Dr. Gridlock Tackles Your Traffic and Transit Issues

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Robert Thomson and Lena H. Sun
Washington Post Columnist and Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, June 1, 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, June 1 at noon ET to diagnose all of your traffic and transit issues.

The transcript follows.

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Robert Thomson: Hello, travelers. Lena is ready for anyone who wants to talk about the morning delays on the Orange and Blue lines -- or any other transit topic on your mind. With her transit expertise on board today, I'll try to focus on other transpo topics. Anybody experience the commute on the 14th Street Bridge today? How about the new ramps at the Beltway's Telegraph Road interchange? Between the two of us, we'll try to tackle all your questions -- or just vent to us.

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Washington, D.C.: Help love survive, Dr. Gridlock. I live in Columbia Heights, my new boyfriend lives in Glover Park, neither of us has a car. It seems like there is no good way to get between the two neighborhoods using public transportation. Do you have a better route than these: 1. Take the H4 bus (infrequent and unreliable) to Wisconsin Ave NW then transfer to the 30s bus (notorious for bus bunching). 2. Take the green line to the red line to Tenleytown, then transfer to the 30s bus. 3. Take the new circulator (frequent and reliable) to Woodley Park, transfer to the 96 bus (infrequent but seems reliable) to Wisconsin Ave, transfer to the 30s bus.

I know others are making this trip on public transportation. Why is it so difficult to get cross-town to Glover Park/Georgetown?

Robert Thomson: We must attend to this situation immediately. Why not a double dose of the Circulator? Take the new one from Columbia Heights south to K Street NW, then transfer to a westbound Circulator along K Street. That will go up Wisconsin Avenue to Whitehaven Street NW. It's just a little south of Glover Park. The rest may be uphill, but that shouldn't stand in the way of true love.

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Fairfax, Va.: Dear Dr. Gridlock -- The answer to why Red Line trains are being turned back at Silver Spring and Grosvenor (to "provide more service to the core") is indeed bogus as the person who complained about service at Glenmont pointed out. The only way to increase service to the core is to introduce more trains on the Red Line, which is obviously not being done. Here's a thought experiment: If trains are going toward Glenmont at five minute intervals and every other train is turned back at Silver Spring, then a southbound train originating at Glenmont will go through the core every 10 minutes, as will a southbound train originating at Silver Spring. The result is one train every 5 minutes, exactly the same as if all trains went to Glenmont.

Robert Thomson: I didn't get those questions about trains leaving Chicago and New York at the same time either. Someone else will have to do the math on this for me.

Metro did add 20 cars to the Red and Green Lines this spring, using them to convert more trains to eight cars. But that's it. We don't have any more cars scheduled to arrive.

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NOVA: The 14th street bridge closures started today. Other than a bit of confusion about which lane was going where, it didn't seem to hold up traffic too much this morning (around 7:45). Will this continue, or is it going to get worse?

Robert Thomson: I drove through at about 8 a.m. and had a similarly good trip. But as I said this morning on the Get There blog, I'm not quite ready to declare a victory for drivers on this year-long resurfacing project on the northbound bridge.

Here's what we need to watch for: Monday traffic tends to be lighter than midweek. Let's see how the traffic does during the off-peak periods when there are lane closures. This first phase, with the right lane blocked off for three months and four lanes through, may turn out to be the easiest phase for drivers. Later on, portions of the center lanes will be blocked off and cars will have to divide around them.

Another thing: The shoulders are gone. There weren't any accidents or breakdowns this morning to gum things up. Let's see what happens the first time we have an incident.

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Washington, D.C.: Why are traffic lights so badly timed in the District? There are only a handful of major routes leaving the downtown core, but if you are heading along 14th street or 23rd street to the bridges, you will stop for a red light at almost every intersection. Same thing along K street in both directions, along New York Avenue and on other routes. You can often see the light in the next block turning red just as the one in front of you turns green. Evening rush hour will always be a mess, but it would be less so if the downtown core could be cleared faster.

Robert Thomson: I do get a lot of complaints about traffic light timing -- not just in the District, everywhere. Some routes do have problems. The signals can get out of sync, or the traffic flow can change. At others, there's just too much demand, including demand from pedestrians. A walker hitting the push button to cross can throw off the timing. In other cases, traffic engineers tell me with some frustration, they just can't make new seconds. If they give more seconds to one direction, they have to take them away from the other direction, or from the turning traffic if there's an arrow.

