Dr. Gridlock

Ron Shaffer
All Things Traffic and Transportation
Monday, February 27, 2006; 1:00 PM

Since 1986, Ron Shaffer, better known as Dr. Gridlock, writes his column for The Washington Post, Dr. Gridlock Column. In it he tracks the region's traffic woes, finds the correct officials to answer drivers' questions and responds to some of the hundreds of letters he receives each month. He describes himself as "the Ann Landers of commuters."

Dr. Gridlock was online Monday, Feb. 27, at 1 p.m. ET.

Dr. Gridlock appears Sunday in the Metro section and Thursday in Extra. You can write to him at 1150 15th St., NW, Washington, D.C. 20071. He prefers to receive e-mail, at drgridlock@washpost.com , or faxes, at 703-352-3908. Please include your full name, town, county and day and evening phone numbers. If you included your name when submitting a question or comment to this discussion, your question may appear in an upcoming column, and may have been published in this discussion.

A transcript follows.


Dr. Gridlock: Hello, folks. Welcome to another online chat with Dr. Gridlock. If you're wondering the best route for your commute, this might be a good place to ask, as others probably have some suggstions.

Here we go.


Washington, D.C.: Message for Metro if they are reading this: when you buy new rail cars, please have them made without carpet on the floors. The carpet tends to grow mold, and is a big problem for people like me who have allergies and are sensitive to mold.

Dr. Gridlock: I'll mention that...


Annapolis, Md.: My neighborhood is the Mapquest center of the state of Maryland. So, if Mapquest doesn't understand the city, they send you here. So we get a slew of confused car and bus drivers who are trying to find, for instance, Aberdeen Proving Grounds. In the Summer, we get about a driver per day that is WAY off.

Strange thing happened yesterday, that has, after talking to our neighbors, never happened before. We had a lost driver that was confused as to where they were, that actually was going to our neighborhood!! Now, the neighborhood's abuz with this news.

Dr. Gridlock: I've found Mapquest to be inconsistent with its directions.


Fairfax, Va.: Can Metro PLEASE review the platform escalators at Crystal City? In the morning, the only "up" escalator is at the far back end of the station. You'd think there would be more people exiting the platform, going to work in Crystal City, therefore there would be more "up" escalators than down... Also, the turnstiles are reversed to have more entering than exiting. PLEASE?

Dr. Gridlock: Will do.


McLean, Va.: Dr. Gridlock:

To whom at VDOT (or is it Fairfax County?) would I direct questions/complaints about the timing pattern at a traffic signal? In my opinion, the timing at the Tysons Boulevard and Galleria Drive intersection indirectly contributes to the frequent half-mile backups on the 123 South exit ramp off the Beltway every morning.

Dr. Gridlock: Try Mark Hagan, VDOT's traffic signals chief for Northern Virginia, at 703-383-2872. He's one of the good guys...


Burke, Va.: What's the city's policies regarding construction projects taking over public streets? Everyday when I drive into the district I have to negotiate the Columbia Women's Hospital construction traffic and now the new condo building going up across from the Ritz Carleton. Both projects have partitioned off the lanes directly next to their projects, leaving 2 lanes for traffic. However, frequently, they spill-over into these two lanes too with the workers walking in the streets or trucks parked in one of the lanes. This morning in front of the RC, you had to weave between the 2 remaining lanes to avoid the dump trucks lined up in the middle lane and the limo parked in front of the hotel. Who should I file a complaint with?

Dr. Gridlock: Try the city's catch-all complaint number, 202-727-1000. Get a tracking number so you can check back.

It is illegal for construction crews to occupy lanes of traffic for their personal vehicles. Send me a note also that lists specific streets and the impact of construction parking on them...


Falls Church, Va.: I can understand your exasperation with the Virginia Department of Transportation for lots of reasons, but sometimes you seem to go too far, bashing them for things not even true.

Yesterday, in your column, you said: "Here, we get one sign, no mileage and at the point of exit, a single, sad sign that says, 'Exit.' Thank you very much."

What road in Virginia is this true? It can't be the Capital Beltway, where I frequently see a list of upcoming exits. I'll name two places right now where VDOT has the standard Interstate "Next 3 Exits" List. Inner Loop Beltway between I-395 and Braddock Rd, there's such a sign giving the distance to Braddock Rd, Little Rvr Tpke and Gallows Rd. That sign has existed even before the Mixing Bowl project. On the other side, on the Outer Loop to Alexandria, there's a sign before Eisenhower Ave.

Even on I-66 inside the Beltway, a lightly signed road of there ever was one, for every exit there's a big overhead sign placed one mile away allerting you of the exit, and then one more right at the exit, in addition to the little "Exit ->" on the side of the road.

If VDOT shrugs whenever you call them, it may be because you're describing problems that aren't there, or aren't as widespread as you describe.

washingtonpost.com: Work at Home; Leave the Traffic to Others (Post, Feb. 26)

Dr. Gridlock: The areas you cite are exceptions. Most of the time, there are NOT the next three exits signed, and there is NOT a big sign at the exit telling us what the exit is.

PS--Re I-66, inbound, inside the Beltway, note the exit sign for Route 7/Falls Church does not mention Route 7/Tysons Corner) which is also at the same exit...


