Washington D.C. Transportation Tips by Ewingjr98 Top 5 Page for this destination
Washington D.C. Transportation: 399 reviews and 464 photos
While I usually fly into gigantic Dulles Airport in Washington DC, I have occasionally been lucky enough to book a flight through cozy little Reagan National Airport nestled snugly on the banks of the Potomac alongside Crystal City in Alexandria, VA.
National Airport opened in 1941 and now handles about 18 million passengers per year. Dulles opened in 1962, and it handles just a few million more passengers at around 24 million per year.
Reagan's benefits over Dulles are primarily proximity to the city and available public transportation options. From downtown DC you can be at Reagan in 10 or 15 minutes compared to 30-45 minutes at Dulles (or more with traffic). From Dulles your only transportation choices are a few buses and taxis; Regan is connected to the city by the Metro, numerous buses, taxis, and even a jogging/biking trail.
Dulles is a major hub of United Airlines which uses over 60 percent of the airport's gates. IAD is the 15th busiest airport in the US and one of the 30 busiest in the world. The airport has a big main terminal as well as two midfield terminals. Currently the only way to get to the midfield terminals is via a bus-like vehicle that drives across the airport... this is due to be replaced soon by an underground train.
Transportation to and from Dulles can be problematic. The Washington Flyer buses will take you directly to the Tysons Corner Metro station for $10. The city's MetroBus express route 5A will take you to any of five stops for only $3.10; the stops are Herndon-Monroe park and ride, the Tyson-Westpark transfer station, the Rosslyn Metro Station, and L'Enfant Plaza downtown. Other than those options you are stuck with taxis, rental cars, or having someone pick you up. There are plans to extend the Metro to the airport, but it won't be ready until 2016.
The Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center at Dulles hosts the National Air and Space Museum.
Union Station is located just a few blocks north of the US Capitol Building on Capitol Street. It was completed in 1908 and, at the time, was the largest building in the US and the largest train station in the world. It has always served as the gateway to Washington DC for all rail passengers. After the rise of airports in the mid 1900s, Union Station saw less use, and the commercial area was closed for several years. Finally in 1988 it was reopened as a modern shopping center in the heart of the city. More than 25 million people visit Union Station annually.
For transportation, Union Station is still DC's main rail hub. Here you can take the high-speed Acela train up the east coast as far as Boston, ride around the city on the metro, catch a Gray Lines Bus, ride the Virginia Railways Express trains south to Virginia, rent a car, or catch a cab. Be careful after dark around Union Station; it is not known to have the best reputation, and the neighboring buildings are favorite overnight spots for area homeless.
Immediately in front of Union Station is the Columbus Fountain, built in 1912 to honor the man credited with discovering America. Just to the west of the station is the National Postal Museum, which shares a building with the Capitol City Brewery, and to the east of the building's front is the Thurgood Marshall Federal Judiciary Building. Towards the Capitol Building, you will also find the Robert Taft Memorial, the Presidents Trees (31 trees planted in 1934 to honor the 31 Presidents), a marker showing where George Washing bough tland and built two houses, and a large fountain over the Senate parking garage.
Other Contact: 50 Massachusetts Avenue NE
Foggy Bottom Station - typical DC Metro station
The DC Metro is a great way to get around the city once you get over the strange fare system. There are five lines that cover the entire downtown area and stretch into the suburbs of Maryland and Virginia, covering 106 miles. There are several stops in the city center near the famous monuments, landmarks, museums, and government buildings making the metro a great way for tourists to see the city.
The biggest problem with DC's metro is the crazy fare system. Not only do they charge different fees throughout the day ("peak" or "off-peak"), but you never know the fares between any two stations until you look on the fare chart. Prices range from $1.35 to $3.90 (and everything in between) depending on which stations you travel from and to... and the time of day.
Luckily you can buy a pre-paid, stored value fare cards for almost any amount, which takes the guesswork out of figuring out the cost.
The Metro closes at midnight on weeknights and 3am on Friday and Saturday nights.
