Dr. Gridlock: Your traffic and transit questions

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Robert Thomson
Monday, July 19, 2010; 12:00 PM

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Robert Thomson: Welcome, travelers. I've got delays and crowding on my mind this morning, as do many of you. I was just looking at a traffic camera view showing I-395 approaching the northbound span of the 14th Street Bridge. There's a new lane pattern there this morning and the merges look pretty difficult. Traffic is getting backed up down I-395. Be very careful in that area.And then there's the crowding on Metro. Many of you are writing in with thoughts on Ann Scott Tyson's story in today's Post about the seat hogs. I've got thoughts on that, too. Plus,I'm riled about the situation with some of Metro's out of service escalators, like the ones at Bethesda. There's got to be a better way.Let's talk.

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Tysons Corner: Good Morning Doc! Where can I get official information on the status of the Silver Line and the Hot Lanes Construction? I'm really enjoying watching the construction and all the changes - I would like to know what I am looking at and what else to expect. Thank you.

Robert Thomson: The best source of "official" information is the VDOT's Megaprojects Web site, at http://www.vamegaprojects.com.It's got updates on lane closings and other practical, everyday concerns, plus overviews of many of the big transportation projects in Northern Virginia.Meanwhile, we Posties are trying to keep you up to date on all these things. I've done some features about the big projects on the Sunday Commuter page (Page 2 of the Metro section) and we frequently use the Dr. Gridlock blog for updates. Plus, we recently introduced new Transportation pages, with overviews and updates on the main transportation projects across the region. This is where you'll find that stuff:http://voices.washingtonpost.com/transportation/

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Seat hogs: Dr. Gridlock: Good article in the Post today about Metro seat hogs. This practice was alive and well when I took the Metro to work. I've been retired almost 4 years now and it's still going on. I would always approach the seat hog and say excuse me and get ready to sit down. The offender always moved his or her bag, purse or their body for me. Just speak up, people!! Thank you.

Robert Thomson: This is the first of many comments in the mailbag about Ann Scott Tyson's seat hogs story. To me, there are many forms of seat hogging. The one that's getting the most attention today is the practice of taking the aisle seat when the window seat is vacant.It's one thing if the person has placed a bag or coat on the inside seat. That's clearly seat hogging. But what about if the person has just chosen to take the aisle seat? Many of you have told me over the years that you do this because you don't want to get stuck by the window when your station is approaching. I can see that. You have to ask the aisle seat person to move, then maneuver your way to the door through the crowded aisle. I'm not sure that qualifies as seat hogging.But I do agree with our commenter here: Speak up, and get the free seat.

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Seat Hogs Article and Comments: Would Dr. Gridlock care to weigh in on the controversy?

Robert Thomson: Some of you long-time readers may have seen me say this: When I became The Post's second Dr. Gridlock four years ago and started sorting through your letters, I discovered that about half the writers wanted to comment on something the government did or didn't do. The other half wanted to comment on the behavior of other travelers.Travelers get as angry about each other as they do about the various transportation agencies. inevitable. I'm wondering if that's the case with seat hogging. (Or at least the version of it in which the person takes the aisle seat and doesn't slide over to the window.)Should future Metrorail cars be designed with bench seating, so this issue doesn't even come up? I wrote about that this morning in this Dr. Gridlock blog posting:http://voices.washingtonpost.com/dr-gridlock/2010/07/re-design_metro_for_crowds.html#more

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Ohio Drive Construction: When will the Ohio Drive ramp re-open? The closure is seriously affecting my quality of life because I use this route so often. I cannot find any details online about this construction. I really hope the answer is "before the school year starts again." Thank you for any information you have.

