Dr. Gridlock: Snow storm cleanup, Metro service in storm and more

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Robert Thomson
Washington Post Columnist
Monday, February 8, 2010; 12:00 PM

Robert Thomson is The Washington Post's Dr. Gridlock. He was online Monday, Feb. 8 to discuss snow storm cleanup, Metro, another cold weather weekend and the District's new parking fees.

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: Just got back from dropping the GridSpouse at Dulles airport for her flight to Vancouver. No serious problems on local roads in Montgomery County, the Beltway or the Dulles Access Road, but lots to talk about. And I can see from the mailbag that you do, too.

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Herndon, Va: I'm posting this early, hoping it's answered:

Why do the VDOT plows only drive 10-15 mph on the major highways when plowing the roads and why do we need these Motorist Assistance vehicles driving those following (and therefore trying to pass) vehicles into retaining walls.

This weekend, I was caught behind plows going 10-15 mph and even saw a few stuck going up hills (on the Dulles Toll Road) because they didn't have enough momentum.

You've lived in snow-weather climates like I have and I have NEVER seen plows drive that slow even when doing secondary roads. The quicker you go, the quicker the job will get done. I'm not saying drive 60 mph, but go at least 30 so you don't get stuck driving up simple hills.

It's no wonder we're over budget, plows that sit on the side of the road from before the snow starts until it almost ends, then driving the same speed as a Zamboni. If they picked it up a bit, we'd be saving millions of dollars.

Robert Thomson: Hi, Herndon. A Zamboni operates in much better conditions.

I understand the frustration. You feel like you're an experienced driver and can handle snowy roads. I didn't drive this Saturday, but I did the Saturday before, in the snowstorm that seems such a distant memory now. I was behind a slow-moving spreader truck on Route 50 in Prince George's County. So I dropped back a bit and just rode behind him, thinking that it was better to be on a treated lane than on the untreated roadway ahead of the plow.

It may have slowed me down some, but I felt more secure that I was going to get where I was going by staying behind the truck.

Some particular hazards of passing plows: They're kicking up lots of snow; the plow may hit some hard stuff, causing the truck to veer into your lane; the driver of the plow isn't is probably very tired and not necessarily focused on the movements of other drivers.

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Washington, D.C.: So far my flight out of National is still confirmed for this Monday evening. What would you suggest is the best way to get there?

Robert Thomson: Not by Metrorail. The trains still are running underground only today, and not that frequently.

I'd take a cab. If you have to drive yourself, there appears to be enough parking. (If it's a relatively short trip, park in the daily garage.) At this point, I think any main road will get you there. For example, across the 14th Street Bridge on I-395 to the GW Parkway or Route 1. But I'd leave lots of extra time.

Anyone have another view on this or a different experience?

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Silver Spring, Md.: The red line from Glenmont into the city keeps getting worse and worse. Yesterday the trains were all six minutes apart at 8:30 a.m. And the platform when I get off at Gallery Place is insane - it resembles the crowds you expect when a basketball or hockey game lets out. It's dangerous and really inconvenient. What's going on - are they going to do anything to change this?

Robert Thomson: Hi, Silver Spring. I'm guessing you posted your comment a few days ago, and we're all just seeing it now, two days after Metro suspended above ground service. You're "yesterday" probably is a weekday from last week, when we had what Metro calls "normal" service on the Red Line.

I've been talking to Metro officials fairly often about rail service. There have been no cutbacks, they say, despite what many riders deeply believe they are experiencing. Metro managers would like to make some changes in the Red Line service, because they trip between Shady Grove and Glenmont takes at least several minutes longer than it did when the schedule was created. Some reasons: The scheduled never was adjusted for the stop at New York Avenue Station, and the trains linger longer at downtown stations because of the crowding.

Speaking of which: I'm totally with you on the Gallery Place platform crowding on the Red Line level. It is insane. Metro needs to deal with it, but so far has announced no plans to do so.

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Washington, D.C.: How accurate is this list (reprinted) below of the new parking zones?

