Dr. Gridlock Tackles Your Traffic and Transit Issues

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Robert Thomson and Ashley Halsey III
Washington Post Columnist and Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, July 13, 2009; 12:00 PM

Robert Thomson is The Washington Post's Dr. Gridlock. He was online Monday, July 13, at Noon ET to diagnose all of your traffic and transit issues. Joining him was Post staff writer Ashley Halsey III.

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Robert Thomson: Hello, travelers. Post staff writer Ashley Halsey III, our new transportation reporter, is joining in today. We'll take all your questions and comments about local traffic and transit issues. There's a bunch already -- I see ones about I-66 spot improvements, about the Red Line repairs and driving habits -- but keep them coming.

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Capitol Hill: Have you tried NextBus since they re-started it? I've found that it's just as wildly inaccurate as the previous version, and full of glitches on handheld devices. It's a great feature; I just wish they would work out the kinks.

Robert Thomson: I haven't tried it in action yet. All I've done is tested it online and over the phone. What I mean is that I've called the phone number and responded to what the automated voice is asking me to do, or called up Metro's Web site, at www.wmata.com, and plugged in my route information to get the information on the next bus arrival times at certain stops.

I haven't done the crucial part that you have: Gone out to see if the bus actually shows up when NextBus said it would. I plan to do a round of those tests soon, for either a column or a Commuter page feature.

And I invite anyone to write to me at drgridlock@washpost.com to share experiences with NextBus.

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Let the construction commence!: Dr G.

When will the construction for the widening of the westbound lane of I-66 aka "spot improvements" inside the Beltway begin? What is the estimated completion date?

Robert Thomson: Not so fast. You know how things work around Washington. Virginia's plan for spotty improvements along westbound I-66 have been fought every step of the way by people who live inside the Beltway and believe this isn't the way to go. Plus, the Virginia Department of Transportation is very short of cash, and many projects have been delayed.

The first phase of the widening, from Fairfax Drive to Sycamore Street, still is scheduled to start next year, I believe. It was funded by a congressional earmark put in the federal budget by Frank Wolf and then-congressman Tom Davis last year.

The other two are on hold till there's more money for transportation. (Not sure how long that first one will take to finish.)

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Springfield, Va.: With all of Metro's problems we still need the service. I have not heard any more about the proposal for the Blue Line split that would be of immediate benefit to me since I must commute to Gallery Place for work. Even though Franconia/Springfield station is very close to me I use the Huntington Yellow line since it is a much more direct route into the District.

Robert Thomson: Metro riders who write to me have been split on the Blue Line split. I think it's a good idea. Haven't heard anything lately about the timing of a decision, though.

Metro managers say that there are a lot more people heading to the eastern side of downtown Washington now. As one put it, "that's where the cranes are." Lots of office and housing construction. But many Blue Line riders heading for Foggy Bottom, Farragut West or Metro Center see this as a smack in the face. Also, I've heard from Orange Line riders coming in from Vienna who transfer at Rosslyn. They also fear that they'll lose service.

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Clarendon, Va.: I've lived in Arlington a long time and paid my fair share of parking tickets, and I am increasingly annoyed with the parking enforcement vehicle's habit of double parking next to available spaces. It blocks the street, but it also seems to flaunt the very rules it enforces. What is the appropriate medium by which to convey this complaint to the county? Do you think it would have any effect?

Ashley Halsey III: You could try a nice letter/email to the responsible parties, including elected officials, who tend to be more receptive to such things. Or, you could try issuing a citizens parking ticket to the offending car. People who write parking tickets, as a general rule, are noted for their great sense of humor!

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Frederick, Md.: Speeding on the Beltway has gotten worse over the last few years. I see cars fly by me doing at least 90 every morning between Georgia Avenue and Rt.95. Why can't they put speed cameras on the Beltway and slow these dangerous drivers down?

Ashley Halsey III: Ever wonder whether it's that speeding has gotten worse or that we've slowed a step over the years? I think it's gotten worse too. Everybody has a story like this to tell, but when I was driving I95 through the Carolinas and Virginia recently the average speed seemed to be 75-80. Interestingly, 10 days ago on the New York thruway, where state troopers are thick as pine trees, people were not so prone to speed. As to the controversial cameras, the law says they're to allowed on the Beltway. The Maryland law that goes into effect Oct. says they can be used in school zones and highway work zones. In Montgomery County, they're already in use in school zones and neighborhoods.

