Unsafe drivers have turned dedicated lanes into danger zones

Robert Thomson
Columnist November 19, 2012

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I read your column almost religiously and usually agree or disagree silently, but the subject of turn signals and turn lanes left me no choice but to vent. I drive but am a cyclist whenever possible, and I walk if the distance is a mile, more or less.

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

What I have learned is that many drivers use the dedicated, clearly marked turn lanes for rapid access to the front of the line, threatening harm to those who impede their progress.

The absence of a flashing turn signal often means I am about to be cut off by someone passing on the left or right. I have even had drivers in a dedicated right turn lane cross the center lane in front of me and turn left.

And if I’m cycling (generally on the right side), it means my life is in peril, my ears are about to be burnt by a spew of profanity or a combination thereof. I’m afraid that the arguments given, including energy consumption (Is this the effort it takes to think or to flip the turn signal?) and the driver’s presence in the dedicated turn lane as evidence of intent, aren’t really convincing.

Please continue to encourage turn signals. And a little common courtesy and patience would be a pleasing addition.

John Manley, the District

DG: Anything drivers, walkers and cyclists can do to signal intent to one another helps protect all travelers. That’s Manley’s stand, but he’s also upset about lack of respect among drivers for the intent of turn lanes.

I notice that safe turning in the city is getting a bit more complicated as drivers and bikers adjust to the new cycling lane on the north side of L Street NW. At this early stage, when drivers are still learning the rules about where to turn, unsafe turns are more likely to be accidental than deliberate. But it’s something the District Department of Transportation and police need to monitor.

Metro clocks

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

You had a comment about the missing kiosk clocks at Metrorail stations. I understood you to say we do not need the kiosk clocks, as the electronic signs on the platforms tell us how soon the next train will come.

That is not helpful for maximizing Metrorail convenience. It is not helpful for catching your bus connection at some suburban station. In Maryland, those suburban buses come every half-hour, but in Virginia, many of them are a full hour apart, so timing is vital if a person is to use transit at all.

Right now, my wristwatch is stopped. Dead battery, maybe. I need another clock. Waiting for transit vehicles has been found to be twice as arduous as actual riding time. Missing a remote bus connection is worse. As one who has ridden transit most of his life as well as one who has worked with it, nothing works better than carrying a printed schedule, but Metrorail’s are so hard to cope with that I do not try.

I have memorized that during off-peak service, Orange Line trains leave Metro Center at 10 minutes after the hour and every 12 minutes thereafter. Going the other way, they leave Vienna one minute before the hour and then every 12 minutes, Sunday excepted. With the weekend track work, I will not ride at all, the way they mess up the timing.

Knowing the schedule saves all kinds of time waiting for trains. I know when to leave home to avoid just missing a train at the station. I know whether to run or delay on the way to the station coming home.

Without my timing I would be reluctant to use Metrorail. Time wasted waiting would drive me to distraction.

Ed Tennyson,Vienna

DG: First, I want to correct any erroneous impression I created in commenting on Metro’s plan to replace the old clocks by the station kiosks with new message boards. Although I like the idea of adding information about the status of train lines, I also want the clocks.

Metro says we’ll have the time as part of the message boards, and that’s good. I just wish there weren’t such a long gap between the removal of the clocks and the activation of the boards.

Tennyson, a transportation professional who always has insights to share, illustrates how much riders need Metro to respect the clock. Many of them need to make bus connections. Frustration about missed connections is behind many letters I get from Blue Line riders complaining about the more limited train service under Metro’s Rush Plus program.

And a perception that Metro lacks respect for the clock was behind some riders’ anger when rail service closed an hour early the night of the “fall back” to Eastern Standard Time.

The only point in Tennyson’s letter I question is the one about the frequency of Maryland bus service. I have often missed a connection with Ride On in the evening and would rather walk than wait that additional half-hour till the next bus arrives. See Tennyson’s other good point about the wait being more arduous than the travel time.

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