MetroBus has 322 bus routes with over 12,000 scheduled stops in DC, Montgomery and Prince Georges Counties in Maryland, and Fairfax County, Virginia. Its 1500 buses operated all day and much of the night depending on the route. MetroBuses carry an average of almost 500,000 people per day on weekdays, about 250,000 on Saturdays, and only 150,000 passengers on Sundays. Fares on regular routes are $1.25 and $3 on express routes, plus $0.10 per trip without the SmartTrip card. Drivers do not carry change, and the money machines are slow to feed dollar bills, so get a SmartTrip card!
I took the MetroBus from Dulles Airport to Rosslyn Station (Express Route 5A). The bus was clean, safe, and quick. There were only about 2 stops between the airport and Rosslyn's Metro Station where I got off the bus. This $3 ride from the airport to downtown sure beats the $55 taxi ride!
The Capital Beltway is one of the most famous roads in the country, particularly for those who are interested in politics. The Beltway is also one of the most infamous roads in DC for local drivers who spend half of their lives sitting in traffic. It is also just one of numerous limited access highways provided transportation to and from the DC area. On a random Saturday in December 2008, it took me an hour just to cross the damned old Woodrow. On a Saturday! Thank god I don't have to drive this freakin road every day.
The Beltway (I-495) - As its name suggests, the beltway forms a ring around central Washington DC, with the road almost entirely in the states of Maryland and Virginia, traveling through DC just over the Woodrow Wilson Bridge. It is designated as Interstate 495 though the eastern portion of the Beltway is also the path of Interstate 95. On local traffic reports you will hear the inner loop and outer loop mentioned... the inner loop is the clockwise lanes closer to the city and the outer loop is made up of the counterclockwise lanes. The total route is 64 miles.
Interstate 395 - I-395 begins in the south where I-95 meets the Beltway at Springfield, VA (this huge interchange is known as the Mixing Bowl). It runs 13 miles northeast through Virginia then over the Potomac and into downtown DC. After passing under the Mall it ends at New York Avenue.
Interstate 295 - I-295 runs just 8 miles from the Beltway at the Woodrow Wilson Bridge, along the east bank of the Potomac, then into downtown Washington DC (where it is called the Southeast Freeway, or even Interstate 695 for 1.5 miles) before it merges with I-395. If you continue north on I-295 rather then heading into downtown DC, this route becomes Anacostia Freeway / Kenilworth Ave then the Baltimore-Washington Parkway.
Interstate 66 - I-66 begins in Washington and runs west for 76 miles to Interstate 81 in Middletown, VA. This is the only two-digit Interstate in the city of Washington DC other than the tiny portion of I-95 over Woodrow Wilson Bridge. In Washington I-66 occupies the Theodore Roosevelt Bridge just north of the Lincoln Memorial and it turns due north before quickly ending around Foggy Bottom and the Rock Creek Parkway.
George Washington Memorial Parkway - The GW Parkway is a small freeway maintained by the National Park Service. It follows the south and west bank of the Potomac through Virginia from the beltway to George Washington's home at Mount Vernon. The Northern Section runs from the Beltway past the Pentagon and Reagan National Airport to the north end of Old Town Alexandria at North Washington Street. The Southern Section begins at the south edge of old Town on South Washington Street, and runs to Mount Vernon.
Clara Barton and Cabin John Parkways - These small freeways run along the C&O Canal and the north bank of the Potomac from Georgetown to the Beltway. The Clara Barton Parkway runs the entire distance from downtown to the Beltway, while the Cabin John Parkway is just 1.5 miles long and connects to the Beltway a few exists to the north. the Clara Barton Parkway is part of the GW PArkway Administration under the National Park Service. It provides numerous parking areas for visitors to the C&O Canal trail.
Dulles Access Road (Rt 267) - As the name suggests it runs to the Dulles Airport. It is really two roads, a free road directly to the airport with no local exits, and a toll road providing access to the communities near the airport. A portion of the tolls will be used to build the Metro's Silver Line to Dulles Airport. The roads run about 14 miles from the Beltway east of the city to the airport.
