Tom Sherwood’s Notebook: Season’s greetings … but getting there … ?


Traffic is gridlocked in this May 2014 photo of Washington Circle in the West End. (Brady Holt/The Current)

Turkey, tinsel and traffic. The holiday season is here.

Our news media love to report the AAA estimates for holiday travel. This year the auto lobby group estimated that nearly 51 million Americans would be traveling 50 miles or more for Thanksgiving. About 1.2 million of those live in the Washington metropolitan area, the most in a dozen years.

As travel was to pick up this week, AAA also reported that “travel delays will surge by a factor of two along the top ten traffic hotspots in the Washington metro area during the holiday getaway.”

But the truth is, traffic is getting worse every day in the District and throughout the region.

Despite fixes here and there, rush hours are extending longer and longer. In the suburbs, E-ZPass express lanes proliferate but with minimal impact on traffic volume. (When did we stop dismissively calling them “Lexus Lanes” because they favored those who could afford to pay extra for using our public roads?)

For those who follow the Notebook on Twitter (@tomsherwood), you know we frequently tweet about ridiculous traffic jams and the absence of real rush-hour enforcement. For a city known for its parking tickets and speed cameras, the on-the-ground enforcement for rush-hour parking violations, blocking the box, illegal turns and so forth is at best episodic.

We’re surprised road rage here is not more common.

Try heading out in the 9th Street NW tunnel at evening rush hour when there is only one lane to Virginia via I-395. That single lane backs up the length of the tunnel. But other commuters aggressively create a backup in the adjacent through-lane into Southwest. Those vehicles are trying to force their way into the exit lane as horns blow and drivers bunch up to leave no open space for the cheaters.

That’s one spot, not even the worst, out of many dozens we could cite.

Traffic control officers are few and far between for our worst intersections. D.C. police long ago stopped being scheduled traffic enforcers.

As we’ve said on Twitter many times, the District’s roadways are pretty much the Wild West, and you are on your own if you expect much enforcement, driver courtesy or common sense.

But … but … D.C. is known for its ticket-writing. Yes, we’re aware the District has a reputation for writing parking tickets. The same AAA reported in late October that “ticket-weary motorists … were on the receiving end of 5.7 million parking and traffic tickets in a span of 30 months” with a face value of $578.5 million. AAA reminds motorists that fines double if not paid within 30 days of tickets being issued.

A parking enforcement officer issues a ticket to a vehicle on Massachusetts Avenue NW in Dupont Circle. (Brady Holt/The Current/April 2017)

The D.C. Council is considering a variety of measures that could affect the city’s ticket-writing policies. The Notebook and others wish there were more focus on rush-hour enforcement. It would clear city streets, enhance business and change the Wild West image of the city as a traffic-clogged nightmare.

Ward 8 Council member Trayon White has taken something of a different tack. His proposed legislation would have twice-yearly “amnesty periods” during which people who owe more than $1,000 in tickets and fines could settle up without paying the late fees. That bill would help a lot of financially struggling citizens. But it doesn’t address the core problem of traffic congestion.

There are projections the District population may grow from 680,000 to over 900,000 by 2032. This small city cannot possibly accommodate all of them if they intend to bring their cars with them. The city has changed its zoning laws to allow for changing policies on providing parking garage space as we embrace self-driving cars, Uber-style vehicles for hire, maybe an improved Metro system, and the decision by many new residents simply to do without owning a costly automobile.

But in the meantime, why can’t we have better traffic enforcement?

Greater Greater Washington’s David Alpert has a comprehensive take on traffic. Check it out at

Emergency personnel respond to a car wreck at 26th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue NW. (Brady Holt/The Current/October 2017)

Deadly driving. For those of you still in town this week, more chilling holiday news about our deadly highways. In a New York Times op-ed, David Leonhardt cites statistics that show 10,000 more people die each year on our roadways because the U.S. has not kept pace with traffic safety improvements in other countries.

Leonhardt says increasingly sophisticated automobiles and new technology have made cars safer, but speed and other enforcement issues keep our traffic death rates high. Until technology or better laws help us, Leonhard has a simple message: “Be careful out there.”

A final word. Marion Barry died three years ago this week. At the Union Temple Baptist Church in historic Anacostia on Monday, he was fondly remembered as a Thanksgiving turkey donation event was underway. As mayor and Ward 8 council member, Barry had overseen such charitable events in the church pastored by the Rev. Willie Wilson.

Wilson remains the pastor, but this year’s donation was overseen for the first time by Trayon White, elected to the council last year. About 1,500 turkeys, with side helpings, were given out. White named the event in honor of Barry.

And White told NBC4 it wasn’t just a donation for one day.

“When I was a young man, we used to get a turkey,” he recalled. “The turkey would last three, four, five weeks! Make a sandwich and so on.  It may not seem like much for a turkey to some people, but it stretched a long way if you didn’t have food to eat in the house. So we’re just doing our part.”

Do your part and help someone along the way.

Happy holidays.

Tom Sherwood, a Southwest resident, is a political reporter for News 4.