Stuck in the snow? A lot of peo­ple were at fault.

The Washington Post Sunday - - COMMUTER - Robert Thom­son

Dear Dr. Grid­lock:

So John Berry, head of the Of­fice of Per­son­nel Man­age­ment, says he was wor­ried about be­ing a “ laugh­ing­stock” if he re­leased fed­eral work­ers be­fore the snow be­gan to fall Wed­nes­day af­ter­noon? How wor­ried was he about the safety of fed­eral em­ploy­ees?

I think Mr. Berry needs to re­ex­am­ine his pri­or­i­ties.

Nikki Ressler, Spring­field

Berry took his turn as the hu­man pin­cush­ion for many trav­el­ers caught in a com­mute that will live for years in their mem­o­ries. In an e-mail Wed­nes­day evening to The Fed­eral Eye blog, Berry wrote: “We al­lowed two-hour early de­par­ture— and did so with­out a flake in sight. As late as 4 p.m. I was wor­ried with noth­ing hap­pen­ing if the ex­act op­po­site was go­ing to oc­cur, i.e., a laugh­ing­stock story of over re­ac­tion.”

It’s never an easy call, he cor­rectly noted, but Berry said he thought the re­gion’s biggest em­ployer got the call “about right” in per­mit­ting thou­sands of fed­eral work­ers to hit the road two hours early.

It’s very clear that things didn’t go “about right” for com­muters. But this fail­ure had many fa­thers.

When a win­ter storm ar­rives in­Wash­ing­ton dur­ing the af­ter­noon rush, the re­sults are in­evitable. In the af­ter­noon, com­muters are less flex­i­ble than they are in the morn­ing, when they can wake up, see a storm, and go back to bed. In the af­ter­noon, al­most ev­ery­one who came in is go­ing to try to reach home.

Once they’re on the road, it doesn’t take a lot of pre­cip­i­ta­tion to mess them up. The driv­ers who inched their way up 16th Street NW in Wed­nes­day’s snow might have re­called the evening of Jan. 18, 2000, when it took lit­tle more than an ex­tended pe­riod of flur­ries to turn that street into a thin but very ef­fec­tive sheet of ice.

On Feb. 12, 2008, a tenth of an inch of ice shut down the new Spring­field in­ter­change and stalled home­ward bound trav­el­ers for hours.

In both cases, the fore­cast was a lit­tle off. On Wed­nes­day, the fore­cast was spot on. A mix of rain and sleet turned to very heavy snow at 4 p.m., just in time to test the medi­ocre win­ter-driv­ing skills of thou­sands ofWash­ing­ton com­muters.

The chain of fail­ures started much ear­lier, when high­way de­part­ments pro­nounced them­selves ready for snow. In fact, they were ready. The storm teams are a lot smarter and a lot bet­ter pre­pared than they were in 2000 or 2008. They can deal with the snow. But they can’t deal with us crowd­ing the roads at the same time.

They need to make that re­ally plain to com­muters and to the big em­ploy­ers and school ad­min­is­tra­tors who make de­ci­sions about when to call in peo­ple and when to let them go. And they need to ex­plain it the day be­fore the storm, not the day af­ter.

Man­ag­ing con­ges­tion

The Wed­nes­day morn­ing com­mute, dif­fi­cult as that was for many Metro­rail rid­ers aboard trains forced to share tracks, seems like an ice age ago. But it did of­fer some pos­i­tive news in rush-hour man­age­ment. Dear Dr. Grid­lock:

I was de­layed Wed­nes­day morn­ing on the Red Line to Far­ragut North. But Metro had what seemed to be a new ap­proach, which I think is a real im­prove­ment in han­dling these sin­gle-track­ing sit­u­a­tions.

Trains were go­ing through three in a row in each di­rec­tion. In the in­bound di­rec­tion, the first train went ex­press from Van Ness to Far­ragut North, the sec­ond train ap­par­ently made some of the stops. The third train made all stops.

This al­lows them to get sig­nif­i­cantly more trains through in this sit­u­a­tion, since the sec­ond and third trains in the group aren’t held up wait­ing for the crowds to push out of the first train and back in. Also, once you’re past the de­lay, the trains are more evenly spaced.

The op­er­a­tor of the train I was on made very clear an­nounce­ments, and I didn’t see any­body con­fused or missing their stop.

Ben Ross, Bethesda

Metro spokesman Steven Taubenki­bel said that Ross, who is one of the lead­ers of the ad­vo­cacy group called Ac­tion Com­mit­tee for Tran­sit, was pretty close in his de­scrip­tion of what the Op­er­a­tions Con­trol Cen­ter was do­ing with Metro’s most heav­ily used line.

The con­trollers were send­ing three trains through in each di­rec­tion, in­bound and out­bound. Some of them op­er­ated ex­press, pass­ing a stop or two, and some made the lo­cal stops at Cleve­land Park, Wood­ley Park and Dupont Cir­cle. “ This ap­proach al­lowed us to space out our trains more evenly through­out the sys­tem,” Taubenki­bel said. 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 to Dr. Grid­lock at TheWash­ing­ton Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071. By email: dr­grid­lock@wash­post.com. His blog: wash­ing­ton­post.com/ dr­grid­lock. On Twit­ter: dr­grid­lock.

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