One of the problems with giving signal priority to buses to speed them up in certain corridors is that they'd be messing with the traffic intersecting with those routes.

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Washington, D.C.: Sadly, Metro will need a major fare increase, AND increased "ancillary" revenues in order to cover upcoming deficits. I don't believe that it is an either/or situation, so riders should get ready to take a hit, maybe several.

In my opinion the first thing Metro should do is raise the cash fare on the bus to $2; this will increase bus headways and raise money. Secondly, Metro should raise parking, other fees and rail in the appropriate amounts to fill the remaining budget gap. Lastly, Metro should continue to investigate possible revenue sources from retail vending, not ruling out anything including food sales. Let the proposals come in and evaluate each one. Vendors proposing food sales could be required to include clean-up in their submissions(perhaps by paying significant fees to Metro to cover the cleaning costs).

Bottom line -- Metro needs new money, and Metro needs it badly! Let all those who are so vehemently opposed to food sales propose specifics as to how Metro will close the coming budget gaps, and how about proposing something besides simply raising fares (or cutting service), because I suspect that will not be enough!?! Dry cleaning and flowers are fine, but I think that food is the tail that wags the dog in this situation. It may just be time to move forward -- change is not necessarily a bad thing.

Lena Sun: Hi Washington. Yes, you are right. When the board approved the last fare and fee increase for january 2008, they agreed to look at fares in two years and peg it to some sort of consumer price index. Unless there is some kind of economic miracle the second half of this year, I am betting that there will have to be a hefty increase.

I also agree that the cash fare on buses should go up. Every time there is a fare increase, the biggest hit is on the rail side. That's because the District members on the board, most specifically Jim Graham, have blocked any significant increase on bus fares.

On food, well, I think that's a lost cause. Even though lots of riders want to see what kind of proposals Metro might get that includes food, clearly, board members don't want to risk the wrath of many other riders who think it will inevitably lead to more eating and drinking on the trains.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Good afternoon! I was wondering what the legality is for passing a Metro/Ride On bus on a single-lane, double-lined road? I often take the Ride On route 12 or 13, which both go to the Takoma Metro station by way of Flower Avenue, which is a double-lined road. Without fail, every time the bus stops, a horde of cars will go out of their way to pass the bus, even when there's oncoming traffic. I understand that it's not fun to be stuck behind a bus -- I drive, too, and I hate getting stuck behind one -- but is it really legal to be passing a bus when there's a double line?

Robert Thomson: No, it isn't legal for a driver to cross the solid double line to pass a bus or anything else. Flower Ave is getting busier and busier. Part of it is traffic cutting around the congestion in downtown Silver Spring. There are plenty of traffic-calming and pedestrian-safety measures in place along Flower, but there's only so much engineering can do.

The avenue is worthy of more police enforcement. And the drivers should show a little more personal responsibility, especially in the situation you describe, where they are pulling around a bus that is discharging passengers.

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Charlottesville, Va.: The right lane of the GW Parkway (northbound) is riddled with potholes (big ones) and other sorts of grooves. Any rehab plans in the work?

Robert Thomson: There are plenty of projects along the GW. In fact, there's a repair project starting this week at Spout Run. But I don't know of any major resurfacing coming up.

You can keep track of the parkway projects at this link:

http://www.efl.fhwa.dot.gov/projects-gwmp.aspx

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Washington, D.C.: Dr. Gridlock,

Love the chat -- thanks for taking my question! Can you PLEASE tell people that if they are trying to get to the other end of the Metro platform faster, to PLEASE not walk in front of everyone, on both the bumpy surface and the very edge of the platform.

This makes me SO mad -- yes, it's crowded, but is it really worth acting like an idiot to get to where you need to go? I liken it to people driving on the shoulder when there's traffic on the highway.

Am I right? What are your thoughts?

Lena Sun: I am so with you on this one. Of course, if you're a regular rider of the system, then you know that people behave in incredibly rude and boorish ways all the time in their rush to get where they're going.

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Food sales: "Let all those who are so vehemently opposed to food sales propose specifics as to how Metro will close the coming budget gaps, and how about proposing something besides simply raising fares (or cutting service), because I suspect that will not be enough!?!"

That may be, but you can't assume that the revenue from allowing food sales wouldn't be outweighed by the additional cleaning costs once everyone starts eating on the trains. I would hope that Metro would conduct a cost/benefit study on that before considering a policy change.

