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 22, 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 22 at Noon ET to diagnose all of your traffic and transit issues.

The transcript follows.

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Robert Thomson: Hello, Travelers, and thanks for joining us on our first summer 09 chat. Lena is with us today, and I think I'll ask her to take on your Metro transit questions and concerns, even if they're addressed to "Dr. Gridlock." There's no better source than Lena for information about the transit system.

As often happens, I've spotted some questions in the mailbag that I think you could help me with, so I'll get them out to you early on and look for your comments.

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Centreville, Va.: We're headed to New England Fourth of July weekend. Ideally we'd drive back Monday but may need to come back Sunday the 5th- any ideas for routes that would avoid some of the holiday traffic?

Robert Thomson: I love the play the alternate routes game and invite everyone to participate, especially since, as Centreville points out, we're heading toward another long weekend.

Centreville, take a look at this link to a feature I did last year on holiday getaway routes:

http://tr.im/pkUc

It's about the winter holidays, but pretty much applies year round. Here are some other thoughts:

Travelers always point out to me that there are no undiscovered shortcuts in the Northeast corridor. When you travel matters more than what route you take. Unless the radio or your GPS is warning about a blocked highway up ahead, it's often better to stick with the biggest, widest road available.

Still, I-95 through Delaware is notorious. There's no big construction this summer, but there's still the toll plaza, where tolls still are collected in both directions and Del. hasn't truly adopted to the E-ZPass age by creating highway-speed electronic toll lanes. (Like you find on the New Jersey Turnpike and the Garden State Parkway, for example.)

Many drivers like a route that gets around Delaware by looping around Baltimore and picking up I-83 north to Harrisburg, PA, and then I-78 to I-80 to I-80 into Northern New Jersey. Then you could take I-287 north to the New York State Thruway. (Or some version of the reverse coming back.)

As bad as Delaware: The Cross Westchester Expressway, to or from the Tappan Zee Bridge. If the Grid Spouse didn't stop me, I'd drive up the NY Thruway to Albany and head east to the Mass Pike, just to avoid the Tappan Zee and the Cross Westchester.

Other voices on this?

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Arlington, Va.: Hello,

I have a question about the pedestrian/bicycle crossings on the GW parkway, near the Mt. Vernon trail. Are cars always supposed to stop if there are people waiting at the crosswalk? With the speed of traffic on the parkway, this can become a dangerous situation. Yesterday I witness a car suddenly stop for the crosswalk, causing the motorcyclists behind her to have to slam on their breaks - hard enough to leave marks on the pavement.

Just curious what the protocol is. Thanks.

Robert Thomson: I wish bicyclists did not have to cross the parkway at grade level. The crosswalk is dangerous for them and for drivers. My recollection of the rules is that drivers must yield to cyclists, or pedestrians, in the crosswalk, not those waiting to cross. Parkway drivers should be following at a safe distance, but let's be real: They're not expecting the car ahead to stop suddenly.

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Rockville, Md.: A while back, I remember seeing an advertisement campaign within the Metrorail system defining such terms as "escalump" (someone who stops suddenly at the top/bottom of an escalator) and "escalefter" (someone who stands on the left side of the escalator). I still see the occasional "escalefter" banner, but it seems Metro is not pursuing this clever campaign as vigorously as I had hoped. I think this is a great way to educate riders while maintaining a friendly atmosphere and sense of humor. They should expand this campaign to include, among other things, terms for people who lean on poles (thus preventing everyone around them from holding onto the pole), people who block doors, and as has been a big issue recently, people who unnecessarily sit in the priority seats and don't get up for someone who needs them.

Lena Sun: Big sigh. Yes, this is the time of year when there are record numbers of people riding the system, lots of them from out of town or local folks who don't ride regularly.

Escalator etiquette is indeed a constant issue. There is a new campaign underway to let people know about the priority seats, and in New York, the transit agency wants to fine folks $50 for sitting in priority seats. Unclear though, how that will be enforced.

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Laurel, Md.: Why is Maryland now charging a "monthly maintenance fee" for E-Z Pass beginning July 1, 2009. Another stealth tax under the guise of a "fee." Don't we support E-Z Pass by the tools we pay, our taxes, and helping Maryland reduce labor costs every time we use it? When does it ever stop?

Robert Thomson: I think I'm getting a bunch of questions about this because MD is sending out notices about the fee increase, which was approved in January.