I live in Foggy Bottom and they have changed all the meters/signs as well, even though they, apparently and according to this list, should not have (shocking, I know). And also (not so) shocking is the inconsistency with which it was done: one side of the street is 2 hour parking till 4 pm, another 6:30, yet another 8 and 8:30, and still another till 10; some through Friday and some through Saturday.

This is making it nearly impossible for those of us who have friends from out of town (even just from VA or MD) visit us, in residential areas, on the weekends as there simply are not enough parking spaces to go around.

How then will their grandiose idea of raising capital via meters survive? No one is going to visit and run to a meter every 2 hours or move their car; they will park in a garage instead (PMI and others I am sure are smiling). "Better" yet, who is going to even want to come into town to go shopping, see a movie, visit a museum, eat a nice meal, if you have to worry about this?

DC has also effectively killed the classic Saturday night dinner and a movie date: how does one attempt this with 2 hour meters that end at 10 pm on a Saturday?

I'll take my business to Va.

Really classic example of being penny wise and pound foolish.

Orig article:

1: Adams Morgan: 18th Street NW from Florida Avenue to Lanier Place and Columbia Road NW from 16th Street to Wyoming Avenue.

2: Georgetown Historic District: M Street NW from 25th Street to 38th Street and Wisconsin Avenue NW from Water Street/Whitehurst Freeway to Whitehaven Parkway.

3: Penn Quarter/Chinatown: an area of Northwest bounded by 16th Street, Massachusetts Avenue, Louisiana Avenue and Pennsylvania Avenue between Fifth and 15th streets.

4: U Street NW corridor: Georgia Avenue/Seventh Street to 18th Street.

5: Downtown Central Business District: the area of Northwest bounded by M Street, 12th Street, Constitution Avenue and 22nd Street.

6: Maine Avenue and Water Street SW

7: The Mall: the area bounded by Constitution Avenue NW, Third Street, Independence Avenue SW and 23rd Street.

8: Van Ness Street NW: from 40th Place to Connecticut Avenue.

washingtonpost.com: D.C. raising parking meter fees, extending enforcement hours (Washington Post, Jan. 10)

Robert Thomson: That's the District's list. I'm not spotting any part of Foggy Bottom that's left out, though you can correct me.

Parkers, what you should look for is what's on the street sign and what's on the meter.

The District had several goals in extending parking to 10 p.m. in many areas and adding Saturday enforcement. It wants to make more money, in part to pay for maintaining the streets; it wants to create turnover at those parking spaces to encourage local businesses (something businesses have supported); and it wants to ease traffic congestion by reducing the chances that people driver around forever in a fruitless search for parking spaces.

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Alexandria, Va.: I take a bus to the Metro station to get to work every day, and one problem I encounter every time it snows is not being able to get to the bus stop. Mine is on a major road, and even if the sidewalk is shoveled, the plows pile up so much snow, there is no way to get to the bus without walking out into traffic on Seminary Road. Who is responsible for making sure these areas are clear, or am I just out of luck?

Robert Thomson: The property owners are responsible. In most parts of the region, they are subject to fines for not clearing their property within a certain number of hours after the storm ends.

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Falls Church, Va.: When do you expect WMATA to announce the status of above-ground Metro stations for Tuesday morning's rush hour?

Robert Thomson: Based on the past couple of days' experience, I think an announcement is likely to come fairly late today.

I hope everybody made it home safely from the Caps game at Verizon Center on Friday night. I know announcements were made during the game that Metrorail would shut above ground operations at 11 p.m. The decisions about Saturday, Sunday and Monday came out fairly late.

Metrorail has a couple of issues: Many of the rail cars were in the yards, and were buried in snow. Also, managers need to be real sure the third rail will remain free of snow and ice so that trains, once running, don't get stranded between stations. Also, it needs to be sure that it's train operators and other staffers can get to work.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Can the new Metro GM ask Obama to include a tunnel boring machine in the jobs bill? We could put express lines underneath on the sections of above ground track on the orange, green and red lines and solve half our delay problems in one fell swoop.

I've got a date tomorrow night downtown. What are the odds Metro will have itself together by then?

Robert Thomson: Metro planners had an idea to build another tunnel through downtown Washington, to take the pressure off the Blue and Orange lines, but that hasn't gone anywhere because of the huge expense involved. I think at this point, it would at least match the $5 billion cost of the Dulles Metrorail line.

