Monday, August 30, 1999
When it comes to traffic, Dr. Gridlock wants to know where it hurts. He answers your traffic and commuting questions in a column that appears Monday in the Metro section and on Wednesday or Thursday in the Weekly and Extra sections. (You can always read his latest right here.)
The doctor was online at 11 a.m.
Washingtonpost.com: Our guest today is Washington Post columnist Ron Shaffer, also known as Dr. Gridlock. Ron, welcome! Our first question: How long have you been Dr. Gridlock? Who came up with the name? And is it only you?
Dr. Gridlock: Fourteen years ago. Eugene Robinson, then assistant city editor, came up with the name. Almost in jest. It's not a jest any more. I am assisted by Jessica Medinger, who screens incoming communications.
Has there been a formal study to determine the time difference during heavy traffic of
Dr. Gridlock: I haven't seen any but it's a good question. I'll ask a few sources about the concept. But I join you in noting that drivers will change lanes multiple time in front of me and only wind up a car ahead of me at the next stop light.
Rockville, MD: when will the Branch Avenue part of the green line be open?
Dr. Gridlock: It is projected to be completed in the spring of 2001. That will also mark the completion of the 103 mile Metro system.
Scottsdale, Arizona: Almost forty years ago, when I was a member of the Metropolitan Police Department,nearly every police officer on foot patrol and many scout car officers provided traffic control during the morning and evening rush hours. Officers were even held over from the midnight tour when traffic was especially bad. On a recent trip to DC, I never saw any traffic control being provided by uniformed police officers. Why?
Dr. Gridlock: That is a favorite subject. In New York City, you see traffic police at scores of major intersections and they help keep traffic moving.
Falls Church, VA:
Dr. Gridlock - Great to see you online! Thanks for the valuable service your column provides to the region. As you know, traffic congestion is of tremendous concern to the people of this area. In fact, my question is: why isn't your column a daily?
Dr. Gridlock: We went from once a week to twice a week in April and our incoming communications jumped from 100 a week to 400 a week. I'm not sure how much more I can absorb although I recognize this is an important subject for a lot of people.
Chester County, PA:
What if the now long-cancelled expressways such as I-95 and I-66 had been built to their full planned length in the District of Columbia? Would traffic congestion be better or worse off today?
Dr. Gridlock: Traffic would probably move better through the area, but I'm not sure we'd be happy with what the city looks like. The highway money was diverted to the construction of the Metro system, and that seems like a good idea even today.
Washingtonpost.com: What do you figure is the single worst commute in the region? Not the longest, necessarily, but the yard-for-yard most miserable, slowest, nastiest, most enraging?
Dr. Gridlock: I asked for nominations from folks in Southern Maryland, Loudoun and Prince William counties and got a number of commutes too horrible to imagine. To ride along with them I would have to show up at 4 a.m. cut across counties for two to two and a half hours, and then spend a day in the city before turning around and repeating the commute in evening rush hour. I couldn't comprehend doing it even for a day, let alone five days a week.
Alexandria: Speaking of traffic control, why weren't there ANY traffic cops helping with the flow during the overturned possibly explosive truck incident? It took me 1.5 hours to go 1.5 miles on back roads. It seems like a few people directing flow instead of lights would have made a small difference.
Dr. Gridlock: My impression is that police place top priority (and maybe all their energy) in securing the scene and blocking off lanes off traffic. Directing traffic seems too often to be an afterthought.
Alexandria, VA: Are these chats going to be a weekly thing now? -I really hope so!-
Dr. Gridlock: Thank you, I'm not sure. We'll take it one at a time. A question: what would you folks get out of this format than from the newspaper columns?
Mt. Rainier MD: Metro is the best thing to happen to this city in a long time. When car-addicts complain to me about their taxes subsidizing the subway, I remind them that the only reason they can move at all on these roads is because the rest of us are scanning our newspapers on the Metro. Thereby lowering our blood pressure, alleviating road rage, and expanding our knowledge. They should subsidize more of that!
Dr. Gridlock: I agree. That's why it seems to make sense to spend more money on Metro than on huge interstate highway projects that inevitably fill up.
Washington,DC: In DC who is it that decides the timing of traffic lights. Is there a method, recognized by the District, for a citizen to influence those decisions?
Dr. Gridlock: Bill McGuirk is the D.C. Department of Public Works official in charge of traffic lights.
Reston VA: Are you using hunt & peck? this seems to be going really slowly.