Starting July 1, a $1.50 monthly maintenance charge per account will be added for people who have MD E-ZPass accounts. New and replacement transponders will cost $21 for the standard model. There will be a new charge of $3 accompanying a Notice of Toll Due. Toll violation charges will increase from $15 to $25. Also effective July 1, the duration of E-ZPass commuter plans will change from 60 days to 45.

The account maintenance charge was particularly troubling to drivers who might go weeks or months without using their E-ZPass. The way they figured it, they should pay for the service only when they use it.

The way the Maryland Transportation Authority sees it, the monthly cost for each user's account must still be paid by the authority to the contractor who administers the E-ZPass system, whether or not the account holder makes any trips.

The authority says its income is directly related to how many drivers are using the bridges, tunnels and highways it tolls, and those numbers are dropping. The authority's revenue declined 6 percent from July to November, so in January it approved a plan to increase annual revenue by $60 million.

This plan did other things, such as increase the tolls for trucks and motorcycles. Would anyone have preferred a general increase in car tolls to the plan adopted?

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Del Ray, Va.: I think I'm feeling the pain of the 14th street bridge construction and I don't even take 14th street to work. I take GW parkway from Old Town to Memorial Bridge. This morning, it was already backed up around 8:45 am Northbound on GW at the 14th street bridge exit. I immediately bailed onto 395 south and took 110 north to get onto Memorial Bridge. It was completely clear taking this route. I'm wondering if I should just resolve to take this detour until the project is complete.

Robert Thomson: Hi, Del Ray, I'm not sure I would change my commute pattern based on that experience. During this first phase of the 14th Street Bridge construction, the old right lane on the northbound span has been eliminated but there are still four through lanes. (The shoulders have been eliminated.)

Northbound traffic from the GW Parkway onto the northbound 14th Street Bridge has a protected merge onto the bridge. (It's trickier for the southbound parkway traffic coming up onto the bridge approach. That's where I'd expect more sluggish traffic as a general rule.) I noticed there was slow traffic this morning on the Southeast-Southwest Freeway, so I'm not sure what you were experiencing this morning was a problem specific to the bridge. It might have been farther up on the freeway.

What say others? And has anyone seen work going on at Chain Bridge, our other big rehab project over the Potomac?

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Arlington, Va.: Do you know how early Metro will be operating July 3? Their Web page just says it will be a 4th of July holiday schedule, with no indication of what that means. That'll be the first leg of getting out of town, so we need to know how early we can plan to depart. Thanks!

Lena Sun: On Friday July 3rd, Metro will be operating a holiday schedule, meaning it will open at 7 a.m. On Saturday July 4th, it will be open from 7 a.m. until 3 a.m. For folks going to the fireworks, Metro will be ramping up with more trains and longer ones starting around 4 p.m.

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Annapolis, Md.: New resident with a question. I moved from So. California where the Highway Patrol takes care of everyone and anything on the State's freeways. 2 weeks ago, in the pouring rain, I had a blow out just East of the Davidsonville Rd exit. I do have a security phone, and thankfully it was working, although I often find dead zones on it. I called AAA but it took them 90 minutes to respond because of the weather.

During that rather unpleasant wait with huge trucks and speeding cars buffeting my car every time they passed, I saw several "official" cars (county police, etc.) whiz by but not one stopped stop to see if I was OK. Is this not part of the policy of the police/troopers in the mid-Atlantic?

What should I do, for instance, if my phone isn't connecting? Start walking?

Robert Thomson: Here's what I suggest, although I hope that never happens to you again: Dial #77. That will connect you to the nearest state police barracks. (That's true on the Virginia highways, as well.)

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Suburban, Md.: I find that on the subway, especially the orange line, there are many young men who take up two seats and almost defy anyone to ask them to move over. Could you suggest to Metro to come up with a plan to discipline seat hogs? Or will the punks get the run of the Metro?

Lena Sun: Dear Suburban Md.: It's not just on the Orange Line. Try riding the Red Line in the afternoon after school lets out. We should encourage the Metro employees who ride the train, especially the burly ones, to say something to seat hogs.

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MD EZ Pass question: Can I go in and out of the program? In other words, can I pay for the next two months, then cancel my EZ Pass, and then sign up again in December?

Robert Thomson: Yes, but I think they're going to want their transponder back when you quit. Is it worth it?

