Beltway Pattern Truly Boggles Many Minds

By Robert Thomson
Sunday, July 29, 2007

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I moved to Alexandria 18 months ago from Southern California and enjoy exploring Washington by Metro. However, getting around by car is another matter. No matter how many people I ask to explain the inner and outer loop of the Capital Beltway, I get different answers. Could you explain it?

I love the column and, though I understand very little of what you say, I keep reading it, hoping I finally get inside this wonderful, confusing place.

Natasha Greene


She meant that the traffic patterns are confusing, not my answers.

Really, she did.

In the year since I became The Post's second Dr. Gridlock, I've also learned a lot about getting around the region. During my first online chat, a reader asked about the inner loop/outer loop thing. I gave a detailed answer involving clockwise and counterclockwise movement -- and got it exactly backward.

So on this one-year anniversary, I want to try again: The inner-loop traffic goes clockwise around the circle, and the outer loop goes counterclockwise.

Trouble is, your best view of that is probably from a plane heading into Reagan National Airport. Most of us at street level can't see the Beltway as a ring.

Fortunately, we rarely choose our Beltway ramp based on signs that say "inner loop" or "outer loop." Instead, we pick between clear-cut options like "North East, 95-495, Baltimore" vs. "495 North, Tysons Corner." (Maybe I need some more time at this.)

HOT Lanes

Now here's an issue that's really causing confusion: Virginia's plan to convert two high-occupancy vehicle lanes into three high-occupancy or toll lanes.

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