Dear Dr. Gridlock:
I commute from Crofton to the Pentagon each morning. I take Maryland Route 50 to D.C. 295 South to Pennsylvania Avenue to I-395. Since there is no westbound exit onto Pennsylvania Avenue from 295 South, I have to take the eastbound exit and do a U-turn at the median cut-through just after Minnesota Avenue SE.
Now the District has placed orange cones in that cut-through and I have to go much farther, and then block traffic while I try to make a U-turn.
Your letter is another exhibit in the difficulties of commuting in our metropolitan area. You've got two major freeways--one on each side of the Anacostia River--that don't connect. Yet you need to find a connection, so you wind up with these ever more complicated maneuvers on city streets, confounding city management trying to reduce cut-through commuter traffic.
Try this: Forget Pennsylvania Avenue. Proceed south on D.C. Route 295 and take the exit for "Howard Road, Downtown." This is actually the exit for South Capitol Street and the Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge, but that's a secret the city apparently doesn't want you to know (shhh).
Turn right at the base of the offramp onto Howard Road SE and proceed one block to another traffic light. At that point you will see several roads converging on the bridge approach. Turn right and follow the road onto the bridge.
That will lead you to I-395 South. The downside here is that there is virtually no merge lane onto I-395 South for traffic from the bridge, and you therefore have to stop before entering the freeway and bend your head approximately 180 degrees (your head is not designed to do this) and hold that painful position until you can spot a gap in the traffic, and then stomp on the accelerator, hoping you haven't misjudged the speed of the driver at the back of the gap, who will probably be accelerating anyway to deny you what he sees as his God-given patch of pavement.
The city once had a solution for this. It was to construct a new freeway, called the Barney Circle Freeway, that would connect D.C. Route 295 and I-395 via a new bridge over the Anacostia River. Construction of that bridge would have cost about $200 million, almost entirely paid for by the federal government. The feds had agreed to do it. It would have meant thousands of construction jobs for city residents, and the Federal Highway Administration and city officials said it would take thousands of cars off residential streets.
But environmental activists and some community groups opposed the freeway, contending that it would be a shortcut for suburban commuters who would bring thousands more cars and more pollution into Northeast Washington.
The D.C. Council embraced the second argument and killed the freeway in 1996.
P.S.: Some readers have suggested that a driver in your predicament can get off southbound D.C. 295 and, looping through Southeast streets, get on the Suitland Parkway inbound and then take D.C. 295 northbound to the exit for the 11th Street bridge, which connects directly with I-395 South. This seems longer to me. (There is, of course, no direct connection to the 11th Street bridge or the Pennsylvania Avenue bridge from Route 295 South, and the way to the Douglass Bridge, where there is a connection, is not signed.)
Dr. Gridlock was driving recently through Highland County, Va., taking in the sweeping vistas, green valleys, white-framed farmhouses with bright red roofs, forested mountains in full color, gin-clear streams. There may not have been more than two traffic lights in the county seat, Monterey. At a restaurant, all lunch entrees were less than $5. I haven't seen a more beautiful area in the region. Hmmm.
Dear Dr. Gridlock:
Five of us ladies were driving around the Capital Beltway, and one lady commented that she gets very angry when another driver, upon entering the Beltway, will drive all the way down to the end of the merge lane before merging. She called this rude and said these drivers should merge as soon as they can. Another lady agreed with her.
To keep things lively, I disagreed. I was just having fun with them, but the truth of the matter is that I was taught to use the whole lane, and I don't consider it rude to drive to the end and merge, especially if there is no opportunity to do so easily before that point. In my mind, to stop at the beginning of the merge to wait for an opportunity to merge there would back traffic up and would be less efficient than using the space allowed.
Our friend driving the van agreed with me. The fifth person decided to be diplomatic and not voice an opinion. So that leaves it to you to solve the controversy. We are awaiting your answer.
A driver should merge as quickly and safely as possible. To go to the end of the lane and then merge means you may have to stop and wait for an opening there, meaning you may then have to merge from a complete stop on a high-speed road. Not desirable. Use the whole lane to look for merge opportunities.
Of course, it would help if other drivers would let us in. A reader in the Oct. 14 Dr. Gridlock column told us that in France, drivers entering a stream of traffic have the right of way, and those already on the highway have to slow to let them in. Now there's a thought! Maybe we should try to change our me-first driving culture here: Let someone in today and maybe someone else will let us in tomorrow.
Here is this month's license plate riddle: EDUC8EM. What is the make and model of the car that bears that plate?
Dr. Gridlock's assistant, Jessica Medinger, contributed to this column.
Dr. Gridlock appears Monday in the Metro section and on Wednesday or Thursday in the Weekly and Extra sections. You can write to Dr. Gridlock, P.O. Box 3467, Fairfax, Va. 22038-3467, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. The Doctor's fax number is 703-352-3908. Please include your full name, address and day and evening phone numbers.