Tag Archives: travel

New Metro Silver Line, like other Metrorail lines, won’t run express trains

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Has Metro considered an express option for the Silver Line, or any other line where service duplicates that of another line?

For example, could the Silver Line (when it finally opens) offer local service through theTysons Corner stops to where it merges with the Orange Line, and then go to express mode until, say, Foggy Bottom?

Silver Line riders needing stops in Virginia could switch at the merge, but those bound for the District could — in theory — save substantial amounts of time. As the Silver Line extends farther into western Fairfax and Loudoun counties — and even for those boarding in Reston — this could provide a needed incentive for single-occupant vehicles to park and ride.

— Jeff Wiese, Reston

No express service for the Silver Line or any other line. Neither the original system nor the new 11-mile extension to the Reston area was built with an extra track, which would allow trains to skip stations and bypass local trains.

This is not an unusual design for a U.S. subway system. These things aren’t cheap or easy to build.

Metrorail’s original construction costs and the disruptions of neighborhoods often threatened its completion. With the Silver Line, cost was a constant concern. In 2008, theFederal Transit Administration threatened to withhold funds because of the Silver Line’s cost.

A third track for the Silver Line would be real nice. So would a tunnel through McLean and Tysons Corner. So would an underground station near where the airplanes are at Dulles International Airport. None of those things are happening, because the cost was deemed too high.

Still, it’s easy to see Wiese’s point about the benefits of express trains. Wiese, who lives a long walk from the temporary end of the Silver Line at the Wiehle-Reston East station, expects to find many people coming in from western Fairfax and Loudoun counties as they transfer to rail for the last part of their D.C.-bound commute.

Metro and Fairfax planners also expect to see that. The garage at the Wiehle Avenue station, which can accommodate 2,300 cars and 150 bicycles, is the only one built for the five new stations.

Many bus routes will be adjusted to funnel travelers into the Wiehle Avenue station. Metro will halt its Rush Plus service on the Orange Line and shift those peak-period trains to the Silver Line so that the Silver Line can operate every six minutes during rush hours.

But Metro calculates the normal travel time between Wiehle Avenue and Metro Center at 41 minutes. That’s a fairly long time on a train. Shady Grove to Metro Center is 36 minutes. Vienna to Metro Center is 29 minutes.

The Silver Line travel times reflect the varied missions of this project. Among them: Move commuters, offer a one-seat transit link between the region’s center and the airport and provide focal points for transit-oriented development. They’re all important, but they don’t always mesh smoothly.

An air traveler bound for the District would prefer an express from Dulles to the District. A commuter who boards at Wiehle Avenue and works at the Pentagon or Crystal City wants a stop at Rosslyn for a switch to the Blue Line.

Neither of those riders will be interested in the four stops in Tysons Corner, each stop two minutes apart.

The service plan that Metro developed over the past several years is consistent with the Silver Line’s environmental impact statement, which dates to 2002. That document previews the shifting of Orange Line trains to the Silver Line, with the resulting decline in rush-hour service between Vienna and West Falls Church.

It does not make a case for express trains. Even if that could be done within Metro’s existing structure, it would require a significant cut in service for commuters waiting at stations from Ballston through the District.

As Metro’s planners look ahead to 2025 and beyond, they’re still not thinking of express tracks along existing lines, as travelers find on the New York subway. But they are looking at several other possibilities that would help move people across Northern Virginia and into the District.

A key element in the 2025 plan is a proposal to either add a track at Rosslyn to create a new link between the Blue Line and the Orange and Silver lines or open a second Rosslyn station for the Blue Line. In either case, transit staffers say, it would allow Metro to push more trains through Rosslyn and cut waiting times.

Either one would cost about $1 billion.

Beyond that, the planners are talking about the possibility of creating an inner loop of stations to add capacity in the region’s core by 2040. That would include another Potomac River crossing for trains at Rosslyn.

Add many billions more for that plan, if it someday gets approved by the region’s governments.

This is why our big plans progress like our train rides: one stop at a time.

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 .

