Dr. Gridlock Tackles Your Traffic and Transit Issues

Robert Thomson and Lena Sun
Washington Post Columnist and Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, May 4, 2009; 12:00 PM

Robert Thomson is The Washington Post's Dr. Gridlock. He, along with Washington Post Staff Writer Lena Sun, was online Monday, May 4 at noon ET to diagnose all of your traffic and transit issues.


Robert Thomson: Welcome, travelers. I hope you're getting around all right in this stormy weather, which looks like it will continue for a few days. We have a bunch of questions in the mailbag already. Lots on Metro. Lena H. Sun is looking them over.

Keep all your transit and traffic questions and comments coming.


Capitol Hill: I'm glad to hear the D.C. will be performing much needed work on the 14th Street bridge and finally redesigning the SE-SW Expressway/295 interchange. But scheduling multi-year projects that involve two river crossings into the District at the same time? Don't the PMs share their calendars?

What do you see as viable options for getting between Virginia and D.C. while construction makes a mess of these routes?

Robert Thomson: Capitol Hill, Thanks for helping me highlight this upcoming work. I want to engage travelers here, on the Get There blog and in the newspaper about how we're going to handle the upcoming bridge projects. There's lots to talk about, but here's my basic take:

The 14th Street Bridge rehab, scheduled to start early this month, is going to have the greatest impact on drivers. The northbound span is the one that will be resurfaced. Lanes will be closed off in sequence throughout the year, though four will be open during rush periods. (It's just that the four will be in different places.)

The 11th Street Bridge reconstruction, at the other end of the Southeast-Southwest Freeway, is scheduled to start in August. That's likely to have much less impact on commuters because a new span will be built before an old one is closed down. That one is going to have a really big payoff for thousands of drivers when it's done in 2013.

So the thing you want to be considering now is: Do you have a viable alternative to using the northbound span of the 14th Street Bridge during the rest of 2009?


Fairfax, Va.: I've mentioned this before, but now that trees and shrubs are leafing out, the lack of roadside maintenance in northern VA is even more disturbing. In addition to downed trees, uncut grass, and rampant vines climbing and killing the trees along our roads, the failure to cut back roadside vegetation is causing speed limit and other road signs to be obscured. This is dangerous! Why can't we get some prison work gangs or people with community service requirements working on this??

Robert Thomson: That's likely to be a problem across the region for the next few weeks as the vegetation comes back. In Virginia, you can report such problems by going online to this page on VDOT's Web site. Or call 800-367-ROAD.


Washington, D.C.: Why is there a daily delay on the Red Line for northbound trains at the Takoma Park station?

Robert Thomson: There was for weeks, but there shouldn't be now. Metro spent the weekend before this working on the ground under those tracks, where there was a drainage problem. While Metro prepared to make the fix, it slowed down the trains through that area as a precaution.

I didn't notice the slowdown when I was riding last week. Before that, it was very apparent.


Washington, D.C.: Dr. Gridlock,

You may have covered this already and I missed the posting. Anyway, on 17th St. N.W. between F and G streets, there is a traffic signal that is obscured by construction. So when a pedestrian tries to cross on green, he or she is in for a rude awakening when cars fly right through the crosswalk.

Robert Thomson: I'll take a walk over there. It's not that far. I can alert the District Department of Transportation to the problem.

Above, I gave a contact for when you see road problems like this in Virginia. The equivalent in DC would be phoning the Mayor's Citywide Call Center at 311 or completing a service request online.


Metro Center: Can you please tell me what can be done with Metro rail drivers who barely speak above a whisper or remain silent at stations? I traveled the Blue Line this morning from National Airport to Metro Center and the conductor announced absolutely no stations, no transfer information or reasons why we stopped (about 4 times) in the tunnels. It happens more often than not and is infuriating to me and I would assume confusing to visitors.

Lena Sun: Hi there. It's possible the intercom in your car wasn't working. It's also possible that your train operator wasn't speaking close enough to the microphone. Metro policy calls for operators to make those station announcements and next time this happens, you should file a complaint. Write down the number of the rail car you are in -- they're on the inside and outside of car, time of day, and line and station. That way they can figure out who was operating the train.


Prince George's County: I've noticed that there is a 2:1 advantage for NoVa on the Orange Line going home in the evening: for every one train going towards New Carrollton, at least two going towards Vienna pass through my station. Sometimes three. I mentioned this to a fellow rider and he said that Prince George's County is low-man when it comes to commuting. He asked if I also noticed that all the traffic re-routing that happens during rush hour to speed people to work/home focuses on Montgomery County and NoVa, often to the detriment of Prince George's County residents? Any truth to his theory that Metro pays more attention to getting people home in the supposedly wealthier counties?

