Dr. Gridlock: New tiles should make traversing Metro platforms easier

Saturday, February 19, 2011; 9:00 PM

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Why, during the construction of the Metro stations, did Metro apparently seek out tiles, that upon contact with a fluid, become as slick as ice?

Every time it rains or snows - and arguably when humidity reaches its peak in summer - the tiles at any of the stations become so slick that they have to be a hazard. While I personally have not eaten it, I can only imagine that people waiting at outdoor stations rushing to make the train home lose their footing on the slick tiles. And this is not strictly limited to the outdoor stations, as at the Pentagon City Station the water gets tracked all the way to the turnstiles, making the entrance pretty slick.

- Gregory J. Redmann, Arlington

The paver tiles that will be used in reconstructing Metro stations such as Shady Grove should give riders a much better chance of staying on their feet. The colored, hexagonal terra cotta tiles that seemed like a good idea when the system was being built have what maintenance staffers describe as an unfavorable "coefficient of friction." The only thing that seems to stick to them is ice.

The slip factor isn't the only problem with the old tiles. They're small and oddly shaped, considering that they cover more than 2.4 million square feet of Metro's platforms and mezzanines. Any rider on an outdoor platform this winter knows that tiles are crumbling and need replacement.

But replacing the tiny things can be difficult. There have been several tile suppliers over Metro's history, and maintenance staffers may not know exactly what type of tile they need to replace till they reach the platform.

The new style addresses those problems. Riders are much more likely to stay upright on the new surface. Also, the tiles are laid down in big, thick squares, which should make maintenance easier.

The transit authority is reluctant to change the basic appearance of the stations. While these new tiles come in big squares, they are embossed with hexagonal shapes, and the color is similar to - but not the same as - the old tiles.

Metro tested the new style at the north end of the Takoma platform, and riders there can easily see the contrast. I think the new version is less attractive than the old tiling when it's in good condition - but these days, it's not in such good condition outdoors.

Paying for each other

Recent transportation policy changes have provoked various debates among travelers about how we pay for our rides. This letter follows up on the extension of higher transit-riding subsidies for federal workers.

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

By your name, you have to be focused more on cars, but if you are going to responsibly discuss transit subsidies, you can't ignore the elephant in the room.

Relating to car transportation, with minimal exception, the "government" pays for the construction of the roads, the maintenance and repair of the roads, the cleaning of the roads in bad weather, and the safe transit of the roads. Society in general pays for the negative effects, such as pollution, created by the road system.

While it does get some money from governments, Metro does not have its construction, maintenance, and so on, fully paid for by the government and its negative effects on society are minimal. Someone who doesn't even own a car still pays a decent amount of money to the road system.

When the government pays for all the above things for Metro, then we can debate the competition between the two and the relatively minimal impacts of the transit system subsidies.

- Charles Crum, Chantilly

It's difficult to untangle all the ways in which we subsidize each other's travels, whether by car or transit. But a new discussion of who gets what and why seems to arise every few weeks. Drivers on the Dulles Toll Road resented this year's toll increase because it would help subsidize construction of the Dulles Metrorail line for transit riders. While transit riders generally welcomed the extension of the federal tax break for transit riding, the decision highlighted the fact that many federal workers get more: They get paid to ride.

Virginia is advancing a plan to improve its transportation system by borrowing against future revenue, rather than raising today's gas tax.

My Thursday column will contain letters from travelers who question whether they, having paid taxes for Virginia highways, should be excluded from either the high-occupancy toll lanes or the high-occupancy vehicle lanes.

Should we continue paying for each other, or pay as we go?

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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