Lena Sun: Yes, I agree. But the food question is now longer relevant. The Metro board has already said they don't want to solicit any proposals that include food.

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Alexandria, Va.: Why oh why can't metro have train operators stop at the same place (give or take a foot) at the platform at each station every time? There is the guessing game and then there are the operators who go long or stop way short, ARGH!

Lena Sun: Hi Alexandria. Did something happen to you recently where you were on a train that either left its last car in a tunnel or have its first car go too far and end up in the tunnel?

This is a consistent problem, it seems, by train operators. During special events, i.e. inauguration, cherry blossom festival, etc., ALL train operators are required to pull their trains to the very end of the platform. It's where there is a bright yellow marker with the number "8" on it.

It would seem logical to me to have the trains do it all the time. Riders would eventually get used to it and learn to stand at a different spot on the platform. What do you think?

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Springfield, Va.: What project is the construction in the center of the Springfield Interchange associated with? Is it the completion of the I-95/I-395 HOV ramps with the beltway, or is it part of the beltway HOT lane project?

While I'm at it, are we ever going to see a full-blown diagram of the extent of the HOT lane project (i.e. number of lanes through each interchange, style of interchanges--cloverleaf, signaled, flyover, where toll collection area will be location, and most importantly, the cost to travel on the lanes)?

Robert Thomson: If memory serves, the construction of the Beltway HOV ramps at Springfield has now merged with the Beltway HOT lanes project. HOT lanes construction is underway from Springfield up past Tysons.

This is what VDOT says about the Beltway toll rates: "Toll prices may be as low as 10 cents a mile in light traffic conditions. To keep traffic on the HOT lanes flowing freely, tolls could reach around $1 per mile in some high-demand sections of the Beltway at peak times. As a guide, the average trip cost is estimated to be between $5 and $6."

Look on this page to see some of the most detailed online information I've seen about the Beltway project, which is much farther along than the I-95/395 project:

http://www.virginiahotlanes.com/beltway-project-info-documents.asp

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Bowie, Md.: Okay, I have to get off Metro everyday at Archives/Navy Memorial and for the past few weeks one of the two escalators is out. This wouldn't be much of a problem, but there are no stairs. So everyday we queue up to walk up the escalator and I am afraid that someone in a rush will fall and be hurt either going down or going up. How long is this escalator supposed to be inoperable?

Lena Sun: Hello Bowie. Metro lists the status of its escalators and elevators on its website (it's under Rider tools). According to that, there are two escalators at Archives that are out--one because it is undergoing rehab and the other because it has been turned off to be used as a walker. They aren't skedded to come back until July 27.

There are supposed signs for riders posted by the escalators saying when they will be back in service. Are they not there?

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Farragut North: You just responded to a question about traffic signal timing and I think this is a major issue in the District.

While you were right in your response that you cannot time all of the lights so that no one ever has to wait anywhere you can certainly engineer some lights so traffic flows in a coherent manner some of the time and the District has done a terrible job of this.

And left out of your response is that poorly timed lights ENCOURAGE speeding. If the lights are properly timed they should encourage and REWARD people for driving the speed limit -- e.g. If you drive 30 MPH you get a line of green lights while if you speed you just hit red light after red light. But the alternate is that when the lights are not timed there is often a reward for speeding.

In Upper NW where I live the timing on the lights is just atrocious especially on Wisconsin and Reno Roads and the upper part of Connecticut is horrible as well. It is true that during rush hour congestion is always going to muck things up a bit but it drives me nuts to sit at a red light with 30 cars with a green light ahead at the next intersection, no cross traffic and lots of underutilized open pavement.

Another thing the District really needs that would help would be car actuated traffic signals -- it is madness to sit at a red light with no cross traffic just because the light is on a timer and it is doubly frustrating when that light is not in sync with the rest of the lights on the Avenue you are on.

We can manage cars so so much better than we do in the District and the bottom line is DDOT is doing a really poor job overall.

Robert Thomson: I think you're right to stress traffic management -- like signal timing -- as a key to dealing with congestion. Most people drive, and no matter what we do to improve transit, it's not going to be enough to really control congestion.

We know we're not going to build a lot of new roads. There's little room, and taxpayers say they won't pay for them anyway. So the future is more about spending the money and devoting the resources to improving things like traffic signal timing.

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Arlington, Va.: Since it appears no one has asked: What was the story with the Orange line this morning? It seems like at least twice a week there are backups and delays during the morning commute. While a few years ago I never would have believed I might say this, but the reliability really hasn't seemed to have improved from when Richard White was the manager.

