Dear PoP – Why are Cabs Avoiding 14th St, NW?/What’s the Quickest Way to DCA?

Photo by PoPville flickr user Rukasu1

“Dear PoP,

For the five years that I have lived in DC I have lived within a block or two of 14th St NW. Cabs to and from DCA have always gone up and down the 14th street bridge. Today I did a very quick flight out and back and both this morning at 4:30, when the driver all of a sudden just turned off to take 9th, and tonight at 11:30, when the driver asked to take Piney Branch, the driver has said it is faster to not take 14th. Why are they all of a sudden worried about traffic at these ridiculous hours? Are either of those routes faster to and from 14th and Spring/DCA at these hours or is my exhausted paranoid self right in suspecting that they are trying to pad the fare with a little extra mileage? Have any of your readers experienced similar out of character cab behavior lately?”

Anyone else experiencing cabs who wish to avoid 14th St, NW at odd hours? What do you guys think is the fastest way to Reagan National Airport?

111 Comment

  • so, i once had an economics class where the professor claimed that cabbies don’t really ever want to pad their fare because that initial $3 when you set foot in the cab is what they are after.

    i combine that with a few instances of telling cab drivers how to get somewhere only to realize they know how to get their better, and i quickly learned to just let them do their job.

    if the guy just drives you around in circles for an hour though, i would be worried.

    • I’ve had cab drivers literally go right past where I was supposed to be dropped off, drive madly around the neighborhood for 15 minutes (ingoring my questions and pleas to stop), and only to return me to my destination. It’s pretty obvious what they were trying to do.

    • From an economics perspective, thats clearly the most advantageous way of boosting money.

      IF – the cabbie can get a new fare in short order AND if the Cabbie understands economics.

      But sure, go ahead and assume that the cabbie isnt screwing you over because your econ professor told you that they wont.

      After all, businesses always do whats in their financial best interest. They never misunderstand things.

  • protip: sound like a local. Its National Airport, please leave the Reagan out of it.

    • Prince Of Petworth

      I completely disagree with you. I don’t call JFK in New York, Idlewood, I call it JFK. Names change. DCA is Reagan National. Personally I don’t like Reagan but that’s besides the point. I’ve lived in DC long enough to remember when the name was added. I don’t buy the sound like a local argument at all. Unless of course you still refer to JFK as Idlewood…

      • Actually, no one calls it “IdleWOOD” because Queens locals know it used to be called “IdleWILD.” Besides, “JFK” wasn’t jammed down locals’ throats by pissant hagiographer cultists like “Reagan” was.

        Locals call it “National” for better or for worse.

        But the real question is: when are you going to start referring to BWI as “Marshall?” (Real locals still call it “Friendship”) 😉

        • Prince Of Petworth

          Hahaha, Idlewild, right. Shit! Hahaha. It was before my time but I still think it’s the same thing. Reagan National is fine with me. And I really don’t mind if that makes me less of a local. I’ll just have to standby my knowledge of DC and its neighborhoods. But if you don’t like the politics than just call it DCA.

          • I call all airports in this area by their airport code. That way no one knows that I have nothing but contempt for Reagan. If I say “National” people just assume that I’m intentionally leaving out Reagan, when in reality, thats just what I grew up calling it and i dont want to utter Reagan’s name unless I’m explaining the definition of “revisionist history”.

          • Like most people in the aviation industry, I refuse to call it Reagan in solidarity with the thousands of Air Traffic Controllers Reagan decided to lay off. It’s actually pretty awful that DCA got renamed to honor Reagan considering how many people he screwed over.

          • Then please call it Thurgood Marshall when you speak of BWI.

        • +1000

        • My mom was a stewardess a lifetime ago and was based out of DC – she still calls it Friendship – makes me laugh everytime.

        • +100 on the BWI/Thurgood Marshall point.

      • eh, national is shorter, JFK is shorter, U st is sorter than the absurd U Street/African-Amer Civil War Memorial/Cardozo. keep it simple.

        as for “proper names” loosen up nicknames are fun. i like having a park named after a anti government radical who realized late in life that reverse raceism wasn’t the answer.

