Metro general manager responds to riders’ complaints about WMATA service

Metro General Manager Richard Sarles answered two dozen questions from riders duringmy online discussion Monday, but there were scores more we didn’t get to. After the chat, I picked out five that are among the most frequently asked.

Here are those five questions and Sarles’s answers.

Q. Why doesn’t Metro enforce rules about not closing doors while customers are still entering or exiting trains? A couple of weeks ago I was caught in a Metro train door. It closed on both my upper arms as I was just stepping out of the train. It was very painful. There were others still moving in and out of the car. When I complained to the station staff at Pentagon City, their response was the drivers have schedules to keep and I should step back when the bells sound.

A. I am not aware of such a rule. Train operators do their best to provide enough time for boarding and alighting, while not excessively dwelling at any one station to prevent train congestion. We never want to see anyone get injured, which is why we have posters and announcements advising riders that train doors don’t work like elevator doors. When you hear the chimes, the best advice is to step back and wait for the next train.

Q. Why run escalators at closed stations? A few weekends ago, Dupont Circle station was closed because of Red Line track work. Somebody had barricaded the station entrances but decided to keep the escalators running and running all weekend to a closed station. Does Metro now have unlimited resources to keep closed escalators wastefully running, not to mention the unnecessary wear and tear?

A. While Dupont Circle station may have been closed for passengers, inside the station was a beehive of activity, with several dozen workers installing new lighting, upgrading station equipment, cleaning and performing maintenance. The majority of the station escalators were turned off during this time; however, at least two of the long escalators at each entrance were kept in operation to facilitate the movement of workers to and from the station.

Q. Weekend track work. I have been a regular weekend rider of the Red Line but have had a much harder time justifying it ever since the massive off-peak fare increase that brought it in line with the peak fare structure. I wouldn’t mind paying the higher fares for normal weekend service (e.g., Red Line trains every six minutes on Saturdays and every eight minutes on Sundays), but I cannot justify paying so much more for trains that run every 24 to 30 minutes.

I think the best idea would be to have two separate off-peak fare structures, one for normal off-peak service, and one for the greatly reduced service levels when trains are running less than half of normal frequency. This is the only way I can see Metro retaining any customer loyalty through this long but necessary period of intense track work.

A. Working intensively on weekends is the only feasible way for us to catch up on the backlog that developed over many years of inadequate maintenance, and I recognize that longer waits are a burden shared by our riders. Metro is no longer a new system. While the intensity of work and its impact on riders will diminish as we advance Metro Forward [the transit rebuilding program], weekend work — although less intense — is a fact of life from here on out, for as long as there is a Metro system. Off-peak fares are intended to take into account the reduced frequency of trains, including times when track work is in effect.

Q. Refund on delay. If I enter a station , for example, West Falls Church, and upon paying my entrance fare notice a significant delay that’s not posted on the board, why can’t I just exit the station and get a refund? Having to pay for services not even rendered is unfortunate.

A. Metro’s current fare system, which is based on 1990s technology, does not allow for this. To learn about delays before entering the gate, it’s important to sign up for MetroAlerts or check the digital screens at all station entrances that turn red when there is a delay message.

Also, we recently awarded a contract for a new fare payment system, including the eventual replacement of our current fare gates and vending machines. The new system will give riders additional payment options, including using chip-based credit cards, key fobs, smartphones and federal ID cards. It will also give us the flexibility to consider new fare rules in the future.

Q. Parking on weekends. Have you considered charging for Metro parking on weekends? I think casual users (instead of commuters) should pay for parking, too. Why should we take the brunt of all the increases?

A. I am not aware of any local jurisdictions that have considered this. My personal belief is that offering free parking on weekends is a good way to keep Metro competitive with driving at times when traffic is lighter and street parking might be easier to come by.

Dr. Gridlock also appears Thursday in Local Living. Comments and questions are welcome and may be used in a column, along with the writer’s name and home community. Write Dr. Gridlock at The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or e-mail .

Report: Speed cameras reduce crashes, injuries in D.C.


WASHINGTON – A new report from the D.C. Department of Transportation finds that speed cameras are doing a good job at reducing accidents, injuries and slowing drivers down.

DDOT teamed up with engineering firm Parsons Brinckerhoff to study 295 speed camera locations within the District of Columbia. These include existing, planned and proposed locations for the cameras. According to the executive summary findings, total crashes dropped 16.83 percent and the number of injuries 20.38 percent after cameras were installed.

“Using the analysis results from the speed data analysis and the crash data analysis, as well as reviewing the field assessment results, the team was able to determine the nexus between traffic safety and the speed camera at most locations,” the report finds. “Overall, all of the results supported the nexus between traffic safety and the speed cameras at all 295 existing, planned and proposed locations.”

DDOT Chief Traffic Engineer James Cheeks, who co-authored the report, says the 100 block of Florida Avenue NW is a perf ect example. A camera was installed there in November 2011.

“We noticed people, prior to putting that camera there, would speed to try and go through the signals along that roadway. Now they’re more cognizant of the fact that there’s a park there, kids are crossing, parents are taking their children, there a lot of elderly people walking in the area. So drivers are being more cautious as they drive through that area,” he says.