Cathedral Heights, Washington, D.C.: Dear Doctor - In last Thursday's District Weekly you asked about experiences with online vehicle registration in D.C. For the past four years I've renewed both of my vehicles' registration online and the process has been flawless every time. I generally receive my new sticker in the mail within one week. No credit card or website functionality problems either. I've lived in D.C. for 25 years and remember when mail renewal wasn't even an option; you had no choice but to go downtown. Believe me, online renewal is the ONLY way to go. The District gets bashed a lot, some of it deserved, but its Web site is excellent.

Dr. Gridlock: Good to hear. What is the website?


Silver Spring, Md.: What is the status of the Route 29/Randolph Road intersection? Any idea when it will be finished? Right now there are all kinds of near-misses as people turning on or off these roads have no clear lane markings.

Dr. Gridlock: The Route 29 interchange with Randolph Road/Cherry Hill Road was finished last December 16, according to highway department spokesman Chuck Gischlar. He said the lane markings should have been completed. He is looking into your complaint.

PS--The last Route 29 interchange being built in Montgomery County is at Briggs Chaney Road. It is scheduled for completion in the Fall of 2007.


Vienna, Va. Is there a time frame in which the VA Dept of Transportation or whoever responsible to fix road signs and guard rails must fix broken things. For example, a guard rail on Idylwood Rd, at one end of the 495 overpass, has a severely damaged guardrail that has not been fixed for at leat 3 months. The next person going off the road there probably would be able to drive down and into the beltway because about 8 feet of guardrail is destroyed.

Also, at the intersection of Idylwood and Rt. 7, a sign on an island on R7. 7 has been down for a few weeks but no fix. Further, not too long ago, a stop sign off Idylwood was missing for at least 2 months before it was replaced. Whom should a concerned citizen call to before someone gets hurt because of broken highway things?

On the positive side, VDOT widened part of RT. 7 and Idyllwood Rd that leads to Rt.66. This improvement saves me about 3 minutes during my morning commute. Thanks, VDOT. Thx.

Dr. Gridlock: My experience with VDOT and signs is that the agency places a low priority on them. You might report your problem by calling 703-383-VDOT...


Fairfax, Va.: Dr. Gridlock,

I am SICK and TIRED of various types of debris flying from dump trucks and hitting my vehicle during my morning commute (outer loop from I-66 to Alexandria). Have you heard similar complaints from others? I think most of the trucks are probably involved with the Wilson Bridge project, but I'm not sure. Are there laws to prevent this type of problem. Should I call the State Police?


William Gonzales

Dr. Gridlock: There are laws in all three jurisdictions requiring truckers to cover their loads. Problem is, gravel and other debris leaks out between the tarp and the truck. You can dial #77 to report a problem. Let me know what happens...


Fairfax, Va.: Dear Dr. Gridlock, I was on 66 the other day trying to get past a bad crash. The mangled car was actually perched on top of the jersey wall in full view of both eastbound and westbound drivers, which immediately made traffic grind to a halt in both directions. I had a thought: why don't police carry a tarp or sheet that they could simply throw over the car to cut down on the rubbernecking? Seems like an easy solution for certain crashes.

Dr. Gridlock: That seems like a good idea. I recall when Bill Cosby's son was murdered by his vehicle, police strung a sheet around the vehicle so rubberneckers could not see, I'll ask police here why they won't do it.


Arlington, Va.: I need to rant about metro today. For some reason they were running trains only every 7-8 minutes on the Orange line this morning. So by the time a train arrived in Ballston it was already packed. I had to wait at least 30 minutes before I could get on a train. You would think that by now they would now how to get the trains running on some sort of sensible schedule! And why do escalators that were just overhauled seem to break down within a week or two? At King Street they spent months and months rebuilding the two escalators. Now that they have finally been put back into service one of them is already shut down.

Dr. Gridlock: I wonder if those trains were eight-car trains, which can carry more people,but run less frequently.

It should be comforting to know that the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors wants to railroad 13 new highrise buildings over the Vienna Metro station, meaning you folks closer in will not get a seat (or get aboard).


Greenbelt, Md.: In a recent column, a writer complained about not knowing that Smart Trip cards are required for parking on weekdays at the Greenbelt Metro. This is somewhat suprising to me. There is a large sign at the entrance to the parking lot which states "No cash, a Smart Trip Card is required for parking at this station". There is also a huge red and white sign in the metro station itself and there is frequently another sign outside the station. It should come as no surprise to either tourists or those who go downtown for Nats games or events at the MCI center during the week that you must have a Smart Trip Card. If there is any confusion, or if a Metro rider needs help, the station attendants at Greenbelt are excellent. Please help to spread the word. Us regular commuters don't have much sympathy for those who drive to the exit and then whine that "I didn't know..."

Dr. Gridlock: Could be confused tourists, or those who seldom use the system. But I agree, seems like the parking is well signed already...


Rockville, Md.: Ron:

What questions are you really tired of hearing? What attitudes would you change if you could?

Dr. Gridlock: Driving at 55 mph in the left lane (always prompts outrage). change of attitude: more consideration for other drivers. Let someone merge in front of you.


Bowie, Md.: In Sunday's metro column, a few writers complained about why people aren't telecommuting instead of driving to work everyday and instead clogging the roads. One person bragged about walking over to her computer in her PJ's.

Do these people not comprehend that this is the Washington DC area where there are tons of people who work in the military, the federal government, and for goverment contractors. A lot of us hold security clearances which require us to physically be at work due to the criticality and sensitive nature of our jobs. Excuse me while I work to protect this country so that you can be in your warm PJ's thank you very much.