        • Everyone I know calls is Reagan, which makes sense since it is shorter. None of them are making a political statement about it and none of them (besides one) grew up in the area. I have no problem with some moron calling me out on calling it Reagan rather than National. In the end, who looks dumber in that conversation?

          • Yes, National is longer than Reagan. Can you please calculate how much time I would save over a lifetime if I say Reagan instead of national every single time? Totally a legit argument.

          • I call it “History’s Greatest Monster National”. No one has ever questioned this, so I assumed it was a thing.

            Really, the choice of names is a way to show political affiliation. It’s about solidarity.

          • Anon at 2:13: Anonymous at 2:07 was responding to Anonymous at 1:58 who claimed (mystifyingly) that national was somehow shorter than saying reagan.

            People that want to demonize Reagan for everything he did are just as bad as people that want to deify him for everything he did. Ron Reagan jr. said it best in the fantastic Eugene Jarecki HBO documentary, “Reagan” when he said, “My father was smarter and better than many people on the left thought he was and less than the giant that many people on the right thought he was.”

            Stop whining about Reagan, he had plenty of good qualities and successes to go along with the shameful ones. Either way he was an extremely important figure to this country and deserves to have something named after him in DC. It’s an airport, call it what you want. I shudder to think of the protests if there was (Gasp!) an actual monument put up for him.

          • Everyone? Do you only hang out with 22 year old Hill staffers? I try to avoid hanging out with anyone who calls it Reagan. I get a wave of nausea every time I hear that. So yes, I’m that guy who corrects everyone. I like to do it in a really obnoxious way. Usually I claim to have no idea what they are talking about until they say National.

            Reagan and National. Both two syllables when I say them. And Nash-nul is much easier to say since I don’t have to pause to choke down the bit of bile that comes up when I saw Reagan. Now if they called it Gipper, I’d be all over that…. Gip would be even better.

          • Idiocracy approaches ever quicker.

      • Okay Dan…

      • was is and always will be National. GOP re-writing history to make a legend out of president that quadrupled the national debt is an abomination. It will never be that guy’s name, it will always be National.

        • Agreed, it’s National. Name was changed against the wishes of the Metro Airport Authority, DC Mayor and City Council and the good citizens of the city by the Repub controlled congress.

          Most of us thought Washington was a fine president and it was appropriate to have DC’s airport named after him.

          • Why would the DC mayor and council have any say in the name of an airport located in Arlington, VA? (Though otherwise I’m in total agreement with you, Nat’l.)

          • Because it cost DC taxpayers lots of $$$ to pay for the name chance that we didn’t want.

      • really? I’ve lived in dc long enough to remember when it was added (which was not very long ago) and it’s still National to me. I’ve only heard people who moved here recently call it reagan.

    • – 1. We should call things by their correct, and official name. Ie, Meridian Hill Park, not Malcolm X park.

      • It’s National, not Reagan! Come on now!

      • Then why, Moose, do you comment using an alias?

        Unless… are you an actual moose? I’d love to get a moose’s perspective on where to find tender green shoots.

        • That’s cute, but there’s no analogy between my point and the fact that I comment under an alias (like you)

          • Agreed, we both use aliases. But you said we should all use only proper names. That’s more of a British attitude, I’d venture, which would make you an elk which is what they call a moose, rather than the more free-wheeling American animal of the same Alces-Alces species, known in North America as Moose, from the Algonquian language.

            Not to be confused with the American elk which is that big deer-like creature…

      • Here, let me help you with that stick you have all the way up your ass.

    • I commonly hear “locals” refer to the airport as DCA, Reagan, and/or National. Not sure where you get the idea to call that comment a “protip”…

    • “Originally named Washington National Airport, the facility was renamed to honor former President Ronald Reagan in 1998. The airport is commonly known as ‘National’, ‘Washington National’, ‘Reagan’, ‘Reagan Airport’ and ‘Reagan National’.”

      protip: locals have several names for the airport, all of which are commonly understood to refer to DCA.