Right now, Metro doesn't have enough money to maintain current service after July 1, even with a substantial fare increase.

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Petworth, Washington, D.C.: Hey Doctor, What is the rationale of the D.C. Government opening when buses are not running, Metro is below ground only, sidewalks are impassable in the 'hoods, and parking (if your car can be extracted) is not available at work?!

I stayed home with the kids but really why open at all?

Robert Thomson: The District government and schools rarely close, even when other jurisdictions do, because it has sidewalks and an underground rail system.

But this storm was so amazing, I think the decision to open in DC was highly questionable. The District has the Circulator buses running today, at no charge to passengers, but that's just five lines.

No transportation official in the region is telling us that it's a good idea to travel today. You were smart to stay home. But there were plenty of others who had no option but to head in to work.

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Kensington, Md.: I live in a cul de sac in Kensington, and it NEVER gets plowed until at least the third day after the finish of a snowstorm. The plows work the connecting streets, but that's of absolutely no use to those of us faced with getting out INTO those streets.

And with another storm headed our way tomorrow night, this could add up to a full week without being able to make it to the local Safeway, which is well over a mile away.

I should add that I can traipse through the snow drifts myself and walk up to the store, but not everyone here is fortunate enough to be able to make that trip.

I don't know how many other people are facing this condition (and at least we have power), but I would hope that the county would at least run their plows once through EVERY street before the next storm arrives. There's a guy living next to me who's disabled, and I can only carry so many groceries for three miles in the snow.

And BTW what's with the county's website saying that our cul de sac isn't under their jurisdiction, while all the surrounding blocks are? I'm assuming this is a simple mistake, but with nobody there to answer the telephone, it's sending kind of a creepy message.

Robert Thomson: After any big snowstorm, it's difficult to understand why some streets get plowed and others don't. In Montgomery County, the State Highway Administration is plowing all the state-numbered roads and Montgomery County is out plowing 5,000 miles of roads, too. The county's stated goals is to reach all its streets by midnight.

In some cases, roads are the responsibility of homeowners' associations. I can't speak to your case. But if it's a longstanding problem, you might try working with your county council member on this.

Good of you to think of your neighbor with a disability. That's especially important in a storm that was bound to immobilize the region for days -- and now, we hear about this new storm moving in.

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Washington, D.C.: You were the first person I thought of to ask this question. WHY, tell me, why do the DC snow removal experts consistently plow a pile of snow at the base of the hill in the far right lane of 14th Street leaving the city? The past three snowstorms have nearly left me bruised from an airbag as I accelerate onto 395 passing the Holocaust Museum. Is there anywhere else they might plow the snow to avoid a disasterous accident? Thanks for your insight!!

Robert Thomson: I can see why that would be a nasty spot to encounter a snow pile. There are similar scenes across the region's highways today. Piled-up snow blocks some acceleration ramps completely, or it obscures the view for drivers looking over their shoulders as they try to enter the highway.

In many cases -- not speaking specifically about 14th Street -- the plows just don't have any other place they can move the snow. There aren't enough dump trucks to haul it away. A particular difficulty occurs on highways bordered by concrete barriers. The crews can't even push the snow to the side of the pavement.

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College Park, Md.: Assuming I can get out of my neighborhood, what does the Beltway look like? And roads like Connecticut Ave, Wisconsin Ave., and Goldsboro Rd. in Bethesda? Trying to decide if I should head into the office or work from home again tomorrow.

Robert Thomson: Work from home.

Couple of reasons: Though you can use the roadways you named, including the Beltway, travel still is very difficult. Don't let the beautiful blue sky and bright sunshine fool you. Side lanes and turn lanes disappear in snow. Frozen slush clogs middle lanes. Conditions change very rapidly.

Plus, check the Capital Weather Gang's forecast. We've got more trouble coming in on Tuesday afternoon.

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Chevy Chase, Md.: The fact that Metro didn't open underground stations until 7 am was a mystery to those of us who needed to go to sleep before 11 p.m. Sunday night (to get up early to walk to the nearest underground station). Why can't Metro post its morning delays earlier the previous evening?