Dr. Gridlock: A lot of people work on computers. They would seem to be good candidates for working at home.


Bethesda, Md.: I have traveled to many countries and driven across many roads in my time. The one thing that always stikes me as I'm driving through third world countries is their roads are on par with the District of Columbia. How is it that DC cannot maintain their roads any better than third world countries? It's a discrace to be called the Nation's Capital yet have roads that befit a banana republic.

Dr. Gridlock: I'm just guessing here: perhaps the state of D.C. roads reflects the priority the city places on roads, which are heavily used by commuters.

Too bad, though. You'd expect more from a world capital.


Washington, D.C.: In regards to Metro's braking system not being able to line up in the same place each time when stopping...how about painting a line on the wall (ceiling, or wherever) that says to the driver (STOP HERE). That's how many drivers do it in their garage at home. Or I guess they could try the tennis ball hitting the windshield trick, though this may not be viable w/Metro trains.

Dr. Gridlock: They can't stop in the same place. That's what I've been told. Perhaps it is the momentum of six car trains coming to a stop.


Kingstowne, Va.: I don't believe I'll be able to get online during the actual chat today so I'm submitting early. I haven't seen any reports in the local media about whether the new I-95 North flyover bridge in Springfield has made a difference in the traffic through there. Have you seen any sort of information on that? I know the southbound bridge made a HUGE difference, for the better, on the Beltway, and I'm curious whether the northbound bridge has had a similar positive effect on I-95.

Dr. Gridlock: I have heard it has made a difference. Anyone out there have experience?


Alexandria, Va.: The Springfield Interchange project I think is going very well. It is so much easier to get through there now than it was 3 years ago. But I do have an issue.

On the Outer Loop of the Beltway, there used to be a lane shift to the left after you go over the railroad bridge approaching Van Dorn. Ever since the new ramp from I-95 N opened (merging on the left side of the Outer Loop), the lane shift no longer occurs. However, the reflectors in the road are still there. Who can get rid of those things?

Dr. Gridlock: Call Steve Titunik, information officer for the Interchange. He is good to get back to people. His number is 703 383 2530.


Washington, D.C.: Hi Dr Gridlock,

This may be an odd question/comment for this forum, but I can't think of anywhere else to discuss it. After driving a 1994 Toyota 4-Runner for over 10 years, I finally got a new car - a new Landrover LR3. I live on a farm part-time, and have a true need for an SUV, to get that out of the way. I have had the LR3 for 3 months now. In that time, I have received 5 car-door dings, 3 unexplained scratches on the doors - they look like a quick keying basically, 3 bumps into the front bumper that have cut the plastic - with an exhaust pipe, I am assuming, and, this weekend, a dent in the rear left panel, basically looks like someone trying to park banged into it. No notes or apologies on any of these marks. I don't park in tight spaces, I try to park out of the way in parking lots, and I don't parallel park very often. With my 4-runner, I recived 3 such marks in the entire 12 years that I have been driving it, and 2 came with notes on my windshield. My question is, what is the deal? Is it that people don't care because they think that I can afford the damage, since I could afford the car? Do people just not care, because it is an SUV (so is the 4-runner, no such problems)? Do people just not care, because that is how things are these days? I am bewildered. I am not a wealthy person, this car was a major treat. I am a nice person, I don't snake other people's spaces, I let people cross at crosswalks, I am always cognizant of not parking my larger car next to a small car where I might impede its view. I also have a small, ancient sedan that I drive, as well, with better gas mileage. I just wonder what it is that makes people think it is ok to damage someone's property and not take responsibility for it. I would appreciate opinions on this.

Dr. Gridlock: I got keyed on an older and a newer car. Sounds like vandalism. Other comments?


Alexandria, Va: My drive in the morning takes me from 395 to New York Ave to 295 in the morning and then the reverse in the afternoon. During the past two or three weeks New York Ave has gotten much worse in the afternoon compared to just a few weeks ago. In the afternoon the backup on New York Ave heading towards 395 started around Capital Street, but now it's starting all the way back up the hill near the speed camera. Does anyone have a clue of what is going on? I am afraid to do the 295 to the Howard Street U-turn due to traffic in that direction, but I am getting tired of just sitting on New York Ave. Thanks

Dr. Gridlock: You might try I-295 to East Capitol Street to Constitution Avenue, or the Howard Road/Downtown exit from 295 acoss the South Capitol Street Bridge to I-395 south (it's not a U-Turn). I'd exclude New York Avenue from my commute, if possible..


re: Metro trains stopping at the same place: Actually, there are signs that tell drivers where to try to stop, but they aren't really visible from the platforms. The signs hang below the platform where the drivers shouldn't have any trouble seeing them.

I'm not convinced that it's even a good idea to be able to stop at the same place every time. You'll just get people crowding directly in front of the doors, making it even tougher for people to get out of trains. In my opinion, there are MUCH bigger problems with Metro than where the trains stop in each station.

Dr. Gridlock: The goal would be to stop at the same place--a marked platform--so passengers can file on and off the trains, single file, and in an orderly, polite way.. That's how it works on BART in San Francisco, I'm told...


Re: Metro braking system: With the advent of 8-car trains, won't the metro drivers HAVE to stop precisely? I thought that many stations barely had room to fit the 8-car configuration. If such is the case, creating load and unload zones shouldn't be a problem.

Dr. Gridlock: Good point. Stations can handle an eight car train, --but no more. Last year, trains overshot the platform hundreds of times, so I'm not sure they've worked the braking out yet...