Robert Thomson: The reconstruction of Ohio Drive by the National Park Service and the Federal Highway Administration is one of the top sources of complaints right now. (If you're keeping score, I'd say that for the year, it's Ohio Drive and the reconstruction of Chain Bridge among driver this year.)Think of that: I get relatively few complaints about the megaprojects in Virginia compared to those relatively small ones, like Ohio Drive.The current phase of Ohio Drive reconstruction, the one that's had everyone so annoyed, is scheduled to be done at about the end of this month. I hope the end of that phase will provide some relief, but the overall reconstruction project is scheduled to continue to the end of the year.We were talking about about "official" sources for the Virginia projects. There's also an official source of information on Ohio Drive:http://www.efl.fhwa.dot.gov/projects/traffic-ohio-drive.aspxHere's the meat of what the feds say about this week's work:Weekdays: Monday, July 19 through Friday, July 23, AM rush hours (6:00 am-10am) Ohio Drive will be two lanes of inbound traffic only. Non-rush hours will have one lane in each direction. PM rush hours (3:30 pm-6:30 pm) Ohio Drive will be two lanes outbound only. The ramp from Ohio Drive to Lincoln Memorial Circle will be closed at all times. NOTE: Also during AM rush hour westbound Independence Avenue will be closed beyond 17th Street. Traffic has been advised to detour onto 15th or 17th Street or use alternate routes.

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Metro Refresher: I know you have spoken on this before, but could you rehash why Metro was built so deep in the ground? I could not see elevated tracks all over the City like a NYC or Chicago.However, as I do ride the train daily and have ridden the train in NYC and Chicago, 2 flights of stairs to the train is just fine for me compared to virtually required escalators on DC's Metro.

Robert Thomson: Read the first couple of graphs from a story written in 1998 by my former Post colleague, Alice Reid:Metro's current escalator problems began 30 years ago, when engineers decided to dig subway tunnels deep underground, avoiding mushy, unstable soil closer to the surface. Long, moving stairways would link the deep stations with the street.The engineers' motto was "Deeper Is Cheaper." Not only would it have been more expensive to dig tunnels through the shifting rubble, but constructing stations in it would have been more difficult.Here's a link to the full story:http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/local/facts/metro120598.htmThe date of the story will remind you that the problems with the escalator system have been known for a long time. I do believe they are real, serious problems. But I also believe that those problems have been known long enough for Metro to come up with a fix.And I don't so much mean a plan to rehabilitate the escalators, because I think Metro basically has that. I'm more concerned that Metro doesn't have an adequate plan to deal with the crowding at some stations, like Bethesda right now, while its fixing the old escalators.

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Civility and Metro: It's not just the seat hogs. The prevalence of door blockers is growing. I had one gentleman refuse to get out of the way as I transferred onto a Red Line train from Metro Center to Union Station on a basically empty car when I had a suitcase I was trying to navigate. When other people confronted him about it he nearly started a fistfight.A week later on the Orange Line, same problem, this time caused by individuals overcrowding in one door because, with the cars stopping at the end of the platform, this door ends up perfectly at the escalator up at Metro Center to the Glenmont side. Sure the solution could be to use a different door or car, but you can't make that change with 20 seconds to board. I would love to see Metro enact and implement that NY MTA legislation ... but we can't get Metro to enforce it's No Food rules. Given the amount of people I see with coffee in the morning, writing a decent batch of tickets would help out the budget shortfall.

Robert Thomson: In New York, subway authorities have banned selfishness with seats. A rider who occupies more than one seat, places a foot on a seat, lies on the floor or blocks movement on a train risks being cited for "disorderly conduct" and charged a $50 fine.The police presence in the NYC subways is a lot heavier than in our Metro system. I'd like to see more officers added to our transit police force to ride the trains and buses.But ultimately, a rider shouldn't count on an officer being there to correct bad behavior, whether it's at the doors or in the seats or in the aisles.If there are more than 700,000 trips taken on Metrorail on a weekday and only 1 percent of the riders are knuckleheads, that still a lot of knuckleheads and you're bound to encounter some of them.My general advice about any conflict involving travelers: You don't have to prove your righteousness to a complete stranger. Just do what it takes to make the encounter come out safely for everyone.

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Schedule adjustments?: Whatever happened to having trains skip stations to adjust the schedule? All Metro seems to do these days is have trains wait at stations for one to two minutes or more to adjust the gaps between trains.