Tips on clearing out after snowstorm

Snowy street

You may be clearing your driveway before the plow reaches your street. Push snow to the right, so plows won’t cover your work. (Robert Thomson/The Washington Post)

Most people in the D.C. region will begin their post-storm travels as pedestrians, whether they like it or not. Here are some tips for getting around.

Clearing sidewalks. Rules vary, but most jurisdictions expect property owners to get out within a certain number of hours and clear their sidewalks. The District, for example, has a rule that sidewalks should be cleared of snow and ice within eight hours after the end of a storm. They don’t expect you to throw the snow in the street. When clearing driveways, toss the snow to the right. That makes it less likely the plow will push that snow back across the driveway entrance.

When clearing your own sidewalk, think about neighbors who may be elderly or disabled, and save a little energy for their walkways.

Metro doesn’t clear the bus stops or the areas around them. Metro does clear areas around rail station entrances and the above-ground platforms. Some platforms have a new type of paving tile that is less slippery, but some still have the original, slip-prone paving tiles.

Before starting to clear snow, try using Pam or car wax on the shovel blade, so the snow will slide off more easily. With a heavy snow like this, give your back a break by skimming off a top layer first, then making a second scoop down to the pavement. Think twice about parking in a street space your neighbor just cleared out. That probably won’t end well.

If you are driving, be extra careful of pedestrians. They’re more likely to be walking in the streets in the immediate aftermath of a storm.

Highway departments generally don’t clear bike paths.

Clearing streets. Much of the clearing work goes to contractors, whose trucks might not bear the emblem of the agency that hired them. The D.C. departments of public works and transportation team up on street clearing in the city. The Virginia Department of Transportation takes care of interstates, main roads and neighborhood streets within its turf. The Maryland State Highway Administration handles the state’s numbered roads, while counties and municipalities take care of the rest.

Highways in the D.C. area are in much better shape as of 10:45 a.m. than they were at dawn, but road surface conditions vary a lot across the region. Many drivers will have difficulty getting out of their neighborhoods. The initial goal for the plows working the neighborhood streets is to make them “passable.” That doesn’t mean you’ll see bare pavement soon.

If you are planning to drive to an airport in the D.C. area, be sure to check on your flight first. Many Thursday flights from Dulles, Reagan National and BWI airports have been cancelled.

Snow emergency routes. Some jurisdictions require owners to get their vehicles off snow emergency routes after the jurisdiction declares an emergency. This affects many District residents, where the Public Works Department tows vehicles remaining on those routes and imposes stiff fines.

Waiting for transit. Most of the D.C. region’s bus systems suspended service for Thursday morning. So did MetroAccess, the paratransit service. Watch for updates on restoration. This is the link to The Post’s storm updates. Metrobus’s Next Bus system, designed to provide real-time information on when the bus should arrive at your stop, doesn’t perform well during weather disruptions. So even as bus service is restored, don’t count on the accuracy of the prediction system.

See storm updates from the Capital Weather Gang.

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 atwmata.com 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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© 2014 WTOP. All Rights Reserved.

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.


Parking time limit? Moving car won’t save you in D.C.

Without a residential parking permit, things can get complicated. (WTOP file)
Without a residential parking permit, things can get complicated. (WTOP file)

WASHINGTON – Suppose you find street parking with a two-hour limit. You’re grabbing lunch, picking up groceries and running a few errands.

Halfway through the to-do list, you run back to the car to avoid going over the two-hour limit. But just where can you move it legally? In the District, drivers without a certain permit may need to leave the given ward completely to legally park on the street.

“It doesn’t matter if you come out after two hours and move it to another spot in the zone,” says Mary Cheh, chair of the Committee on Transportation and the Environment. “You’re still two hours in the entire zone.”

That’s the part many drivers — especially those who live outside the District — may not understand.

Moving a car around the corner, while remaining in the same Residential Parking Permit zone, is a violation and susceptible to a ticket.

The boundaries of the RPP zones coincide with ward boundaries.

“Sometimes people are surprised because they think, ‘Oh my goodness, I only have two hours, so I’ll go out and move it up the block,'” Cheh says. “That won’t count; you’ll still get a ticket.”

