Memorial Day: Holiday Travel Tips

Lon Anderson, AAA Mid-Atlantic Director of Public and Government Affairs
Lon Anderson, AAA Mid-Atlantic Director of Public and Government Affairs (Juana Arias/TWP)
Lon Anderson
Director, Public and Government Relations, AAA Mid-Atlantic
Friday, May 22, 2009; 12:00 PM

Lon Anderson, director of Public and Government Relations at AAA Mid-Atlantic, was online Friday, May 22, at Noon ET to answer your travel-related questions on the eve of the Memorial Day weekend.

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Lon Anderson: Thanks so much for joining me today, as we prepare for the big getaway for our Memorial Day holiday. With gas prices down $1.50 per gallon from last year, and travel bargains everywhere, AAA is predicting a big getway--some 730,000 area residents, up 4%. It's not a record, but it will mean all ways out of town--and back in on Mondaqy are likely going to be crowded. Remember to think safety for your holiday travel--with so many more traveling, crashes and fatlaties will be up. So. let's get started!

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Washington, D.C.: I've seen a brief report that Mid-Atlantic AAA has called D.C. the most car-unfriendly city in the U.S. I'm inclined to agree -- right now we're run by "smart development" planners who want to discourage owning and operating cars by making it so inconvenient and expensive to drive and, especially, to park, that everybody will be forced into mass transit. But what factors went into AAA's announcement. Can you provide a link to a press release, study, or report that gives more information?

Lon Anderson: Hey, DC--thanks for the question. Our position is based upon DC's actions. They already have the most aggressive ticketing program in the nation and, with a revenue shortage, they are ratcheting it up. Cameras on Streetweepers, more ticket writers. And that's before you get into their automated enforcement program that has probably brought in over $200 million at this point. they say it's about safety, but plenty of evidence points towards money. They wanted a commuter tax, but were denied it by congress, and have implemented one anyway. Front page story of today's Post gives much more detail. We do have some press releases on this on our website--aaa.com. then go to outreach. thanks for the question!

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Silver Spring, Md.: Driving to Boston on Saturday morning. Will I hit Cape traffic?

Lon Anderson: Hey Silver Spring--I don't think you can avoid it. Plenty of other folks from up and down the east coast will also be headed to the Cape. If you leave early, you will miss much of the very heavy I-95 traffic, but we can't help you avoid the Boston crowd heading to the beach later tomorrow. Good luck and be safe!

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washingtonpost.com: AAA Mid-Atlantic

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Bowie, Md.: Until about two weeks ago, gas was costing half what it was this time last year.

My real question is: did last year's experience expose what mid-Atlantic destinations were most sensitive to a drop in tourism due to fuel prices? I mean, was tourism way down in some day -- or weekend-trip destinations, but not so much in others?

And if so, which are some that fall in each category?

Lon Anderson: Bowie--Interesting question. Couple of things were at play in last year's dismal travel numbers. First and foremost, gas that was over $3.80 and expected to hit $4 which it did. Second, the economic downturn was just getting serious, and third, much of the nation had really foul weather, and this is a a very weather sensitive holiday.

I don't have specifics, but our polling told us last year and again this year, that in bad times we still want to travel, but stay closer to home, and take actions to spend less--perhaps shave a day or two off or stay in an a three diamond hotel instead of a four diamond. Generally, those getways closer to large poluation areas did better than others. All of that said, I do beleive high fuel prices, coupled with concerns about the economy, were the driving force suppressing travel. Thanks for the question!

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Silver Spring, Md.: Your thoughts on traffic cameras in Montgomery County, please. I think that if our legislators were really concerned about our safety and this isn't a money grab, then we'd see a law banning cell use while driving.