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Arlington, Va.: Any idea why one of the destination columns on the Vienna/Franconia line of the Rosslyn tunnel lists the last two Blue line destinations after King Street as Eisenhower Avenue and Huntington? Did Metro just make a colossal error?

Lena Sun: Sounds like you are referring to signage on a pylon at the Rosslyn station, correct? The correct station names should be Van Dorn and Franconia-Springfield. Maybe it was an error or maybe there's been some vandalism of that pylon. Let's post the question so the rail folks can check it out and fix.

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Boonsboro, Md.: I am interested in some new jobs available in the Dulles/Herndon area, but I have not driven rush hour around there in a few years. Can your audience inform me in what the Toll Road/Rt 28 is like in the morning? Thanks!

Robert Thomson: I invite everyone to respond, but I'd say that the Toll Road eastbound in the morning is just ghastly. Route 28 is getting better, because of the interchange improvements, but still has difficult zones.

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Alexandria, Va.: Sir: I ride the Metrorail to and from work every day. Quite often the musty and mildew-like smell in a car is overpowering. Perhaps there are other riders like me who find these conditions make breathing more difficult than it should be. Do you know if Metro has a problem with mold or mildew in its cars? Do they check for this? If so, how often? And, if found, what do they do? Lastly, should riders report cars (by number) that seem particularly noxious? I need to ride, but I also need to breathe. This shouldn't be a choice I have to make.

Lena Sun: That musty odor can be overpowering on some rail cars, especially after all the rain and wetness that's been tracked on to the carpets. Metro has already decided to get rid of carpets in the train, and officials are trying to decide which type of non-skid flooring they are going to use. Gradually, the carpet will get pulled out and replaced with the flooring.

Yes, by all means you can call them and give them the rail car number that can be flagged to the car maintenance personnel.

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Alexandria, Va.: All of the vehicle lanes on the Wilson Bridge have been open for months, and the pedestrian walkway recently opened. Yet I'm still seeing regular construction occurring on and around the bridge. For example, the entrance from HWY1 to the outer loop has been changing configurations, every couple of weeks, and the 295S ramp is still surrounded by orange barrels and temporary barriers. I understand that the Telegraph section will be ongoing for a few years, but when will the actual bridge section finally be finished? I recall many news articles from last fall touting that the bridge was 'complete'; apparently someone forgot to tell the contractor.

Robert Thomson: When you get a chance, go to this Web page that is part of the Wilson Bridge Project site.

The PDF files on that page, which take a while to download, are very helpful in getting a snapshot of the work that remains. When we say the bridge is done, we mean it's got all the lanes drivers are going to get. As you note, the Wilson Bridge Trail on the north side of the bridge just opened for bikers and walkers. There are plenty of little things left to do. And one big thing we shouldn't forget: Our local leaders have to decide how to use the bridge lanes set aside for transit.

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Priority Seating: The Metro posters for this campaign are disingenuous. I have never seen anyone with crutches having to stand. The problem seems to be with the "non-visible" issues (age, pregnancy, hip replacement surgery, etc.).

In other words, the focus should not be on the obvious. (Feel free to correct me if I am not seeing the whole picture here).

Lena Sun: Probably true. But I think they chose those examples to raise awareness, for starters.

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Re: GW Parkway Crosswalks: The last accident I was in (I only have had 2) was because a pedestrian wanted to cross the GW Parkway and the SUV in front of me decided to stop for them. This happened on a weekend when the Parkway was going along at or above speeds. Since I was in my Honda Civic and could not see through the SUV in front of me, I had no way of knowing that it was going to stop to let someone cross. it was lucky that I realized in time so that the damage to my car (none to theirs) was only slight. This is a terrible place to have these crosswalks.

Robert Thomson: Yes. It's also a good argument for traveling at the speed limit on the parkways, which were not designed for high speed traffic.

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Silver Spring, Md.: FYI, there was pretty major construction on 81 between Scranton and Hazelton (I think) a couple weeks ago, which might affect folks' decision to take the Pennsylvania "bypass."

Robert Thomson: Thank you, Silver Spring. Another general thing about the PA bypass is that it's more miles than the standard I-95 route up the Northeast corridor. It also takes you through some higher elevations, something to keep in mind during winter weather, even if you like it for a summer trip.

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Rockville, Md.: "Would anyone have preferred a general increase in car tolls to the plan adopted? "

Yes. They should have done a two-tiered toll increase.

EZPass toll increase some amount. Cash toll increase more.