At each location, engineers compared the number of crashes and the overall speed of drivers to determine the safety impact. Cheeks says drivers do slow down for cameras.

“Speeds were 10 to 15 miles per hour over the speed limit. We put in cameras and we saw the speeds one to five miles over the limit,” he says, although he wishes people would slow down more.

John B. Townsend II, AAA Mid-Atlantic’s Manager of Public and Government Affairs, applauds DDOT’s detailed analysis.

“Given what has befallen the Baltimore automated traffic enforcement programs and the speed camera program in smaller jurisdictions in Maryland, such as Fairmount Heights and Morningside, this report delves into a salient and essential rubric. The nexus between crash sites and incidents data and speed camera location, and most of all, safety for motorists, pedestrians, cyclists, motorcyclists, school children, seniors and joggers,” he writes in an email to WTOP.

Townsend says he hopes people in Morningside and Fairmount Heights and other small Maryland jurisdictions will read this report and make their goal about safety, not raising revenue.

However, if you look closer at the 3500 Massachusetts Avenue NW speed camera, you’ll notice mixed results bring up an issue hotly debated in automated traffic enforcement. The report finds that while drivers are now traveling much slower than the speed limit, the number of crashes have increased since the camera went up in January 2010. In particular, a spike in the number of rear-end collisions.

Critics point out that such crashes often spike at red light and speed camera locations, when drivers slow down to avoid a ticket, forcing the driver behind to slam on his breaks. The critics add that when you increase rear-end collisions, such cameras are not improving traffic safety.

However, the authors of the report did not come to the same conclusion here.

“The increase in the number of crashes after the installation of the speed camera suggest an outlier and a more detailed safety analysis is needed to determine the cause of an increase in collisions,” says the report .

And yet the conclusion seems to back up the camera.

“The speed data analysis showed the mean and 85th percentile speeds to be lower than the posted speed limit, and the crash data analysis showed elevated number of speed-related crashes at this location. Due to the analysis results along with the specific site characteristics and pedestrian generators, there is a nexus between traffic safety and the speed camera at this location,” the report says.

Critics also point out that while drivers slow down when passing a camera, they often just speed back up once they pass it. So while 85 percent of drivers at 3500 Massachusetts Avenue NW went 12 mph in the 30 mph zone, drivers likely sped up short after passing the camera.

Nonetheless, Cheeks thinks the camera works and hopes that the new stop sign, pedestrian and intersection cameras recently deployed will help make roads safer.

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Flyover bridge unveiled in Southeast D.C.


WASHINGTON – A new flyover bridge on Interstate 695 was quietly unveiled by the District Department of Transportation on Friday in Southeast D.C.

The new bridge provides a smooth connection between the eastbound Southeast Freeway and the outbound span of the 11th Street Bridge.

The 11th Street Bridge Project, the District’s largest road improvement project to date, is more than halfway complete. The new configuration sets the outbound side of the road in its final alignment on its approach toward the Anacostia River.

Additionally, a new on-ramp from 8th Street SE, pictured right, will allow traffic from the Barracks Row to merge onto the new bridge in the coming weeks.

Prior to Friday, eastbound drivers relied on a temporary traffic pattern, using a newly constructed inbound bridge. The inbound bridge is now closed. From the 11th Street Bridge, inbound drivers will continue to use an older flyover ramp to access the westbound Southeast Freeway.

DDOT hopes to have this ramp open within four to six weeks.

Chronic delays caused by the temporary traffic pattern have plagued morning commuters since the project began several years ago. By March, crews hope to have the freeway in its final alignment with a total of six lanes open to traffic.

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Metro Silver Line closer to an opening date this spring

This is the plaza level where riders will cross from the 2,300-space parking garage to a pedestrian bridge at the new Wiehle-Reston East Metro station. The station will be the terminus of the first phase of the Silver Line and the only Silver Line station to offer parking until the second phase opens. (WTOP/Max Smith)
This is the plaza level where riders will cross from the 2,300-space parking garage to a pedestrian bridge at the new Wiehle-Reston East Metro station. The station will be the terminus of the first phase of the Silver Line and the only Silver Line station to offer parking until the second phase opens. (WTOP/Max Smith)

WASHINGTON — After months of delays, the Silver Line is finally taking a big leap closer to opening in Northern Virginia.

The contractors building Phase One of the Dulles Rail Project say they have reached “substantial completion” Friday of the new stretch from East Falls Church to Wiehle-Reston East.

The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority says they will immediately begin their 15 day review of the project to confirm that has reached “substantial completion.”

Once they do that, they can turn the project over to Metro for the first time.

Metro says it has up to 90 days from accepting the project to begin running passenger service.

Metro will run its own tests and train employees before opening the line, and several safety certifications are also required.

If Metro used the full 90 days, the Silver Line would open in late May, but several people connected to Metro have indicated that they hope not to need the full testing and training period.

Metro loses about $2 million each month that the Silver Line is not open.

When it does open, Silver Line trains will run from Wiehle-Reston East to East Falls Church via the four new stations in Tysons corner. The trains then follow the Orange Line tracks to Stadium-Armory, before following the Blue Line tracks to Largo Town Center.