Robert Thomson: Trains get bunched up, just like buses. To adjust the schedules, Metro controllers will either hold a train at a station, to put more distance between it and the one in front, or they will tell the operator to skip an upcoming station, so the train will get closer to the one up ahead.Holding isn't so bad, except that a train is supposed to keep its doors open while its holding at a station and that doesn't help the struggling air conditioner.Skipping a station inconveniences many passengers. The operator is supposed to warn everybody on board that this is happening, but you know what those rail car speakers are like. People get confused about what's happening. Then they have to get off at the next stop and back track. So station skipping is not an ideal way of dealing with schedule problems.Another try coming up: Metro still plans to reduce the number of trains on the Red Line at rush hour and add those extra cars to make more eight-car trains. Reducing the number of trains bothers a lot of riders, but Metro officials believe it will make the schedule more reliable, and you won't see such big gaps between trains, or have one train jammed and the next one empty.

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Orange line Schedule during Rush Hour: Dr Gridlock,Despite what Metro claims, they are now consistently only running rush hour trains every four minutes until around 8:30 in Ballston. After that the time dramatically drops off to 8 minutes a train for the next couple of trains (all I can see on the board).If Metro has the nerve to ask us to ride at less popular hours and to charge us made up fees likes it an airline (like peak of the peak), then is it too much to ask that when they charge more for additional trains, they actually provide them. This wasn't a one day occurrence, it has been happening for the last month or two.

Robert Thomson: Complaints about the lengthening gap between rush hour trains generally come from Orange Line and Red Line riders. Metro officials tell me they've got all the trains on those lines that the tracks can safely accommodate.Can both these things be true? Metro acknowledges what we discussed just above here: At rush hour, the schedule can get thrown off quite a bit. You see how long it takes to unload and then load a train at some of the downtown stations, especially the transfer stations. People get mad when the operator tries to close the doors before everyone has gotten off or on. By the time a Vienna bound train gets through downtown DC in the morning, it can be way off schedule. That's going to wind up affecting riders when the train returns from Vienna and reaches, say, Court House, or Rosslyn.

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Buses on 29 in MD: After the ICC is completed (I'm not sure if that's entirely completed or partially) there is supposed to be bus service from the ICC-29 intersection down 29 to the Silver Spring station. How will that work and will it really help alleviate traffic? Are they planning on expanding the road to put in dedicaded bus lanes?

Robert Thomson: This bus plan is not something I'm familiar with, and I'd like to be, so if you get a chance, send a note to me at drgridlock@washpost.com and tell me about where you heard this.I'm not sure what the thinking would be on how bus service from ICC/29 would ease congestion. Would this involve construction of park and ride lots?I know that right now, we could use more bus service on very congested Route 29. But as you probably know, the buses get stuck in the same congestion as everyone else as they get south of New Hampshire Avenue. The interchange construction program that benefited Route 29 to the north of New Hampshire hasn't reached Silver Spring. The buses can use the shoulders in some sections, but that provides only partial relief.

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Cyclists and stop signs: You've recently had letters from both drivers and cyclists about sharing the road. Coming from a family of cyclists, I'm all for this, and I try to be both a conscientous driver and cyclist.However, I may have reached my limit. This weekend while driving in the area I had two close calls with cyclists crossing roads that bisect the WO&D trail. In both cases the cyclists blew through their stop signs, and sailed across the road without even looking to see if cars were coming. Both times I had to slam on the brakes to avoid hitting them. In the second incident, the cyclist wasn't wearing a helmet- an accident would have been deadly.Cyclists on the trail must stop at roadways - the stop signs are clearly marked. (The second time I heard another cyclist waiting to cross the road tell the offender that he was supposed to stop- the guy just shrugged). I try to keep an eye out for people approaching the roadway, and slow to under the speed limit near trail crossings, but cyclists need to do their part as well. This isn't the first time I've had a near accident. What I don't understand, is why a cyclist would be so cavalier? Even at low speeds, in a car vs. bike accident the cyclist is going to lose.