Encourage EZPass use (no monthly fee, no transponder fee, yes transponder replacement fee, etc) and save money when people move from cash to EZPass.

It's better for the environment when people aren't stuck in lines waiting to pay.

The state is being pennywise but pound foolish.

Robert Thomson: I think the best thing for reducing congestion would be to have more dedicated lanes for E-ZPass, which seems quite popular now and no longer in need of a taxpayer subsidy. Some of the E-ZPass lanes should be at highway speed, rather than the lower speeds imposed at the MD electronic toll lanes.

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North Bethesda: Several years ago, I was on a tour with Metro's GM, and he said one of Metro's biggest complaint's is that the stations are too dark, and that they were working to fix this problem. Is Metro doing anything about dark Metro Stations? I know I have trouble seeing the signs from inside Trains, when Station Announcements can't be hear.

Lena Sun: Yep. You were probably with Metro's then-interim GM Dan Tangherlini, and lighting was an important issue for him. It's fallen off the radar since then. They've been experimenting with different types of brighter lighting at several stations but there doesn't seem to be any visible follow-through.

There are still regular inspections of light fixtures, but personnel have to get track access to change them, so it doesn't happen quickly enough. Can make a huge difference though. At Van Ness, the track bed lights on one side have been replaced, and it's much brighter than the other side, where lights have not been replaced.

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Metro Seat Hogs: Don't let them get away with it. A simple "Excuse me" will usually get him or her to move the bag, newspapers, legs whatever that are blocking the second seat.

Those are the very people I go up to even if there's an empty seat nearby. Never had a confrontation, never had someone refuse. I've gotten the occasional glaring look, but the person always clears the seat.

If the very act of the person taking up two seats is enough to intimidate the poster, he or she needs more than a seat on Metro!

Lena Sun: I think it depends on the situation, including how crowded the rail car is, who is doing the asking, etc.

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EZpass: I'm a user who only uses it once in a while. The way I see it, MDOT has to also pay toll operators-- how come people who don't use EZPass don't have to pay an admin fee for their salary? I'm one of the current users who will be canceling my EZPass and start keeping a couple of bucks in my glove box for tolls. It's not worth almost $20 a month to "breeze" through the 30 MPH tolls at Fort McHenry. DE's Route 1 has the high-speed lanes and I'd consider paying it for that because they actually are much faster.

Robert Thomson: I've got two vehicles with E-ZPass transponders. I wouldn't give them up, even if I took one long-distance trip a year. I hate to wait at those toll plazas. It's one of the greatest traveler conveniences ever invented.

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Alexandria, Va.: I take the GW in too and had smooth sailing all the way into Rosslyn this morning at around 8:15. I think the backup the previous poster was experiencing might have been due to a moving truck that was stopped (broken down?) where you exit off to the right to go to Arlington instead of Memorial Bridge - things were just starting to back up when we got to it.

Robert Thomson: Thanks, Alexandria. That reminds me that many drivers have been complaining about traffic across the Key Bridge since the start of work on the Chain Bridge and the 14th Street Bridges.

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Silver Spring, Md.: I have a question about why metro, both on the "next train arrivals" part of its Web site AND on the actual sign in the metro station, insists on having what is supposed to be a "no passenger" train, suddenly turn into a shady grove train all the time. Don't get me wrong, I'm happy that this often happens and I can get on what would otherwise be an empty train. However it is frustrating using the next train arrival option on the Web site seeing that a train is supposed to be no passenger, and then almost missing it when they put it into service. Very frustrating.

Lena Sun: Where are you getting on the train?

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Rosslyn pylon signage: Can't say that I've noticed the pylon in question, but originally the Blue and Yellow lines had the opposite termination points than what they are now; they got switched some years back. So maybe the replacement signage (which usually covers over the original signage) was somehow removed, or never in place.

Lena Sun: Ah, that could be it. I'm told the rail guys are looking into it.

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D.C.: Hey, Metro's variable lighting can be very helpful in distinguishing stations. Blindingly brilliant? Must be Foggy Bottom. So dark you can't see your hand? Guess we reached Friendship Heights. Perfect for when I'm dozing between stops and too bleary-eyed to read the letters on the signs.

Lena Sun: See, for us longtime Metro riders, it's a creative way to figure out which station you're pulling into.

