More DC Area Commuter Stories

Image002The new Sunday column in the Washington Post on page B2, Commuter, today featured two real people and their actual commutes. I could relate to the first one almost exactly. He lives in Arlington near the East Falls Church Metro (I live in Arlington near the East Falls Church metro) and he works in Reston off Sunrise Valley Drive (I worked in a building about 100 yards from his for about 6-7 months in 2006). Pretty much identical commutes. He drives every day. I drove 2-3 times total in the time I worked there.

As in my post from earlier this month about why people don't use transit more, it appears that this commuter has not been able to get good information. He claims in the article that it would require 3 bus transfers to get from his house to his work. Not true--there is an express bus from the West Falls Church metro that goes directly to his office. It would take a bit longer than his drive (at least in the morning), but certainly a viable option if he's trying to avoid traffic coming home. I'm not sure how he compiled the information about the bus, but clearly he was unable to find good information easily.

However, his better option yet is to bike. The ride is virtually entirely on the W&OD trail. From the article:
"What would you rather be doing?
'I'd rather spend time with my friends, go out into nature, do some biking.' "

Trail06_07Why not do both at the same time? That was my way to and from work for the half-a-year I had the same commute. Biking and out in nature. I saw deer, fox, turtles, bats, groundhogs, birds, joggers, other bikers, and other flora and fauna. Sounds like the perfect solution for him. He's spending $50/week on gas (presumably not all just for his commute, though). He could certainly save some of that by leaving the car at home.

The other commuter lives in Waldorf and works in DC. I don't have any similar experiences to relate for him.

Perhaps most telling about why our traffic is so intractable was their replies to this question: "If you could change one thing about your commute, what would it be?"
Both of them replied that they wished everyone else would get off the road or use transit. This seems like a common sentiment (see my most recent post). . . if all those other people would just quit driving, then it would be so much better for me. Rokas Reipa

We're #2. Do we do it to ourselves?

TrafficToday's Washington Post reported on the annual congestion rankings put out by the Texas Transportation Institute, and the DC area tied for 2nd with an average of 60 hours of congestion for peak period commuters.

What caught my eye, though was this tidbit:

"You feel helpless," an Arlington resident was quoted, who drives between Rosslyn and his job in downtown Washington.

Huh? Helpless?!? He DRIVES from Rosslyn to his office on 15th St. NW! I guess that's his prerogative (maybe), but then he has no right to whine about the traffic and claim that he's "helpless." He could freaking WALK to his office in 45 minutes or less. It's at most a 15-minute bike ride--maybe less. He could squeeze on a metro train for 6-7 minutes from Rosslyn to McPherson Square. He could also get a Metrobus to Farragut Square and walk a couple of blocks.

He complains, but he is also actually part of the problem. Remember, when you are sitting in traffic,Boy_confused_2 you ARE the traffic, too. He's doing both himself and everyone else a disservice by not figuring out all his choices, which are many.

What more can we do? Here's a guy with half a dozen options who still chooses to sit in traffic for a 3-mile commute. No one's going to build a new bridge between Rosslyn and DC, nor add any more roads between the river and his office. Widening I-66 won't make any difference to him. The only thing that would improve his drive is if fewer people were driving. But if he's unwilling to get out of his own car, how can he expect everyone else to stop driving, too? He's his own enemy.

Bikes and Road Capacity

New_picture_8About a month ago VDOT repaved a section of North Glebe Rd. in Arlington. According to Charlie Denney, Arlington's bicycle and pedestrian coordinator, VDOT's guidelines require them to make accommodations for bicycles when doing work like this on state highways. For this project that meant that they should restripe the road to allow for bike lanes--or at least narrow the inside lane and widen the outside lane to make more space for cars and bikes to share.

Charlie was in touch with VDOT on the day they were doing the lane painting to remind them of their own guidelines. However, he was unsuccessful in getting them to make any bike-friendly changes to the standard lane widths--a missed opportunity.

According to Charlie, one VDOT official said that before they could make any changes to the plan there would have to be a new road capacity engineering study undertaken. This is, of course, ridiculous, since there would be no actual changes to the lane configurations, intersections or anything--the paint on the road would be moved over a foot or two: no change in capacity. When I hear things like that I often wonder if VDOT includes in their job postings the statement, "Common sense not required," or "Do not expect to be empowered to make intelligent decisions on your own."

Coincidentally, I ride my bike on that section of Glebe Road 2-3 times per week, and I have been paying attention to how the cars and I interact. My experience is that by not narrowing the inside lane to make the outside lane wider, VDOT has actually REDUCED the capacity of the road. Antique2
Here's why: I have observed that cars in the outside lane do not feel comfortable passing me in the space provided, so they move over into the middle lane. If there are cars traveling in that lane, then they need to slow and wait for an opening. My presence makes the road effectively one lane (for cars) in my direction rather than two--decreasing the capacity. If there were a bike lane, both the cars and the bike rider (me) would have a defined space to travel in, and both safety and capacity would be improved.