Reston, Va.: Thanks for all you do to make the transportation system is this region a little more bearable. I am writing about the interchange improvements being made along Route 28 between Route 7 and I-66 in VA. Many of the interchanges are complete and one would think traffic flow would also have improved with the elimination of signal lights. Unfortunately, I find the interchange at Route 28 and Waxpool Rd/Church Rd has done only a little to alleviate congestion here. I would have hoped that the transportation engineers could have done a better job in desiging the ramp from North Route 28 to West on Waxpool Rd. This flyover ramp is only one lane (should be at least 2 lanes given the traffic demand) and traffic between 4-7pm backs-up on the left side of Route 28 North approaching this interchange in order to squeeze into the one available lane on the ramp. One of the most crucial parts of this interchange is already failing and the work has only been complete for a few months!

Dr. Gridlock: I have heard that this interchange is no better than what was there. I'd like to hear from more people, including specific problems...


Silver Spring, Md.: I have a question about parking. I used to go to Bethesda more, but the parking situation there is insane. Most of the meters are 1-2 hours even on Friday nights. How is one supposed to go to a movie or dinner and not get ticketed? Why can't they stop requiring money in meters after 6 pm on weeknights or make then 3-4 hour meters after 6?

Dr. Gridlock: Parking has been a problem in Bethesda, which is home to so many restaurants. Then the county build some multi=level garages, and I thought that would solve the problem. Having 1-2 hour meters on Friday nights makes no sense.

I'd contact my supervisor's office.


South Riding, Va.: I drive I-66 on a daily basis.

Between Rt 123 and US 50, the Green Arrow lane ends and becomes a regular lane. At the same basic point is a sign for the US 50 exit and an Emergency Pull Over lane. I can almost guarantee that each week I will see one or two drivers pull into the Emergency lane thinking they are getting into the Exit for 50. Is there anything that VDOT can do to prevent drivers from making this mistake? These drivers are either forced to merge back into the traffic or continue on the shoulder until the exit begins.

Dr. Gridlock: Try alerting VDOT at 703 383 VDOT.


Arlington, Va.: Hi there. I live in Clarendon and I was wondering who to contact to have a stop sign or a speed bump put in? I live on 9th street just off of Washington, and this street has become a cut-through for people who are avoiding turning onto 10th street. It's not the traffic that is a huge problem, but it the speed at which these people race through the neighborhood. They come tearing down the block at 40-50 miles per hour! There are many children on this block and it is residential. It is being treated like a highway. Who can I complain to and have a stop sign or speed bump put in? An accident is bound to happen.

Dr. Gridlock: Try Diana Sun, Director of Communications for the Arlington government, at 703-228-3247 or dsun@arlingtonva.us.

Normally, VDOT handles speed humps, and has criteria for the same, but Arlington handles some of its own transportation.


Falls Church, Va.: Re: The driver of the Land Rover with inexplicable marks and dings. It seems to me that this unfortunate driver may be the victim of envious fellow motorists who take a kind of pleasure in damaging a $40,000 luxury vehicle. While a new Toyota 4Runner of the sort the driver used to drive may not cost much less, the Land Rover might attract more hostility just because of the brand and the perception of wealth and excessiveness associated with it. I'm not justifying the keying of luxury vehicles by any means, but there are lots of nasty people out there who wouldn't think twice about it if they can get away with it. Hostility like that might me more apparent in rural areas (where this person lives part-time, it seems), where there are fewer luxury cars and the gap between the haves and have-nots may be greater. This person might want to consider getting a Ford Explorer or similar domestic 4X4.

Dr. Gridlock: Or, just let it collect dents. At some point it will no longer be an attraction. Sad...


Reston, Va.: Dear Dr. Gridlock -- Seven years ago I made a unique decision to move close to my work. for the last seven years, I've enjoyed a 1.9 mile commute to work with virtually no traffic. I listen to traffic reports on WTOP radio every morning to remind me why I made the decision. Life is so much better when you have a short commute.

Happy Monday!

Dr. Gridlock: You've won the game of life...


Silver Spring, Md.: STOP HERE lines.

Actually MetroRail stations do have indicators showing where trains of different length are targeted to stop. They are small green signs with white number (2, 4,6) that hang under the platforms, and on some fences at above ground stations, depending on the configuration (center platform vs side platforms). I'm sure 8 car trains would just not worry as long as the front of the train does not overshoot the end of the station.

These are for reference when the trains are run manually. As for the automated system, when it works well, thing go fine. When it is out of service it can be hard to stop a trian a dime.

Dr. Gridlock: thanks.


Silver Spring, Md.: I can tell you from personal experience that the intersection of RT 29 and Randolph road is like a free for all. There are lane markings but there are so many lanes, lights and ways to go that it is VERY confusing.

Dr. Gridlock: Maryland Highway administration spokesman Chuck Gischlar says the state plans to adjust lane lines there in the next month.


McLean, Va. - Door Dings: I can feel for the person who has received a ton of door dings, scratches and dents recently. I don't think it's an SUV thing. I drive an Altima - and in the year that I have owned it, I have been dinged numerous times. At least 3 times on my left rear door, and 3-4 times on my right rear door. It's horrible! I think that people are just careless, or it's their kids, or something... but I agree that it's awful. Perhaps it's our penality for living in such a heavily congested area?

Dr. Gridlock: Sad.


