Cyclists ride along the Mt. Vernon Trail early Wednesday morning. (Mary Hui/The Washington Post)

Metro’s third SafeTrack surge had commuters flocking to an array of transit alternatives: express shuttles, bus rapid transit, ride-hailing, cycling, slugging. The track segment shutdown, which stretches from National Airport to Braddock Road on the Blue and Yellow lines, led to slowdowns, crowding and confusion Wednesday morning — even on the part of Metro employees, who, on at least one occasion, had to stop for directions.

But how did SafeTrack impact travel times? On Wednesday, we decided to put a few of the transit alternatives officials have been recommending to the test. The Post’s Dr. Gridlock, Robert Thomson, and reporters Faiz Siddiqui and Mary Hui faced off in a commuter showdown — for full bragging rights and a cup of coffee on the loser.

Bob took Metro from Franconia-Springfield, Faiz planned to slug and Mary biked the Mt. Vernon trail. Faiz and Bob started at Franconia-Springfield, while Mary, who was biking, was given the liberty of a head start; she began at King Street. On a normal day, each commute should take about 45 minutes.

Here’s how readers thought we’d fare.


A reader poll on our “Which Way?” commute for SafeTrack surge 3.

And here’s how it actually went.

The Post's Robert Thomson (a.k.a. Dr. Gridlock), Faiz Siddiqui and Mary Hui went up against each other to see who would have the fastest commute during the start of Metro's SafeTrack third surge. Follow along as Hui bikes from the King Street Metro station to downtown D.C. (The Washington Post)

Mary, riding her bike from the King Street Metro station

7:58 a.m., King Street

I clip on my helmet, turn on my headlight and taillight, and head off from the King St. Metro station entrance on Commonwealth Avenue. Morning commuter traffic is light, and I soon turn off of East Braddock Road to get on the Potomac Yard Trail.

8:10 a.m., Four Mile Run trail

Just over 10 minutes into my bike ride, I’ve crossed the Four Mile Run stream and make several tight hairpin turns down a slope to get on the Four Mile Run trail, which would take me towards the Mt. Vernon Trail. Coming off the hairpin turns and worrying about forgetting which direction to go in, I clumsily forget to look both ways and narrowly miss a biker coming from the opposite direction. I feel sheepish for making this rookie mistake, and muster a “sorry” as he chides me for the near-tussle. I’m a little flustered at this point, and also slightly confused by the Google Maps directions playing in my right ear. After a few minutes of back-and-forth’s, I figure out the correct direction and pedal east towards Mt. Vernon Trail.

8:21 a.m., Gravelly Point

The most beautiful portion of the ride is without a doubt at Gravelly Point. The Potomac River stretches before me, against the magnificent backdrop of a cotton candy-like sky. Fresh air, a light breeze, and gentle sunlight: what more could I ask for on a morning commute?

8:31 a.m., 15th Street NW, D.C.

I had been most worried about biking through downtown, but it turned out to be absolutely smooth-sailing. I bike north up 15th Street with slow-moving morning traffic, hang a right on New York Avenue, and take a left when I hit 13th street. The destination is near.

8:40 a.m., One Franklin Square

 

— Mary Hui (@maryhui) July 6, 2016

42 minutes and 38 seconds later, I pull up to the entrance of The Washington Post building at 1301 K St NW. Victory – albeit a sweaty one – is mine.

Faiz, combining slugging and Metro


Faiz begins his commute at Franconia-Springfield on Wednesday.

7:34 a.m., Franconia-Springfield dropoff area

I wave goodbye to Bob and dart for the dropoff zone in front of the station, wanting to protect my perfect (1-0) “Which Way?” record. Yellow laminated signs point me in the direction of a new slug line, announced this week, taking passengers from Franconia-Springfield to L’Enfant Plaza.

7:40 a.m., dropoff area

I wait under another sign marking the pickup area. Unlike the bustling Bob’s commuter lot nearby, passengers are nowhere to be found, and there are no drivers rolling down their windows to shout out destinations. Give it five minutes, I tell myself. They’ll come.

7:55 a.m., dropoff area

Lots of signage, no sluggers. I realize I’m going to have to make alternate arrangements. The lesson: Sluglines aren’t built overnight. Dr. Gridlock had advised me to take the Fairfax Connector express shuttle to Pentagon if I wound up in this situation, so that’s what I do.

Change of plans: Faiz, taking the express bus to Pentagon and then Metro to McPherson Square

8:04 a.m., in front of Franconia-Springfield Metro station

I board an express shuttle after a quick three minutes. It’s bright, air-conditioned and nearly empty. Contrast that with the dingy and often-crowded Metro during the morning rush.