Lena Sun: Hi. It can seem that way sometimes, especially if there is a breakdown or problem. There are 31 trains that operate during rush hour on the Orange Line. But take what happened Friday afternoon about 4 p.m. There was a cracked rail in the track at Foggy Bottom, heading toward Prince George's. That meant trains had to slow down in that area, which backed up Orange and Blue line trains in the Rosslyn tunnel.

When that happens, Metro personnel sometimes turn waiting trains around to service the folks who have been waiting but are going in the other direction.


Pacer's 1/2 marathon, Arlington, Va.: Hi Dr. Gridlock -

Any idea if Metro will open early this weekend for the Pacer's Running Festival? The race starts at 8 a.m. on Sunday in Clarendon. Unfortunately, it looks like I'll have to drive from Friendship Heights if Metro doesn't open early, so if that's the case, do you know how the road closures will affect parking/getting to the race?


Lena Sun: No, Metro is not opening early for that. And we don't usually get information about road closures until late in the week. Check Dr. G's Get There blog on Friday. He may know something by then.


Metro Rider, D.C.: Dr. G, the other day I was riding into work on the Red Line. It was a pretty typical morning, no delays but a crowded train. I get on at Shady Grove and off at Metro Center. This particular morning I was sitting in the seats that face into the train, the 'handicapped' seats I guess. I was reading a book as usual, not paying attention to anything around me when a gentleman (I use the term loosely) comes to stand in front of me and the guy sitting next to me to demand which one of us is elderly and which one is disabled.

I realize these seats are priority and have no problem giving them up if requested but it seems this guy was more intent on shaming us for sitting there on our commute then to do anything productive. He certainly didn't want the seats when I offered up mine. The guy next to me was so embarrassed he got up and left. On our way out of the train at Metro Center the same 'gentleman' turned to me, stuck his finger in my face, and said "You're a good example of a bad person."

Dr. G, I'm a 26 year old woman who was just minding her own business on the train trying to get to work. For all he knew I could be pregnant, could be just out of surgery, could suffer a balance disorder that makes standing on a moving car impossible. The point is, don't judge someone for sitting in a seat. If you have need of the seat, just ask and please don't try to make a point in the middle of rush hour, it makes YOU look like a bad person.

Robert Thomson: I think we can separate two issues here. One is the proper use of the priority seats. The other is how to respond to someone who is harassing you on a train.

Over the years, I've noticed some confusion among my travelers about whether those priority seats in the middle of the cars are supposed to be left vacant, or just given up when a person in need asks for them. It's the latter. And a person in need should not hesitate to ask.

That wasn't the situation you faced. Sounds to me like you did the right thing in not getting confrontational. You can stand your ground (or sit) without letting the situation escalate. I wouldn't have done what the man next to you did and given up the seat when no one actually wanted it.

In my Sunday column, I printed a letter about a fight that broke out on a Red Line train and how riders could alert authorities. There are the operator call buttons and intercoms at the ends of the car and in the middle of newer cars. You can also call police at either 911 or at 202-962-2121 (that's Metro transit police).


Washington, D.C.: I'm just curious if Dr. Gridlock or Ms. Sun know which (if any) of our local elected officials are daily, frequent, or even occasional riders of Metro (rail or bus), MARC or VRE? Sometimes, I get the impression that they have no clue how badly these systems work on a daily basis for us working stiffs. Thanks.

Lena Sun: I'm more familiar with the 12 members of the Metro board, which includes several elected officials. Board chair Jim Graham is a D.C. Council Member. He will be the first to acknowledge that he rides the system infrequently. Also in the infrequent category: Michael Brown, another D.C. Council member.

Across the river, however, Chris Zimmerman, an Arlington County board member, Cathy Hudgins and Jeff McKay, both Fairfax County supervisors, are regular transit users. There aren't any elected officials from Maryland on the Metro board, but Maryland board member Peter Benjamin is a frequent rider. [By contrast, alternate Marcell Solomon, who represents Prince George's County and is the only member who receives a salary for Metro service, is believed to be an infrequent user. He has never returned our phone calls to answer this question.]


Cheltenham, Md.: During the review for the bus routes, does anyone from Metro ever ride these buses to 'see' what was needed to trim? Do they ever ride the trains? Perhaps this should be a requirement for working on the board.