Lena Sun: Hi Arlington. I was wondering why no one was complaining about the Orange Line backup this a.m. I feel pretty badly for those riders who were stuck on the train that broke down--it was 51 minutes!

Here's what Metro officials are saying. The Orange Line train was having a brake problem just before it got to Foggy Bottom. It broke down in a curved section of track. They used a Blue Line train behind it to push the broken train out of the way, but that maneuver took longer because of the curved section of track.

I understand there were also some communication problems that added to the delay. Once the Blue line train was able to link up with the broken train, the two trains were able to go through a switch at Foggy Bottom. Then the trains did a reverse through the switch (so now the Blue line train was pulling the broken train) and headed out to the rail yard by the King Street station.

Of course, that meant delays all up and down the Orange/Blue line as trains were backed up in both directions.

But you knew that part.

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Passing buses: Dr. Gridlock, Re: passing buses, the buses pose a big problem to hindering traffic movement. They do not pull to the curb when they stop to load and discharge passengers. Also, they frequently run red lights. With traffic as bad as it is, people will pass a bus because it can create another 1/2 hour to get somewhere if you are stuck behind it. They also play leapfrog with each other and pull in front of cars as though they have the right of way.

Robert Thomson: You're making good points about bus behavior. They do often hinder traffic flow without justification. It's particularly frustrating when a driver won't pull onto the concrete pad built specifically to handle stopped buses.

Do keep in mind that the previous commenter was talking about a specific situation on Flower Avenue in the Takoma Park-Silver Spring area. There's no place for the buses to go. They have to stop in the travel lane. Bus pull-outs could be built, but it would mean taking a lot of front lawns.

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Fairfax, Va.: If the Metro board is not willing to look at proposals that could potentially make additional money for the system, than the budget gap should come out of their pockets, PERIOD!

Lena Sun: Feel free to tell them that directly. If you live in Northern Virginia, your board members are Fairfax supervisors Cathy Hudgins and Jeff McKay, Arlington County board member Chris Zimmerman, and Alexandria Mayor William Euille.

And here is how you can email the board directly, although if you make a generic comment, typically it is not a board member who responds: BoardofDirectors@wmata.com

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Columbia, Md.: Why is it rude to walk on the bumpy part to get to the other end of the platform? I don't ride Metro often, but I've done this before without meaning to be rude -- it seems ruder to weave in and out of people than to walk on the edge. I don't think the "driving on the shoulder" analogy stands here, either, since everyone's not trying to go in the same direction.

Lena Sun: People are waiting on the platform waiting to get on to a train. If you need to get to a different part of the platform, I don't think you should cut in front of them. There is usually room to walk behind them.

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Washington, D.C.: Dr. Gridlock, I live in the Palisades area in NW DC, and I travel into Virginia via the Chain Bridge, which is maybe 2 minutes from my home, 3 minutes if I hit a light or two. What will be my best alternative for weekend travel into Virginia on those occasions that all lanes on the Chain Bridge are closed for repair? Thank you.

Robert Thomson: You're talking about the Chain Bridge rehab project getting underway this week, which will be a pretty big deal to thousands of drivers. Starting Wednesday, if the schedule holds, one of the two inbound lanes will be closed through January, when the project is scheduled to end.

While there will be one lane open in each direction on weekdays, there may be some weekends when the bridge is completely shut down between 10 p.m. Friday and 6 a.m. Monday. When work requires such a shutdown, notices will be posted three days ahead of time, the District Department of Transportation said.

There are only so many ways to get across the Potomac -- while staying dry. Depending on where you're bound for in Virginia from Palisades, you're either going to head up to the Legion Bridge (maybe for a shopping trip to Tysons, for example) or down to the Key Bridge, if you're heading for Rosslyn, or Alexandria, for example. The 14th Street Bridge is okay outbound. The project we've been talking about affects only the regular lanes on the northbound side.

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Friendship Heights: I have a question about WMATA and procurement accountability.

Does WMATA put in performance requirements on its contracts?

To give you some examples I see every day:

The south entrance of the Dupont Circle Station was closed 10 years ago and the escalators completely replaced. But the new escalators have been less reliable than what they replaced from the very beginning and in the last year the escalators at this station have been chronically out of service.