8:08-8:14 a.m., Interstate 395 HOV Lanes

We’re cruising in the high-occupancy vehicle lanes, gliding past traffic on the local side. It’s light at first, but local traffic picks up near Seminary Road. By King Street, cars in the local lanes have slowed to a crawl. We’re bypassing a three lane parking lot. At this rate, I’m confident in my chances.

8:19 a.m., Pentagon Metro station

God bless the Fairfax Connector express bus to Pentagon.

We arrive at this Metro station, six stops away, in 15 minutes flat. For a brief moment on 395, as the sky opens up to a panoramic view of the District, and I see the Capitol and Washington Monument in the distance, framing the National Mall, I think, “I could get used to this.”

8:22 a.m., Pentagon Metro

I board a crowded, but not-too-crowded Blue Line train, bracing for whatever comes next. This is Metro, after all.

8:26 a.m., Arlington Cemetery Metro

Reality hits. We begin holding. The operator announces that we’ll remain in place until congestion clears ahead of us.

8:40 a.m. Farragut West Metro

We pull into Farragut West after a bumpy, stop-and-go ride that began at Arlington Cemetery. After holding for five minutes at Arlington, we also wait in the tunnels for half-a-minute and a minute at a time — delays that add up. But this isn’t much of a departure from the normal morning commute.

8:42 a.m., McPherson Square

We arrive at McPherson Square. Total commute: 46 minutes.

8:50 a.m, One Franklin Square

I confidently slap a note on my editor’s desk, believing I’ve won — only to find out I was beat out by a pesky cyclist (and an intern no less!). Regardless, I maintain my perfect record against Dr. Gridlock.

Final thoughts: If I were to slug, I’d definitely head for Bob’s commuter lot near Franconia-Springfield. While the idea of a new slug line seems nice, it may take a while — and lots more publicity — for people to adopt it. Bob’s, the oldest slug line in the region, is a sure bet. As for my alternate arrangements: The express bus to the Pentagon was painless. But the last leg of my commute, spent on Metro, was likely the difference between winning and losing.

Dr. Gridlock, on Metrorail-shuttle bus-Metrorail

8 a.m., Franconia-Springfield station

Blue Line train departs for Braddock Road. On the platform, a Metro staffer was walking up to riders asking if they needed information on SafeTrack. He estimated that 90 percent were aware of what they were getting into.

8:11 a.m., holding outside Van Dorn Street station

Good SafeTrack announcements on train, just as there were at Franconia-Springfield. And we’ve got plenty of time to listen as we hold.

8:16 a.m., still holding

The train operator explains to us that we’re waiting for outbound trains to clear the tracks to Braddock Road, so our inbound train can advance.

8:21 a.m., Van Dorn Street

Doors closing, after the stop at the station. I know already that my top tip for commuters is: Don’t start your trip at Franconia-Springfield during this month’s SafeTrack projects.

8:29 a.m., Braddock Road

There are plenty of Metro staffers here to answer questions, but the platform is jammed, as both our Blue Line train and a Yellow Line train from Huntington have arrived.

8:38 a.m., aboard a Metro shuttle bus to Pentagon City

The Metro staffers told us we had three choices among shuttle destinations: Pentagon City, Crystal City and Reagan National Airport. There were no lines, just big clusters of passengers waiting to board the buses.

9:01 a.m., at the Pentagon City Metro platform

Got off the shuttle bus at 8:55 a.m., and passed another passenger who was telling her children that if she’d known about SafeTrack, she would have picked a different hotel for the family.

9:04 a.m., aboard the Yellow Line

After waiting a few minutes on a very crowded platform at Pentagon City, I boarded a train toward Greenbelt. The crowd on the train was typical for a rush hour.

9:12 a.m., on the Silver Line

I just boarded a train toward Wiehle Avenue on the lower level at L’Enfant Plaza. The commute now seems normal.

9:19 a.m., at McPherson Square

At this point, the commute is normal. No crowding.

9:30 a.m., One Franklin Square

I arrive at our editor’s desk after an hour and a half commute from Franconia-Springfield. The train ride from Franconia-Springfield, with all the holding, was the most problematic part of the trip. The train to bus and bus to train transfers worked pretty well, despite the crowding. But I definitely would not recommend this type of trip during the SafeTrack project, because of the extraordinary long time it takes.

Total commute: 1 hour, 30 minutes.