or about whether that last turn is a left or a right. Be patient, and give them a little extra room to maneuver.

Deadliest days

AAA Mid-Atlantic recently highlighted the 10 deadliest days of the year in traffic, a list compiled by the American Safety Council based on crash data compiled since 1975 by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The historic top 10, in order of deadliness: July 4, July 3, Dec. 23, Aug. 3, Jan. 1, Aug. 6, Aug. 4, Aug. 12, July 2, Sept. 2.

Congratulations on surviving August. Now get through Labor Day weekend.

Of course, there’s no time when travelers can afford to go into mental cruise control, whether they’re driving, taking transit, biking or walking. And there’s no particular curse on those dates. The most likely explanation is that, over the years, many people have traveled long distances at those times. But how did Thanksgiving week escape?

I-95 alternatives

The 95 Express Lanes construction will continue to be the main road-work event for the D.C. region into this fall. Although the lanes aren’t scheduled to open until early 2015, this year marks the period of maximum impact on travelers.

If you live in Prince William County and commute to Tysons, consider taking the PRTC’s Tysons Express bus. Virginia Railway Express is an option for other commuters.

Check the electronic message boards on I-95 for warnings about work.

Check out www.getaroundva.­com, where you can sign up to receive electronic alerts. This will be especially helpful if you make only occasional trips on I-95 for getaways.

Consider I-95 alternatives, such as routes 17 and 301.

M Street SE project

The traffic pattern on M Street SE near the Navy Yard has changed because of a D.C. Water project.

There still will be two eastbound and two westbound lanes between Seventh and 11th streets SE, but one of the westbound lanes shifts because of the construction. Watch for the overhead lane signals to indicate which lanes are open in your direction.

This area is just east of Nationals Park, so fans using the 11th Street Bridge might be affected, and not just this season. The traffic shift is scheduled to be in place till next August.

Rhode Island Ave. bridge

The District Department of Transportation has begun construction of a pedestrian bridge near the Rhode Island Avenue Metro station. The project, scheduled to last about a year and a half, is designed to provide a safe path over the CSX railroad tracks so people can get between the nearby neighborhoods, the Metropolitan Branch Trail and the Metro station.

This is a much-needed improvement in a community that is experiencing a lot of growth. Opening the pedestrian bridge will mean that pedestrians and cyclists no longer need to use the Rhode Island Avenue underpass or cross the active railroad tracks, a very dangerous alternative.

A stairway on the west side of the bridge will provide access to the elevated Red Line station.

For more transportation news, visit washingtonpost.com/transportation.

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