Same thing at Friendship Heights. Two years ago WMATA gutted and replaced all four elevators. From the beginning the new elevators have been nothing but trouble and are chronically out of service and under repair.

Another example are the electronic displays in stations which are only six years old and also seem to have chronic problems and now we are being told WMATA is going to need to spend millions to replace them even though they should have years of useful service left.

Everyone knows things break down over time. But clearly newer things should work properly and contractors should be responsible for the cost of fixing shoddy work and equipment and possibly damages to WMATA for the inconvenience caused by poor work and hardware.

I'd love for the Post to actually look into this issue rather than take the WMATA's word for it that it is tough to keep things working and simply quote a WMATA official about how difficult their jobs are.

Lena Sun: Lots of questions about escalators today. You make some very good points about them.

On the electronic PIDS, Metro is looking to replace them all eventually with a different system known as Channel M. There would be large-screen video displays that have lots more information about service disruptions as well as advertising and some news component. They are working on bids this year.

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Reston, Va.: 395 was better than usual this morning around 8:40, even with the bridge work. Granted, I only take it from the Beltway to Seminary, but still, it was much better than usual. Is this because people are avoiding it because of the bridge work?

Robert Thomson: Hi, Reston. You're experience this morning seems like what the rest of us enjoyed slightly earlier, so the response so far has been pretty consistent. I think the traffic volume was somewhat lighter today, because it's a June Monday. So I'm not sure how much we know yet about the congestion likely to stem from the 14th Street Bridge project.

Based on experience with other projects, I'm not sure how much of what we saw today stems from drivers taking alternative routes. Many drivers don't get the word about big projects, despite all the publicity. Others want to see how bad the traffic is before going to the trouble of taking an alternative route. For many, the alternative to the 14th Street Bridge involves a major detour.

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Bump, Walker: I admit that on occasion, I walk along the front of the platform to get to the other end. I try not to, and I'm not doing it to be rude to others, but there are times when it seems that people feel it necessary to walk 3 or 4 abreast, very slowly, up the middle of the platform, and it makes it impossible to get around them. Really, I am just trying to get to where I want to be as quickly as possible so that I can get out of everyone's way. I can see where it would be perceived as rude, but the slow walkers in the middle are also being rude.

I also wanted to thank Lena for her story about priority seating last week. One suggestion I would have for people who require seats is to try to time their commutes so that they don't ride during the crush times (I understand that on the Orange line this is probably never possible, but it is on the Green and Red). Riding early hours (and I had a job that was flexible enough to allow me to work early hours) made for pretty easy commutes during two pregnancies.

Lena Sun: Thanks. I think the bottom line here is that people should use common sense and common courtesy. The bumpy tiles are there to help blind people know how far they are from the platform edge.

I also agree that a shift of 15 minutes from the worst part of rush hour can make for a dramatically different commute. But then again, not everyone has that kind of flexibility.

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Bowie, Md.: Ms. Sun, Thanks for the information. I will check with the Metro website next time.

No, there aren't any signs saying what the expected duration of the outage will be (at least none that are obvious). July 27 is a long time from now, but since it is summer and it does give me a timeframe I can be patient.

Lena Sun: Dear Bowie: Let's post your comment so the Metro folks who read behind and monitor this chat and send this comment to the escalator personnel. Dave Lacosse, can you get your guys to please put up some signs at these escalators? Or if they're posted, turn them around so they are visible to riders?

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Alexandria, Va.: Re: Orange line delays - the thing that really frustrated a lot of the riders on my particular train this morning during the delay was the inability of the conductor to enunciate when giving us the updates. The only thing I could actually understand (not for lack of trying) was "we apologize for the convenience" at the end of her message. I finally had to go to the WMATA website to read the alerts.

Lena Sun: Hi Alexandria. Were you on the broken down train, or just caught up in the delay? Either way, could you email me directly at SUNL@washpost.com? thank you.

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re: walking in front vs. walking behind: Often there isn't room behind people, since people are leaning against the wall. I'm not cutting in front of them, just passing. Also, when I find a place I want to stand, I don't stand in front of the people who are already there, I move to the back.

But if it's seen as rude, I'll stop. Thanks for the info.

Lena Sun: I know the platforms sometimes get pretty crowded, especially if there is a delay. It happens to me a lot at Farragut North, so I sometimes end up walking behind the people waiting for trains going in the other direction.