Anacostia Freeway / Kenilworth Ave / Baltimore-Washington Parkway (DC & MD 295) - The non-interstate portion of I-295. It runs from I-295's end point all the way to Baltimore (via MD 295), mostly along the east side of the Anacostia River.
Interstate 270 (Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial Highway) - Runs from the Beltway through Maryland, 34 miles to to I-70 at Fredericksburg. This route runs Northeast away from the city, and it connects into central Washington on Wisconsin Avenue.
Type: Car/Motor Home
Now with meters!
Woohoo! DC taxis now use the same method other First World and some Third World cities use... a meter! What a concept.
So here's the "new deal:" You pay $3.00 to sit in the cab and go the first 1/6th of a mile. Each additional 1/6th of a mile is another quarter dollar (so after the initial $3 you pay $1.50 per mile). They still have a boatload of additional fees such as $1.50 for each additional passenger, $2.00 for large luggage in the trunk plus another $0.50 if the driver puts it in the trunk for you, a $2.00 telephone dispatch fee (if you call and request a cab instead of flagging it down on the street), $1 per animal unless its a service dog, snow emergency fare of 125 percent the regular fare, and a $2 charge for any "service" the driver performs away from the vehicle... that's a good deal, the women who perform services in DC charge a few hundred dollars... but alas, their only meter is the good, old-fashioned watch.
The link below has a taxi fare estimator for a ride within the city limits of DC.
My original tip... from 2005
Washington DC taxis are about as confusing as they come. Instead of running a meter, you are billed by zone. This means that a 5-minute ride might cost the same as a 30-minute ride depending on the number of zones you cross. Another way they confuse you is to charge per passenger ($1.50 per person). Don't forget about the rush hour surcharge ($1.00), the snow-emergency rates (double the normal fare), the suitcase rate ($0.50 per bag), the large object rate ($2.00 per object), and the radio dispatch surchage ($1.00). To make things even worse, there are Maryland, Virginia, and DC cabs all in the same city, and all operating under different rules.
Because it was raining, we took a taxi the short trip from DuPont Circle to Adams Morgan for $13. The next night we took a taxi from DuPont circle all the way to Arlington for the same exact price.
Other Contact: email@example.com
Phone: (202) 645-6018
Type: Car/Motor Home
If you don't want to fight traffic in town and struggle to find a parking spot, a great alternative is to drive to one of the stations outside of the city and take the Metro in to town. My last visit, I parked at Cheverly, Maryland, and enjoyed the 20-minute ride to the city center. Cheverly and the other Metro parking areas recently implemented the SmarTrip card system to pay for parking. A SmarTrip card costs $5 and strores up to $300 in value. It has a special RF chip embedded in the card that allows you to swipe it across a sensor, rather than inserting a paper ticket in the slot. Ahhh technology... no waste, no moving parts. SmarTrip cards are also in use on the buses and the Metro.
Many stations, particularly outside of the city offer daily parking, but only a few offer any long-term, or even overnight, parking areas. Check the DC Metro's website.
Driving in the city of Washington DC can be a real experience. Here are some of my big gripes after just a few weeks in the city:
1. Pedestrians never obey don't walk signs, and they always assume they have the right of way even if they are crossing in front of you when you have a green light. Where this is most frustrating for me is when I am trying to turn on red--I check to ensure pedestrians have a don't walk signal, I check for a break in oncoming traffic, then I go, only to find the crosswalk full of jaywalkers.
2. Avenues, squares, and traffic circles. We are all used to grid patterns in cities and they are easy to figure out. But in Washington DC the avenues are angle streets that create odd six eight, and ten-way intersections; and because of these funny angled avenues, through streets are occasionally randomly blocked, breaking up the grid pattern.
3. Drivers ignore red lights and block the box. Anytime a light changes from green to red at a busy intersection it seems the next six or eight cars will always try to squeeze through, so when the cross traffic light changes to green they always have to wait 10-20 seconds for the intersection to clear before they can proceed.
4. Security measures. Do we have to block half of the roads around all the government buildings? If I can walk there with a back pack or suitcase, why can't I drive there?
(more to come, I'm sure)
Type: Car/Motor Home
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