Dr. Gridlock: Metro problems, snow delays and holiday weekend travel tips

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Robert Thomson
Washington Post Columnist
Monday, December 21, 2009; 12:00 PM

Robert Thomson is The Washington Post's Dr. Gridlock. He was online Monday, Dec. 21 to discuss the aftermath of "snowpocalypse," your travel plans for the holiday weekend, Metro's ongoing problems and diagnose all of your traffic and transit issues.

The transcript follows.

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 Local Living 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.

Dr. Gridlock also hosts his own discussion group, Taken for a Ride, where he tries to help ease your travel pains.

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Robert Thomson: Hello, travelers. Let's share information today about our local traffic and transit issues -- the storm and the holiday getaway, for example -- and give me ideas on what what you need to know from those of us in The Post transportation team this week.

After the chat, stick with us on the Get There blog, where we'll try to answer more of your questions and provide breaking travel news.

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Silver Spring, Md.: I was the motorist you helped get unstuck on Indian Spring on Saturday. THANKS! A Prius is a great car, but the low profile helps aerodynamically it also makes high snow a major problem.

One thought: if you could request people to shovel the snow off their cars before they drive, the snowy streets will be safer. Again, thanks for helping me get unstuck.

Robert Thomson: I'm glad to know you're safe. You were so patient under trying circumstances on Saturday. I wish all motorists in similar situations would just concentrate on the task at hand as you did.

One idea I took away from that situation and used on my Get There blog over the weekend was just how easy it is to get stuck and how difficult it can be to get out. That spot on Indian Spring didn't have much of a grade. It's just that the space around one of your drive wheels seemed to turn to ice almost immediately.

I absolutely agree with your point about clearing off cars. I thought one of the upsides of the deep snow was that people would be forced to clear off the tops of the cars -- not out of concern for others, but just for their own driving safety. No, I discovered in downtown Silver Spring this morning. I saw way too many cars with tall top hats of snow. The rest of their cars had been cleared. Not the top, though.

I was so stunned to see this that the driver behind me had to honk to get me to notice we had the green arrow. I apologize.

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Capitol Hill, Washington, D.C.: Need advice on driving or taking the metro to FedEx tonight. The Redskins website doesn't have recommendations -- have you heard anything?

Robert Thomson: The main thing I worry about for drivers is that not all the usual parking will be available at FedEx for tonight's 8:30 game. (I think the main roads should be fine by then.)

I think Metrorail's Blue Line to Morgan Boulevard Station is the best option, as long as you're up for the walk of almost a mile to the stadium and back to the station after the game. Metro does say it will keep the station open late -- even if there's OT in the football game -- to help fans get home.

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On a Snow Emergency Route: (1) For parking purposes, is the snow emergency still in effect or not? The announcement of the emergency on Saturday was well publicized, but I cannot find a similar announcement saying it has been lifted.

(2) On my street (snow route) most residents complied with the no parking restrictions since Saturday a.m.; however, the few cars remaining on the street were never towed, and at no time during the past two days has there been curb-to-curb plowing. Has the District changed its practice with respect to snow routes?

I understand that the plows are in high demand and some streets have yet to be touched by a plow at all; however, what's the point of making everyone move their cars for two days if no curb-to-curb plowing will take place. If they are no longer going to make curb-to-curb plowing a priority they should do away with the parking restrictions.

Robert Thomson: Yes, the DC snow emergency is still in effect at the hour we are chatting on Monday. There will be widespread announcements when it is lifted.

DC residents and workers can track the progress of plows at this link on the city's Web site:

http://snowmap.dc.gov/

There are plenty of signs indicating which streets are snow emergency streets, but there's a full list of them on this Web page:

http://ddot.dc.gov/ddot/frames.asp?group=1586&doc=/ddot/lib/ddot/services/snow/ser-list-rev.pdf

If you think there's something wrong with what's going on on your street, you can call the mayor's complaint center at 311.

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Alexandria, Va.: Between local government budget cuts and the sheer massive size of this storm, I don't believe I've ever seen a worse response to snow in my 20 years inside the Beltway. The Metro emergency plan didn't work. There has been no information distributed about likely Monday a.m. Metro bus and Metro rail service. The MWAA failed completely to clear the airfields under its control.