Robert Thomson: I see a bunch of similar questions in the mailbag about why Metro waits so long to make announcements. I too wish these announcements would come earlier, to give the rest of us time to spread the word.

My colleague Anne Bartlett, who reaches the newsroom very early, drove down 16th Street NW at 5 a.m. Anne said: "I saw many, many people congregating at the bus stops, looking anxiously north -- clearly expecting a bus to arrive any moment."

So just on this one route -- where Metro was operating bus service today -- there were plenty of people who didn't get the word that Metro would start the buses at 9 a.m.

The problem, I think, is that Metro really does want to operate the trains and buses, and the deciders are reluctant to say they can't do it. They wait till the last moment to make the call.

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Arlington, Va.: Can you give us a general idea what the street conditions are on some of the less busy streets in D.C.? I'm faced with potentially having to get to GW tomorrow, and I'm just curious if sidewalks are being cleared and whether streets are even plowed.

TV news is doing a lot of repeating of human interest stories, but not much reporting of actual conditions throughout the city.

Robert Thomson: You'll find a lot of variety on the streets and sidewalks. It's hard to tell you what to expect on any particular street. Generally, the District has done a very good job in making streets passable, considering the magnitude of this storm. No trip is easy today, though, even with the light traffic related largely to the federal shutdown.

All property owners are supposed to have cleared their sidewalks by now, but I'm sure every DC resident with us today can tell us about exceptions.

I just to a look at the traffic camera views around GW. There's still plenty of snow left to clear, even though they are passable. (And watch the Tuesday forecast.)

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Kingstowne, Va.: This is 1995hoo who regularly posts on your blog. I drove downtown yesterday for the Caps game (I skipped Friday night's and it pained me to do it) and I found that it was much like driving in rural Canada during the winter on ski trips ... with two major exceptions, and that's not counting the people who don't clean their roofs:

1) People here still don't turn on their headlights. No, the snow isn't falling any more, but all the snow on the ground, and the melting snow, combined with the sunlight means big-time glare. Turn on your lights! It makes it easier for other drivers to see YOU. (In Canada it's federal law that all cars have daytime running lights due to the prevalence of two-lane roads. I'm not saying we need that here, but it sure makes it easier to see cars in this sort of weather.)

2) PUT DOWN THE CELL PHONE! My car has a six-speed manual, and when I took a hand off the wheel yesterday to shift I noted the extra effort I needed to stay on course for the brief moment of one-handed steering. The snow was bumpy and rutted enough that the steering wheel felt like it had a mind of its own. USE TWO HANDS ON THE WHEEL. This is especially true if you're in the curb lane with the piled snow next to you. On I-395 coming home from the Caps game, most of us wound up using the left lane because it had some bare pavement (this sort of snow being the one time I will ignore lane discipline). If you lose control and slam into the median barrier, you've just caused a pile up.

Robert Thomson: Hiya, hoo. All good advice, as usual.

I lived in Montreal for five years. One of the things I remember is the special plows designed to clear the sidewalks. That's a city that's used to serious winter, unlike DC, but that's understandable.

That Friday Caps game was a tough call, wasn't it? Metro didn't make the call about when it would shut above ground service till after the first period.

On lights: I had mine on this morning, as I was driving on the Beltway. The bright sun, combined with the roadway crud kicking up, severely limited visibility.

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Ashburn, Va.: Hi Dr. G: Wanted to throw out that it seems there were some lessons learned from the December storm that were implemented this time around. I haven't been out too much, but the one thing I've noticed is fewer of the "disappearing" lanes this time around. It's either a full lane, or no lane. Which is so much better than last time when you were driving along and suddenly your lane was non-existant.

Robert Thomson: Sadly, I cannot confirm that. Example: When I came down the ramp from Colesville Road onto the outer loop in Silver Spring, the merge lane was snow-covered and unusable. Drivers had to move directly into a travel lane, after moving past a large pile of snow over their left shoulders.

At other spots on the Beltway, I saw cars veer from the right lane as it disappeared into a snow bank. Plenty of plows were still out working on these problem areas.