Washington, D.C.: Any idea what the enforcement rate is on cellphone use while driving in DC? I see so many cars in my daily (walking) commute where the driver is on their phone. Most of the cars seem to be from MD. I wonder how many people have been ticketed for this.

Dr. Gridlock: Over the last year, the city has issued several thousand tickets for driving with a hand-held phone, according to a police department spokesman. Still, violations of the law are rampant, according to observers.


Judiciary Square, Washington, D.C.: Dr.Gridlock,

I too am irritated by folks who insist on forcing their way onto a METRO train before the folks on the train can get off, but I think METRO is at fault. Too often I have seen the train doors close before the folks on the platform can get on. If you have this happen to you a couple of times, you might be tempted to get on as fast as you can regardless of whether everyone who is trying to get off does so. This is most prevelant at the transfer stops like Metro Center and Gallery Place. Shouldn't train operaters make sure that every one who can gets on the train before closing the doors?

Dr. Gridlock: Apparently they can't do that and make their schedule. The chaotic system" we have now allows for the least number of people to get on and off.


CLifton, Va.: Reston Do you know your 1.9 mile commute in your car is tougher on your car then my 20 mile commute from Clifton, VA to Ballston, VA. Your car never warms up in the winter and never burns off the condesation that forms in the engine and exhaust system. Also the fluid in your transmission and differential never reaches operating temp. The oil in your engine never reaches operating temp either to do its job. Why don't you bike or walk the 2.0 miles?

Dr. Gridlock: This is over my head...


Re: Re: Metro braking system: It's worth mentioning that Metro trains' brakes are computer controlled when they pull into a station. It's not the drivers' faults; they're the ones who have to correct the computers' stopping mistakes. It would seem to me that if they installed more advanced computers on Metro trains, precise stopping at stations would be possible.

Dr. Gridlock: Thanks for the tip.


Metro Media Relations, Washington, D.C.: In response to Arlington, VA., riders traveling on the Orange Line encountered delays in both directions this morning as a six-car Vienna bound train experienced a brake problem at the Minnesota Avenue Metrorail station before 7 a.m. As a result of the mechanical problem, a second train was used to push the first train off the main line. Both trains were removed from service. To Arlington VA., we apologize for the inconvenience. Furthermore, we will also check on the issues raised in this chat regarding escalators at Crystal City and King Street. Thank you for bringing this to our attention. Steven Taubenkibel, Metro Media Relations

Dr. Gridlock: Thank you Steven. Here were some more questions: Why can't ADDFARE machines be put on station platforms so waiting passengers can take care of the fare, and why not have alll 7 car trains instead of some six-and some-eight car trains.


Silver Spring, Md.: The drivers don't stop the trains themselves. It is done automatically. Current Metro brakies aren't precisely controlled enough to stop on a 3-inch-wide stripe. Bart's brakes are.

Dr. Gridlock: thanks


Arlington, Va.: Ok, so what's the answer to our transportation woes? The Vienna West development is going to put more people on Metro; would you rather they be on the roads? Of course, the could try and build the development in closer, but very few would be able to afford the housing. Not build so much housing? Great for me (close-in condo) but lousy for anyone trying to buy into the market.

Dr. Gridlock: Inhabitants of this new development will be using both roads and Metro, and folks in Arlington will have a tough time getting a seat.

What if we operated the MCI Center and booked Paul McCartney? The event would sell out. So, should we sell another 100,000 tickets to the event? That's what Fairfax supervisors are doing at Vienna West. They just don't know (or care) that their transportation capacity is already full.


Centreville, Va.: I've written in before with this issue and finally have some links to hopefully make my point. The issue is the I-66 exit 52 off ramp for 29, Centreville. Google Maps link

On even moderate traffic days, in the evening this ramp backs up almost on to 66. This is due to right turning drivers waiting until there is a complete break in traffic instead of using the existing acceleration lane. Rte 29 South is heavily congested at rush hour and so breaks large enough to merge directly into through lanes from a standing start are few and far between.

If you look at the above link, you'll see a clear 3rd lane available for right turning drivers that isn't a through travel lane for Rte 29 South. If more drivers would use this lane to match traffic and merge, the back up on the ramp would be much much less.

Can VDOT 'force' drivers to the acceleration lane via solid white lines and/or posted reflectors? Since by the existing signs drivers are not allowed to go straight this shouldn't impact anyone.

Thanks, Rob Pixley, Centreville, VA

Dr. Gridlock: Seems to me you have a double-weave, traffic merging right to exit at O'Day, and traffic in the O'Day dedicated lane trying to merge left to go through. Seems like all this merging might lead to more congestion. I'd like to hear from others.


Reston, Va.: I've noted you haven't talked too much about the hybrid/HOV debate of late, and I have to say I am surprised about the position of some of your colleagues who have writen about it. I don't understand why carpoolers think they have the only solution to the dual problem of congestion and emissions, or that those lanes should exclusively belong to them. So they now have to share the road with others who are taking another approach to the problem. Now there is not just a behavioral solution, there's also a technological one. Unlike folks who work for the government, some of us private industry folks don't have the luxury of regular 9-5 schedules - somedays we have to be in at 9, some days 7:45; somedays we can leave at 5, sometimes 8:30. These people are just selfish.

Dr. Gridlock: Not sure there is a question there. I'll just post your comments.


All about the dings: Part of the problem may be that places are making parking spaces smaller while vehicles are wider.

Dr. Gridlock: thanks.