When local governments shut down services, and when transit isn't available, and when schools close, one thing happens: people lose their jobs because they can't get to work.

There's just no excuse for it. Again, this all reflects simply horrible on local governments, and in particular on Metro. Why no firings? Why?

Robert Thomson: I hope chat readers will send in a lot of feeback on this today. How did the transportation agencies deal with the storm? What grade do you give them?

You notice that people who come from colder climes write in and say we can't handle the snow. I lived in Montreal for five years. Montreal would have struggled in the first 24 hours of a snow storm as deep and as intense as ours.

On Saturday, I watched plows clear University Boulevard in Silver Spring. Then I saw that in only a few minutes, the pavement was again coated in white. No transportation department could keep up with that.

About Metro: I thought Metro was doing a relatively good job in executing its longtime game plan of keeping the outdoor stations open as long as possible then closing them to preserve the system. (You can't have trains stuck above ground like cars stranded on an Interstate.)

I do wish some communications could have been faster and more definite. It was a bit confusing on Saturday about when the last above ground trains would go through. And I thought decisions about morning transit service were a little slow in coming, but I imagine Metro was trying to see just how much service it could restore safely.

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Washington to Boston: Things at the airports should be cleared up by Wednesday morning, right? I hope?

washingtonpost.com: Live Q&A, 1 p.m.: Travel staffers help you plan great escapes

Robert Thomson: By Wednesday, things should be a lot better, but it's taking time for all the airlines to deal with the backlog of travelers stranded over the weekend.

Key advice from my colleague, Sholnn Freeman, who covers air travel issues: Check with your individual airline about the status of your flight. (Don't just go with the general information that the airport's open and planes are landing and taking off.) Each airline will deal with this mess a bit differently, he says.

Also, those of you concerned about air travel and other long distance getaway issues will want to get in with The Post's Travel team for their 1 p.m. chat. Use that link.

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Maryland commuter: Dr. G - Can you refresh my memory? Will the HOV lanes be running as normal for this afternoon commute? Or because of the Federal Government closure and snow pains will it be waved? Thanks!

Robert Thomson: HOV is as usual today.

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Glover Park, Washington, D.C.: Follow-up from my earlier question about the D2. I see you posted that it would not be running on your blog. However, this is nowhere on WMATA's site, and the link from the main page says nothing about the D2.

Robert Thomson: Here's the list from Metro's Web site as of this moment:

"Due to the road conditions, the following bus lines are not be operating: DC - Routes D2, G2; MD - No routes out of service; VA - Routes 2T, 3A/B/E/T, 17G/H/K/L/M, 18G/P/R/S, 24T."

The link to check current rail and bus status on Metro's Web site is this one:

http://www.wmata.com/rider_tools/metro_service_status/rail_Bus.cfm?

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re: WMATA communications/handling: I admittedly rag on DC a lot for how its residents feel about snow, and I rag on my husband (a Southerner) for same, since I grew up in Boston. But I've actually seen the 1 train, where it goes above ground, stop running in snow like this too, in NYC, so it's not -just- DC, and the 50+ miles of above-ground track hurts them. The distance, both in time and in miles, between trains also hurts them, because the snow and ice have more time to build up.

That said, I had to rely first on the WaPo website and the Get There blog (thanks, guys!) for information, and secondarily, as a lagging option, the WMATA website. I wish they'd be more clear.

(I also wish it hadn't taken me double my normal time to get to work this morning because of an -underground- problem on the Orange Line, but que sera sera. My boss is in the Caribbean anyway.)

Robert Thomson: All the road and rail agencies have storm plans developed from many years of experience, though as experience like this is extremely rare for Washington.

Metro has a good idea what's going to happen to the above ground tracks in a heavy storm and when it's going to happen. What they don't want is to have to rescue 500 people stranded on a train in the snow. Sounds right to me.

About communication: The information coming from the road and transit agencies is better than ever, but still not what it should be.

What we tried to be was one-stop shopping for all sorts of travelers across this region. We hope to continue that this week on the Get There blog. We'll get better, too, but we could use your help. Anytime you can update a blog posting with your own eyewitness account, please do so in the blog's comment area.

