Traffic Remedies: The Good, the Bad and the Unworkable

Thursday, July 30, 2009

AD.C. driver, frustrated by the time it took to complete a 3 1/2 -mile drive that should have taken about 13 minutes under better conditions, offered a six-point plan for improvements.

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

On July 16, it took me 45 minutes to drive to 1825 18th St. NW from 700 Seventh St. SW. I left at 9:15 a.m. There were no accidents, closed streets or any other unexpected delays. Just plain congestion.

What can the city do to lift the traffic curse? Here are several possible solutions:

1. Build a municipal underground parking garage under the site of the old convention center and a park above it. This would give us beauty and our own mini-Central Park.

2. Require all deliveries to be made before 8 a.m., except perhaps for FedEx and UPS packages.

3. Crack down on cars that are double-parked with flashing lights to pick up dry cleaning and the like.

4. Create pedestrian zones on midtown streets that have no public parking garages. Many European capitals have them.

5. Establish diagonal parking on streets that are wide enough, as has been done on Eighth Street SE.

6. Hold drivers with diplomatic license plates accountable and bar them from parking willy-nilly wherever and whenever they please.

These steps might give us a chance to move down from the No. 2 position in the nation for worst traffic congestion.

Renee Gier

The District

Instead of just complaining, the letter writer is offering ideas. I'd do some and not others:

-- A big new garage, besides being expensive, would be more of a traffic magnet than a remedy, although drivers cruising for street parking are a factor in congestion.

-- Drivers are right to complain about the congestion caused by delivery trucks. Rather than ban them for most of the day while exempting some companies, which would be a hardship for businesses and customers, I'd enforce current bans on rush-hour parking. Gier also notes that enforcement against double-parkers should be more vigorous.

-- I doubt we have many congested streets where traffic would flow more smoothly or more safely with diagonal parking. Many drivers complain about sport-utility vehicles and minivans blocking their views as they back out of spaces. Other drivers back up without looking.

What I'd add to the list:

-- Consider imposing a toll to drive into a downtown congestion zone. The toll would make some drivers consider other travel options. The money raised would be used for congestion relief.

-- Create bike lanes and make bike rentals more available. It would get more cars off the streets.

-- Pursue the plan approved this month by the regional Transportation Planning Board to upgrade bus service. I'm not saying Gier should have taken a bus, but if more people had that option, streets would be less crowded.

Please share your suggestions. Here are a few ideas contributed by readers on our Get There blog:

-- Create separate signals for vehicles and pedestrians at certain intersections. The District used to have some of these downtown. The practice is known in the trade as a Barnes Dance, after Henry Barnes, who popularized a system in which all pedestrians get to use the intersection at the same time, but then they all must wait while the vehicles take their turn. The online commenter suggested 17th Street NW and Constitution Avenue NW as a crowded intersection that would function more efficiently that way.

-- Expand the SmartBike program in the District, especially as a means of reaching Nationals Park.

-- Eliminate half the bus stops. Local authorities can't maintain all those we have now. Having fewer bus stops would also speed up the buses and the following traffic.

Seing Red on Red Line

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I am a strong supporter and backer of the rail system, and do not envy the responsibility that Metro undertakes on a daily basis. However:

On July 18, a Saturday, I contacted Metro customer service twice, to find out whether any track maintenance was being performed on the Red Line between Shady Grove and Gallery Place that evening, because I was going to the Nationals' 7:05 p.m. game. I was advised that no track maintenance was being performed.

When I arrived at Shady Grove at 5:25 p.m. a train was just leaving, so I boarded the next train, at 5:35, expecting it to depart between 5:40 and 5:45 p.m.

The train did not depart until 6:10 p.m., which is 45 minutes between train departures. That meant people were packed like sardines. And, of course, I discovered along the way there was single tracking between Friendship Heights and Grosvenor.

On my return home from the game, I picked up the Red Line at Gallery Place. The empty train arrived between 10:15 and 10:30 p.m.. I would estimate the temperature in my car at 80 to 85 degrees. Many travelers got off before their stop because of the unbearable heat.

On July 19, a Sunday, I went to Shady Grove again to attend the Nationals' 1:35 p.m. game. I arrived at 11:30 a.m. The train did not leave until 12:10 p.m., which meant overcrowding and very warm conditions in many of the cars. I did not arrive at Navy Yard until 1:20 p.m. On my return trip, once again the train that arrived at Gallery Place at 5 p.m. did not have many, if any, air-conditioned cars.

Steve Lewis

North Potomac

Those games were pretty punishing for Nationals fans. They should not have endured such hardship just getting to the stadium and back.

Anyone who said there wouldn't be track work that weekend was incorrect. Maintenance work was scheduled on every line but the Green Line, which takes riders to Navy Yard Station, the closest to Nationals Park. Although that station can get very crowded, many of the complaints I get about game travel come from riders on the other lines. Almost every weekend, Metro operates an extensive maintenance program.

Usually, the transit authority recommends adding at least a half-hour to normal travel times, and many riders report longer delays. On the Red Line, workers were replacing rails and making tunnel repairs between Grosvenor and Friendship Heights.

Dr. Gridlock also appears Sundays in the Metro section. Comments and questions are welcome and may be used in a column, along with the writer's name and home community. Personal responses are not always possible. To contact Dr. Gridlock:

By mail: Write to Dr. Gridlock at The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071

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