Robert Thomson: I think of myself as a driver and a cyclist and a transit user and a walker and try to appreciate where everyone is coming from. For sure, I agree with you about the need for cyclists to obey traffic laws, for their sake and the sake of other travelers. There are periodic enforcement efforts, and I'm glad of that, but as I said before about Metro riding, there won't ever be enough enforcement to stop all the bad behavior.Unforetunately, there aren't enough travelers who do the right thing just because it's the right thing. More often they do the right thing -- like stopping at stop signs -- because they feel compelled to do it by the fear of a collision.

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Seathogs: Hi,Just commenting that I loved WaPo's Sunday article. What I'd like to add to the list of seathogs are the overweight people who take up too much of a second seat. I think this is a fair issue because it's not great to be a normal-sized person who has to squeeze in a seat. To me, that's a seat hog mentality too. Thanks!

Robert Thomson: And why do they always sit next to me?Here's my list of hogging behavior:-- Riders put bags on the seats beside them. -- Riders put their feet on the seat beside them. -- Riders sprawl across two seats.This one's not quite a seat hog, but a related example of bad behavior: Riders who prop their feet against the center pole.

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"Seat Hogs" on Metro: is misleading. It assumes that everybody who sits in the outside seat (leaving the window seat open) is doing so since they are obnoxious jerks.I disagree. I think the people who are sitting in the outside seats are sitting in the more comfortable seat as they arrived on the train first. If somebody is standing, all they need to say is "Excuse me, is that seat taken?" When the sitter says no, they slide on in. Simple as that. As as for the "lack of civility", I believe the standers lack the civility since they are silently cursing at the sitter.

Robert Thomson: If a person takes the aisle seat and doesn't use the window seat for personal storage, I'd certainly give that person the benefit of the doubt, behavior-wise.Some of you probably fly Southwest Airlines, with its open seating, and you know that the crew on a full flight will advise passengers against strategies designed to keep one seat open for themselves.This thing we're talking about on Metro isn't the same. This isn't necessarily hogging.And yes, just like with the priority seats for elderly and disabled people, ask for the seat.I'll bet a lot of you notice train cars that appear to be crowded, and then when you board, you see that many of the seats aren't taken. The only reasons I can think of for that are people either won't ask for the seats, or they don't want to get stuck when their station arrives.

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Parking at New Carrollton: Forgive me if this is a common question, but I live in Baltimore, and I'll be taking an out-of-town guest to the Smithsonian this Friday. On weekends, I'll park at New Carrolton without worrying about availability or cost of parking.Will I be able to park my car at New Carrollton on a Friday? Will I have to buy a smart card to exit the parking lot? I recall some horror stories about that.

Robert Thomson: This is always a good question, but a difficult one to answer. Parking at the end of the line stations, like New Carrollton, tends to be very tight. Most of them get quite full as the end of rush hour approaches.Metro doesn't have any system of warning drivers that station parking is full until they get there. But you do have a couple of things working in your favor: Metro riding is lower on Fridays and Mondays than at mid-week. It's summer, and the parking lots and garages aren't as full as they get when vacationers return.New Carrollton, which has 3,500 spaces, also is one of those stations with an exit that takes major credit cars in addition to SmarTrip cards.Travelers, do you have any local knowledge to share about New Carrollton parking?

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Red line drama: The best seat hog story ever - I was on the red line going downtown in rush hour. The train was full, except for a seat beside a young woman with cell phone, iPad, and a bulging briefcase. An elderly woman boarded the car, and asked her to move over so she could sit down. the woman replied, "can't you see i'm on the phone?" The elderly woman, replied, "Dear, the whole train can see that you're on the phone. But I'd like to sit down."

Robert Thomson: I love it. (Now, that's a seat hog.)

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Today's WP Article: I'm sure that there will be a whole round of people who defend their behavior as seat hogs or not getting up to give pregnant women or physically impaired people a seat. According to them, if you want a seat then you should "ask." Way to re-direct "personal responsibility" from yourself.You have a choice; you know what's right but instead of doing that, you whine that it is the other person's responsibility. You can try to defend your behavior all you want but there is no excuse. Get your selfish, lazy, self-absorbed, rude butt up or move over.