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South Riding, Va.: I have known for a long time they planned a series of traffic circles in Loudoun county at US-15 and US-50. I drove through the two that are open for the first time this weekend and didn't see how that would help. They seemed to narrow and small. I realize they still construction blocking some of them, but really, will this work? Why is three better than one?

Ashley Halsey III: Time will tell. The concept, of course, is that a circle allows traffic flow to continue, saving time and gas. I've been interested to see them make a come back. When I was a child southern New Jersey (among a great many places) was full of them. Then they were judged dangerous and a nuisance, so they were roundly condemned and many were replaced with traffic intersections. Now they're all the rage again. Wide lapels, short skirts, narrow lapels, long skirts. We'll be writing about the efficiency of traffic circles soon!

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Laurel, Md.: Aggressive, dangerous drivers are everywhere in our area and the roads are getting more and more hazardous, especially in Prince George's County. The police seem to do nothing to stop drivers who race down crowded roads at 20, 30 miles per hour or more over the speed limit. Fewer and fewer drivers signal or even look as they change lanes and cut off other cars. Others run red lights at intersections they know have no red light cameras. When on earth will anyone do something to stop the madness on our roads?

Ashley Halsey III: Sadly, the latest statistics show that the people of Prince George's County are paying for this sort of behavior with their lives. The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration data for 2008 shows that 22 percent of Maryland's traffic fatalities happened in PG. With 130 deaths, the county was far ahead of second place Baltimore County, which had 70 deaths. Montgomery ranked third with 51. Fairfax county had 29. The District had 34.

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Rockville, Md.: The train arrival flashing platform lights on the Shady Grove side of Red Line in Metro Center are constantly on, at least they have been the last few weeks. I didn't check this morning since I notice them on my evening commute back to Twinbrook. I would be greatly helpful if this problem is soon fixed.

Robert Thomson: I see this from time to time and don't know what the cause is: The platform lights flicker in a way that makes it appear we've got an approaching train, when it's just a cruel hoax.

After a long day, a lot of us will stare at those lights, waiting for a sign that the day really will end soon.

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Arlington, Va.: Dr. Gridlock, is Columbia Pike in Arlington ever going to be repaved? Right now it is damaging my car daily. Most of it is in bad shape, but some are dangerous it's so bad. People swerve to avoid the giant divets and potholes, and right before Glebe heading west there are two sets of lane markers, so who knows where the lanes are.

Ashley Halsey III: There is stimulus money designated for Columbia Pike.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Dr. Gridlock, When does Metro expect to begin the Red Line project, and how long will it take (in real time, not in Metro time)? Also, what does it mean when they say they will maintain existing headways and try to limit the disruption between Judiciary Square and Farragut North? Thanks!

Robert Thomson: Metro says the longterm project to rehab the Red Line should get underway early in 2010. It will take about four years. There are plenty of goodies for all those using the most frequently traveled of all Metro's lines. But my concern is this: Metro plans to use a new type of work schedule: Sunday through Thursday nights, starting as early as 8 p.m.

During that time, trains will be sharing a single track to get around the work zone. We're all familiar with that. What we're not so familiar with is the impact of doing this on week nights after rush hour. Metro managers say that because the trains are less frequent at those hours anyway, we should hardly notice any delays. ("Headway", the term Metro uses, is the time between trains.) So in theory, the single-tracking at those hours would add little to the normal headway of about 15 minutes between trains.

That's a level of efficiency and consistency that I admire, but sadly, am not familiar with. So I'd like to see a lot more detail about how this is going to work.

The thing about Judiciary Square to Farragut North, an area that would be tackled early on in this project, is that it involves heavily used stations and is a zone that has some limitations on single tracking. Metro says it can adjust to that. For example, work might not start in that area till 10 p.m., and they might be able to avoid work on nights when the Caps or Wizards are playing at Verizon Center, above Judiciary Square.

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Arlington, Va.: Dr. Gridlock, thanks for the info about Nats stadium and Saturday's concert. I work in that neighborhood and have parking available. 11 minute drive to and 9 minute drive home. The huge crowd trying to just get IN to Metro at the "back door" (Navy Yard entrance) made me very glad I had parking. How did Metro handle that crowd?

Robert Thomson: Hi, Arlington. Glad to hear things worked for you. I was on Cape Cod this weekend and just got back into town shortly before we began chatting, so I haven't heard other reports of how difficult it was to deal with the crowding for the first concert at Nationals Park on Saturday.

We knew that Navy Yard Station would be crowded. Metro told people to expect a wait of about an hour to get into the station afterward. Any readers have further reports for us?