Lon Anderson: Hi Silver Spring. Montgomery County has a good automated enforcement program that is focused on safety and that we support. But, some independent local jursidictions, notably Chevy Chase Village, have made a mockery of that, and have violated the spirit, if the not the actual law in installing their equipment and make boat loads of money are are an embarrassment to the county police who work so hard to give their automated enforcment program credibility. For Chevy Chase Village it is a money grab. And we did work with the Legislature this year on cell phone and texting bills, but it is very tough getting safety legislation passed. Please let your representatives know your concerns--that will haelp us in our efforts to make the roads more safe. We did get some improvements in drunk driving and teen driving passed this year, but both weaker than what we hoped. Let them hear from you!!! Have a safe holiday.

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Fairfax, Va.: Thinking of doing a day trip to St. Michaels on Saturday -- what time should we leave by to avoid the bulk of the traffic?

Lon Anderson: Hey Fairfax--what a great place to visit! Love St. Michaels. Leave early morning, and you should encounter ligheter traffic at the Bridge. they are predicting over 300,000 vehicle trips across the Bay Bridge, so there will be a lot of traffic and with good weather forecast, the precitions will probably hold true. Leave early and enjoy! Be safe.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Going to Front Royal on Saturday morning. Will 66 be too clogged to be bearable?

Lon Anderson: Silver Spring--I'll be right there with you on I-66 on my way to West Virginia, but I'm heading out very early. Mountains are one of the favorite getaway destinations in our region, and given the good weather, we will have lots of company on 66. Set the alarm extra early and it should be smooth sailing. Remember to be careful in the Gainesville/Haymarket work zone. And everybody else, remember to slow down in the work zones--often lanes narrow, shoulders disappear. Even though all work will be suspended over the holiday, highway work zones are still more dangerous and require more care navigating safely through them. Lastly, please remember it is not how quickly you get there that is the object, but getting there safely. Have a great and safe holiday, and enjoy Front Royal--it's a fun little town!

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Empty City?: Is the city emptying out for Memorial Day? I know we get tourists on the 4th of July, but what about this weekend? Can I drive around D.C. without fear of congestion and GPS-drivers?

Lon Anderson: Hey Empty City--great question and you are plumb out of luck. Yest hordes will be leaving, but guess what? We are also a huge vacation destination even for Memorial Day, so your dream of empty city streets with drivers who know what they're going is up in smoke. The GPS'ers will be out in force! and don't forget the tens of thousands of motorcylists who will be arriving for Rolling Thunder. Watch out for the bikers! Keep you wits about you and enjoy!

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Alexandria, Va.: We're driving southbound tomorrow morning to southern Virginia. First, does it make sense to "wait" for the traffic to loosen and leave around 10 or 11 a.m., or to get on the road earlier, perhaps 7 or 8 a.m.?

Second, does it make sense to avoid 395 south and take route 1? I always wonder that while sitting idle on 395.

Thank you!

Lon Anderson: Hey Alexandria--it's all in your timing. If you leave early enough, you will have smooth sailing even on I-395. I think by 10 or 11, the shoppers at Potomac Mills will be churning, etc. I'd go for early if you don't like traffic. Good luck.

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Washington, D.C.: I need to leave for northern PA around 5:30 tonight, and usually 270 is bogged down. Is detour over to 97 from Rockville (Gude Dr/Norbeck Rd) then north a good alternative to reaching US 15 near Gettysburg and avoiding the congestion in Montgomery and Frederick counties? Other suggestions? Thanks.

Lon Anderson: Hello DC. You've just suggested my favorite route--97 is a beautiful and relaxed ride to Gettysburg and 15 is great north. Some stop lights and slower areas, but much more relaxed and the scenery is beautiful with lots of good stops along the way, if tourism is on your mind. Beautiful country. Good luck. Remember it's not how fast but how safely you arrive. Enjoy!!

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Bethesda, Md.: I just don't get the problem with traffic cameras. Is the equation too difficult to understand: No Speeding = No Ticket Same thing on D.C. parking enforcement: Don't break the law = no ticket. Are people here so dumb they can't understand that simple concept?!