So here's a case where the attitude that roads are for cars only has created a disservice for all road users--a lose-lose.

HOT Lanes Getting Started Up

Gr2007091000094Today's Washington Post article announcing that work on the N. Virginia HOT lanes will start up early next year is bound to create a lot of "traffic" here, on other blogs and in forums of all types. I think it's great that so many people are really thinking about how to deal with the undeniable problem of traffic congestion in the DC area. And clearly there are differing opinions, which--at least here on the CommuterPage blog--I hope we can express with mutual respect and thoughtfulness.

Problems with traffic congestion are not unique to Washington. One of the great things about our big ol' US of A is that we are big; we have 50 states; we have scores of metropolitan areas. What that means is that we can try different things in different places and learn from those experiences. I'm sure that other metro areas will be watching to see what happens here. "But I don't wanna be the guinea pig," I can hear from some. That's NIMBYism writ large: put it somewhere else; let someone else try it first; make them pay for it. . . .Take that attitude universal and nothing ever happens anywhere at all.

Is this model perfect? I doubt it. Should we allow private ownership of a public good? There's definitely28hotlanes_md some validity to that point. Will the new HOT lanes be completely fair for all users? It's impossible to be completely fair (and definitions of fair are not even consistent). Will the money get inappropriately used, politicized or even wasted somehow? Um. . .this is DC. Do we need to do something? Absolutely.

I'm excited to see our leaders taking action on something innovative and even controversial with the potential for some real gains. If only they would take a similar attitude towards the tunnel in Tyson's corner--bold and innovative instead of trapped in a bureaucratic morass. Maybe that's the real lesson of these HOT lanes. Look how fast they went from crazy idea to implementation. And how long have we been pursuing that rail line?

More Why People Don't Use Transit

Village_at_shirlington_logo_webMy brother-in-law, who lives in Boulder, comes to the DC area three or four times a year on business, so we like to get together for dinner while he is in town. Today's the day. He's teaching a course in the Springfield area, and we decided to meet him in Shirlington at 6:30 this evening and choose one of the many fine restaurants once we are there.

My wife is attending a seminar today at 2400 N Street NW in DC, which she traveled to by Metrorail. I suggested to her that rather than come home first at the end of the day, she go directly to Shirlington and just meet us there. Neither of us has used transit to get to Shirlington from DC, but I'm savvy, so I know I could use the Metro trip planner to get her there.

Home_tripplannerSo I did, and as usual it gave me three options:
1) Foggy Bottom Metro at 5:51 (Blue line); transfer at Crystal City to the 23A; arrive Shirlington 6:27 (36 minutes)
2) Foggy Bottom Metro at 5:49 (Orange line); transfer at Ballston to the 23A; arrive Shirlington 6:26 (37 minutes)
3) Foggy Bottom Metro at 5:46 (Blue line); transfer at Crystal City to the 23A; arrive Shirlington 6:27 (41 minutes). This one's not another option! It's the same bus as #1, just an earlier train.

None of these is the best choice, though. Being familiar with the area and our transit system, I was pretty certain that there are buses from the Pentagon to Shirlington. Lo and behold, there are. In fact, 300pxpentagon_city_stationI learned that she could catch a bus direct from the Pentagon to Shirlington at 5:59, 6:02, 6:07, 6:15 (2 choices of bus) or 6:25. This is clearly the preferred choice--for two reasons. First, it's fastest (how come the metro planner failed to find this choice?). She can catch the train at Foggy Bottom at 6:03 and arrive in Shirlington at 6:27 (24 minutes). Second--and more importantly, it's way more flexible--if she misses her bus, it's a short wait for the next one. With the Metro Planner, if she misses the 6:10 at Crystal City, it's a 30-minute wait for the next bus.

All of this took me a good 10-15 minutes and a high-speed Internet connection to figure out. I'm not even sure if there might be some other good options that I missed (the Way to Go Interactive Shirlington map does not even show the 7E or 7C routes stopping in Shirlington Village). The larger point being that if we want people to use transit, it has to be way, way simpler. If people have to be an expert before they even get started, then they will just hop in their cars.

Let me assure you that if I had given her the Metro Planner options (or she had done it herself and not known to look for a Pentagon option) and she missed the bus by a minute or two, I would never get her to do it again. She would either drive or take a taxi. Or more likely, she would leave her seminar early, come home first and then drive with us to Shirlington, an hour-long exercise rather than 24 minutes.

Route_7So I instructed her to go the Pentagon and catch the 7C or the 7E. I had to write it down, though, because the 7A, 7B, 7D, 7F, 7H, 7P, 7W and 7X don't go there or aren't running or something. Why are there 10 different 7's? Just to make it harder on passengers? I'll rant on that on a different post (click here).