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Washington, D.C.: Do you or one of your chatters know what time the Rockville Metro Station parking lot fills up in the morning? Thanks!

Robert Thomson: I don't know, but would welcome comments to publish during the rest of the chat. Parking generally should be easier now, as we move into vacation season. The lots and garages that I get the most complaints about -- in terms of how early they fill (like 7:30)-- are the ones at the ends of the lines, such as Shady Grove, or Greenbelt. I hear less often about stations such as Rockville, that are a bit closer in.

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Rockville, Md.: Have you heard anything about the upgrade of SmarTrip cards to hold passes? The idea here was that you would be able to use your SmarTrip card both for passes as well as the current pay-per-ride fare value. I think I also remember something about being able to "subscribe" to passes so that they self-renew, deducting the cost of the pass automatically from the value on the card at the end of each pass period. Are these upgrades still on track to happen soon?

Robert Thomson: I thought that was supposed to happen around the end of the year. I wish it had been in place at the start of the year, when Metro stopped issuing paper transfers and the demand for SmarTrip cards rose. (Also, your description is more specific than what I can remember: I will check in the subscription part.)

By the way, I've noticed in some stations that the older fare card machines have been upgraded so that you can now add value to your SmarTrip card on them. This would be great to see system-wide. Most stations have too few vending machines that can handle the SmarTrip transactions.

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H Street Gridlock: Could D.C. do something about the unbelievable gridlock on H Street downtown between 15th and 14th Streets? I have to get through this traffic to pick up my kids at daycare and it is impossible every single day. The problems are threefold (1) numerous commuter buses trying to turn right from H on to 14th; (2) the slug line that is on 14th just south of H (I like slug lines but they are located at the EXACT SAME PLACE as the commuter bus stops which wreaks havoc) and (3) general traffic problems on 14th St. When there is a traffic person directing traffic aggressively, sometimes traffic moves. Otherwise, it can take 3 or 4 light cycles to get from H Street midblock to 14th St.

Ashley Halsey III: Geez, if we got rid of gridlock everywhere Dr. Gridlock would be out of a job. We wouldn't want that! But stay tuned later this week for some news of movement on a plan that may clear out some of those buses and generally speed traffic through the heart of the city.

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Washington, D.C.: I just had to laugh at the Get There entry about Jim Graham finally getting himself onto a bus, the Circulator that -- just incidentally, I'm sure -- goes through his ward. Is there any way to REQUIRE that Metro board members take the Metrobus or Metrorail at least twice every work, like the rest of us poor schlubs? I can't believe that they would put up with broken elevators and escalators, dirty stations, rowdy teenagers, no A/C in Metro Center (just wait until August), delays, delays, delays. It just burns me that we have to put up with this, while they drive company cars to and from their board meetings.

Ashley Halsey III: Anybody who calls himself a "poor schlub" deserves to get his question answered. I think everyone would benefit if the decision makers were regular consumers of the product. Raising the question as you have here is a start, but you could further your cause by taking it up directly with the city and regional officials who you think would benefit by riding the bus and taking the metro.

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Red Line Problems Continue: The inbound rush-hour trains are still arriving at the station too full for people on the platform to board. We need to let multiple trains go by before there is room to squeeze on. When will this nonsense end?

Robert Thomson: I have been on the Red Line frequently since the June 22 crash and know the situation you're describing -- and even if I never took Metro, I'd still know from all the letters and "Get There" blog comments I get about the crowding and the slowdowns. This is topic A right now.

It's not going to end till Metro and the National Transportation Safety Board wrap up their crash-related studies between Takoma and Fort Totten.

You say you don't travel between Fort Totten and Takoma? You're still out of luck, because the train delays in that section ripple back along the entire line.

Some tips (and I know these aren't real solutions): Sometimes the trains get bunched up, and the second one is going to be a lot less crowded than the first one, if you can be a little patient and wait. The first cars usually are not as crowded as the rest of the train, because riders still haven't gotten used to them pulling to the front of the platform (The rear cars, meanwhile, seem extra crowded, because people at the back of the platform have to rush forward when they see where the six-car train is stopping.) And if you want some breathing room, an option is to cross over the platform, ride back a few stops, and pick up a train in your direction earlier in the route.

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when it's just a cruel hoax: Speaking of cruel hoaxes, the "next train" indicator boards are wrong more than they're right. As someone seeking to avoid the trains that turn around at Grovesnor I can tell you that I can't trust the next train displays -- I have learned to look for the indicator on the side of the train.