  • I find the cabbies in DC to be pretty limited in their knowledge of DC streets beyond major downtown hubs and have only met one who knew of my tiny street in Truxton Circle.

    The quickest way for me to get to National is 395 (3rd Street Tunnel) to GW Parkway. It takes no more than 15 minutes early in the morning. Otherwise I just hop on Metro.

  • Just a guess but when traffic volume is low, they prefer to avoid stoplights entirely (conversely, when volume is high, the lights actually help).

    I’m pretty sure there is exactly one stoplight — at Virginia Ave — along the entire route from the top of Piney Branch to the DCA. If the lights are timed down 14th street then there’s no way to benefit from speeding. With the exception of a few well known spots along the parkway, though, there are no impediments to a faster trip.

    Personally I drive the parkway any chance I can. I love the trip along the river, under the KenCen, past the Lincoln, over Memorial Bridge. I say, sit back and enjoy the ride.

    But were your fares very different?

    • Piney Branch/Rock Creek is definitely faster route from PW/CH to DCA. Probably a mile or so longer, but much faster, no matter what hour (unless RCP is 1-way northbound)

  • Quickest vs. shortest/cheapest.
    Remember that your interest and the cabby’s don’t always line up. He/she wants speed and longer distance, where as you likely want speed and shorter distance.

    but 14th at that time is vacant – though the lights aren’t synched so its a pain.

    • Is this really true? Cab drivers don’t always want the fastest route either if they’re unlikely to pick up another rider any time soon (4:30am?)… they get paid based on both mileage and time. Sometimes I have felt like cab drivers have driven me very slowly and taken out-of-the-way routes during off-peak cab riding hours.

  • The last time I took a cab to DCA was this summer, when I realized my flight was earlier than I had thought it was. I hopped off the metro at U st. and scrambled to find a cab (my flight was scheduled to leave in 30 minutes!) I told the driver my situation, so I’m pretty sure he took the fastest route and we were there in less than 10 minutes. Somehow I made it on that flight!

    Anyway- he took take 14th st.

    I’ve felt like cabs intentionally take the wrong route to make it longer too. Maybe they think they’ll get a bigger tip for a higher fare? And that you don’t know better? I honestly don’t know how their pay is calculated…

    • At that point, yeah — if you’re already down at U Street, you might as well just go straight down 14th St.

      But north of there, up north around Piney Branch, def faster to zip through Rock Creek Park.

  • I’ll second Piney Branch/Rock Creek/GW Parkway being the best route to DCA. When I get in a cab, I specify that’s how I want them to go. You get no stoplights, less traffic, and a better view. (It does add about 2 miles to the trip, though.)

    • ^ what (s)he said

    • +1

      • Are taxis actually allowed on Rock Creek parkway? (Checked the website and it didn’t say) There are signs for no commercial vehicles, so taxi drivers might think they could get a ticket.

        • I’ll take a cab from Mt Pleasant to National via Rock Creek w/out problem – unless a cab driver is new to driving in DC I assume they know they can use Rock reek. From Mt P, it’s the quickest way to DCA under most circumstances.

          Captcha = dumy

  • I drive from Columbia Heights to Alexandria every day to work, so I pass right by National. I have found the quickest way is to take 9th all the way down to 395, then to GW parkway.

    One caveat is the current construction on Sherman (which turns into 9th at 930 club). Traffic is now a mess on the southern end of Sherman, so it should certainly be avoided. Dependending on where you live, head south on a different road, then cut over to 9th just past U St.

    That is my 2 cents.

    • You mean you pass by Reagan. Ok, following. Go on…

    • What is gay hell is going on with Sherman anyway? I forgot and drove down from Irving to 9th on Sherman (post-workday autopilot) and passed no fewer than SEVEN backhoes. Does anyone know a time frame for this major project?

      • RECONSTRUCTION OF SHERMAN AVENUE FROM FLORIDA AVENUE, NW, TO PARK ROAD, NW – Total redesign and reconstruction of the roadway and sidewalk;upgrade of ramps, streetlights, traffic signals and drainage. New median with street trees. Scheduled completion date is  July 8, 2012.