As Dr. Gridlock, I can tell you that travelers' accounts are a rich source of information for us to turn around and share with other travelers.

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Columbia, Md.: Tangential, but a kudos. The Columbia Asssociation cleared their trailway system during the storm and I was able to walk to the grocery store mid-blizzard when I wasn't about to drive. Plus, my street hadn't been plowed yet. So thanks!

Robert Thomson: There was so much advice over the weekend about not driving. But for many, walking was not a real option either. Many folks hadn't cleared their sidewalks. That put many people out into the street, and they were so bundled up and so focus on their next footstep that they were unaware of nearby cars.

So I join you in congratulating those who got out and cleared their sidewalks and pathways.

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Washington, D.C.: Which do you recommend for a car stuck in snow/ice, kitty litter or salt?

Robert Thomson: My recipe usually includes kitty litter -- but then I have three cats. If that doesn't work, I'm prepared to put the floor mats under the drive wheels and get traction that way.

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Washington, D.C.: Cancelled flight this morning and thinking about just driving down to Houston instead. How are the interstates today in Virginia?

Robert Thomson: Copy this link to get a current report on road conditions and incidents from the Virginia 511 system:

http://511virginia.org/Incidents.aspx?r=1

In your car in Virginia, you can also call 511 to get updates.

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Silver Spring, Md.: I've lived here for 30 years, this is the most snow I've ever seen at one time here, and driving to work this a.m., I had no problems. I want to commend those who stayed home today - Lordy, I wish I could have - and those who worked through the weekend to get streets clear. Good job by all.

Robert Thomson: It was a well-timed, well-behaved storm. It did what the forecasters told us it would at the best possible time for fighting a storm. (Worst time: morning or afternoon rush hour.)

But I generally agree that the transportation departments did a very good job dealing with this one. I was impressed with how much was accomplished by midday on Sunday after such a tremendous storm.

The governments and schools made smart decisions to close today. It lightened up the commute by a lot and gave the road crews more time to do their jobs.

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Potomac, Md.: I have a Southwest flight at 1 p.m. Wednesday from BWI. I am planning to catch a ride with a neighbor to Greenbelt and take the B30 bus to the airport. Any concerns I should have?

Robert Thomson: Both of Metro's airport buses -- the B30 to BWI and the 5A to Dulles -- drive on main roads and won't encounter the difficulties faced by other buses that use congested streets.

Those buses get very crowded during the holidays, but Metro is adding extra runs to ease that. (Another choice for the BWI trip is to take a MARC train from Union Station.)

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Alexandria, Va.: Why is Metrorail continuing to have problems on its above-ground portions, given that there's no wind blowing the snow around? The WMATA website says the Blue and Yellow lines are disrupted, with "shuttle trains" operating between the (Blue line) King Street and Franconia-Springfield stations.

washingtonpost.com: Blue-Yellow Lines (WMATA.com, Sec. 21)

Robert Thomson: There are plenty of things that can go wrong with the tracks and the switch points and the train undercarriages in the wake of blizzard and with continuing cold weather. It's smart to keep an eye on the updates on Metro's Web site -- and on our Get There blog -- before heading out today.

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Germantown, Md.: I'm beating a dead horse becasue I know that people absolutely positively have to ... but can you ask the public, the driving public, to please put down your cell phone when you're trying to navigate in slush and snow, especially on uncleared streets (i.e., side streets in neighborhoods, etc.), or when they're driving on packed snow. Especially when there's on-coming traffic.

You, even while you're on the phone for what obviously must be a life-saving phone call, may be the best driver in the world on ice, snow or in slush, but the guy coming towards your... he might not be and he might just swerve into your lane while you're concentrting on your phone.

Robert Thomson: Many people are over confident about their driving skills in snow. People using cell phones tend to focus intensely on the road immediately ahead of their cars. There's plenty to be looking at and thinking about when driving in snow, and especially when making a turn.

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Oklahoma City, Okla.: I just moved to the area about three months ago from Oklahoma. Obviously I've never seen a snowfall like this so I've stayed inside since it started. I feel like people should be reminded, judging by the comments, that there's no one really equipped or prepared to drive in snow this deep. I suppose people from the north should be better versed in navigating through a couple inches of snow or even a little more, but this isn't the Himalayas. No one knows how to drive through 18 inches of snow. It's got nothing to do with where you hail from, there just isn't a safe way to do it in these conditions.