Lena Sun: The budget session this year was a marathon one. And very tricky politically. So when the budget gap had been whittled down to about $29 million, Metro asked the jurisdictions to decide whether they would provide Metro more in subsidy or cut bus service. Those lists of bus lines were selected by the individual jurisdictions, and then sent to Metro. I don't know whether the bus folks in Montgomery and PG counties rode the lines. I suspect their information is largely based on ridership data collected by their bus planners.


Washington, D.C.: I wrote in about the daily delay on the Red Line at Takoma. I was making it up. I knew you'd address a delay on the Red Line, even though the Post has ignored the daily rush hour and non-rush delays on the Green Line as a result of the Yellow Line extension to Fort Totten. Why daily delays to Green Line riders to duplicate service for the least-traveled line deserves no coverage, I do not understand. But the Post and Metro seem to think that Red Line delays are more serious than Green Line delays. I'm not getting a discount on my fare for less service.

Robert Thomson: The question about the Red Line delay south of Takoma came up in a previous chat. I asked Metro about it then and printed the news about the slowdown online and in the newspaper, because I thought it would be of interest to many people who use Metro's most traveled line.

Me, I ride all the lines, as do my readers. The Green Line is part of my regular afternoon commute home during rush, when the outbound Yellow Line terminates at Mount Vernon Square.


Washington, D.C.: "Anyway, on 17th St. N.W. between F and G streets, there is a traffic signal that is obscured by construction. So when a pedestrian tries to cross on green, he or she is in for a rude awakening when cars fly right through the crosswalk."

I work a block from this crosswalk/signal.

First, drivers ignore this signal even when not obscured by construction. Such is life of the pedestrian.

Second, the crosswalk is closed due the construction -- as is indicated by the numerous signs. Pedestrians shouldn't be crossing there during the construction.

Robert Thomson: I'm noticing in the mailbag that 17th Street appears to be a sore point with drivers and pedestrians for various reasons.

Washington, thanks for this elaboration about the crosswalk, and I share your concern about the fate of pedestrians -- not just downtown, but all across the region. As I try to psych this out, I suspect that drivers don't get out of their cars enough to experience what pedestrians are up against.


Washington, D.C.: It seems like every week the issue of priority seating comes up. It seems like a few rules would be helpful. I suggest:

1. If you need a priority seat, ask people in that seating area. Do not pick out one person, because you cannot judge whether someone needs the seat. Do not assume people can look at you and determine whether you need the seat. ASK.

2. If there are non-priority seats available, and you do not need priority seating, please sit in the non-priority seats. Though people should ask if they need the seats, it is somewhat embarrassing to announce that you are disabled.

3. If you are in priority seating and asked to give up your seat and you can, please do. I have been refused a seat and had to leave and wait for another bus/train. It is outrageous. I look fine but am not. Trust me, I would not ask for a seat if I did not need one.

4. Please only take the elevator if you need to. Please do not take the elevator just to get a block closer to your destination. It ties up the elevator and increases out of service time due to additional wear and tear. And Metro could help by putting up signs when escalators in a series are out of service. I often take the elevator because I cannot walk stairs and Metro refuses to indicate if subsequent escalators are out of service. So to be safe, I take the elevator.

Robert Thomson: That's really good advice, and I'll find a way to share it with more readers. I liked Point 1 especially, because it makes sense and it hadn't occurred to me to suggest it.

On Point 3: People shouldn't be checking out the physical condition of a standee to decide if they deserve a seat. Just get up when asked. (That doesn't contradict my earlier response. The person in that case wasn't asking for a seat. He was just being combative.)


NOVA: So, what is the real estimate for delays over the 14th Street Bridge? I've heard that it could be 30-45 minutes for over two years. Is that true?

Robert Thomson: I've not been able to get a time estimate so far. This one's a bit different from other construction projects that cause delays.

For example, when the District shut down the South Capitol Street (Douglass) bridge for a makeover, it completely shut the bridge. It was a bit easier to figure out delay times. On the northbound span of the 14th Street Bridge, it will be a question of alternating lane closures over many months. Also: While the entire rehab project on the bridges is scheduled to last for two years, much of the work will be on the structures below the roadways. The lane closings will occur during the project's first year, starting this month.


Cleveland Park, D.C.: Why, oh why, do Metrorail drivers refuse to communicate with passengers when something goes wrong? Last week, I was on a Red Line train coming home from work at about 7:15 p.m. when, pulling into Metro Center, the train only got 2/3 of the way into the station. The driver said, "We'll be moving forward momentarily." Then, for about 20 MINUTES, no more announcements whatsoever as we just sat there. A couple of Metro employees walked back and forth through the cars, opened up a wall panel, opened up something under a seat in another car, kept walking back and forth. Finally after 20 minutes, an unintelligible announcement: "This train will have to be recovered" repeated about 3 times. Then, they opened the doors, and yelled (yes, yelled) at everyone to offload the train. The whole process took about 1/2 an hour. We were never told what had gone wrong, and were treated like cattle. I've stopped writing in to WMATA to complain, because beyond an auto-response acknowledgment, I've never heard back from Metro. Can't Metro employ some employable Metrorail employees? I'm just so fed up with the lack of professionalism!