Robert Thomson: The electronic signs on the Red Line haven't been too much help lately, because they don't account for times when the train controllers will order the trains to stop to balance out the line. If a train does turnback at Grosvenor or Silver Spring, as they do during normal times, that also will throw off the electronic brain.

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Westminster, Md.: A few readers have made note of the aggressive drivers on the roads these days. I will admit that its all to common for motorists to push the limits too far--excessive speeding, running red lights, passing on shoulders. But I think it's nearly as bad (or aggravating) for people to drive too slowly. As someone who commutes to and from D.C. by two-lane roadways, it's not uncommon for me to get stuck behind a person driving 5-10 miles below the posted speed. And that gets on my nerves far more than someone blowing past me at 90 miles an hour on the highway. My question: why aren't drivers who drive too slow given a ticket?

Ashley Halsey III: There are minimum speed limits on major highways. It would be interesting to know if anybody ever gets ticketed for going too slowly. Now, you could argue that the people about whom I'm writing ought not be out there if they can't keep up, and you might be right. But I'd rather that a timid driver, or a driver less certain of his/her skills, or a driver intimidated by an unfamiliar road or mystifying directional signs go slowly (keeping to the right lane) than feel they have to rush along at a rate that might prove dangerous to all of us. (You're hearing this from the son of the most maddenly slow driver in the history of American traffic. Mom made me crazy -- along with everyone behind her. This because she was a child of the Depression and gas cost money!)

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"Metro managers say that because the trains are less frequent at those hours anyway, we should hardly notice any delays.": That drives me crazy. Way to be completely out of touch, Metro. Have they tried riding on the red line at, say, eight-thirty on a Tuesday? It's packed. I get the argument that the trains are spread out at that time, so single tracking won't matter (yeah right) - but their justification is a problem in and of itself! Fifteen minutes between trains is ABSURD at any time, especially between eight and ten...

Robert Thomson: I just hate riding the Red Line after rush hour at night. (And I'm speaking as someone who at least can say to himself, "Well, this is part of my job." You don't have that emotional luxury.) It's almost always crowded. As the crowding starts to diminish, the trains become even less frequent. So you can't win.

But really, what's Metro going to do about that unless we can get governments -- local, or federal, or both -- to kick in more money to support power upgrades and the purchase of more rail cars? (We could increase fares a lot, too.)

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Van Ness, D.C.: RE: Next Bus - In general, I am liking the service, if only because at least I have an IDEA of when I can expect a bus. I have found in the past few weeks that buses often come 2-5 minutes earlier, or average, than Next Bus says they will. Can be a challenge, but if I am already at the stop, I do not mind. What I very much mind is the fact that the call-in service is voice activated rather than touch tone. This means that every loud muffler and horn honking, not to mention other people talking and just the noise of traffic, results in the auto-operator not understanding me. It keeps shorting out with all the background noise and returning to the main menu! So here's my plea to metro - please offer touch-tone Next Bus service, NOT voice activated!!!

Robert Thomson: Some very interesting observations here. Thank you. The system is supposed to be accurate within a couple of minutes. So I'm thinking the main problem isn't going to be late buses. It's going to be early buses, buses that will be missed by people who aren't yet at the bus stop and were relying on the arrival time given by NextBus. The GPS-based system makes a calculation based on traffic conditions. Perhaps right now it's now allowing for the summertime decline in traffic on some routes.

I've had a little trouble with the voice activation also. It's been challenging to speak clearly enough for the automated system to understand me. I like the touch tone idea.

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Arlington, Va.: For the reader who asked about Columbia Pike. They are working on a water main replacements from Walter Reed to just past Glebe road. The streets are torn up and a patched right now. I believe it is scheduled to be finished in the Fall. I am assuming Columbia Pike will be repaved after the construction is finished. It wouldn't make sense to do so before construction is finished.

Ashley Halsey III: Thanks for the info!

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Next bus from Union Station: Hi Mr. T, I wanted to report how helpful Next Bus has been for me. I take the marc train to and from Baltimore everyday. It's been nice the past few weeks to check Next Bus on my phone as my train approaches Union Station. This way I can decide whether the Red Line or the bus is a better option each evening. It's been great!

Robert Thomson: That's great to hear. I hope NextBus proves to be the breakthrough we need. It could get a lot more people to try the buses, which I think is essential to keeping our commuters moving.

By the way, the DC Circulator bus has its own version of the NextBus system, and this could be useful for some of you who travel to and from Union Station.