Robert Thomson: If we're talking about the situations where one person is occupying one seat, it's difficult for me to see that they're doing anything wrong. They're certainly not breaking any rule set by Metro.At the same time, I've got to say that I like to avoid putting anyone in the position of having to ask me for a seat. I won't sit in the priority seats or in an aisle seat if the window seat is unoccupied. But then, I'm healthy and perfectly able to stand for an entire trip. There are plenty of riders who need a seat, and they should just sit down.

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Seat hogs?: The article in today's paper was one of the silliest things I've read. I agree that people placing bags or other belongings on a seat is rude on a crowded train, but I have probably asked for a seat 1000 times in that situation and I've never had a confrontation. If you aren't assertive enough to quietly say "Excuse me" or "I'd like to sit" then it's kind of your fault that you're standing. I see nothing wrong with someone who prefers an aisle seat to sit there. I've never seen someone refuse to give someone the window seat when asked.

Robert Thomson: I don't have an exact count for you on how opinion is running on this in the comments -- both published and unpublished -- but there's a good deal of sentiment on both sides: Some say it's rude to sit in the outside seat, with others saying people are entitled to sit anywhere they want as long as they respond to requests.

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for metro refresher: Marc Fisher used to recommend "The Great Society Subway" all the time for anyone who wanted to learn more about Metro. It covers why the lines were built where they were, why some stations are so deep, the politics of everything, and all sorts of other real great stuff. I've read it a couple times now and just love it; it's scholarly but still very accessible.

Robert Thomson: I recommend it, too, for anyone interested in the modern history of the Washington metropolitan transportation system. It answers many questions about why things are the way they are, both on the rails and on the roads.Here's a link to the Web site of the author, Zachary Schrag:http://www.schrag.info/research/greatsocietysubway.html

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Overweight seat hogs: As a small person, I find that the overweight or otherwise large people often sit next to me as well. Makes sense, because that gives them more room, right?

Robert Thomson: Happens to me on airplanes, too. The Grid Spouse likes the window seat. That puts me in the middle seat. There's usually a large individual in the aisle seat. At least the planes are air-conditioned.

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Aisle seats: I'd a agree that "getting stuck" is a reason people will sit in the aisle seat even if the window is open. Its understandable- get on at Silver Spring, for instance, and by the time you get to Metro Center at rush hour the train is packed. I've missed getting off trains by sitting in a window seat in the middle of the car. So if I know getting off is going to be an issue, I usually take an aisle seat, but as a courtesy to others, try to sit in an aisle seat where someone is already sitting at the window. I know it's not natural in our culture- we always gravitate to rows where BOTH seats are open- but I think it would help if more people did this.

Robert Thomson: I like your strategy. And believe me, I'm second to none in obsessing about Metro etiquette.Including: If I'm in the window seat, when should I ask the person in the aisle seat to let me out? Should it be as the train is entering the station? Then the person getting up is subject to the jerking of the train. Should it be between stations when the train is at full speed? That's not bad, but the person might think you just don't like sitting with him or her. How about when the train is stopped at your station? You may not reach the door. How about when the train is stopped at the previous station? That's okay.Have I missed any possibility? There probably are others I'm forgetting.

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Crowding doors: Why can't Metro make a recorded announcement on the train during rush hours: "If you are blocking the doors, please step off the train so riders can exit. I guarantee you will be able to get back on the train." Please step off the trains if you are blocking the doors!

Robert Thomson: I do wish more people would think of that on their own. A person stepping off at the end of a car might even find that the car next door is less crowded.I know what your fellow riders will say about the idea of announcements about getting back on board: It's probably as reliable a guarantee as the announcement that "there's a train right behind this one."