Lena Sun: Lots of complaints today about poor communication on the train. I know how frustrating it is when that happens, and even more, when the operator lapses into jargon that average riders don't understand. If several minutes have gone by and there is no train announcement, I often push the intercom button and ask the operator to explain what's happening.


Metrola, ND: As I was walking away from the West Falls Church station this morning, I heard an announcement that a station was closed due to a suspicious package.

Any word?

Robert Thomson: That was at Farragut West. One entrance was closed to investigate the package -- pretty standard procedure -- and it was reopened pretty quickly. The entire station was not shut for this one.


RE: Seats for Disabled: I too have been berated (more than once, I might add) for sitting in the priority seats for the disabled on Metro. I'm 28 and appear fit and healthy, but I'm an amputee. It gave me great pleasure to pull my pant leg up a little and show off my prosthetic and shame the individuals that berated me for, evidently, not looking disabled to the naked eye. Disabilities come in all shapes, ages, and sizes.

Lena Sun: Thanks for pointing that out. I think the earlier poster gave some very good common-sense suggestions about the priority seats.


Washington, D.C.: re: Local Electeds riding the MARC/VRE. I know for a fact that some Members of the Maryland Congressional Delegation and their staff ride the MARC train often, if not on a daily basis, and are VERY aware of the MARC issues.

Lena Sun: Thanks. Are you perhaps a staffer for one of them? Also, Rep. Donna Edwards spoke very passionately and eloquently at a public hearing on the Metrobus cuts about her life as a single mom riding the P17 and P19 to work and to day care.


Driving in the city: Okay, I'm a suburbanite and don't drive or walk in the city too often, but I'm also a conservative driver and think I see where some of the problems for pedestrians comes from. I have noticed that a lot of people completely ignore the "stop" lines at traffic lights in their desire to get to "turn on red" So, pedestrians trying to cross with the walk have to either walk around these cars. In addition, many of these drivers don't pay attention to the pedestrians anyway. I also note that when I stop at the line and don't pull out immediately even when there is on-coming traffic, people will ride up on my bumper and honk at me to go. People, you need to chill out more when you're driving in the city.

Robert Thomson: Good advice. Even among people who regularly follow the rules and try to do the right thing -- which I always think is basically the crowd following chats like this -- there are going to be some slip-ups. Somebody's going to be caught stretching across the walkway when pedestrians are trying to get across. A little patience on all sides will help.

Ignore those drivers in line behind you who are honking for you to make a right turn. Don't pull out when it's unsafe and don't try to punish them by holding still when you can go. Just do the right thing.


Silver Spring, Md.: It is FAR more likely that a lack of announcements on a Metrorail car resulted from a broken intercom rather than a silent operator. It's still a good idea to send in a complaint form with the car number, so it can be checked out and repaired if necessary.

Lena Sun: I agree. That way they have a record.


Fairfax, Va.: Your response to the person from PG County complaining about more service to Vienna than to New Carrolton during peak hours failed to make the obvious point that, with the rare exception of trains that get turned back due to service disruptions (and which could affect either direction), every train that services Vienna also services New Carrolton; they are two sides of the same coin.

Lena Sun: Yes, of course. But I figured you Orange Line riders out there should know that.


public transit user 22314: I think it would be an interesting experiment to have the Metro board or others who make public transportation decisions give up using their cars for 1-2 weeks in order to understand the challenges of relying on public transit and the need it serves in order for folks to get from point A-B every day for every destination -- how it takes planning, patience, and persistence -- and what happens when services get cut when folks still have to travel from point A-B.

Lena Sun: I think that is a great idea. I would even settle for just one week.


Silver Spring, Md.: Thank you for explaining why lanes are reduced on the 9th St NE bridge. Looking at the closure of bridges to Virginia, I almost feel petty worrying about my commute over it, but it has increased from an easy 30 minutes in the evening to an hour. The problem is that too much traffic is being funneled onto New York Ave. Might someone look at changing the timing of traffic signals, routing traffic through the industrial area to the NE of the bridge, or even making traffic one way over the bridge and the opposite way on Montana? Most traffic across that bridge is through traffic, and such changes might speed it up.

