Last week, Washington Post staffers became commuters and raced each other by car and public transportation along several typical commuting routes. Today's report compares commuting by car and the combination of train and subway from burgeoning Gaithersburg in northern Montgomery County, to the Department of Housing and Urban Development in the high-rise federal office center in southeast Washington.
Start: 7:25 a.m. at the train station at Summit Avenue and Diamond Avenue in Gaithersburg.
Finsh: Department of Housing and Urban Development building at 7th and E Streets SW.
Car: 63 Minutes.
Train and subway: 77 minutes.
According to the almanac, the sun had been up for two minutes when I drove my car out of the train station parking lot, but the large red ball did not poke above the clouds on the horizon until I reached the intersection of Shady Grove Road and Route 355 at 7:31.
Right there, as I tried to squeeze into the steady line of traffic heading west on Shady Grove Road, the overwhelming grumpiness of my fellow commuters began to manifest itself. Everybody hugged closed to the bumper of the car in front; nobody wanted to let me in. Later, I discovered, that if you obey the speed limit, everyone on the road passes you.
On Interstate 270 traffic was steady but relatively light just two working days before Christmas. I cruised at 50 while most other cars passed at about 60.
But when I got onto the Capital Beltway, the going became hectic and tough. Beltway drivers gave no quarter. Most cars went 65, and 70 was not unusual. An orange Honda, driven by a well coifed and irritably impatient woman, pushed at my rear for a half mile before roaring off down an exit.
The single land filing onto the 14th Street bridge was slow and tightly packed, making it difficult for drivers trying to get onto the parkway to cut across, as they were forced to by one of those unexplained miracles of highway engineering.
When I got to the middle of the bridge, I saw the cause of this backup. A red Triumph had apparently bumper of a blue Volkswagen Beetle. The drivers were standing in the middle of road, staring at each other and their bumpers. Cars accelerated loudly pulling around them.
The bridge backup cost me eight to ten minutes, but there was little heavy traffic the trest of the way on Independence Avenue and 7th Street S.W. Parking was the only remaining problem. THe nearest lot (cost: $68 per month) under L'Enfant Plaza4, a four-block, six-minute walk from the HUD lobby.