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Escalators: Here's a thought: The escalators weren't designed to be staircases. Metro said for years that walking on moving escalators shortened their lifespans, not to mention endangering slower-moving passengers. Instead of continuing to bow to the "stand to the right" crowd, how about facing up to the reality of the equipment's limitations and adding "walking on a moving escalator" to the list of infractions, publicizing the new rule heavily, then handing out some meaningfully-priced tickets at the end of the escalators for a while? Yes, everybody would have to slow down and allow more time. But probably not a lot more time than what they have to allow now, in case they have to walk up a broken escalator, and a lot less time than they'll lose if they have a heart attack or heat stroke climbing out of Dupont Circle, Rosslyn or Wheaton.

Robert Thomson: I understand the sentiment, but please consider this: Metro transit police won't be able to enforce such a rule, no more than they can enforce the rule against eating and drinking. If they did try to enforce it, there would be absolute chaos at station entrances. Many people would consider the policy draconian. Most would ignore it.

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Train bunching: I have noticed at Pentagon station that you will get two yellow trains or two blue trains in a row going into DC which means that if you miss that second train, you have as much as a 13 minute wait until the next one of that color comes. This is around 8 am which is when Metro proposes to charge us an extra $.20 each way. Are they proposing to fix this problem? This also happens in the evening during the evening surcharge period at Gallery Place with as many as three green line trains coming in a row before a yellow.

Robert Thomson: No. Sometimes the schedule gets messed up during rush hour. Sometimes Metro thinks it needs more of one kind of train than the other, no matter what riders expect to see.(By the way, everybody who pays the peak of the peak surcharge starting in August will pay based on what time they enter the station. It's not based on what time you leave your destination station.)

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I'm sick of the self appointed seat police. : Dr. I have 18 pins and screws in my back and legs from a plane crash years ago. I have no visible "disabilities" a slight limp at a fast walk and above. I usually sit in the aisle seat or stand because I can't get in and out of the window seat and most of my riding is short hops because its easier than walking for me.I don't touch the "reserved" seats anymore because I'm tired for the seat police snide comments. And don't get me started on pregnant women, the last one I offered a seat to (at work) filed an EEO complaint.

Robert Thomson: We really don't need seat police any more than we need self-deputizing people trying to decide if someone using a disabled parking space is disabled enough.

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Car Redesign: The photo on the redesign showing "bench" seating that was tested is interesting. Looks like really flawed bench seating to me. First, it mainly consists of a line of chairs, not a long bench. Second, the design was problematic because it did not accomodate standing riders. But look at the handholds! There is one row of very high handholds down the middle. It looks like they would have plenty of room for 2 parallel railings lining the ceiling with poles descending down to hang on to. Metro needs to realize that the trains are not "commuter-trains-lite" with seats and carpets. We have an urban subway system and the future cars should reflect this. \

Robert Thomson: Yes, the commuter train vs. subway tension is something we haven't explored in this discussion. Metro was conceived in an era when transit planners were obsessed with ways they could lure drivers from their cars. They felt they had to offer comforts, like carpeting and cushioned seats.Any time we talk about bench seating proposals, we do eventually wind up with a split between the long-distance riders, who tend to like the comforts, and people going just a few stops on crowded trains, who don't mind bare-naked benches along the walls of the cars.And you raise another good issue: If you have bench seating you eliminate the hand holds on the tops of the two-by-two seats. Shorter riders often complain about the reduced number of poles in the 6000 Series, saying they can't get a grip on those overhead rails.

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HOV lanes: When I drive to work in the morning (Alexandria to downtown via 14th Street Bridge) there is a place just near the Pentagon where I can go in a chute off to the left, onto what is marked an HOV lane but the sign always says "open" and lots of singletons go that way. It takes me onto a different section of road that is separate from but parallel to what I call the "regular" 14th Street Bridge, and it's usually faster and easier. Is that normally an HOV-3 lane, except right now it's open to all for now as a way to alleviate problems from the bridge construction? When the bridge construction is finished, am I going to lose my permission to drive there? Thanks!

Robert Thomson: I'm not familiar with this spot. Can anyone identify it for me and address the commenter's question?