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Mold Smell: Yes, but aren't they also replacing the covering of seats to a wool-material? Wet wool seats from people's jackets and umbrellas are going to smell just as awful as the carpeted floor smells after rain.

Lena Sun: Those new seat coverings are on a bunch of rail cars and they have been testing them to see how well they wear. That probably includes the mold test.

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San Francisco, Calif.: Two of my sisters live in DC and I've been following the NextBus roll-out with interest since it works so great here in San Francisco. Your columns keep missing the point that there are numerous ways to get the NextBus info - on LED signs at stops (where WMATA has them), by dialing the telephone on the placard and plugging in the Stop Code, using a cell phone - mobile web or text messaging, or on your laptop at home or work. Please let people know. And not only can they get the arrival times of the next three buses, but they can click on a map on-line and actually see their bus.

TransitNut

Lena Sun: Hi San Fran. Actually, the good doctor and I have pointed out the numerous ways to get this info each time we write about NextBus. I'm not sure folks will be able to click on a map and actually see their bus. I know that information is available to personnel at Metro.

Can you click on a map online and see where your bus is in San Francisco?

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Where are you getting on the train? : Silver Spring

Lena Sun: So here's what I think is happening. The trains are turning around at the pocket track at Silver Spring, and when that happens, the sign says no passengers. But once they turn around and approach the platform at SS to head towards Shady Grove, the systems are turned on and that's why the signs switch to Shady Grove.

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Washington, D.C.: The comment about being frustrated with a slight quirk in the next train arrival system made me recall how when I first arrived in DC 10 years ago the only next train arrival information available was when the lights on the floor flashed. Oh how easily we adapt to new amenities and find ways to criticize them.

Lena Sun: Yup.

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Washington, D.C.: Hey Doc, thanks for joining us today.

Last week I read about some of the huge public transportation projects happening in New York City (Mass Transit Tunnel, Second Avenue Subway). While the Dulles line is what I will call a cute distraction, I think the major problem is the Metro core, which is approaching congestion.

Considering what you know about transportation in the area and the future population impact, where would you build a new Metro line (trunk of something more substantial, maybe) within the District and do you think it could ever get built?

Robert Thomson: As someone who grew up in NYC, I've noticed this about Washingtonians: We have no idea how big and congested this region is going to become and we're unprepared to deal with the consequences.

Transit projects like the Metrorail extension to Dulles and the Purple Line transitway in MD are partly about moving people. But if that were the only consideration, they probably wouldn't be worth the price. They're also about shaping our communities for the 21st Century. Tysons is one community that could use a lot of shaping up. More than 100,000 people go there every day to work, and it's only getting bigger.

We need another transit tunnel through DC, too. We can't keep making it easier for people to take transit from the outer areas without dealing with the congestion in the core. But anyone who knows the tortured history of the Second Avenue Subway in NYC knows how tough -- and expensive -- this is going to be. Metro plans for that are pretty much on the shelf right now because of the expense, and it will take some serious change on transportation financing to get them on track.

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Rockville, Md.: I was looking for the NextBus info at the Metro website, where exactly is it? NextBus sounds like a great service! I hope RideOn institutes something like it, as well.

Lena Sun: There will be a very visible link/click on Metro's website. It hasn't gone live yet because the service doesn't officially start until July 1.

And even more good news. Metro tells me that passengers will be able to click on the "live map" option and they can see the bus moving in real-time and stops along the route. If they move their cursor over a stop, more details are offered such as the arrival time at a particular stop, route and direction the bus is traveling.

RideOn is hoping to have something to roll out by the end of the year on some routes rather than the whole system.

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Falls Church, Va.: I'm glad that Metro is considering no-skid flooring for the subway cars. Do you think someday they'll consider non-skid flooring for the platforms, too?

Lena Sun: LOL. In a major break from tradition, Metro has decided it will no longer use the slippery, clay, hexagonal tiles and switch to (better traction) concrete blocks imprinted with a six-sided design. It will take place gradually as they use up the remainder of the (slippery when wet) clay tiles and use the concrete ones.

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Reston, Va.: Hello Dr. Gridlock,

My wife is having trouble commuting through the Foggy Bottom station because the escalators and elevators are usually out of service. What is the problem with this station? When are they going to get the escalators really repaired? She has major trouble walking up the dead escalators.

Lena Sun: One of the three escalators at that station has been out but is supposed to be repaired by Wednesday. I know it's a major headache any time one of the escalators is out because of the high volume of traffic that gets backed up.