On that note though, it seems like people as a whole handled this storm well, with the majority of people listening to the warnings and staying home. It was good to see the mayor being pro-active and keeping the public updated with what city workers were doing to make our lives easier.

Robert Thomson: It's pretty rare that the public can actually see it's money getting spent, but that's always the case in a snow storm. People are very focused on rating the performance of the government then.

Mayor Fenty was smart to hold those many weekend press conferences and update the public about the state of the snow emergency.

And yes, I do belive that the entire region's agencies handled this one pretty well, despite the rareness of such an event.

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McLean, Va.: In response to Alexandria, I grew up in Mnneapolis, and I agree with the Doctor that any local government ANYWHERE would have been very hard-pressed to have kept the streets even somewhat passable during the conditions that we had here on Saturday.

The main difference between some place like Minneapolis and the DC area would be seen in the response immediately following the storm. And while Minneapolis (and similar cities) may be able to clear it out quicker, this is also because they maintain much bigger fleets, supplies, crews, and -- significantly -- budgets for just this kind of thing. For the DC/Maryland/Virginia area, the cost of maintaining "Minneapolis-like" response capabilities would be an all-out budget-buster and an enourmous waste of resources considering how rarely they are deployed.

So, long story short, I am a Northerner who is willing to cut the locals a break.

But for gosh sakes, people, clean off your cars!

Robert Thomson: And clear off the sidewalks.

On your main point: There's no way Washington and the suburbs should spend the money it would take to be ready for a Minneapolis winter.

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Washington, D.C.: My route to work involves small side streets off of North Capitol near the CNN building on First Street. Do you know if/when those streets will be plowed? My little car is completely useless on unplowed roads. Thanks.

Robert Thomson: Well, yes, those streets will be plowed. (As long as you're not talking about an alley. The city doesn't plow alleys.)

This is the link to track the progress of DC plows:

http://snowmap.dc.gov/

And again, if you think the delay has been unusual, call the mayor's complaint line at 311.

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Reston, Va.: Hi Dr. G. I suspect you'll hear a lot of negativity during the chat today, but, what can you do? This was a storm of historic proportions. Did everything go perfectly? No. Were people inconvenienced? Yes. But you know what, it's Christmas week and we should be giving thanks for the hours that the transportation folks spent out on the roads trying to keep it clean and safe for all of us.

Robert Thomson: The crews work amazing 12-hour shifts for days to get through a storm like this. I think they did a terrific job overall. I do have some complaints in the mailbag about specific street scenes, and I'll share them with you.

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Native New Jerseyan: Does Metro have any personnel to dig out bus stops? Mine was at a side street, so it had been plowed, but one woman had to literally climb over a plowed 4 foot mountain and slide down it to get to the L8 on Connecticut Ave this morning. And at Friendship Heights, the curb/street had not been dug out - we had to jump onto another (smaller) mountain. I don't think a senior citizen could have navigated it.

Robert Thomson: No, Metro doesn't dig out the bus stops anywhere. The District would be responsible for clearing the streets and private property owners for the sidewalks.

I do think we should expect to find some problems like this after such a massive storm. I'm impressed with how many buses are running today.

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Petworth, Washington, D.C.: I used the Metro several times Saturday and thought they handled it as well as can be expected. The longest wait for a train was probably 15 minutes -- not so bad, considering the storm was still moving through the city.

My only complaint was that two of the escalators (U Street's 11th Street exit and Navy Archives) were extremely icy and treacherous.

Robert Thomson: I'm sorry to hear about the escalators. They, of course, are a constant frustration for transit riders in any weather. Way to many are exposed to the elements.

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Dupont, Washington, D.C.: Thanks you for all of the helpful information. I have a 6:00pm flight out of National. When should I plan on heading to the airport? I am nervous about travel time and the check in time at the airport.

Robert Thomson: You're like me. Drives the Grid Spouse nuts.

