Alice Robinson is going to work. Adrian and Patricia Vilalta are going to school. Phil Kirby is walking toward Georgetown. Dana Dalrymple is heading the other way.

Construction workers have carved a gash in the middle of Key Bridge, giving thousands of motorists traffic jams and headaches. So far, the walkways remain intact, two parallel lines across the Potomac.

The D.C. Department of Public Works says 72,000 cars and trucks cross Key Bridge every 24 hours. During the afternoon rush hour, pedestrian traffic climbs to more than 400 per hour.

The pedestrians have no headaches. They are the foot soldiers of the commuting ranks, marching daily between job and home, classroom and kitchen. While battle rages on the region's roads, they just keep walking.

"I've done it for years," says Dalrymple, wearing a trench coat and walking to his Rosslyn office at 7:15 one recent morning. "I live up in Northwest, and there's no convenient bus connection."

The Key Bridge pedestrians say taking the bus is too expensive, taking the car too lazy. Metrorail doesn't go where they want it to. And, oh yes, the view's not bad at all.

On a clear day, you can turn around on Key Bridge and take in two different worlds. Rosslyn looms on one side, giant building blocks with graph-paper fronts, more grid than sky.

Across the bridge, M Street could be the front for a toy train town -- small and spidery, studded with Gothic windows and porches wrapped in trees.

Seventy-two feet below the bridge's crest, rowing teams etch a line through khaki-colored water. An occasional plane growls overhead.

Morning and evening, the pedestrians are going someplace. They are taking things with them: backpacks, blueprints, bag lunches. On the other side wait their educations, their bosses, their families.

Sometimes they hate where they're going.

"It's a relatively nice view -- until you get to Georgetown," says Robinson. "It stinks; the garbage stinks."

Sometimes they hate where they've been.

"I'm from New York," says Kirby, walking to his job at Washington Harbour with a roll of blueprints under one arm and a briefcase in his hand. "I've only been here five months. I don't like Rosslyn. It's a lousy town."

Occasionally they watch what's in between.

"I do notice when it's a nice sunny day," says Robinson. "Especially when spring came."

"I notice when the river's getting higher," says Kirby.

"I have a boyfriend who's afraid of heights," says Sara Mitchell, a Georgetown senior carrying two stuffed tote bags home to her Rosslyn apartment. "He walks with his head down like this, and I'm always saying, 'Look at the view, look at the view.' "

"On a nice night, you can't beat the sunset," says Narda Cole, a legal administrator who walks the bridge to Rosslyn from her job at 16th and O streets NW.

Key Bridge is a kind interlude, 1,790 feet of sanity suspended between the hassles of work and home.

"It's a good time to get rid of the stuff that's in the office before you have to go home and deal with family and husband and cooking," says Cole.

"My boss is down there," says Kirby, gesturing vaguely toward the Georgetown side of the bridge. "This is the only time there's no problems, for a half-hour every day."

For others, the path is not entirely without strife.

"There are three groups -- the walkers, the joggers and the bikers," says Dalrymple. "The bikers are the worst. They come tearing across here. I've never seen one walk a bike across. It's like they're glued to their seats."

Dalrymple points across the traffic and across the gash to the western walkway. "I've never walked over there," he says.

"This is the downwind side -- you get all the truck exhaust," explains Richard Muffley, heading home to Glover Park on the eastern walkway. "But if you walk on the other side, you'll never do it again because you can't get across the street . . . . They could mark the pedestrian crossings a lot better."

At night, cars snake across the bridge and along the George Washington Parkway below. The pedestrians can take their time.

A man with no watch asks the hour from a stranger, then runs, no slow motion about it, into the embrace of a woman walking from Rosslyn.

Behind her, some high-rise windows are shaded, some clear, like giant crossword patterns. Ahead, on M Street, a squirt of white neon announces, "Dixie Liquor."

Dusk closes in like the top of a jar, leaving a thin lip of light between the sky and the trees.

On the western walkway, a woman in a trench coat puts down her briefcase, leans toward the railing and snaps a picture of the sunset. Then she keeps walking.