Parking is essential part of Metro for suburban commuters, rider says

Robert Thomson
Columnist June 22, 2013

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Let me answer your question of “Is it indeed worthwhile for the region to devote so much prime space to warehousing cars?” [Dr. Gridlock, June 20] by describing what it would mean if Metro had not “surrounded” my nearest Metro station with “concrete fortresses to stack the commuter cars.”

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

My nearest station is Shady Grove, approximately seven miles away. Typically I can get there with a 15-minute drive, but let’s say 20 minutes to be conservative.

I usually have less than a five-minute wait for a train, but let’s allow 10. Then it is about a 50-minute ride (assuming Metro is on schedule) to my most frequent destination, the Library of Congress. Time from home to library is a conservative hour and a quarter.

Now what if there were no space at Metro to “warehouse” my car? First I would have to walk about three-quarters of a mile to a bus stop, which would take about 15 minutes. If I were using this method, I would be familiar with the bus schedule to minimize wait time, but still, I would allow a safety margin of at least 10 minutes.

These stages of the trip would have to occur under whatever weather prevailed, as there is no shelter at the bus stop.

Then comes the bus ride. The one time I tried it, the bus ambled around western Montgomery County for about 45 minutes before ending up at the Rockville station.

If I were doing this regularly, I would be more familiar with the bus routes and might find a more direct route, especially if more effort had been made to provide buses as you recommend. Still it is hard to believe it would take less than 30 minutes from my stop to Shady Grove Metro.

Total time from home to the library in your envisioned system, a somewhat optimistic hour and 55 minutes. Can you see why I am glad Metro took its current path?

The same situation is no doubt also true for people who live in communities beyond the other ends of Metro lines. Unfortunately, there is nothing on the horizon that is likely to change this.

The basic lesson is that one size does not fit all. Perhaps for the inner Metro stations your vision of reaching them by walking or transit would be practical, and in fact few of those stations have any significant parking. But for those of us farther out, your dream would be a nightmare.

Roger Burkhart, Gaithersburg

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I see no reason to penalize Burkhart and tens of thousands of other travelers who do the best they can with today’s transportation system, but succeeding generations shouldn’t be stuck with it. Let’s figure out the unintended consequences of the original plans and avoid repeating them.

Metrorail took thousands of cars off the streets in the region’s core, but it put more cars on the streets in the suburbs, as commuters headed for outer stations to park and ride.

Planners, hoping to turn Tysons into a walkable community rather than today’s gigantic car park, did not set aside acreage for big new garages at Silver Line stations.

The realities of today’s commuting — the realities that Burkhart described in Montgomery County — are putting pressure on the plan. Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Sharon Bulova said Wednesday that the county is working with several Tysons property owners to provide temporary, limited commuter parking near stations.

It’s partly an understandable payback to nearby communities that have endured years of Silver Line construction and an acknowledgment that plans for better local access to the stations have yet to mature.

But this could add hundreds of cars to Tysons traffic. Also, temporary and limited plans have a way of becoming permanent and grand. This is not the future envisioned for Tysons and should be watched carefully.

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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