Not sure how you're getting to the airport, so let me say generally that Metrorail is the best option -- but check on Metro's Web site for announcements about any delays on the Blue or Yellow lines. This page:

http://www.wmata.com/rider_tools/metro_service_status/rail_Bus.cfm?

Right now, all rail lines are reported to be on time.

Parking around the holidays is always difficult at Reagan National. But the airport has a good Web page for an up to date check on parking status:

http://www.mwaa.com/reagan/parking_transportation_4/parking_2

At this moment, I can see that the economy lot has 1,304 spaces open. (Pretty good.)

Crucial: Check with your airline before leaving for the airport. Don't rely simply on the overall airport status. If you're flight is on schedule, I'd be there at 4 p.m. I'd probably leave an hour for getting there from Dupont Circle -- that's how cautious I am.

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Washington, D.C.: Yesterday I was driving in Fairfax County and DC, and I was horrified at the number of vehicles with upwards of 2 feet of snow on the roof (not the mention the one person whose sedan had snow on everything except the windshield, the driver and front passenger side windows, and the back window). I know it doesn't snow a lot around here compared to other areas, but you can get brush/scraper combos that have telescopic handles. Or open up a vehicle door and use it to get some height to move the snow off. Even if you're only going 20-30 mph, that stuff will come off eventually and it won't be pretty.

Robert Thomson: Yes, I was surprised about what I saw this morning and by the number of comments we have today also remarking on drivers leaving a crown of white atop their vehicles.

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Arlington, Va.: Dr. G, I have yet to see a snowplow in my neighborhood. I know the importance of the arteries and secondary streets, but after two days and nights with no plow. Come on ... With Arlington and their big government, can't they get a plow in our community.

Robert Thomson: In addition to publishing this complaint, I'll try to show you some others. A cursory look suggests most are from the central part of our region rather than the outskirts.

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Plowing the streets and driveways: While I commend D.C. for getting streets plowed, I wish there was a way that it didn't form a huge wall of snow blocking the driveway entrance onto the street. That only added to the whole digging out process. I realize there are few options, but given the impact on parking, street width, etc. there has to be something else the City can do...

Robert Thomson: I understand the frustration. I'm sure it's shared by people across the region, not just in DC. But I think the reason it's widely shared is the one you point out: They really don't have much choice but to push the snow to the sides of the streets. It blocks in cars as well as driveways.

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Washington, D.C. Metro area: Hi Dr. Gridlock.. I love your column and read it religiously every week. This is a request. Could you put a message out there somehow/somewhere asking the snow removal teams to plow the excess snow at the on/off ramps. The way it is now is very dangerous, especially on 495 near the legion bridge and also on the 270 spur. There are no merge areas. I almost wiped out on one of them, and saw several other motorists almost wreck on them as well. Thanks

Robert Thomson: There were some highway problems across the region today. There were issues on ramps -- as you point out -- and also with some lanes and shoulders disappearing.

I wish they weren't there, but some of these problems were bound to occur after such a storm. That's one reason I think the feds and the schools were absolutely right to close today. It helped keep traffic low -- in places like those merge areas -- and gave the road crews more space to advance their work.

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Arlington, Va.: I need to drive the outer loop home tonight from Maryland to Virginia. There was quite the back-up driving to work-- things were not moving on the outer loop. Are they expected to be finished with snow removal by the American Legion Bridge by the afternoon rush hour?

Robert Thomson: I don't have specific information about the Legion Bridge area. The crews are concentrating on getting the main travel routes clear, so I think it's a good bet you'll find the trip back easier than the morning trip.

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Stuck in Va.: Are the WMATA metro busses running in Alexandria and Arlington, yet?

Robert Thomson: Metro says that the only routes not operating in Virginia now are these: 2T,3A/B/E/T,18P/R/S,24T. But you may still encounter delays and detours.

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Arlington, Va.: I'm flying out of Dulles on Thursday 10 a.m. How bad (in terms of it being the place where the airport folks might dump all the snow removed from runways, etc.) do you think parking will be in the long-term lots?

Robert Thomson: All the Dulles lots are open right now. I've been out there several days after a snow storm and had difficulty. It wasn't because a lot of space was taken up by snow banks. Rather, it was because the plows can't clear the spaces where people are parked. So by the time you get there, you may be maneuvering into a rutted, icy space. Plus, you're getting there at the tail end of the holiday getaway. So I'd leave an extra hour just to make sure you can deal with parking. (As I said earlier, I'm very conservative about airport getaways.)