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Rockville Metro: I don't drive there often, but on the occasions that I have, I've been able to find parking as late as 10 am.

Robert Thomson: Here's one response to the questioner above. (Might one factor here be that the reserved parking spaces open to all at 10 a.m.?)

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Alexandria, Va.: Regarding the proposed Blue Line split, could you clarify something? When it was first being discussed, I believe the rationale for diverting some trains toward the eastern end of downtown (via what is now the Yellow Line) was that there has been a marked increase in ridership to those areas. That may be true, but what about the absolute numbers? I ride the Blue Line from Braddock Road to Farragut West every day, and the vast, vast majority of riders exit at Foggy Bottom or Farragut West. Perhaps there has been more growth in ridership on the east end but there appear to be far more riders in absolute terms who use the western stations. Let's not confuse growth rates with absolute numbers.

Robert Thomson: If there's anyone out there who enjoys a comfortable always-get-a-seat rider at rush hour on any of our Metro lines, I'd love to hear from you.

I'm more likely to hear from some pretty angry people who board the Orange Line at Vienna, or the Red Line at Cleveland Park, or the Green Line at Naylor Road or, like Alexandria, the Blue Line. Rush hour commuters rarely describe comfortable surroundings on Metro.

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Washington, D.C.: To the question re: the Red Line morning problems -

Your response doesn't account for an important part of this - that earlier on, the trains are spaced much closer together.

If I arrive at Woodley Park at 730am-745am, the next trains are generally all between 3-5 minutes apart. But arriving at 815am-845am, and the gaps are much bigger - 5-9 minutes apart. Last Thursday, the board listed them at 6 min, 13 min, 20 min when I arrived.

I know things back up as the morning goes on. But why is Metro putting more trains on the tracks early on, but then spacing them out so far as we get closer to 830am?

Robert Thomson: Metro operates about 40 trains on the Red Line for the rush period. I believe that total number doesn't vary much during the course of the morning service, but I'll ask about that. I think what happens is that as trains come down the line from Shady Grove and head toward a turn around at Glenmont then head back toward Shady Grove, they're getting slowed down a lot, and gaps open up between the trains.

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"Any readers have further reports for us?": I always drive to Nationals Park and did so on Saturday night. Quite quick in both directions. I live south of the Beltway near Springfield and we were home in about 20 minutes via I-295 and the Wilson Bridge. I don't want to say precisely where I park lest everyone start using that spot, but I'll just say it's not one of the Nationals-run facilities (which were charging $40 on Saturday night!!!! Insane!!!).

The only problem I saw with driving is that the D.C. cops were, as usual, not directing traffic. Before the show A LOT of people were making illegal left turns from South Capitol Street onto Potomac Avenue, resulting in much horn-honking by the people stuck behind them, yet there were no cops around to keep the traffic moving. (D.C. is also at fault for not having a more prominent NO LEFT TURN sign in the MEDIAN of South Capitol Street--the only sign is on the traffic light pole on the right side of the road, but of course people who want to go left aren't looking to the right!)

After the show we sailed right out, and the cops WERE directing traffic then.

Robert Thomson: It's disappointing to hear about the situation at South Capitol and Potomac, because that's such an obvious trouble spot and would clearly need traffic control during a big event like the concert.

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Gaithersburg, Md.: The Rockville Metro lot only has about 500 parking spaces so people have become conditioned not to even try to park there past 7:30 or 7:40. Those savvy commuters know that the reserved spots (the few that they have) open up at 10:00 a.m. if not used. You might get lucky during the summer once in a while but don't even try after 7:45 on most days!

Robert Thomson: Thanks for this advice. One of my dreams for Metro is that someday there will be electronic sensors that indicate the availability of parking in all the lots and garages and that this will be visible online or available through a call-in function. The online version would be comparable to what's available in the National Airport parking information system. (Don't hold your breath.)

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Rockville METRO: Hi Dr. G.,

The Rockville METRO has a second, smaller metered lot on Rt. 355 next to the station when the main lot is full. I once found the last parking space in the main lot at 9:30am on a summer morning.

Robert Thomson: Thanks for sharing that useful tidbit.

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Slow Drivers: It seems to me that very often the ultra-slow drivers are usually on the cell phone, texting, putting on make-up, etc, and NOT PAYING ATTENTION. Very dangerous.