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Seat Hogs vs. Overweight: Can I just say wow? I don't know why I'm surprised at the level of incivility directed towards the hapless overweight Metro rider when it merely reflects society's disdain overall. It's too bad that you (Dr. Gridlock) seem to agree that the overweight should not inflict themselves on your personal space by sitting next to you. What a lovely way to demonstrate tolerance and civility.Yes, I am overweight. If I do not find a seat where I can sit comfortably I usually choose to stand. If I do sit, I try to sit sideways so I am not crowding anyone. Believe me, it's not overly comfortable on my end either but it beats standing up and I do believe I paid the same fare as the rest of you. For the person looking to park in New Carrollton, if they arrive after 10 they can park in the reserved parking spaces in the metro garage.

Robert Thomson: You can sit nexst to me anytime, and thanks for the advice about New Carrollton.I think it's fun to have a discussion about how we all perceive the need for personal space in a public environment, but everyone is entitled to ride the train and take a seat if one's available. And I sure don't mean to imply that I'm in such great condition that the person seated next to me wouldn't have reason to feel squeezed.

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Parking at New Carrollton: There is a lot across the street from the Metro garage and the Metro lots that usually has plent of spaces open, even during the week. This lot does NOT take SmartTrip cards and you must pay by credit card.

Robert Thomson: Thanks for more good advice to address the question about parking on Friday.

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timing: I try to get up at least a station beforehand. If I'm getting off at Metro Center, I get up at Chinatown. Especially during rush hour.

Robert Thomson: Yep. At rush hour, I like to get up at the station before and move nearer the door on my exit side. That seems to create the least inconvenience for fellow passengers.

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Big Guy: Hi Dr. G! I'm a big guy. When I board a train or a bus, if there is a vacant seat with nobody sitting next to it, I'll take it. I will not attempt to squeeze in next to somebody because I know I may inconvenience them. I figure if people sit next to me, I'll scrunch up as best I can, but unfortunately do not have the choice in that moment of scrunching up smaller. Am I a seat hog?

Robert Thomson: No, you fail to meet the definition of a seat hog. I think we've all been trying to refine that today, and I'm not sure we've exactly got it, but I think it has to include selfish intent. Taking the seat you're entitled to doesn't qualify as selfish.Also, for all of us, we can't impute motive for anyone, right? That's what strikes me about people who will just stand in the aisle and stew rather than ask for the window seat.

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Seathogs: I generally stand at all times on the train, unless the car is virtually unoccupied. I am a young man, have no physical impediments, and usually am riding to or from work, where I will have been sitting most of the day. But in the end, I find that it's not worth it for me to take a seat that someone else will need or want more.For what it's worth, I also grew up in Kansas and Nebraska where being concerned with the welfare of others is a bit more commonplace.

Robert Thomson: I think your strategy is fine, and we'd be well off if more people shared it.But I can offer one variation, just for the sake of discussion: Sometimes, when I'm standing on a very crowded car and it's clear that no one is going to take an empty seat nearby, I feel that I should take it, just to ease the crowding in the aisle. I can look over and see the knot of people crowding around the door. They're not necessarily standing there because they want to. (There's a weird sort of crowd control aboard the rail cars, isn't there? The crowd is in control.)

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Re: Crowding Doors: You can't have the announcement say "I guarantee you'll get back on" since some of the drivers don't even let everyone off the train let alone let people get on. Almost happened to me twice last week!

Robert Thomson: the crowd wanting to board ever goes away at the peak. The doors have got to close sometime. Plus, when I stand at the end of a train and look down the platform, I don't understand how the operator can possibly see everything that's happening at the doors.

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"As long as they respond to requests": That's the crux of the matter, not where people sit or what they do with their bags when the train is half-empty. The problem is the guys who plop their bag in the window seat, spread their legs as wide as possible, turn up their earphones and set their faces in an "I dare you to ask" expression (two of those in one car last week).And lets face it: When you're riding public transportation, you have an obligation to be aware of the public, not reading your book or yakking on the phone. Pay attention to whether the car is filling up. If you want that aisle seat, fine, but OFFER the window seat to the first person standing near you, and get up so they can reach it. Then you're perfectly welcome to sit in comfort.