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Arlington, Va.: Big thumbs down to Arlington County today. Columbia Pike was fine, but other roads were awful. I've given up on expecting my street to be plowed, but S. Eads and S. Joyce in front of Pentagon City were a mess.

Robert Thomson: Lot of complaints today about specific roads in Arlington.

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Downtown Washington, D.C.: Thanks for keeping everyone posted this weekend. What's the best way to get to Reagan this afternoon, coming from downtown D.C.? Car, metro, or cab?

Robert Thomson: 1)Metro

2) Cab

3) Car

But I think any of those will work this afternoon -- as long as the car already is dug out.

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Washington, D.C.: Still waiting for the city to move the abandoned snow plow at 40th Place and Beecher Street NW!

Robert Thomson: Call 311 and tell 'em to get it moving.

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Washington, D.C.: My wife and I are scheduled to fly out of Dulles (to Paris direct) on Thursday at 10 p.m. Any thoughts on how early we should leave (assuming the flight is still a go etc ...)?

Robert Thomson: Driving to the airport? I think the roads will be in pretty good shape by then. See the answer I gave above about how it can be difficult to park in the economy lot in the days after a snow storm and build in some extra time for that. If I were on my way to Paris -- very nice -- I'd want to be at Dulles at 6 p.m. You may encounter some holiday traffic, but again, the road conditions should be OK.

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Arlington, Va.: Dr. Gridlock,

As much as we like to criticize the Metro's communications team, they did a good job of keeping us updated on service disruptions due to the snowstorm. Great use of social media -- namely Facebook.

I learned about the above-ground stations and buses on from Metro's Facebook page, which is where also read about the Smithsonian, National Gallery of Art and other museums in DC closing.

Just some food for thought to other readers that they should become fans of Metro's and other DC-area institutions' Facebook pages.

Robert Thomson: I thought Metro did a good job on Facebook and Twitter during the storm on Saturday. Many transportation agencies are taking advantage of social media to get their messages out -- both the emergency messages and the longer term stuff.

The snow was falling so rapidly at midday on Saturday that it would have been difficult for any communications system to keep up with the changing conditions in our transportation network.

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Re: Plowing snow across driveway entrances: I grew up in suburban Chicago, and the plows there did the same thing. My advice is to shovel the snow wall right away before it hardens.

Robert Thomson: Yeah. This snow was pretty light as it fell. It's so much better to get to the cars and the driveways quickly, before the snow packs, rather than waiting. Even if you're not working today, and the fireside is so delightful, roust yourself for a little exercise.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Why not use and increase MARC service when Metro above ground stations close?

Robert Thomson: I don't believe MARC, or VRE, has the capacity to do that in an emergency of any sort. Plus, you're talking about a very limited network of suburban rail lines. And there's that communications thing: You've have to get the word out rapidly and widely to many people who aren't used to using MARC or VRE.

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Washington, D.C.: Doc,

Driving to New York on Thursday. How heavy do you think traffic will be?

Thanks!

Robert Thomson: Heavy. It's not like the Thanksgiving Wednesday rush, but it's still bad. I'll say what all the travel experts tell me: If you have to drive on Thursday, go very early or very late.

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Columbia Heights, Washington, D.C.: I have the exact opposite reaction to metro and snow management. I think things were great. Half of Columbia Heights was open for business at 11:00 on Saturday, including Chipotle. Using the next bus app on my phone I knew exactly when and if a bus would come by. I took metro to gallery place for a movie at 1:30 and only waited 10 minutes. If people don't want to feel stranded, then don't live in the burbs. Your cul de sac is not critical. 14th street in DC is! I had a fun day of movies, eating and being mobile. Makes up for the rest of the stress of city living.

Robert Thomson: The way it should work for everyone.

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DCA!: Hi Dr. Gridlock -

I have an international flight on Wednesday morning at 8 a.m. I'm planing to be on the first Metro there - do you think the airports will be normal by then, or should I plan to be there much more than two hours ahead of time?