The more complicated situation involves parking at locations far apart but in the RPP zone. By the letter of the law, a parking enforcement officer could write a ticket — but District officials say that’s unlikely.

The parking rules aren’t new — they’ve been in place for decades. But the area is attracting thousands of new residents each year, and a full understanding of parking regulations is lacking.

The RPP zones are designed to preserve spaces for drivers in their own neighborhoods. For businesses, parking limits and meters ensure customer turnover. (It’s not lawful to refill the meter after the zone maximum has been reached.)

But that does create complications for people coming from out of town or a different ward — no matter how much they plan to spend in the local economy.

“If you go to a movie, you may very well be there more than two hours,” Cheh says. “If you go for dinner and a movie, you’re certainly going to be there more than two hours.”

Parking is, as ever, a sensitive and polarizing topic. On Wednesday, a council committee heard testimony from District residents who want parking enforcement officers to be more aggressive in writing tickets to drivers who aren’t from the neighborhood.

Conversely, if drivers worry about being ticketed for shopping, playing or even working too long in an RPP zone, they may not come at all, Cheh says.

If I park in an RPP zone without a permit and I move my car to another space after the two-hour limit, will I still get a ticket?

Yes. The two-hour restriction pertains to the entire zone, not just the particular space.

May a District resident of one zone park for more than two hours in another zone?

No. A permit is only valid in the zone for which it has been issued.

How are the RPP zones established?

The boundaries of the eight zones coincide with existing ward boundaries.

Residential Permit Parking Brochure


Options on I-66: Toll lanes, extending Metro discussed at meeting


VIENNA, Va. – At the first of two public meetings to update commuters on I-66, the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) told drivers about options such as adding general-purpose lanes, adding toll lanes and transit options such as extending Metro, VRE or light rail.

Late last year, 19 companies responded to a VDOT request for information on how to ease congestion on I-66, and each touted the benefits that toll lanes would bring to the corridor from the Beltway out to Haymarket.

The 495 Express Lanes were the first major experiment in Northern Virginia into the toll-lanes concept, with more such lanes opening in early 2015 on I-95 between Stafford and Alexandria.

“Whether we have managed (toll) lanes has not been determined. We have 10 concepts (rail and road) and we will look at all of them. We realize not one concept in and of itself will be the answer. It has to be a combination of many modes of transportation,” says Rene’e Hamilton, Deputy District Administrator for VDOT in Northern Virginia.

But she admitted that she thinks the 495 Express Lanes have been a success at offering drivers and bus riders a convenient and predictable option to avoid traffic for a fee.

“When the I-95 Express Lanes come onboard, we’ll start to see a network of managed lane projects that connect together. Will I-66 complement that? We don’t know at this time, but that will be figured into our study. As we look into each option, the connections between these interstates will be taken into consideration,” Hamilton says.

Fairfax County Supervisor Pat Herrity is a strong supporter of toll lanes to I-66.

“An express-lanes concept is absolutely what we need on I-66. It provides a corridor for express bus and other mass transit. It maintains free carpooling and it offers congestion relief,” he says.

“It offers guaranteed speeds. If you don’t want to pay the toll and get to work, you’ll still get less-congested roads in the regular lanes too. So we’re not forcing people to pay the toll. The average person gets that choice every day.”

But drivers coming out to the public meeting weren’t sold on the toll lanes as a solution.

“It puts people who cannot afford the lanes at a disadvantage,” says Leigh Kennedy, who commutes from Fairfax to Falls Church. “People with higher-paying jobs get to avoid the traffic and other people don’t. I think that’s an unfair system.”

Other drivers worry tolls on I-66 will constantly go up, like on the Dulles Toll Road or the Dulles Greenway.

“Let’s face it — once toll lanes are there, they can always finds ways to raise it, making the tolls higher and higher, and give whatever reason they want,” says Judy Perich, citing the Dulles Toll Road drivers paying for Phase II of the Silver Line.

She’s also worried drivers would avoid the toll lanes, similar to how drivers avoid the Dulles Greenway. Del. David Ramadan sued the owners of the Greenway to get the tolls lowered, but lost the first round of the fight on Wednesday. The decision over Greenway tolls will likely head to the Virginia Supreme Court later this year.