Robert Thomson: I think you just offered the best rule to govern behavior: "When you're riding public transportation, you have an obligation to be aware of the public."

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my favorite seat hog story: I was on an orange line train years ago when a man and a woman got into a screaming match because the woman had boxes on the seat next to her it was the only seat free and he asked her to move them and she refused.So then he asked if she bought a ticket for them. It got very heated.Finally she left because he wouldn't let up. He was 100% right that she never should have denied him the seat but it certainly wasn't worth 15 minutes of fighting in my book.

Robert Thomson: I agree with that, and I'm always advising travelers against self-deputizing and trying to enforce rules. But I should add that I've heard a counter argument from some transportation experts:We know there aren't enough police to enforce the rules,whether it's on the roads, sidewalks, trails or rails. The only other behavior-modifier for the miscreant is the admonition that comes from another traveler. (Even if you buy that, you'd have to accept limits. For example, there's a big difference between pointing out another traveler's error and crashing into him.)

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Stepping off: "Q.Crowding doorsWhy can't Metro make a recorded announcement on the train during rush hours: "If you are blocking the doors, please step off the train so riders can exit. I guarantee you will be able to get back on the train." "They can't say that because they cannot guarantee that. I've seen people step off and not be able to get back on.

Robert Thomson: Yes, I sure wouldn't record that announcement to play at all stations at all times.

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Metro Escalators are SLOW: In London, while there aren't many escalators at all, the ones that are in their system run much faster than ours do. There's not as many people walking because they don't feel they have to. Why are our escalators so horribly slow??

Robert Thomson: I would not speed up our escalators. In this crowded environment, that would be hazardous. You must have had this experience: You get to the bottom of the escalator and the people ahead of you stop to admire the view or collect their thoughts. It's a people pile-up waiting to happen.

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Bench vs Regular: Why not have bench seats in the middle of the cars, with the current seat setup at ends of cars? probably increases capacity only slightly, but in the middle where people congregate anyway?

Robert Thomson: I think that's an interesting idea and worth exploring. Gradually, people would get used to such a car design and adapt to it. Another writer on the Dr. Gridlock blog this morning suggested that the cars in the middle of the trains be all bench seating, since that's likely to be the most crowded part of the train. I like that idea, too, but I haven't figured how Metro could set up its car configurations so the bench cars would always be in the middle of the train.

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Follow-up for the person who asked about 14th Street Bridge HOV: Here is a photo of the ramp the person with the HOV question was referencing. The black Lincoln sedan visible just to the left of the minivan is heading onto the ramp in question.

Robert Thomson: Thank you. The traffic seems so light, I realize I should also have asked whether this might be after 9:30 a.m. when the HOV lanes do open to all.

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Repair time: How does Metro set a 'done by' date for escalator repairs? Do they just make it up? They never seem to be competed on time. Also, is there any accountability for repairs when they are not fixed by the deadline?

Robert Thomson: I think Interim General Manager Richard Sarles is trying to add some accountability into the escalator repair system right now.But also, one of the characteristics of a Metro escalator repair is that the mechanics often discover that the problem they went searching for in the first place isn't the only problem they discover. They find other things that have to be fixed, including parts that no longer have a manufacturer. I think that's the most likely reason an escalator repair takes longer than the original estimate. is: That's been happening for years. Metro has developed a good understanding of how difficult it is to fix the escalators. Armed with that understanding, based on years of experience, shouldn't Metro be able to come up with a less disruptive plan for repairing the escalators?

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Mech Engineers Wanted: Why don't they mod the cars to have more exit doors?

Robert Thomson: Like four sets of doors on each side? Consider two things: You'd be taking away more seats, and from our conversation today, I think it's pretty clear that lots of people still want to sit down. And Metro has enough trouble keeping six car doors in service. Wouldn't we just be creating more moving parts to break down?

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Robert Thomson: Thanks for sticking with me through what I think has been a very interesting discussion. We may not have resolved who's a hog and who's not, but it sure was a good chance to vent.Stay safe out there, whether your seated or standing.


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