Lon Anderson: Hey Bethesda. Try reading some of DC's parking signs and figure out whether you are legaly parked. Then read today's Post about the driver who left the parking space before 4 pm, with a ticket already on the windshield for being there after 4. Or try doing 30 mph at 10 pm on Connecticut Avenue, a 6 lane boulevard when it is empty. Or how about the tickets for red light running in New Carrollton given to drivers who did not run the light but whose bumpers crossed the line (at least one judge is throwing them out). It's not so balck and white, unfortunately. We support good automated enforcement programs that are operated for safety and that do it right. But putting cameras on street weepers??? People who have concerns about this are not dumb--they have very legitimate concerns. Hope this helps you be more sympathetic... In any case, we agree that obeying the law is the smart play. Thanks!

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Washington, D.C.: As a D.C. resident with a car, I welcome any increase in parking enforcement. There are far too many out-of-area cars parked on neighborhood streets, especially during the spring and summer. Legitimate guests can receive temporary permits at the request of the residents that they are visiting, and I have no issue with those. In most places, the parking rules are straightforward and well-signed (although there are exceptions, as cited in today's article).

Lon Anderson: Hey DC. Thanks for that, and I agree. We do not mean to make lite of the legitimate concerns that residents have when their neighborhood streets are filled with parked cars from out of state. But that, I would suggest is that the problem is also a sympton of bigger parking problems. DC has declined time and again to take its revenues and build neighborhood parking facilities to serve residents for whom there are often not enough spaces even if your neighbood is not invaded. Given what you pay in taxes, that would not be an unreasonable request. I have sat though city hearings where residents have urged this be done. Thanks for your comments and have a great holiday!

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Laurel, Md.: I'm thinking of going to the Chestertown Tea Party either Saturday or Sunday. Which is better for bridge-crossing, if leave early/stay late is not an option (figure I'll be crossing about 9 and 5)?

Lon Anderson: Hello Laurel--Sounds like a fun time, and Chestertown is a great little waterfront community. that said, the first answer is really pick your poison. On saturday morning, going eastbound on the Bridge about 9 am is likely going to be very crowded, but the return trip westbound at day's end should be fairly easy, but On Sunday, the reverse may be true, light eastbound in the morning, but maybe much heavier westbound Sunday evening. My advice? Just know you are going to have traffic delays and figure out which day works better for you and and will likely have the best weather, and go for it. Adjust the attitude, allow plenty of time and you should have a wonderful day. Please be safe!

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Gas and the holiday: Any idea why gas prices went up 20 cents a gallon in the last two weeks? Price gouging for the holiday?

Lon Anderson: Hello Gas!! GREAT QUESTION. Supply is way up, demand because of the recession is way down, there are no supply disruptions, no new Middle East wars, no hurricanes that I've heard about and voila! Gas prices go up about 30 cents in a month. It would, as I've described it, be a catastrophic-type price rise without the catastrophe! In anticipation of increased summer driving and therefore increased demand, we usually see gas shoot up around Memorial Day, but not like this. If you find the hjurricane, or new war or refining disruption, please let me know. If gas, the market does not always work as a compettive market should, and this appear to be a great example of market distortion and profit taking. Sorry! the good news is we are projecting gas not averaging more than $2.50 this summer, far better than our $4.11 record last summer! Thanks!

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20001: Fantastic commute from Rockville to Capitol Hill this a.m. (270/495/Clara Barton). Do you expect congestion for the pm commute or has everyone already left?

Lon Anderson: Good observation! Should be lighter commuting today and hopefully that will carry through to the evening rush, except where the routes are also major getaway routes. then it could be tougher going! thanks!

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Lon Anderson: Thanks so much for all of your questions! As always, it has been fun visiting and I urge you to make safety a priority this holiday weekend, and please feel free to contact me/AAA about issues of concern. My email--landerson@aaamidatlantic.com. Also we have a blog that often discusses these issues--aaa.com/community and I often twitter and you can follow me at twitter.com/AAAguy. Again, thanks for your time and interest and have a great holiday, and special thanks to the folks at Washingtonpost.com for giving us this opportunity to exchange information and ideas! Be safe!! Lon

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