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re: Light "timing": Look, I think this fetish about light timing is mistaken. Pull up a map of any area in the region where the lights are well-timed. Those street grids were all designed in the last half of the 20th century for the convenience of automobiles. Now pull up a map of DC. You may as well ask for order to be imposed on a flock of butterflies.

Don't blame DDOT; blame L'Enfant.

Robert Thomson: It's interesting about the street grids. They were more a real estate thing, in the late 18th-early 19th century. Places like Manhattan and Philly were laid out in grids so that lots could be marked off.

I remember back to the mid 20th century when engineers were condemning grid street patterns. I mean, "gridlock," after all. Now, the planners who want to rebuild Tysons would like nothing better than a grid street pattern. They say it's the way of the future, and that it can ease traffic congestion. Why? Because a grid gives drivers options. If the traffic is blocked ahead, go left or right till you find a parallel roadway that offers relief.

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PIDS & Channel M: Lena, I think you missed the point of the question. The commenter wants to know what Metro does to enforce some degree of reliability in its contracts for information displays, and whether this newspaper is actively looking the lack of reliability.

Lena Sun: No, I got the point of that commenter. It was a good point. I'm going to look into it. On certain subjects, it is already pretty clear to me that the way Metro is organized, the end users (who would have the best front-line operational knowledge) don't have enough direct feedback with the people who put out the contracts and do enforcement.

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Escalator Directions: Hi Lena,

Who can I speak with about the escalators at Union Station (in the middle of the platform). Every morning and every evening there are huge jams and craziness because there is a lot of cross over traffic. The majority of the people getting off in the morning are on the Glenmont side and the majority of the people getting on are heading downtown (the Shady Grove side). The opposite is true in the afternoon.

An easy solution would be to reverse the directions on the escalators so that the up escalator is on the left and the down escalator is on the right.

I've suggested this time and again to Metro and either get no response or am told that they are doing a study of all escalators on the Red Line and can't make any changes until its done. That makes no sense -- it doesn't matter what's happening at Silver Spring or any other station -- can't this be a station-by-station decision? One time for about two weeks it was reversed and it was the easiest two weeks at that station ever (in the 8 years I've been using it).

So if customer service can't/won't help (and I tried emailing the red line email directly) who else can I talk to?

Lena Sun: Did someone tell you recently that they were doing a study of all escalators on the Red Line? If you send me an email, I can try to find the best person for you. SUNL@washpost.com

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Construction Telegraph Road: Due to the construction near Telegraph Road, traffic on Telegraph Road to Huntington Metro has been awful! I now takes anywhere from 20 - 40 minutes for me to drive 4 miles to the Metro. Any idea why and when this traffic on Telegraph Road will let up? It seems like it because the signals are not timed correctly, causing cars not to get through the intersection of Telegraph and Franconia.

Robert Thomson: The Telegraph Road interchange with the Beltway is the center of attention for drivers in that area, because it's the last big phase of the Wilson Bridge project. It's going to stay disrupted for a couple more years.

The construction work seems to have been particularly intense lately, and that has affected travel on the Beltway and on Telegraph Road.

Over the weekend, several new ramps opened. They are going to help traffic a lot, but today, it was taking drivers a while to get used to them. It seemed that some drivers couldn't believe things could actually be better, and they were trying to go the way they always had, making difficult left turns where they no longer needed to.

I'm going to do a posting on my Get There blog a little latter this afternoon and talk a bit more about developments at Telegraph Road.

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New Carrollton: What is the deal with all the broken (and missing) tiles on the platform at New Carrollton Metro station? For at least the past 6 months, the brown tiles (both the regular ones and the bumpy ones) at the northern end of the platform are cracking, broken, missing, and loose - it is a HUGE hazard for the disabled and the non-disabled riders. I have yet to see anyone replace them, and occasionally you will see cones put on top of one, but then you look to the side and about 20 others around that cone are broken. I saw one woman trip this morning getting out of the train on a missing tile.

Lena Sun: Will look into this. I know in the past that it takes what seems like a very long time to schedule tile repair. Also, Metro is in the process of changing tile suppliers. They just announced today that they are going to be using a different kind of tile that is supposed to be more durable and most of all, not as slippery when wet.

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Metro Platforms: I disagree - if a train is not pulling into the station, why can't someone walk on the 'bumpy' part? Yes, if there is a train coming in, don't do it, but when everyone is waiting and the platforms are filling up, seems that's an easy way to impact the least amount of people. That being said, stay off the granite.