Robert Thomson: I'll get out there and drive around, so I can understand your suggestions better. Normally, what happens with a project like this is that traffic engineers watch how people adjust and then they adjust the setup. It usually takes a few weeks for things to settle down.


Perhaps this should be a requirement for working on the board.: Why isn't it a requirement? Mandate that anyone on the board has to use the transit service -- bus or train -- at least half the time or something. Or better yet, why can't we make these elected positions? Maybe then service will improve.

Also, if a parking lot exists at Metro headquarters they should immediately build something on it or sell it. EVERYONE working for Metro should use it. Period.

Lena Sun: The parking lot is in the basement of the building. There are some practical challenges for having all employees use it. The station managers and train operators and rail yard supervisors who have to get to work before the system opens in the a.m. have to drive.


Metro confrontations: I disagree Dr. G, I would have done what the man did and gotten up out of my seat, disembarked at the next stop and switched to a different car on the train. I know of people who have been confronted and had pretty horrible experiences afterwards, one who was confronted by someone who turned out to be a scam artist (long and unbelievable story, but trust me it was awful). I think the best thing to do is get away from people like that, as fast as possible.

Robert Thomson: Now, I understand your point here and think it's a good one, so let me fine tune my response. Each situation is at least a bit different, and you've got to engage in some threat assessment to decide what to do next.

There may indeed be situations where your instincts tell you the situation is about to escalate. In that case, you might well want to switch cars at the next station and get on the intercom with the train operator, so nothing bad happens to the other folks you left behind in the other car.


Alexandria, Va.: So because of scheduled track maintenance, Metro's doing single-tracking and turning every other Orange Line train at West Falls Church May 15-17. That's graduation weekend for, at the very least, GWU, GMU, Georgetown, Catholic U, and Gallaudet, and probably more schools I haven't heard about. I guess there's nothing to be done at this point, but really, I have to wonder what Metro's thinking to have delays when the system will be flooded with graduates and their families (who will be guided by their kids, but likely aren't familiar with the system). Argh.

Lena Sun: Unfortunately, in the Washington area, there are special events like that happening every single weekend. But there is so much track maintenance and repair that has to be done that Metro has to make use of the weekend time. Metro does sometimes suspend weekend track work on a few occasions, such as during Cherry Blossom and the inauguration. It's tough all the way around.


Falls Church: Any place we can see what the new SE/SW-295 connection will look like?

Robert Thomson: Check this out for starters. It's a newsletter from the District Department of Transportation about the project, and it has a couple of maps and a cross section of the new setup.

I'm hoping to do a Commuter page about this project on an upcoming Sunday in May in The Post's Metro section. I can see that fixing the missing link is an exciting prospect for many commuters, but we'll have to wait till 2013 for this three-span construction to be done.


Orange Line to Virginia: There "seem" to be more Orange Line trains going to Virginia in the afternoon because there ARE more Orange Line trains going to Virginia in the afternoon! In the morning, Metro runs a few extra trains from Virginia to New Carrolton called "trippers" that make just one trip and then head to the yard until afternoon rush hour, at which point they go back to Virginia. This is because ridership on the Vienna side of the line is higher than that on the New Carrolton side. It also explains why two Orange Lines show up before a Blue Line sometimes. Metro also does the same thing on the Green Line, with three extra trains making a one way trip up from Branch Avenue to Greenbelt in the morning and returning in the evening.

Lena Sun: Thanks. I forgot about the "trippers."


I often push the intercom button and ask the operator to explain what's happening.: Really? I've always been tempted to do that, but always thought it was only for emergencies. Twenty minutes with no announcement is unacceptable and very, very annoying, but not an emergency, right?

Lena Sun: Yes. If your train is stopped and there hasn't been any communication from the operator for a long time, absolutely push the intercom and ask him/her to explain what's going on.


Washington, D.C.: RE: 14th street. How can it take months to resurface one bridge. I was posted overseas and the highway from the airport to city center, 18 miles and 5 lanes each direction was resurfaced in less than one week and only at night. Look at 11th Street -- how many months for 10 blocks?

Robert Thomson: Check out this very useful DDOT Web page that shows the phases of lane closures.

This is one of the worst bottlenecks in the region, and the project managers are trying to keep traffic moving with the least possible disruption. So they're scheduling work to keep four lanes open during the peak periods. If the entire bridge were shut down so they could just flat out work -- as was done with the Douglass Bridge a couple of summers ago -- it would get done a lot faster.