Gaithersburg, Md.: I used to commute from Gaithersburg to Rockville (roughly 3 miles). Walk to work! That's funny! I would have had to cross several busy intersections and walk in places with little or no sidewalk. Even if you do live close by, you can't always walk to work. I didn't mind that my car wasn't always warmed up until I got to the office, and I'd trade it for my commute now: Gaithersburg to Alexandria (company layoffs caused me take a job where I have to commute). However, I carpool so it's not completely horrible. I was certainly spoiled by my short commute. Now I'm just part of the DC ratrace.

Dr. Gridlock: Walking becomes harder because our jurisdictions don't have sidewalk systems. That needs to be fixed.


Re: Door Dings: Part of the problem is that parking spaces have been shrinking over the years to increase capacity; I park at UMd at the spots are tiny and leave very little room for poor/lazy parkers. I think most keying/dings are accidents or malicious, but they might be sending people a message that they've parked too close to the car next to them. How many times have you come out of store and could barely open your car door because someone parked two inches away from you?

Dr. Gridlock: Thanks


Regular government hours??: For the writer who stated that govt employees have regular hours - that is so not true. Not only do we have to work irregular hours (hm - some days in at 6 and others in at 6:30 - some days we go home at 6 and others at 8) but we also have to travel from one place to another during the course of the day - frequently without compensation for either the time or gas/parking.

Dr. Gridlock: Not sure what you are referring to...


Foggy Bottom, Washington, D.C.: Dr. Gridlock, can you please suggest the best way to get from Foggy Bottom (near the Kennedy Center) to the Beltway and 95 North? I have tried taking surface streets to eventually end up at 16th Street, where I get on 495 in Silver Spring, and I've tried getting over to the Anacostia Freeway and getting to 495 via the BW Parkway, but neither of these seems like a good route. I've gotten so hung up in traffic that it takes almost as long to get out of the District as it does to drive through the whole state of Maryland.

Thanks for the suggestions!

Dr. Gridlock: Here's one route: Take Constitution Avenue over the Roosevelt Bridge, onto I-66,to the Beltway north. Minimal time in the city that way...


RE: Waxpool and 28: Wow, I completely disagree. The flyover to Waxpool is amazing! Everyone used to clump together in the right lane and it was a total mess. Now, with the flyover connected to the left lane it is a really smooth transition. Of course, I go to work around 6 AM so maybe that helps too, but I do the drive 5 days a week.

Dr. Gridlock: Thaks. A new interchange should be better.


Overcrowding on orange line in a.m.: Part of the problem is that the train stays too long at Vienna (the first stop) and I've been on trains where all the seats fill up at Vienna, with one or two people standing. No wonder people at other stops can't get a seat - or even in the car sometimes.

Dr. Gridlock: thanks


Washington, D.C.: Regarding Metro -- I'm delighted Dan-the-Man is riding Metro to work. Is there a reason that the top management team is not required to do so? Then they, too, could have first-hand knowledge of how the system is working on a day to day basis. Once subjected to the same kinds of delays and information handling, perhaps they'd be more sensitive to customer concerns and complaints. And they'd have first hand experience with which to counter said complaints when they believe things were handled well.

And, regarding your comment to the person in Ballston not being able to board trains at that stop once new apt complexes are built in Fairfax - what about those of us who live IN the District? We already often let trains go by, jam packed, during rush hour. Is there a reasonable way to run a set of trains within the confines of the District in the mornings - eg, start them at Friendship Heights and Foggy Bottom, etc, the first District stops of the different lines? I don't need a seat in the morning, but do need to actually get on the train.


Dr. Gridlock: Good point.


You don't have to wait for METRO: your co-workers Layton & Ginsberg have repeatedly explained that Metro trains are designed so that they must run as pairs of cars. Thus 7 car trains are not possible due to the design of the trains.

Dr. Gridlock: thanks.


RE: I-95 North Flyover Bridge: The backup has all but disappeared during morning rush hour to get onto 95/395 from Old Keene Mill Road.

Dr. Gridlock: Good to hear. Can't wait to hear about travel when the bridge ices over...


Bethesda, Md.: For the person who can't find parking at night in Bethesda: You can park in a county lot. There are over a dozen of them in downtown Bethesda, and they have meters that last up to 9 hours.

Dr. Gridlock: Thanks. Can you mention the location of one or two?


Ashurn, Va.: My questions refers to carpooling options for the extreme long distance commute.

I will soon be moving just north of Matinsburg, WV and am looking for commuting options; such as car pooling, to make the long drive to the Dulles area easier (maybe eve less boring).

I have done some internet research without success. Everything seems to go to downtown Washington. Any ideas or known options would be greatly appreciated.

Dr. Gridlock: Try calling 1-800-745-RIDE, which is a free, governmental matchmaking service for car pools...


For the Land Rover(?) driver: Ugh, ignore the classist person from Fairfax, please. I doubt that people are targeting you because you have an SUV. Please don't turn into one of those SUV drivers who think the rest of us are all envious of your car (some of us may be, sure, but people also envy others' big homes, and you don't see the same type of property damage going on there).

Most likely, you're the victim of the growing numbers of generally inconsiderate folks out there. Like the good Doctor, I've driven both fancy-new and old cars, and both get dinged. Folks never leave a note. People aren't seeking you out to ding your car--stuff happens, and more and more people will drive off if they think they can get away with it.

Dr. Gridlock: thanks.