Lena Sun: From a common sense point of view, the bumpy part is also the closest to the edge of the platform. If you are in a rush, and lots of people are standing on the platform, that does not seem to me to be the safest place to be walking. Especially during rush hour, when trains are coming every two to two and a half minutes.

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Reversible Lanes: Dr. Gridlock, Is there any chance that the District would lengthen the time period for the reversible lanes (i.e. Connecticut Ave.)? Traffic is still heavy at 6:30 p.m. and even another 30 minutes would help if you had 4 lanes out bound. Also, There is little enforcement of the no parking, no standing rules during that time, especially on L Street.

Robert Thomson: I should double check, but I've heard of no plans at DDOT to lengthen the time period covered by any of the reversible lanes. I think this situation reflects the eternal tension between neighborhood residents, who want to park, and commuters, who want to get out.

And my readers frequently complain about a lack of enforcement on parking during the no-parking periods on commuter routes, which seems weird, given how aggressive DC is at enforcing the parking meter rules.

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Bicycles: In DC, are bicycles considered vehicles? If so, then shouldn't they be following the rules of the road? I see bicyclists run red lights, turn on red without stopping, and ride in crosswalks or on sidewalks on a daily basis. I've even been hit by a bike, and the rider yelled at ME for walking on the sidewalk! I know it can be difficult for bikes to share the road with cars, but I know I'd be a lot more inclined to sympathy if they actually followed traffic rules once in awhile.

Robert Thomson: Talk about eternal tensions: Drivers vs. cyclists, cyclists vs. pedestrians. Like you, I rarely see cyclists obey the traffic laws, to which they are subject -- and that's in DC and everywhere else, it's just that we're all closer together on the streets and sidewalks of DC.

But when you're talking about who you want to show sympathy for: I never get the idea of treating travelers as a class, as in drivers do this and cyclists do that -- or people in BMWs do this, etc.

By the way, I'm sorry that happened to you. I've had my own close encounters with cyclists on downtown sidewalks, where they shouldn't be riding.

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Merrifield Mess, Va.: Hello, doctor. I commute from Fairfax to Arlington each day, traveling through Merrifield. I used to take Route 29 but switched several months ago to Route 50, which moves a bit more quickly over the course of the entire 13-mile route.

As you no doubt know, Merrifield is undergoing construction. This affects the intersection at Route 29 and Gallows Road, but there's also some lane closures on Route 50, in both directions. I'm not sure what the goal of those closures is. Perhaps a new lane is being added or expanded. I haven't traveled the route long enough to know, because that area has been under construction ever since I began taking Route 50.

In the mornings, I get through Merrifield without too much problem, but coming home, it's brutal. When I used to take Route 29, I'd have to wait several cycles to get through the light at Gallows. I thought that was bad, so I switched to Route 50, which moved pretty well. However, in recent months the interchange with Fairview Park, followed closely by ramps to and from 495, and a light at a cross street near a Wendy's, has caused a massive slowdown in westbound traffic during rush hour. Traffic moves, but it crawls. The influx of traffic off other arteries is a problem, but the main culprit seems to be the light at the cross street. Sorry that I can't remember the name of the street. I approach it so slowly that you think I'd remember the name of the road.

I'm sure other readers are aware of this problem. I doubt anything can be done about it, but I suspect that once construction on Route 50 ends, that will help. Do you know what that project will wrap? I don't think it's part of the work at Route 29 and Gallows, but it may all be linked.

Robert Thomson: This intersection reconstruction project at Route 29 and Gallows Road in Merrifield is a huge deal, and it's not scheduled to be done until 2013.

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More cars and buses: Cars passing stopped buses are so dangerous, I always wait for the bus to pull away after getting off to cross the street since on numerous occasions cars pulling around the bus to pass it or make a right hand turn in front of the bus at my stop never look to see if there is a person crossing the street. It makes one wish for that the buses were equipped like school buses with the stop sign that comes down when dropping or picking up passengers.

Robert Thomson: Yeah, I hear ya. That's why DC made it illegal to pull around a stopped bus and make a right turn in front of it. That was too dangerous for the passengers getting on and off the bus.

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Rockville: How many other difficult to enforce rules can we have on Metro. How about no talking? Or talking but only in English? Or a no thinking zone?

New York does find with adults and food on the subway. Just build the cost of cleaning into the food price and we could have someone to pick up all those papers. I would expect a cleaner system than we have now.

But we have to prove how smart we are by going against human nature. I bet pay potties would also make some money.