Ashley Halsey III: My evidence on the issue, like yours, is based on anecdotal observation rather than statistical data, but often when I come upon a driver going well below the speed limit it turns out that they're busy on the cell phone. What is supported by statistical data: you're four times more likely to be in an accident while talking on the cell phone, regardless of whether you're hands-free or not.

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Metro to Dulles: Hi

Any idea when the Dulles metro extension might finally be done? I know the Tysons hasn't even started yet, but, it would still be nice to know...

When will the Tysons part break ground?

Robert Thomson: The Tysons part is underway. Drive along Route 7 or Route 123 in Tysons and you'll see the evidence. (Along Route 123, it's easy to get confused about what's HOT lane work and what's Metrorail work.) Rail to Dulles is probably something we'll be riding late in the next decade.

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Roundabouts: aka traffic circles do not eliminate traffic lights. They use the lights to control access to the circles(Rt 202 & 206 Somerville, N.J.). The circles where they don't have controlled access (Rt501 Pinehurst, NC for one) back up terribly. This is not a scientific survey, just personal experience from a nearby resident of both.

Ashley Halsey III: When you're a kid on the way to the beach, you learn to hate those circles or roundabouts or whatever you care to call them. For what it's worth, I went through a couple of them in Maryland today with hardly a pause.

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Next bus phone service: Has anyone used their internet service on their phones? It's great! You choose from the menu of buses, then the menu of stops, etc. If you're worried about early buses you can select the stop before the one where you're waiting. I don't want to jinx myself, but I've had all good experiences so far.

Robert Thomson: Seems like a good tip on picking the earlier stop. But generally, just be aware that Metro is saying that the system is accurate to within a few minutes and this could mean a few minutes late -- or early.

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For Mr. Halsey: Is your first name an anagram of your last name, or vice versa?

Ashley Halsey III: Yes, yes.

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Silver Spring, Md.: What's going on (or not going on) with the Silver Spring Transit Center? It looks like they dug a big ugly hole in the ground, and just walked off and left it. Did the project run out of money?

Robert Thomson: Another writer asked me to get an update on the transit center construction, and I do plan to do that for a Dr. Gridlock column or a Commuter page feature. It looked to me like the work might have slowed down during the heavy rains this spring, but there's quite a bit of activity there now. Anybody who connects with a bus at Silver Spring wants this thing to be done now.

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Fairfax, Va.: I have noticed a deterioration of Orange Line service in AM and PM peak times, often six- to ten-minute intervals between trains resulting in overcrowded platforms and and cars. Also, there seems to be an increase in online service alerts. I understand the Red Line problems, but why is the Orange Line so bad recently?

Robert Thomson: I've heard other complaints about the Orange Line. People will tell me things like, There aren't any eight-car trains anymore, or there are fewer trains. But Metro officials say that's not the case. There are the routine problems -- way too routine -- but they're not pulling cars away from the Orange Line cause of the problem with the Red Line.

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RED Line: Please explain or find out the justification for Red line end-of-the-line riders paying the most $$ during rush hour.

I understand paying more the farther you travel (for the same service). I understand the rational for getting more trains back into the "core". I don't understand why a long distance red line rider has to pay a premium for service that is not as frequent as someone riding to Grovesnor or Silver Spring. Thank you!

Robert Thomson: Because the service still is more frequent than at off-peak times and the end of the line riders are taking the longest trips. You can argue that the long-distance fares should be cut, but that pits you against the riders closer in, whose fares would go up to match any long-distance cut.

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SW DC: I am loving NextBus. So far it has proven reliable for me on several different routes. Initially I checked the reliability by entering a bus stop that I can see from the window of my condo (not the one I needed to take, but a good test). Sure enough, the bus came at the noted time. I have used it probably 5 or 6 times with good results. I think this is a huge improvement in the system.

Robert Thomson: Very glad to hear this. Again, if anybody wants to describe experiences in detail, send an e-mail with your name and home community to me at drgridlock@washpost.com and I'll use it in an upcoming column.

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Red line, parking: I'm not sure about Rockville, but generally there are spots available at Shady Grove up to 9am (possibly even later, but I haven't been willing to test that out lately). Twinbrook also doesn't ever seem to fill up.

Robert Thomson: Thanks, and I appreciate all reports from riders about conditions at the lots and garages.

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comfortable always-get-a-seat rider at rush hour : Courthouse to Vienna! Love the reverse commute!

Robert Thomson: There you go. A satisfied customer on Metro.

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Robert Thomson: Travelers, This has been a real lively discussion. Thank you for participating. I'm going to sign off now. Got an appointment to see a highway.

Please join in again next Monday.

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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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