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Dunn Loring, Va.: Having read McCartney's response to your question re a "beltway metro", do you think he's stupid about the realities of government spending and tax burdens, or just painfully naive?

Robert Thomson: Robert McCartney, whose Metro section column debuted in Sunday's Post, is a really smart guy, and committed to helping Washington navigate its way into the future. So I'm looking forward to his upcoming columns and to seeing the causes he champions with his usual enthusiasm.

One specific thing he talked about in his column was the need for a Metro Circle Line around Washington, like what the Beltway is for drivers.

Check out his online chat, where he answered a question from me about how we'd pay for such a thing. This is just a small part of his answer:

"It will indeed be a big, long-term commitment to get the local community (taxpayers and especially developers), and the state and federal governments, to come up with the very, very high cost of building a Metrorail-quality "Circle Line" around the city, parallel to the Beltway.

"But we need to do it anyway. It will take decades, but we should start planning it now."

You know I just said we have no idea how big and congested the Washington region is going to become. And I do think we should wind up connecting the spokes of the Metro lines. But I'm not expecting to see that in my lifetime, because of the huge expense -- I'd figure upward of $30 billion today -- and the logistical problems.

For money and vision, we need a new national policy on transportation, something Congress is discussing right now. For logistics, we need to consider options besides heavy rail, such as rapid bus systems and light rail.

Couple of other thoughts: Metro has basically gone out of the construction business. Metro is not building either the Dulles Rail extension or the Purple Line. If we're going to restart that, it will take a regional commitment, which isn't visible at the moment.

Virginia and the feds are finding the money for the Dulles program. MD, and we hope, the feds, will be finding the money for the Purple Line.

The states and DC have other transit priorities, too. DC wants a streetcar system to link neighborhoods. VA wants a bus system for the HOT lanes and is thinking about VRE extensions. MD needs to improve MARC and is talking about the Corridor Cities Transitway along I-270.

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Arlington DC: Hi Doc and Lena,

How long will the Chain Bridge be under construction? It's the most convenient route home, but now that it is down to one lane in each direction, it's quite the wait in the afternoons.

Thanks

Robert Thomson: Eight months. Seen any work out there?

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University Park, Md.: Dear Dr. G: can you get the MD SHA to do something about the traffic light at Adelphi and University Blvd? It chronically miss-cycles penning northbound traffic in the short 5 car block between Univ Blvd and Campus drive so that the UB/Campus Drive intersection is blocked 3 ways. It also happens southbound leaving southbound Adelphi traffic littered across UB so that westbound UB traffic can't make the left turn. They just don't seem to be able to fix it and when you write them they tell you it's working just fine! If you could pass this on under your authority, they just might pay attention.

Robert Thomson: I'll ask.

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Francis Case Memorial Bridge: Can DDOT put up a sign or paint the right two lanes here that branch off to 12th Street that they are right only? Seems there are plenty of accidents that relate to folks wanting to get left at the last minute (last Friday being an example, I suspect).

Robert Thomson: I find that area of the freeway very confusing. I think the regulars know what they're doing. But the casuals and the long distance travelers are in trouble.

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Moving to Columbia MD - commute to Arlington: I am looking at a new job in Columbia, MD. My husband and I are thinking of moving out to Columbia/Ellicott City/Laurel, but his job will still be in Arlington. What's the commute like?

Robert Thomson: That's a tough drive, especially if it's going to involve coming down I-95 or Route 29 and getting onto the Beltway to reach Arlington. Could you share the pain by moving to someplace like Silver Spring, where he could take Metro -- or at least have a shorter drive -- and you could drive north against traffic in the morning?

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but but but: "I hate to wait at those toll plazas. It's one of the greatest traveler conveniences ever invented."

My point is that whenever I take them, they're not much faster. I like it because I never have cash, but in my experience, it's not much faster at the Bay Bridge, Fort McHenry, or the bridge up I-95 by Havre de Grace. That's about all the tolls I use.

Robert Thomson: I understand. Especially at peak travel times, when the E-ZPass drivers have to wait in the same knot of congestion as the people waiting to pay cash. And those E-ZPass/Cash lanes are pointless for E-ZPass users.

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Rockville, Md.: "It's not worth almost $20 a month to "breeze" through the 30 MPH tolls at Fort McHenry"

I'm hoping this poster meant "year" and not "month". Unless you need new transponder(s), the fee is only $18 per year.