On I-66, most commuters seemed to agree that better mass transit options, such as extending Metro’s Orange Line, would have a huge effect on traffic.

“If they made it really convenient for [commuters] to park out in Gainesville or Manassas, then people, rather than putting up with the traffic, they would get on public transportation,” says Jim Lynch.

He suggests the crunch of people coming from Gainesville and Manassas to Vienna, Dunn Loring and East/West Falls Church could be eased if with Metro extends west. While the Silver Line will take away some of the volume from the Orange Line, riders who live along I-66 will likely stay put.

“When somebody says ‘go into D.C.,’ I cringe because of I-66 traffic. I think the Orange Line was meant to go out west. They have the roadway set up there. I would go [to D.C.] a lot more often if I had Metro as an option,” says Perich.

“Either extension of Metro, some type of light-rail or bus rapid transit, ideally Metro would be preferably, but any improvements would help,” says Kennedy.

Others think certain spot improvements would make huge improvements and save lots of money.

“The one critical bridge that needs to be replaced is the 123 overpass at I-66. It’s the only 1960s-era still left in this region. If that were totally replaced, it would solve a critical problem we have with traffic in the morning and afternoons,” says Doug Francis, of Vienna.

He says there are too many accidents after the Vienna Metro station and bottlenecks are too common and could be fixed with a new bridge.

VDOT hopes to narrow down the list of options and begin a more specific study before the end of 2014. It hopes to get bids in 2015 and move quickly towards construction shortly thereafter, which could take at least 18 months.

VDOT will hold one more meeting next Wednesday evening at the Wyndham Garden Hotel at 10800 Vandor Ln. in Manassas.

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D.C. area’s longer-than-average commutes could be taking a greater toll on women

Adeyinka Ogunlegan remembers sitting at a red light on Georgia Avenue when the text-message alert came through. Her main route home to Laurel was blocked because of emergency utility repairs.

In an instant, her run-of-the-mill commute, a drive she does daily, generally without incident, turned into a logistical nightmare.

Her son, who is now 4, was waiting to be picked up at preschool, and her daughter, now 3, from the babysitter’s. The clock was ticking, traffic was crawling, and she still had at least 20 miles to go. She knew instinctively that a trip that normally takes her about an hour would take far more time unless she came up with a plan.

“I was like: ‘Oh my God. Oh my God,’ ” she recalled. “There was no bailout. It wasn’t pretty.”

Ogunlegan took a deep breath to keep herself from panicking. As her car idled, she could feel her blood pressure escalating. She checked Google Maps in hopes of finding a way out of the traffic jam. Ahead, she spied a few cars turning off onto side streets and decided to take a chance. She managed to navigate her way through side streets (thank you, GPS) to New Hampshire Avenue and from there to the Intercounty Connector, on which — for a fee — she sped to Laurel, arriving at her son’s school with a minute to spare.

Washington Post poll of area residents this past summer found that women and men who drive average a roughly 30-minute commute. But for about one in six women — about one-third of whom have children at home — that sometimes harrowing daily commute is getting longer. While D.C. area drivers are seeing less congestion on local roads, they still spend seven more minutes commuting each day than the average American, according to the Census Bureau.

Those lengthy rides could have implications for women’s health and stress levels, particularly because their commutes often include stops other than home and work. A growing body of research shows that when it comes to commute stress, women feel the impact more than men.

In a 2010 study, researchers in Britain found that women reported having higher stress levels related to commuting than men did — even if they had shorter commutes.

“The theory was that it was a question of flexibility in time use,” said Jennifer Roberts, a professor of economics at the University of Sheffield. For women, “there were more deadlines for where they had to be. It was not just an issue of, ‘I have to be at my desk at 9.’ It was, ‘I have to get my kids to child care. I have to pick up the dry cleaning.’ ”

Roberts and her colleagues found the impact was particularly acute for women with preschool-age children. Researchers found the psychological effect on them was four times as great as for men with children of the same age.

Add a longer commute into the equation and it could be even worse for women, Roberts said.