Damage to cars: My current car (almost five years old and a Toyota) hasn't sustained a lot of damage -- 2 dings and one big incident (my mom backed into my driver side!).

But my old car used to get damaged or vandalized all the time. It was a 10 year old Dodge Omni, and by the time it died, it had more dings than I could count, a major dent on the hood, I was sideswiped three times, and one time I came out from Montgomery Mall and saw a minivan driven by a typical suburban mom back into my car and then take off. Nobody ever stopped or left a note.

I've only been in one accident ever, and it was in that car. I was stopped at a red light and got hit by a drunk driver. But my car looked like it had been through battle.

Dr. Gridlock: I generally buy a car new and then drive it until it gives out. Along the way, I pick up all kinds of dings and dents--and don't get them fixed. That way, I don't worry about them...


Bad Directions from Foggy Bottom,: Hey Doc,

You've essentially told the Foggy Bottom driver to go get in the back of the line to get to I-95 North. You suggested going WEST from the city and sit in Inner Loop traffic all the way to College Park.

I would suggest the opposite direction. Maybe straightlining EAST, along East Capitol to the Beltway could work. It's doubtful though since anywhere out of the city and up 95 is going to be congested.

Dr. Gridlock: Sorry I didn't make that clear: From I-66 head to the Wilson Bridge. I don't route people into Montgomery County because congestion is so much greater there.

Also, the reader wanted to eliminate travel in the District, and this is one way to do it...East Capitol Street, New York Avenue, Pennslvania Avenue--these are not ways to avoid city congestion...


Seven-car trains: Metro cannot have seven-car trains because the cars come in married pairs. This is common on many major transit systems, including many generations of cars in New York. The necessary electronics are in one of the two cars in each pair. While you can swap one car in a pair for another car, you can't operate half of a pair without another car to go with it. Take a look at the paint schemes at the ends of the cars the next time you ride Metro and you'll see what I'm getting at--the red, white, and blue striping is only at one end (the end where the train operator sits), and the other end looks different.

Dr. Gridlock: thank you.


Movin' on up...: Or so they tell me.

I'm moving to the area this Spring. Got any tips for the conversion from small town to big city driving? This is going to be quite a change.

Dr. Gridlock: Yes. You need to tell me where you'll be living and working. We can go from there.


For the Bethesda Parker: Here's a link that lists the MoCo parking garages in Bethesda

Dr. Gridlock: Thank you so much!!!


Metro Media Relations, Washington, D.C.: Dr. Gridlock, in response to your questions, all Metrorail rail cars come in married pairs. That's why we operate four, six, and eight-car trains. You will never see a seven-car train in service. As for the Addfare machines, all of those machines are located on the mezzanine levels in our stations. Addfare machines are not on station platforms due to space restrictions. We need to provide as much platform space to our passengers. Also, by having the Addfare machines on the mezzanines, if a passenger has a question or issue with a fare, he/she can walk one or two steps to the station manager for assistance. Steven Taubenkibel, Metro Media Relations.

Dr. Gridlock: Thank you Steven!!


Alexandria, Va.: Why are there no machines to add money to one's smart trip card on the platform to allow use while waiting for a train?

Dr. Gridlock: A Metro spokesman just answered that. It's need for space on the platforms...


Arlington, Va.: To the owner of the new Landrover: Maybe back in 1994, when your 4-runner was new, people didn't hate SUVs so much. They didn't seem to be everywhere, and there weren't that many of them. So, no one vandalized it. More recently, people might recognize it to be an older SUV, and so they might not vandalize it if they think the owner can't afford to get something new. But the Landrover is flashy, new, and bought at a time SUVs are reviled. I'm not surprised that it's been dinged and dented. Sorry it's been happening, but that's my theory.

Dr. Gridlock: thanks.


McLean, Va.: I just came back from Costa Rica last week. For those of you who want to compare driving here to a third world countries need to visit one. At least the potholes are patched here, there are highways to go on even if congested, and trains still carry commerce here . . .

Dr. Gridlock: Should I scratch Costa Rico from my possible retirement destinations?


RE: Metro braking: With regards to getting trains to stop in the same place every time, isn't the problem with the brakes themselves? I seem to recall White saying that, that a system like BART which can stop in the same place every time has a better, more precise braking system. So the fix here is to install better brakes with all the money that Metro has. (That's meant to be sarcastic.) At this point, I just rather they ran the trains on time -- the orange line was delayed this morning, as was the red line, doubling my commute from 30 minutes to an hour from East Falls Church to Gallery place.

Dr. Gridlock: Yes, I think you have the explanation correct.


Herndon, Va.: Dr. G: The work on the TR Bridge appears to have started, although right now it seems to be going on outside of the rush hour. What exactly is being done, how long will it take, and will it mean one less lane east/west during rush hour?

Steve Halter, Herndon, Fairfax

Dr. Gridlock: The city is redecking the Roosevelt Bridge. Some holes in the bridge are such that you can see the Potomac River down below. The work will take all this year, and will mean the end of the reversible lanes. The work is expected to take one or two lanes. I'd see how this goes, and consider alternate commuting routes.


Exits without warning: I know this is WAY out of your jurisdiction as an example of other places where the signage is less than adequate: driving north on I 287 (speed limit 65)you get 3/4 of a mile notice of the exit to I-684 E. If you aren't in the right lane you are not getting over at that rate of speed.

Dr. Gridlock: Who knows what city/state this refers to?