Robert Thomson: Right.

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Silver Spring - EZ Pass (again): Looks like NY doesn't have monthly fee.

Robert Thomson: I do think you can shop around to some extent among the E-ZPass programs and pick the one that works best for you. (Someone else asked about Virginia, but I've heard that Virginia makes it hard for out-of-staters to sign up.)

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Reston, Va.: I have never seen comments on Fairfax Connector on here, so I hope that is part of what you cover! Every afternoon at 4:00 the FCC bus 574 stops on Bluemont near the Reston Town Center, not in the nice new bus depot waiting area, but blocking the right lane of Bluemont. It sits there, completely blocking the right lane of the street and that wouldn't be so bad, but there is a crosswalk right in front of where the bus sits so when I drive past I can't tell if there are pedestrians trying to cross until they appear in front of the bus halfway across the lane. I tried calling Fairfax County but only got voice mails. Who can address this dangerous practice?

Lena Sun: Thanks. Didn't want you to feel left out even though we don't get a lot about Fairfax Connector. Try calling Christine Wegener. 703-324-1100

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Bowie, Md.: Shouldn't it cost less for EZ Pass drivers to go through toll booths?

Sure, they're getting the convenience of not having to wait in a line, but they're helping the state by not have to man another booth and helping fellow motorists by making those lines shorter.

If the state was having trouble making ends meet, they should have raised the tolls on drivers not using EZ Pass, not making it more expensive to have it. I'm dumping mine, and just spending the extra 3-5 minutes in the line.

Robert Thomson: I can't believe that fellow motorists who pay cash would rally around the E-ZPass drivers by accepting higher cash tolls.

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Crossing the GW: Doc - the problem with crossing is the classic chicken or the egg situation. If you stand and wait for a chance to cross you can be waiting for a very long time. If you put your foot in the cross walk, you're officially crossing and cars may have to come to an abrupt stop any way. Given the excessive rate of speed a lot of cars go on the GW, it is hard go to calculate how far a car should be before attempting to cross. Has the Park Service ever considered a pedestrian overpass in some places?

Robert Thomson: There is a ped/bike overpass in Rosslyn, right? I wish there were more and that no one had to take his or her life in hand by using a parkway crosswalk.

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Alexandria, Va.: Please, NO WOOL on public transportation. I'm so allergic, and due to medical issues, must sit, so no public transport for me if they do that...

Lena Sun: Okay. Let's post for the rail folks. These are wool fabric seats that they're testing.

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Eye Street: Hi Dr. -

Can you please alert the DC police to the seriously problematic issue of cars parked along southbound 14th Street during afternoon rush hour? These cars block a whole lane and cause commuters to have to weave around them, backing up traffic tremendously. The problem is particularly acute on Friday afternoons when enforcement is nonexistent. They need to be not just ticketed, but also towed. And they are not all tourists -- many bear VA and MD tags. Apparently these drivers realize what thousands of commuters know: enforcement is a joke. I can't remember the last time the far right lane was completely clear of parked cars from Pennsylvania Avenue to the Bridge. Thank you!

Robert Thomson: This is a long-standing problem for commuters, and I don't believe the Metropolitan Police Department is going to solve it. My hope is that the District Department of Transportation -- which is more likely to take the problem seriously -- will be able to expand its force of traffic control officers and get more tow trucks.

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Alexandria, Va.: Speaking of the GW Parkway - are bicyclists allowed to ride along the parkway itself instead of using the Mt. Vernon trail? I see this a lot lately and it kind of irks me because there is not much shoulder so cars have to move to the left to get around which seems awful selfish given that there's a perfectly good bike trail right there. Am I allowed to drive my car on the Mt. Vernon trail if I decide that suits me better?

Robert Thomson: Last time I checked, bikes were still banned from the parkway. I think this vexes bikers on the southern end of the parkway. They chafe at the speed limit on the Mount Vernon Trail, and some would prefer to be out in the regular travel lanes on the parkway.

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Robert Thomson: Travelers, Lena and I have enjoyed today's conversation very much, but need to break away now. Please stick with me during the week on the Get There blog. And you can always follow up on your concerns by writing to me at drgridlock@washpost.com. That's the e-mail from which I draw letters with opinions and questions to use in my Dr. Gridlock column. So if you want me to share your views, please include your full name and home community -- just as you would for a letter to the editor.

Stay safe out there.

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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.

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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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