Dr. Gridlock: Ok. I'm going to try touch typing. Here's goes: zklgnpfahjqihj'qrkgjpuishg
Washingtonpost.com: After we ran our "Commuting Sentences" multimedia package on people with horrible commutes, an e-mail war ensued between people who live near work and have no patience for commuters, and people who said the only way they could afford a nice home was to live way outside the Beltway. Do you sense a split in the area between the commuters and the non-commuters?
Dr. Gridlock: The folks who live close in sometimes have a smugness about having an easy commute. The commuters from afar whine incessantly(with good reason).
Stephens City, VA:
Hello Dr. Gridlock!
Dr. Gridlock: No, but I would like to hear from the public why they do. Perhaps it is to clear smoke from the car, at the expense of a brush fire or incinerating the car behind.
I think you'd get interaction from people that may not ever write or email you. Plus, it could be extremely topical to get feedback the same day as a big event -like the Wilson Bridge jumper, the explosive truck in VA, etc.-.
Dr. Gridlock: I like your second comment especially. As one who writes ten days in advance of publication, the immediacy of this format is much appreciated.;
Hyattsville MD: Does it seem to you like transportation is the LAST thing people think about when they buy a home? Ever so many people seem to be shocked to find out how bad their commute is, having moved to the way-out suburbs. This is hardly a new phenomenon!
Dr. Gridlock: Sometimes it is. I had a friend who bought a big home in Stafford County and commuted to Fairfax City across bad county roads.
Bethesda, MD: Glad to see you are online! I have been noticing two "bad" driver safety annoyances lately: 1- people not using their signals for turning, lane changes, etc. and 2- people not turning on their headlights when it's raining! Even though now it's a law! Any comments on these serious safety issues? Thanks!
Dr. Gridlock: Failing to signal lane changes, what can we say. Perhaps if police would ticket such scofflaws, the number might be reduced.
I would like to know why can't people go to & from work at different times instead of the bankers hours of 9-5 ?
Dr. Gridlock: They do. Some people work four, ten hour days, Others show up for work anywhere from 6-10 a.m. But I take your point. Local transportation planners should (and are ) taking into account more "flex time" possibilities.
Burke, VA: Dr. Gridlock, Is traffic in Northern Virginia really that much worse than that in Maryland? I admit it stinks, but does crossing the Potomac really provide any relief?
Dr. Gridlock: I believe traffic is worse in Northern Virginia. That impression is buttressed by the opinions of others who work in Virginia and live in Maryland.
An answer for the guy with the smoking question: Though I don't smoke anymore, when I did I always threw them out the window. I smoked for 10 years and think I might have hit another car maybe once. The reason for throwing it out is that otherwise you have to keep your ashtray full of butts, and that's nasty.
Dr. Gridlock: Thanks for offering an opinion. But littering the roadside so that you can keep your ashtrays clean chokes me up.
Metro is great but parking at a metro station is terrible. Are there any plans in the works to expand parking at stations like van dorn -where the lots are full by 7 or 7:30-
Dr. Gridlock: Parking has got to be a top Metro priority. It makes no sense to turn away would-be Metro users because we can't park them.
Arlington, VA: Hi Dr. Gridlock - the value of these online chats is that it acts as a supplement to your too-short and too-infrequent newspaper columns. Hope to see you as an online regular.
Dr. Gridlock: We'll see.
Five minutes left with the good doctor.
Springfield, VA: Here's why folks don't signal--the people who speed up to head off the signaled lane change! I was taught to signal all lane changes, but often find the only way I can accomplish one is to just look in the mirror and go, go go!
Dr. Gridlock: There is a lot to what you say. You signal--and some bozo zooms around you in the lane you were aiming for. Grrr. However, using turn signals may prevent accidents.
Washington, DC: Are there any plans to perhaps put in a Metro station near Georgetown? Right now getting to GU is a nightmare - I commute from Alexandria and the transfers are just a real pain. Also, I thought I heard something about a purple line going out to the Tysons Corner area -could have been just my imagination- -- any info on this? I think the Tysons Corner line would be a great idea. One last thing: any word on keeping Metro open until 1 or 2 a.m.?
Dr. Gridlock: It's my understanding that the Georgetowners didn't want a Metro station, I'm not aware of any plans to build one now.
Washingtonpost.com: Ron, thanks so much for being our guest today. We'll have to see if you can do this regularly. Last question: What's the best way for people who didn't get their questions answered today to get in touch with you? E-mail? Snail mail? Telephone?
Dr. Gridlock: You can e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org or fax at (703) 352-3908 or write to Dr. Gridlock, PO Box 3467, Fairfax, VA. 22038-3467. Please include your name, address and phone number.
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