Glover Park: Speaking of 17th Street (though a different location), why can't we can't we halt traffic across a complete intersection and do a complete pedestrian crossing? Major cities all over the world do this (stop all traffic for one cycle, let the pedestrians cross in whatever direction they need to go) and it seems like a great solution to nasty intersections like 17th and K and Connecticut or Wisconsin and M. Safer for pedestrians, makes turning for cars so much easier.

Robert Thomson: You're talking about the traffic technique known as a Barnes Dance. Long ago, there were a bunch of them in D.C. They work best where the auto traffic is relatively light. In heavy traffic, the congestion can be enormous. We're not likely to go back to that on a widespread basis.


14th Street Bridge: The discussion of the 14th Street Bridge prompted me to inquire about something I've always wondered. When you drive from Virginia into D.C. using the main span (i.e., not the HOV span), just after the Boundary Channel Drive/Reagan Airport exit on the right there is a strange little piece of road separated from the thru lanes by a curb. It's usually used for those mobile warning signs that say things like "D.C. Law, Click It or Ticket" or "Use Metro This Weekend." I'm wondering if you know what this spot is. I assume it's leftover from the pre-Interstate era. It's always struck me as a weird spot because I-395 chokes down very quickly as lanes end there and I've always wondered why they don't make that spot part of the road to make the choke down more gradual.

Robert Thomson: I'm posting this question not because I know the answer but because there are so many smart travelers who look at our chat.

If you know the answer but can't get to us while we're still chatting this week, send me an e-mail at drgridlock@washpost.com.


Arlington, Va.: "If your train is stopped and there hasn't been any communication from the operator for a long time, absolutely push the intercom and ask him/her to explain what's going on."

It's very, very difficult to get the Metro Transit Police to actually, you know, DO something. But using the intercom so that the driver has to do something is one very sure way of getting unwanted police attention.

Lena Sun: I'm not sure I understand you. I know people are afraid to get up and push the intercom if there are rowdy teens on their car, for fear that the teens will retaliate against them. In those situations, people can go to a different rail car and hit the intercom to alert the operator.

But I don't think the train operator is going to call transit police on you if you ask him/her to make clearer announcements, or if you tell him/her you can't hear what is being said.


Hyattsville, Md.: In your column this weekend, someone asked about a connection from DC-295 to Pennsylvania Avenue or to the SE/SW Fwy.

Is this going to happen? A dedicated bridge to and from DC 295 thus creating a way for us to take visitors through the city? Would this then take I-95 away from the Beltway and move it up through the city?

Robert Thomson: What's the matter, Hyattsville, can't you believe it? I answered the letter by saying yes, the 11th Street Bridge project will fix the missing link between SE/SW Freeway and 295. (It means you don't have to use PA Ave at all if you're trying to make the freeway connection.)

I don't believe there's any plan to move the I-95 designation, nor do I see any need to.


Metro good news: I'd like to thank everyone who gave up their seats (voluntarily or if I verbally nudged you) to my elderly grandparents who were visiting a couple of weekends ago. They always had a place to sit, which made their visit much more easy to manage and more enjoyable for us all. Thanks for your graciousness!

Lena Sun: Love to hear that. Thanks.


Alexandria: I wish visitors to our city would read this chat! I almost killed a tourist the other day on 9th, near the Mall, who was stopped in the middle of the crosswalk, taking a picture of a sticker on the pavement!

Lena Sun: We're going to make Dr. Gridlock a personality so visitors from out of town will check out his chat for his pearls of wisdom.


Yellow Line-Green Line Confusion: Why, oh why does Metro not extend Yellow Line service during rush? I take the Green Line to U Street; at Gallery Place the Yellow Lines run virtually empty during rush since everyone on the platform is waiting for the Green Line to get off at U Street and Columbia Heights. Why does Metro have the empty Yellow Line stop at Mt. Vernon? Why not have it go an extra few stops in order to allow breathing room in the constantly-packed Green Lines during rush? Isn't rush hour when you would want to have the most trains servicing the most stations?? Why does the Yellow Line only service U St. and Columbia Heights during non-rush??

Robert Thomson: Wait a minute. I really wish those Yellow Line trains were empty when they pulled into Mount Vernon at rush hour. I see all those people come pouring off the train -- well, most of them. some are pretty confused about what's happening and stay aboard -- and then they all wind up waiting on the platform with me for the next Green Line train to head north.

Best Bet: Wait toward the south end of the Mount Vernon Platform for a Green Line train. Most people will wait farther up the platform and the arriving Green Line train is likely to have the fewest passengers in the last couple of cars -- especially if it's an eight-car train.

Indeed, a lot of riders are going for U Street and Columbia Heights, but many also are changing trains at Fort Totten, and they know their exit is nearest the front of the train.

