Tuesday, September 25, 2007

driving in dc is bad for my health

Yesterday was my first day commuting to work by car. It will hopefully be my last. I actually missed the bus (as in longed to be inside the smelly confines of the Metro bus and comfortably seated next to Crazy Woman). But I had to drive Jesse’s car into the city yesterday as I was going straight to BWI from work to pick him up. Yes, peeps, my boo finally came home (and as a result, I got the best sleep EVER last night).

My commute into the city wasn’t so bad. I opted to take 50 to the Key Bridge and get on the Whitehurst Freeway. Right before getting on Key Bridge, I noticed that some people don’t know how to merge properly. If a line of cars is attempting to merge into your lane, doesn’t it make sense for every driver to let one car go in front of you that way both your lane and the merging lane are still moving (albeit slowly, but surely at least)? Well, that’s not what was happening on Monday morning. And I felt really bad for those people trying to get on the bridge from 66.

When I finally got to the West End (where my employer is located), my head had started to hurt...and I was relieved to finally get out of the car. I showed up to work a whole hour early because I wasn’t sure just how much traffic I was going to encounter. Not too much apparently.

The afternoon drive was vastly different from my morning commute. Driving through the city during rush hour is a nightmare. Ok, yes, this is straight out of the Book of Duh, but for someone who could only previously speculate as to how bad traffic in DC is at rush hour, I was struck by how horrendous it truly was. And this is coming from someone who grew up in southern California, where presumably I have spent about 33% of my life sitting in traffic.

It took me over an hour to get from the West End to New York Avenue.

And my headache returned.

I was greeted by bumper to bumper traffic on NY Avenue. Oh yippee! Once we passed Florida Avenue, people were cutting each other off and I couldn’t understand why. Each lane was moving slowly. What was the point of cutting someone off to get into a lane that was moving .25 mph faster than the one you were in? My headache worsened.

Eventually I got onto 295, where I was greeted by congestion. After a couple of miles of relatively stress-free driving, I saw brake lights for as far as my eyes could see. Apparently, I was in for some stop and go traffic. I had plenty of time to look around while sitting in traffic. For awhile, I drove alongside a gentleman who was reading a book. Yup, he had propped his book on the steering wheel and was reading while occasionally pushing on the accelerator. If only I could master the art of multitasking while driving safely...

I turned on the radio to listen to the traffic report for the first time ever since I moved here. Apparently, there was an accident on the Parkway. For 45 minutes, I wondered how bad the accident was. I wondered if it would take forever for an accident to clear. I wondered if either of the two lanes were free (yes, California blog peeps, TWO LANES each way on a MAJOR HIGHWAY). 45 minutes of stop and go later, I came upon the scene of the accident. It had been cleared to the side of the road so neither lane was blocked. However, there was some hard core rubber necking going on which was the reason why traffic had backed up. Ugh. Is the 5 second viewing of the scene of an accident enough to cause a substantial delay on everyone’s trip home/to BWI? Come on, fellow drivers! Let’s just ignore the smashed up vehicles that are not physically impeding progress on the road! After all, don't you want to get home?

By the time I got to BWI’s cell phone lot, I had been in the car for 2.5 hours. And I could feel it. The migraine. I could feel the tingling in my extremities. The tightness around my forehead. The nausea in my belly. Driving in traffic in the DC metropolitan area had given me a migraine. I can't believe that people make this kind of commute every day.

On the way back home, I had only one question. Can someone please tell me why there isn’t an easy way to get from 295 to 395? Like some kind of connecting ramp or bridge or something? Is that too much to ask for?


sunchaser said...

This is part of the reason I hate driving (and why I'd never buy an expensive sports car in the states - how much fun is it when you're stuck in traffic?)

And this is part of the reason I've started to envy motorcyclists too. Easing in and out of the traffic, gliding easily along.. (plus, they just look cool/adventurous) Yes, them I envy! (except that they also have more exposure to the exhaust fumes and potential of getting killed by drivers texting/shaving/watching porn/applying makeup/whatever. Can you believe that they had to pass a law to prevent drivers from watching porn?! I don't remember which state it was, but it was a "new" law (this year?). Crazy, scary people..

Anonymous said...

If you live in Arlington, you should have taken the Beltway from BWI through MD into VA and hopped on GW parkway. You would have saved about 1.5 hrs.

Anonymous said...

There's a fairly simple way to get from 295 to 395, say Arlington --> BWI and vice versa. And an extra bonus simple way, that only works in the Arlington --> BWI direction due to one way streets.

First the bonus way that only works in the 395 --> 295 N direction: keep going on 395N through the city, the true 395 will continue with an exit to the right with all the signs for the Capitol and such, but you won't make any turns, you'll stay on the highway, and it'll magically become 295, and then magically become "Southeast Freeway". Stay on the road like you're going to RFK, but it'll fork, and the signs toward the left will say for game day use only or something like that as it leads straight to RFK parking lots, so you'll be forced to go right and follow the signs that say 295 to Maryland, etc. you'll go up the hill and you're forced to turn right on Pennsylvania Avenue, take your next left at the stoplight, and voila you're on 295 North. Careful though, if you miss this turn, you're headed straight toward Anacostia and SE D.C.

In the opposite direction, 295 South to 395 (BWI --> Arlington), this will work in both directions, though, it's called by some locals the "loopdy-loop" because in essence you're exiting the highway, then getting back on in the other directions, making 2 loops back to back. Exit 295 South at exit 3B for the Suitland Parkway on your right, stay in that exit lane, and voila you're in the on-ramp for exit 295 North. The exit for 395, for some reason is only reachable if you're coming from 295 North. The exit is on your right with big, huge signs and everything, less than half a mile from there.

If you follow along on Google Maps, it'll be easier to see what I mean.

I've traveled using these directions from College Park to Alexandria, Arlington to BWI, and in the opposite direction too for years, because I hate going through the city on 50/New York Avenue with such a passion. There will still be rush hour traffic because it's unavoidable in DC, but it's typically less than the NY Ave with the stoplights and stuff.

Madame M. said...

As Anonymous pointed out 395 kind of magically becomes 295 past Pennsylvania Avenue.

Funny you should mention this, because I had to go to BWI yesterday in the morning and I was appalled to see that any turd-bucket with a fortune cookie license is allowed to jump on the B-W Parkway and slow down *because they feel like it*

DC driving-- not for the faint of anything.

lizzie said...

sunchaser--yes, i hate driving too. that's why i don't miss my car. not that i would ever get a bike for the reasons you stated.

1st anon--getting home from BWI wasn't a problem at all. we didn't encounter any traffic on the route we took.

2nd anon--THANK YOU! i really wish i had this advice yesterday, but better late than never. i still wish that 295 and 395 were connected somehow on the way back to VA from BWI. however, with these directions, i might be more inclined to fly out of BWI.

madame--this is all good stuff to know.

ah yes, the random slow down driver. saw a lot of random speed up drivers on the parkway yesterday too.

clearly, dc driving is not for me.

Jilian said...

Ahhh - Blacksburg :) :) It'll take me about 5 minutes to drive my 3 miles home today!

lizzie said...

jilian--a 5 minute commute? i'm so jealous! :)

sunchaser said...

I just realized - I knew that trick with 295/395 already. I guess I know more than I think I do?

I hate writing reports.. :p