Robert Thomson: They'll be a lot better than they are now, as the airlines have a chance to make adjustments. But again, all the advice to me is that I should urge people to check with their own airline about the status of their particular flight before they head to an airport this week.

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Washington, D.C.: I'm flying out of BWI on Christmas morning at 7 a.m. I have a car and was planning to drive, but is the parking going to be a huge problem?

Love your chats!

Robert Thomson: No, not a huge problem, but I'd leave extra time for the parking experience, because it will be crowded and you may not wind up in the lot you originally targeted.

By the way, if I'm going away for just a few days, I splurge on the Daily Garage at BWI rather than going to the longterm lot. It's $4 more per day, but it's so convenient to be in a garage that's just a short bus ride from the terminal that I think it's worth it.

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Arlington, Va.: Have you ever been waiting for a bus and it goes by without stopping because they didn't see you waiting? I decided to take a bus on Friday night instead of driving and the bus went right by me! It was dark out, in the Fairlington area of Alexandria but I stepped out and waved, yelled, but to no avail. What should I have done differently? Maybe a flashlight? I went home instead because I didn't want to wait 40 minutes for the next one.

Robert Thomson: I can't speak to those specific circumstances, but I generally recommend bright clothing and flashlights to people waiting for buses in the dark. There are other reasons a bus might pass you by: The bus might be packed, or driver might have been told by a supervisor to make up schedule time by skipping stops. Or the driver might be misbehaving.

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Essex, Md.: I'm traveling to upstate New York on Wedesday... better to take 95 and fight through traffic or up through Penn and risk mountain weather?

Robert Thomson: On Wednesday, I'd take 95 at off hours. I know many drivers like to drive up to Harrisburg, PA, and then take the interstates east from there, but I do worry about that mountain weather in the winter, do I go with the coastal route.

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Boonsboro, Md.: Sunday after Christmas travel on I95: Any history on what I95 is like the Sunday night after Christmas? I need to drive that way this year, and have no recent experience on it. Is southbound gridlock or decent? Thanks!

Robert Thomson: I think it will be very crowded on I-95 on the Sunday night after Christmas. Again, it's not Thanksgiving Sunday night crowded, but you probably wouldn't be able to tell the difference.

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Germantown, Md.: To my fellow drivers: Please use your turn signals and lane change signals. You know that that when you're on-coming you're going to turn in front of me as I'm approaching the intersection but I don't; I'm giving you credit for being a consciencious driver who would use his turn signal. Or maybe you're driving with a broken turn signal/lange changer.

And please use the lane changer signal when you're driving on I-270 or the Beltway; it's really difficult for me to drive any slower because you or your fellow drivers are cutting in quickly, right in front of me or another vehicle, changing lanes back and forth, to gain a car length or two; if I drive any faster than slow, because of you, I won't have any stopping distance and our cars will meet in ways our cars shouldn't meet.

Robert Thomson: I think the turn signal thing is so important in the type of weather we've been having. Not just for driver to driver information, but also for driver to pedestrian. It's tough to get through those snow banks and icy patches. Pedestrians could use a little warning if you're about to make a turn.

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Olney, Md.: Hi, Robert, Yesterday we traveled from Olney to Clarksville on Route 108. The Montgomery County part of 108 was horrendous. There was lots of slush and packed snow and huge piles of snow between the lanes. When we got to Howard County, however, it was a very different story. The road was almost pristine -- totally scraped and not a flake of snow on it.

Why did Howard County do such an amazingly better job? Or why did MoCo do such a lousy one?

Robert Thomson: I'm glad to get this report from you and all the reports from other travelers about the weekend conditions. I'm not sure that it's necessarily a county vs. county thing. Driving conditions varied a lot from road to road. Also, the snow-clearing process is such a moving target. Some drivers could make the same trip a few hours apart and have very different reports about the same stretches of roads.

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Robert Thomson: I've got to break away now, till our chat next Monday, but I plan to use some of the unpublished comments on our Get There blog.

Overall, I'd say the comments about how the transportation agencies did in the storm were split almost evenly between those giving good marks and those giving failing grades.

We'll continue to use the Get There blog to post comments, questions and information about the storm aftermath and the holiday getaway issues. You continue to stay safe.

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