Rori Pollak, executive director at Little Beginnings Child Development Center, has seen more than her share of harried moms and dads flying through the doors of the Arlington County day care.

“Most are very apologetic,” she said. “The hardest part is really for the child if they’re the last one here.”

Like many day-care centers, Little Beginnings charges a fee for late pickups. Parents who are one to 15 minutes late pay $20, and the fee escalates from there. Those who have more than four late pickups within a certain time frame face possible dismissal from the center. But Pollak rarely has to enforce the rule.

Pollak said she and her staff understand the stresses and work closely with parents to ease the anxiety. For example, center officials encourage parents to have backup plans in the event of emergencies.

Independent travel behavior analyst Nancy McGuckin said women may find commuting more stressful because they tend to do more than just travel to and from work. They make additional stops — at the market, at day care, at the dry cleaner — a phenomenon known as “trip chaining.” Men, by contrast, are more likely to drive straight from work to home.

In her research, McGuckin, who has worked as a consultant to the Department of Transportation, found a difference in men and women’s attitudes about commuting.
“The commute for men is a moment of respite in the day, where they can sit and listen to the radio,” she said. “But I think, for women, it’s simply another tense, mind-racing trap because you should be somewhere or have just a few minutes to get to day care before you get charged.”

And despite women’s advances in the workplace and as wage earners, that dynamic has not necessarily changed.

“Though we see some changes in the younger generation, women still do the majority of housework and child care,” said McGuckin, who has examined the effects of commuting on men and women. “Commutes women do are more often populated with stops. And they’re more likely to do pickup in the afternoon.”

Federal statistics illustrate the disparity. Among households with two working parents who commute, women make more than half — 63.3 percent— of the trips for drop-off and/or pickup.

Ogunlegan, a lawyer at a Rockville-based public-affairs firm, is one of those women. The family has one car, and her husband takes a commuter bus and Metro to his job at the Commerce Department in downtown D.C., which means she is responsible for both drop-offs and pickups.

As a result, she has carefully calibrated her 50-mile daily drive. Mornings can be hectic, but it’s the drive home that is the real stressor.

“It can be crazy,” Ogunlegan said about her commute, which includes two drop-offs, at the babysitter’s and at school, before she heads to her office. “It’s just this juggling act that you have to manage.”

She knows that if she does not leave work at 5 p.m. on the dot, she risks missing the 6:15 p.m. pickup deadline at her son’s preschool. She’s had a couple of late pickups — including one when she was in such a rush, she couldn’t remember if she had even closed her car door. Center officials were understanding, but even so, she does not like to be late. She knows her son’s teachers have children, too.


“You feel bad,” she said. “You just don’t want to be that parent.”

Some women said that, when they are able, they’ve tried to make adjustments to their schedules and to the places they choose to work to ensure they can be close to where their kids are. But even then, they know they are just one snowstorm or traffic tie-up away from a late pickup.

Susan Burkinshaw, a comptroller who lives in Germantown, has turned down higher-paying jobs in the District and Virginia so she can work within a 10-mile radius of her children’s schools and avoid the frantic last-minute scramble that comes with traffic delays.

For Kellie Reynolds, a mother of two from Gaithersburg, pickup always felt stressful, particularly when her children were younger.

“I never wanted to pick them up late,” said Reynolds, who works for the Federal Drug Administration. “It wasn’t the [late fee]. It was thinking about how bad the kids would feel if it was closing time and I wasn’t there.”

For years, Reynolds handled afternoon pickup and shuttled the kids to doctor appointments and practices because she had a more flexible work schedule than her husband, who worked in Frederick, Md. But after he took a job in Rockville, she became the one with the longer drive. As a result, he is able to pitch in more often, easing some of the stress.

Some women also acknowledge that they may put more pressure on themselves.

“I think it’s just the way our brains are wired. [We’re] always planning our next event — the laundry, calling about the doctor’s appointment,” said Bridget Dunn, a mother of two from Alexandria. “I don’t know that men do the same thing. We get hung up on these kinds of things because we’re sort of the conductor. I think the stress lies in that.”

Scott Clement contributed to this report.