RE: Waxpool and 28: I was the original poster on the Route 28/Waxpool thread. The responder notes smooth sailing in the mornings at 6AM but this is not where the problem lies. Traffic from Waxpool to go south on 28 moves freely because that ramp is two lanes wide. The flyover ramp is no good though in the middle of evening rushhour; 28 north is a parking lot from the Toll Rd to this new interchange. Yes, part of the gridlock is because of the signalized intersection at Sterling Blvd. (I can't wait for that interchange to be complete.) But the snarls continue for a few more miles especially on the left side with all the traffic trying to get to Waxpool Rd. headed west. Some good in all this: The widening of Waxpool Rd. from Route 28 to Loudoun Co Pkwy is a great success. The four lanes, then reducing to three, going west from Route 28 are a big help.

Dr. Gridlock: thanks.


For "Movin' on up": How to make a small-town driver seem like a DC native:

a-- Lose all manners immediately.

b-- Forget that your turn indicators exist. You must not use them in the DC area.

c-- Exercise your middle fingers. You will need them.

d-- Headlights are not to be turned on at night, or in the rain, or in the snow. They exist only for purposes of high-beaming drivers who annoy you.

e-- If you like to drive the speed limit, you must camp in the left lane, then apply rule C, above, when people become upset with you.

OK, in all seriousness, people driving without headlights have become a HUGE problem around here. I commute down I-395 to the Beltway each night and I always see at least four vehicles with no lights.

Dr. Gridlock: thanks for the tips. Unfortunately, they ring true...


Addfare machines: If I remember rightly (haven't used one in a while...) Addfare machines are designed to allow you to top up the card to the exact amount you need to exit the current station. They don't allow you to add more money than that to the card. Since a "waiting passenger" isn't AT his exiting station, an Addfare machine wouldn't know how much to charge.

Dr. Gridlock: sounds like a point.


Courthouse: I hope you're joking about those highrises over Vienna! Because if you aren't, I will have to start driving into work. The Orange line should be renamed "the line for those who live in Vienna," because there isn't room for anyone else! If only Metro had express lanes . . .

Dr. Gridlock: The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors wants to build these 13 highrises at Vienna regardless of how crowded the Orange Line is now. Clearly they haven't consulted Arlington residents...


Merging Manners, Md.: Dr.Gridlock,

I usually agree with you about letting people merge, and try to be considerate. Then the other morning, while trying to enter the outer loop from MD Route 50 westbound, there was a huge backup, maybe a mile or more long. So I get in line to take the exit, and watched dozens of cars race up the left side then stop and try to push into the exit lane. This made my blood boil a little bit, as they weren't merely using all available lanes, but just trying to avoid the wait. Then on the exit, there are two lanes, where one proceeds to the beltway, and the other goes to New Carollton, and the lanes are very clearly marked. Again, people were trying to avoid the wait by using the off lane to cut ahead. The person in front of me let at least 15 people cut ahead of her.

Why do people try to cut into traffic like this? Where does the sense of entitlement come from? Why do I have to be polite and let them in? For the entire 15 minutes that I sat in that wait, I think I only let 1 person cut in front of me. I was a little ashamed of my pettiness, but still perplexed about why everyone didn't just wait for their turn.

Dr. Gridlock: The problem is that there are no established rules. The "zipper" method--where motorists use both lanes and take turns at the point of merge" is a better way, but people in our culture don't understand it. So we have chaos, the most stress and the least efficient way of merging traffic...


Re: Orange Line Today: The chatter with orange line issue was correct about today'c commute - it was awful. I come in from Vienna and actually saw a 4-car train make a run at about 8:25, followed by a 6-car train -- both exceedingly full. Eight-car trains? Only once in a blue moon...

Dr. Gridlock: thanks


College Park, Md.: I'm sorry, but I think you missed Bowie's point. It doesn't matter if you're working with a computer. If you work with classified material, you can only work on it in a classified area. The federal gov't is not going to pay for classified offices in our homes. We have no choice but to go to our duty stations.

Dr. Gridlock: Thanks. I wonder what percentage of the federal workforce must work on classified documents from a classified workspace?


Still Bad directions: The Wilson Bridge back up is really no better.

Dr. Gridlock: Depends on time of day, no?


Addfare machines: That was the only way I could think of to refer to them. What I want to be able to do is to add money to my smart trip card while waiting for a train. Whatever machine is needed to do that, they should have them on the platforms. Space is not even remotely an issue, Metro needs a better explanation.

Dr. Gridlock: Well, we've got Metro's explanation: space and proximity to the station manager...


Dr. Gridlock: Well folks, that will wrap up another online chat with Dr. Gridlock today. Thanks for your questions and patience. I will be on vacation in March, and will resume the online chats on April 10 (although we may squeeze one or two in before then).


Metro West: Thank you for finally putting it in terms that people can relate to. Whoever moves into there will bring their cars with them. And speaking of people living there, no one will be able to afford to do so. No one lives there now -- people are just flipping the current condos into unaffordability.

All it's going to do is put more and more cars on the road -- most of them probably from Prince William and Loudoun.

Dr. Gridlock: I'm a little unclear how the residential development over the Vienna station will attract more motorists from Prince William and Loudoun...


Reston, Va.: Arlington should be given a chance to voice their concern of the development at the Vienna Metro, just like Fairfax residents had a chance to chime in on widening 66 in Arlington.

Turnabout is fairplay.

Dr. Gridlock: Yep. Good point. Last I heard, Fairfax supervisors were not consulting people in Arlington.


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