On your basic question: I think there are two issues. One is the availability of train cars during the rush and the other is the difficulty of turning around trains at certain stations that lack pocket tracks.


20001: Turning right at certain D.C. intersections is impossible with all the pedestrian traffic crossing with the light. This causes huge back-ups and frustration. What is needed is a right turn arrow to allow vehicles to make the turn, keep traffic flowing, and hold pedestrian traffic until a sufficient number of vehicles have turned. They do this in Boston with success.

Robert Thomson: Yes. As I recall, the District's new pedestrian safety plan acknowledges that right turn arrows, and some No Turn on Red signs, are among the adjustments needed at some busy intersections.


Re: Vienna vs. New Carrollton: It also seems like there are just a lot more people going to Virginia than to PG County. The train to Vienna is always packed starting from about Metro Center until East Falls. In the morning, the traffic really drops off on the Orange Line once you pass Federal Triangle. It's just using the resources where they are needed most.

Lena Sun: Metro bases its train deployment on ridership. So Red Line has the most trains because it has the highest ridership, followed by the Orange Line, aka the Orange Crush. And yes, there is a huge crush during morning rush to get to the downtown stations. Metro officials are well aware of this. The guy in charge of rail, Dave Kubicek, is an Orange Line rider.


D.C. native, living in Florida: "When you drive from Virginia into D.C. using the main span (i.e., not the HOV span), just after the Boundary Channel Drive/Reagan Airport exit on the right there is a strange little piece of road separated from the thru lanes by a curb."

Answer: If my D.C. memory serves me right, there used to be a Marriott Hotel right there, and that little stretch of asphalt was where the Virginia buses bound for D.C. could stop and pick up/drop off the Hotel guests and workers.

Robert Thomson: Wow. That's really interesting. There are so many spots on our highways that contain vestiges of past designs. (As we've been talking about when we discuss the plans for the new 11th Street Bridges.)


Barnes Dances: My most recent experience with this was in downtown Sydney where it was installed in the busiest intersection in town and it worked brilliantly. Pedestrians are cross safely and traffic moves freely when it's their turn.

Robert Thomson: Thanks, I love hearing from travelers who can share examples of traffic and transit in other regions. There are plenty of lessons for us.

I think DDOT tries to solve intersection problems on a case by case basis. The Barnes Dance is mid-20th Century technology. Planners have a few more techniques available now and they're trying to target them so the outcome will be best for both drivers and pedestrians. (Not easy.)

That's not to say Barnes Dances can't be used here. There are some appropriate spots. It's just not likely to be a widespread solution here in Washington.


Saturday, leaving Nats game: Maybe it was having two sporting events and not being prepared, or the fact that the Nats game was over in a remarkable 2 hours 15 minutes BUT on Saturday after I got into the Metro to see the first overly-packed train leave heading back towards the city, the next train didn't come for 12 minutes. How frequent are trains supposed to be coming according to Metro?

Lena Sun: During the day on Saturday, trains are supposed to be running about every 12 minutes from Branch Avenue headed into downtown. I checked with Metro, which keeps in touch with the Nats during the game, and the first "gap" or extra train was requested at about 3:26 p.m.

So maybe that's the crowded one you saw pulling out.


Gaithersburg, Md.: I wrote a couple weeks ago about 6 car trains pulling to the front of the stations. They are still doing this on the Red Line sporadically and with no announcements. And I am still finding it incredibly frustrating! If a train driver doesn't know how long their train is, I really feel they should not be driving trains.

On a positive note, I have heard more announcements of delays, like the station entrance closure this morning. It seemed like the announcement was running pretty much non-stop in the stations (I was at Twinbrook when I heard it), so that everyone who entered the station would hear the announcement.

Lena Sun: It's a bit confusing, but here is how it is supposed to work: during special events like Cherry Blossom festival, Metro runs 8-car and 6-car trains and ALL are supposed to pull up to the front of the station by the yellow-and-black marker that says "8."

But things are in normal operation now, so the 6-car trains should NOT be pulling all the way up to the front.


Alexandria, Va.: The traffic lights around Jefferson Memorial stay on for a very long time during the morning rush hour, despite the fact that there are practically zero pedestrians at that hour (7:00 a.m.). Can't we get those lights to stay green longer during rush hours? It just clogs up Memorial Bridge.

Robert Thomson: When I hear about traffic in that area, it's usually about traffic around the Lincoln Memorial circle. People question the timing of those lights. At Lincoln Circle, DDOT re-did the original signal system to put in the pedestrian call buttons. But they do still turn red even when no pedestrians are coming and that annoys many drivers.