Lena Sun: Dear Rockville. You touched on one of my (many) pet peeves. Riders who bring those free newspapers on to the train should TAKE THEM OFF THE TRAIN WHEN THEY LEAVE. Just stick it under your arm or in your briefcase and chuck it in the recycle bin after you exit the fare gates. You don't even have to break stride.

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Arlington, Va.: Regarding standing on the platform, here's a piece of advice: Don't linger in the doorway figuring out where you'll sit while people are trying to catch the train. Metro is unpredictable as it is. If I have to jostle you while you stand in the doorway so that I make the train, then yes, I'm going to jostle you and you're going to have to get over it.

Lena Sun: Don't stand in the doorway means moving in to the middle of the car.

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Olney, Md.: The reason that half the trains turn back at Silver Spring and Grosvenor during rush hour is that a time of about 4-5 minutes is required at any end point for a train to be turned around. If every rush hour train went to Glenmont, there would only be 2 minutes available for the turnaround. This is the same reason that Yellow line trains are turned back at Mt. Vernon Sq. during rush hour. The 3rd track there-- and at Silver Spring, and at Grosvenor -- allows "short-trip" trains to have the needed 5 minutes to turn around.

Even in "gold-standard" New York, unless there is a looping turn around track, no end point gets a train more than one every 4 minutes.

Non-rush hour schedules could allow all trains to go to Glenmont, but more subsidy funding would be required for that, the way it has been given for non-rush all-train service to Shady Grove. Apparently, a train every 6 minutes at Glenmont in the non-rush periods would not translate into enough extra fare payments by users.

Lena Sun: Do you work for Metro?

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Arlington, Va.: In your column on Sunday you suggested that not building more highways was a mistake.

"But as a nation, we made a mistake after we built out the interstate highway system: We stopped."

Do you think any apologies are due to those communities which were and are being destroyed by highways. The decline of family life attributable to longer commutes and exurban living. Perhaps instead of sinking a few billion on a linear parking lot we could reinvest a fraction in transit or in urban spaces and let people out of their cars.

Robert Thomson: I'm not suggestion that our next big plan for transportation should be to build more highways. What I am saying is that we need a new big plan, and we don't have one. The Interstate highway system -- with all it's pros and cons -- was at least a plan. Now, we've got nothing.

What I root for is a mobility plan, something that says it's really important to our future as a nation to make sure that people can get around. How can we help them? That's not weighted toward driving or riding or walking. People should have options, and planners should have the resources to pursue those options.

I can give you my own critique of the Interstate highway system: It worked great when it was about getting people from one state to another. It didn't work so great as a local commuter network, and it soaked up a lot of money and brain power that could have been devoted to creating other transportation options.

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No Parking, D.C.: Not only is there lack of enforcement, the police are contributing to the problem! On Friday at 4:30, on 19th between L and M, there were seven cars parked on either side of the street and an eighth car - a police car - sitting there doing nothing! That street is a rush hour disaster - no lines, no parking enforcement. Seriously, eight cars in one block, effectively reduce what should be three lanes down to one. I hate that block.

Robert Thomson: If I ran things, I'd put a lot more money into the traffic control officers. The Metropolitan Police Department just isn't going to do what we're asking for on traffic control. We need a large, dedicated force under the control of the District Department of Transportation for this mission.

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Laurel, Md.: I just have a question regarding train commuters and their "wheelie" bags. Today at Union Station some poor woman got taken out by another woman wearing headphones and dragging her wheelie bag behind her. Can I just please ask for some common sense when in a crowd and using these bags? When you are in a crowd keep them at your side or push them in front of you - better yet pick them up! I can't tell you how many times I myself have almost been run over by a rude wheelie bagger.

Robert Thomson: Don't you sometimes wish people needed to get licenses to pull those things -- or to push strollers? And think about the revenue from writing tickets!

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Re: "Help love survive": This may not be an option depending on factors, but can one or both of them get a bicycle? Cheaper than a car, quicker than a bus. Plus it's good exercise. And wear a helmet.

Robert Thomson: A bicycle built for two!

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Robert Thomson: Gang, I've got to sign off now till next Monday. This is always fun for us, and it seemed we had a great variety of topics today. Some of you were asking me questions, and I didn't get a chance to publish them. But I'll make a copy of all the comments in the mailbag and try to get responses on some of them posted on the Get There blog later in the week.

Stay safe.

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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.

Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.


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