Dear Dr. Gridlock:
Your March 28 column covered many bases, but not backup plans. [On April 2], both of my backup plans failed, and because I have to cross a river with too few bridges for contingencies, all I had was frustration and a wish that my specific job skills were in demand in Arlington County.
My commute is Spout Run Parkway to the George Washington Parkway, the 14th Street bridge and Navy Yard, then the reverse in the afternoon.
Walking to my car, I saw that traffic on the Southeast/Southwest Freeway heading to Virginia was barely moving, and the on-ramp at Third Street SE was very backed up.
When this happens, my backup plan is to take M Street SE to Maine Avenue SW to bypass the Case Bridge [on Interstate 395]. But that route, which typically doubles my commute because of traffic and lights on M, was backed up more than usual, which led me to believe the delay was on the bridge itself.
So I took my second backup plan, Seventh SE to Independence to Constitution Avenue via the 12th Street Tunnel. I don’t know whether I would have done better dealing with the 14th Street bridge. Constitution [which continues west to the Roosevelt Bridge] was total gridlock from 12th to 18th, taking nearly 20 minutes to go six blocks. I endured six or seven light cycles at 14th and not much better than that through 17th. All in all, my usual eight- to 10-minute commute home took about four times as long.
Just one accident totally messed up my normally easy commute. But even at nearly 40 minutes to go a little more than six miles, it was still 33 percent faster than if I had taken Metro.
DG: Coyle’s first letter opened up topics that included the ripple effects of traffic congestion, the flexibility of driving vs. transit and the commuting problems created by job changes. Now we can add the selection of alternative routes.
Coyle went through an unpleasant afternoon commute trying to reach his Potomac River crossing, but it could have been much worse if he hadn’t known his options. Many commuters — whether they drive or take transit — don’t know their alternatives. Or they learn about them only through a difficult trial-and-error process that occurs when they confront a major problem on their route.
Radio traffic reporters might offer alternative routes around a traffic blockage they are describing, but if you haven’t studied a map beforehand, you might not know what they’re talking about.
We have few river crossings, but in the Washington region’s core, we do have a grid pattern of streets that offers some options on how to reach those crossings. Test some alternatives to your main route when you’re not under the stress of a major traffic jam.