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Washington, D.C.: What's the likelihood that the federal government will be open tomorrow, and how is the new storm likely to impact the rest of the week?

Robert Thomson: In between posting your comments, I check around to see if I've missed any new information on conditions and plans. Just noticed the headline across the Post's Local Home Page: "Accumulations could top 10" late Tuesday into Wednesday"

No word yet on the feds, though. Plenty of tricky decisions yet to come, including from transit services.

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re: District remaining open: I think it was idiotic for Fenty to announce on Friday that they would have everything open and running by Monday. Come Monday, what choice did he have to either open everything up or admit "failure"?

Robert Thomson: I understand the pride in wanting to have the city open for business. Plenty of folks write in after a DC snowstorm to say that we're all just a bunch of weenies and can't really be a first class city, because we're paralyzed by a snowfall.

This was not your average snowstorm. It's a very good thing the feds and most schools decided to close today.

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Oakton, Va.: Why are Washingtonians so afraid of the snow? Granted, this was a big storm, but it happened on a weekend. Why do people panic and buy 4 gallons of milk when they might only go thru 1 in a 3 day period? So what if you get stuck for a day. Read a book, make a fire, play with your kids, talk to your wife. Yeesh. Can you also define a REAL EMERGENCY. I'm sick of people flying around in SUVs with no real need to go anywhere. In other words is running out of chips a real emergency?

Robert Thomson: Many, many times, I hesitate to post snow warnings on the Get There blog -- or at least think long and hard about the wording. This was not one of those times. All the forecasts were lining up. This was a true emergency. People were right to take precautions and to have the supplies that allowed them to stay where they were through the weekend, and through today as well.

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Alexandria, Virginia: I work for the District and for some unknown reason, I was expected to be at work today. ...But how was I supposed to get there? There is no Metro service because there are only two stations within walking distance and they are both above ground, hence no service today. I can't drive because all the neighborhood streets remain unplowed. The District usually follows the lead of the federal government regarding these agency opening decisions, but for some reason did not follow the fed's lead today. What gives?

Robert Thomson: The District government and school system are taking a lot of flack on this today, and I think that's fair. But I think the District Department of Transportation and the D.C. Department of Public Works deserve a lot of credit for their efforts to make city streets passable.

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Washington, D.C.: Are they still plowing streets in DC? I live in Columbia Heights, and we haven't seen a plow in days -- if at all. Except for 16th, streets are only navigable to the extent that snow has been tamped down from limited traffic. And don't even think about turning corners!

Robert Thomson: In every jurisdiction across the DC region, there are plows out, and they'll be out for days. DC's approach is the same as the other jurisdictions: Plow the most heavily traveled streets first, like 16th. Then when those are reasonably passable, start working the neighborhood streets.

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Washington, D.C.: Do you know the latest status of the area airports? What there operating capacity is? The websites haven't been updated since this morning.

Robert Thomson: For everybody with flights at Dulles, Reagan National and BWI: Don't go by what the Web sites say, or by general comments about a runway being open, or a terminal being open. Check on your specific flight with your airline.

The GridSpouse -- on her way to cover the Olympics in Vancouver -- had her flights from National canceled on Saturday and Sunday. She finally was able to rebook for an American Airlines flight out of Dulles this afternoon.

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Norfolk, Va.: Hi,

We're driving from Norfolk to DC early tomorrow morning to catch an 11 a.m. flight out of Reagan National. Roads here are fine, but we're nervous about the unknown facing us in DC. How much time should we give ourselves to navigate from Woodbridge-DCA, and should we jettison our plans to park near a friend's house in Arlington and take the Metro to the airport?

Thanks!

Robert Thomson: You're going to be able to get to the airport, but even the main highways in Northern Virginia have their difficulties today.

I think you don't have to make the call yet regarding parking at your friend's house. Metro has not announced what it will do about the above ground stations on Tuesday. Meanwhile, National Airport's Web site indicates there's plenty of parking at the airport.

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WMATA Communications Problems: Midday on Monday and we don't know if we can get to work tomorrow and we've heard nothing from WMATA on their efforts, what needs to be done and how long it might take.