But not as familiar with the situation near Jefferson. Are we talking Independence Avenue?


Roads: So, apparently there will be a new exit on I-95 for the ICC. There is also supposed to be a new exit on I-95 at Contee Road (part of the Konterra construction). Any idea if/when the work on those exits is scheduled to start? I expect it will have a lot of effect on the high volume of traffic on I-95 when it starts.

Robert Thomson: I can't get to an exact schedule for you at the moment, but can give a general answer: Construction is underway for the interchange between I-95 and the ICC. There's only a slight lane shift now, but I find that the lane shift -- plus the gawk factor -- is slowing down traffic considerably as it passes through that area.


17th Street Crosswalk: The obscured pedestrian light is at the NW corner of 17th and H. There is construction there, but there is a covered pedestrian walkway, unlike between F and G, where the sidewalk is closed.

And, the 17th and H light IS a problem. You can't judge from the traffic, which is sometimes at a standstill, whether you have the light.

Robert Thomson: I do think I should get over there and take a look, since we've had so many comments on this area today.


Metro Ads and Revenue: Back in March, I emailed Metro about an ad up for a non-profit asking if one was going home for the holidays (approx 4 months old) and was told that Metro contracts out the ad space, so Metro gets money regardless of whether ads are updated. Last year the Van Ness station had an ad for the BBQ battle still in place in September.

This morning an Orange Line train still had an ad up for the Cherry Blossom festival (Car 5026). As an attorney, I know that Metro could be penalizing this contractor for its failures (if Metro negotiated the contract right in the first place). Why don't they either do some basic oversight or find another contractor? It's not like this is the type of contract you bid out for a minimum... this is revenue that should be going to offsetting the deficit (or expanding the surplus if you believe Metro's contradicting budget numbers)...

When will the Board address Catoe's repeated failures of basic managerial leadership?

Lena Sun: This has come up several times in the past and I don't have a definitive answer from Metro. I'm not sure whether it's the contractor who is supposed to take down the old ads or Metro personnel in their rail car maintenance shop. If it's rail car maintenance, I suspect the personnel may be putting higher priority on making sure the equipment is working rather than taking down outdated ads.

From what I hear, advertisers are not beating down Metro's door looking to advertise because of the overall economic climate.


Yellow Line-Green Line Confusion (again): Sorry my rant wasn't more clear!

For my commute at the end of the day (around 5 p.m.), I take the Red Line to Gallery Place; I get off and wait to transfer to a Green Line to get off at U Street, where I live.

At Gallery Place, I wait for the very last car of the train, at the back. The Yellow Lines that come through Gallery Place empty and there is usually only 1 or 2 people on that (terminating) Yellow train. Meanwhile, the platform gets packed like a fraternity party waiting 5-6 minutes during rush hour for a Green Line train. All because the virtually empty Yellows terminate at Mt. Vernon.

After those Yellow Line trains service Mt. Vernon do they just turn around again and service the same few stops? I guess my question is why Metro hasn't figured out that the packed Green Lines could be easily changed if they just ran that Yellow train an extra 2 or 3 stops?

Okay, rant over. Thanks!!

Robert Thomson: This is interesting, and I'm trying to make sure I understand.

My recollection is that the Yellow Line terminated at Mount Vernon Square, before Jim Graham got Metro to extend it at off peak hours to Fort Totten, which pleased a lot of riders.

So I'm not seeing that the extension made things any worse for Green Line riders. (But help me with that if you think I'm wrong. Send me something at drgridlock@washpost.com.)

Ridership in that north-south tunnel is definitely an issue. That's why Metro has been toying with this idea of diverting some Blue Line trains so that they use the Yellow Line bridge, rather than the Rosslyn tunnel. That would send more trains up through the eastern part of downtown.


Robert Thomson: Travelers, thanks for joining us today. Lena and I still have a lot of your questions and comments in the mailbag, but need to break away now. I'll look them over to see if I can post some of them during the week on my Get There blog. And I see some that give me ideas for columns and the Sunday Commuter page.

Please come back here next Monday for a chat, and stay safe out there.


The Dr. Gridlock column receives hundreds of letters each month from motorists and transit riders throughout the Washington region. They ask questions and make complaints about getting around a region plagued with some of the worst traffic in the nation. The doctor diagnoses problems and tries to bring relief.

Dr. Gridlock appears in The Post's Metro section on Sunday and in the Extra section on Thursday. His comments also appear on the Web site's Get There blog. You can send e-mails for the newspaper column to drgridlock@washpost.com or write to Dr. Gridlock at 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071.


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