How hard would it be to give a news crew a primer on what Metro does to clean up after a storm?

John Catoe - are you listening or do you just not care at this point?

Robert Thomson: While I wish Metro would make its calls about service with more time to reach out to riders, the transit authority has explained what it's problems are in restoring service.

On Friday, anticipating the storm, Metro put as many cars as possible underground. But that still left plenty more to get buried in snow in the rail yards. Metro needs those cars to handle a rush hour at all stations.

It also needs to be real sure that once it starts running trains above ground, it can keep them running. That is, can it keep power to the third rail despite icing? Can the power systems on the individual rail cars keep operating despite blowing snow? Are the platforms safe for passengers? Can enough of the transit employees get to work?

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Arlington, Va.: Hi, This is a very specific question but I hope you can help us. My wife is trying to get to East Falls Church Metro station area from Ballston Metro. We have found that ART-51 bus is still running, yet it would drop her off at Lee Hway/George Mason Drive only and she has to walk two miles along Lee Hway to get home.

Do you know of any other bus running to East Falls Church Metro? If not, do you have any information that Lee Hway is safe to walk?

I'm out of town and could not pick her up.

Thanks a lot.

Robert Thomson: Sorry I don't have complete information to help in this case, but I do know this.

Only two Metrobus routes are operating today in Northern Virginia. They are:

-- 16 line (Pentagon - Baileys Crossroads) will terminate at Leesburg Pike and Columbia Pike.

-- 28A (Alexandria - Tysons Corner)

There's no place today where walking is easy and safe. Many people on foot along main roads are finding that they must walk out in the street, which is very dangerous because the cars aren't looking out for them and the pedestrians can't take quick evasive action.

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For College Park: My colleagues that braved the roads to Bethesda said Connecticut and Wisconsin are bad. Take Old Georgetown from the beltway.

Robert Thomson: Thanks for the field report. We're getting by because so many institutions are closed. There are no transportation officials telling us that travel is a good idea today.

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Alexandria, Va.: Do you think it is likely or unlikely that Metro will be running from King street into D.C. tomorrow? And why is it taking so long to restore service -- it never even stopped during Snowpocalypse in December, and that was almost as bad!

Robert Thomson: See my response above for more details. But a historic note: Metro did shut above-ground rail service during the December storm. It was the first time it had done so since adopting the policy that once the snow reached 8 inches along the tracks, it would operate underground only.

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Crystal City, Va.: Hi,

When the Federal Government is officially closed (like today), can drivers use I-66 inside the Beltway (and other normal HOV restricted roads) during rush hours? Thanks.

Robert Thomson: VDOT didn't announce any change in the HOV rules today.

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Response to Kensington: My family had this problem when I was growing up, in central New York, where snow removal is a much bigger deal than in Md.. The families in the cul-de-sac finally chipped in and hired a guy with a plow mounted on a truck to clear the street. It was worth the money in terms of lowered stress and increased safety.

Robert Thomson: Good solution. But I hope Kensington will check around first to see if it really needs to come to this.

I'll bet the transportation departments haven't liked the rise of the cul-de-sac in suburban design. It's tough to get snow-clearing equipment into those limited spaces.

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Wheaton, Md.: Hey Dr. G - I know my question sorta depends on what happens Tues-Wed, but I have a flight to Europe Thur night. I was planning on taking the 5A bus from Rosslyn. What do you think are the chances that 1) that bus will be running and 2) the flight will get off? If the bus isn't running, what do you think is the best means to get there? I'll be leaving from Du Pont? Thanks.

Robert Thomson: Just a guess back at ya, but I think the route used by the 5A should be workable by Thursday afternoon. But it does depend on how big a sock we take from the Tuesday-Wednesday storm.

Alternative is a cab, or the Washington Flyer, perhaps.

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Crosstown Snow Removal: Hi,

My wife and I live near Logan Circle, but she had to be at work in Georgetown today. Can you give any indication (or tell me who I can contact) as to whether DDOT will attempt to plow M Street between 16th Steet and the Rock Creek Bridge, or K Street approaching the interchange with I-66? Both of these road has HUGE ruts and gulleys, and while passable, are nearly impossible to traverse.

Thanks.

Robert Thomson: The DC govt. has an online page called the Snow Response Reporting Page that may help you figure this out. This is the address:

http://snowmap.dc.gov/

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Arlington, Va.: For the person asking about Lee Highway in Arlington: the portion of Lee Highway by my apt (Cherrydale) is clear to pavement and 2 lanes, so it's probably okay down on their end of Lee. (It is a VDOT maintained road -- and has been clear since yesterday).

Robert Thomson: Thanks, Arlington.

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Washington, D.C.: 1. I live by the Takoma metro station and I've seen a few trains go along the tracks today, ve-e-e-r-r-r-y slowly. So, they're working on it! 2. I didn't do any panic grocery shopping before the weekend storm - I generally pooh-pooh that kind of thing - and now I kind of wish I had, because apparently today is my only chance before the next storm. Sigh.

Robert Thomson: Metro runs trains above ground now in an effort to clear off the tracks and the third rail. This is a standard procedure, and a good thing, but as Metro noted in a statement, "continued re-icing of the electrified third rail and winds are blowing snow back onto the tracks are hampering Metro's ability to restore service to the above ground tracks."

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Cheverly, Maryland: How are the Metro parking lots? Need to take an Amtrak train to Philly from New Carrollton Tuesday morning. If Amtrak runs that train, Metro might still not be running above ground. Would parking in New Carrollton Metro parking lot be possible?

Robert Thomson: You could still park there. And you'd want to park in the garage rather than the lot, right? Keep your car out of the weather.

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Silver Spring, Md.: OK, what "local roads" in Montgomery County are you talking about that are fine? I'm in Silver Spring near the ICC construction and the roads are definitely not good. I couldn't even make it to Georgia Avenue without sliding several times - and this from a Philly native with good snow-driving skills and snow tires.

Robert Thomson: I wouldn't say the roads anywhere are "good." All the roads in my Silver Spring neighborhood inside the Beltway are passable. So are Colesville, Flower, Franklin and University -- just as examples from my limited tour of the area.

I encountered a couple of slushy or icy spots where the wheels slipped.

This isn't a recommendation that anybody drive today.

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Stranded in Silver Spring: After this storm, might it be time to take a nice hard look at Metro's operations not just in severe weather, but overall? I can't think of any other agency that would be this hamstrung by severe weather and "shut everything down" is an insult to those in areas where there's above-ground rail. There has to be a more sensible policy.

Robert Thomson: Metro did the right thing in closing the above ground service and in stopping the Metrobuses. I wish Metro would make its announcements earlier, so people could get the word and plan accordingly. But we saw the consequences earlier in this decade of not restricting service in the Presidents' Day weekend storm: Metrorail was crippled for a week because so many rail cars were knocked out by the storm.

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Washington, D.C.: I am planning to leave DC at 8 am Tuesday driving to Pittsburgh. My thinking is that the roads likely will be cleared more by morning and that I can make it before the next snow arrives. Advice??

Robert Thomson: I think you can make that trip -- and it sure looks better than waiting -- but I do think it's best to build in extra time. It won't be smooth sailing.

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Arlingtona, Va.: I wanted to submit a comment. Yesterday I was out driving and can say of all the roads I went on, that the best roads I came to were in Arlington County. By 11 a.m. I was driving on bare pavement in Arlington and once I entered Alexandria, Falls Church and Fairfax I was on a couple of inches of snow. All this was on major roads like Route 7 (Walter Reed and Arlington Mill Drive in Arlington)

Robert Thomson: Conditions vary greatly across the region. On our Web site, we have an interactive page called "My street has been plowed!" (That's looking at the sunny side of things, isn't it?)

We're inviting you to help us update the map on that page so we'll wind up with a good overview of the plows' progress.

This is the page:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/special/metro/passable-streets/

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Robert Thomson: Wow, folks, we've been chatting for over two hours now. (But this certainly was the day for it.)

I've got to break away, but will copy all the remaining questions and comments and see what I can post on the Get There blog.

Keep an eye on that next storm. And write to me anytime at drgridlock@washpost.com.

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