    • agreed. I live in Columbia heights and prefer to take 9th st. when I need to get to 395. The lights aren’t too bad and you don’t get stuck in any traffic circles.

      • 9th st is always faster than Georgia ave or 14th when trying to get downtown. Although not anymore with the construction:(

  • I am a consultant who lives on 14th Street. I flew out of DCA every week for several years. Early morning departure – My regular cab driver always took 14th Street and it took me 30 minutes to get from 14th & V to the gate (including security in Terminal A). Evening arrival – I always asked my cab drivers to go up 12th Street because the lights are synced until Mass Ave.

    • I am also a consultant and agree completely with this. From my place at 2nd and U NW I can walk out my door and walk into the airport 15 minutes later using 9th Street. I actually made it from my seat on the plane in the door to my house in 13 minutes on one amazing night. The synchronization of 12th Street lights is key.

      And I will say that cab drivers NEVER choose this route without me telling them, leading me to believe that they don’t know the city and don’t think about the best route to take. Typically going from my house to DCA (the correct name of that airport by the way) they will try to go down New Jersey Avenue and get onto 395 through the intersection of New York Avenue at 3rd Street, which is a complete disaster of traffic virtually all day and therefore a completely idiotic route compared to 9th Street. On the way back they will typically do crazy things like getting off 395 at Massachusetts and trying to get up through other surface streets.

      Bottom line is DC cabs generally are phoning it in.

      Related question about DC cab drivers – are they all super stoned all the time? Why do they all drive so slowly and gently? Most other cities have super-aggressive cabbies that drive as fast as possible – only in DC have I had the experience of cab drivers slowing down to stop at lights when they know from the countdown timer that the light is going to turn yellow soon (as opposed to speeding up to get through it). WTF?

      • They’re trying to rip you off on the fare by stopping at every yellow light.

        At least that’s the stupid ones, who don’t realize they’ll make more money by getting people to their destinations as quick as possible so they can get new fares and thus the $3 for each one.

        Since the meters went in, most cab drivers would rather be spiteful and try to make more money.

      • Eric, I believe DC cabs drive slow because every one of them is looking for another fare to pick up. They’re allowed to – or were under the zone system – as long as they don’t take you more than six blocks out of your way.

        • A lot of DC cabbies drive slowly because they’re high on khat.

        • I think the khat idea is very likely. You don’t drive 15 miles and hour on Rhode Island Avenue because you’re looking for another fare – and I have had cabbies actually pick up another fare maybe 1% of the time I am in a cab.

      • Great to know about 12th st. I always take the parkway, but like alternatives or directions for visitors. But is there an actual exit from 395 onto 12th st.? On the map I just checked, it doesn’t look like there is.

  • i drive from 395 to columbia heights on 12th st every time. 14th st is filled with lights and traffic. the stop lights on 12th are timed perfectly till vermont ave and theres usually little traffic

    • Agreed. I take 9th street when headed south, and 12th street when headed north. Both of these routes avoid Thomas and Logan Circles on 14th and 13th, respectively.

      • shhhh! stop telling everybody our secret!
        ok, fine…everybody come join. 12th street and the rock creek parkway are the traffic gods’ gift to dc.

        • ha ha. DDOT will probably have the 12th St lights re-timed for “traffic calming” by tomorrow morning, like they did with 15th.

  • Anyone else miss the zone system?

    I refer to National as DCA locally, and Reagan National when telling people the easiest way to fly in (generally)

    BWI, and Dulles for the other two…

    • 14th st and sherman/9th to 395 work equally well from northeast CH.

      i’ve never heard anyone born here call it reagan or dca. not judging, just observing. i’ve never heard anyone anywhere call bwi thurgood marshall except someone on the PA at the actual airport.

      • I was born here and I call it Reagan. Then again I didn’t do much flying as a child and the name of the airport was changed when I was 11. Who gives a crap what you call the airport? Why do you care if you sound like a local? No one in this city cares whether you’re from around here since so many people are not.

        • ‘Sounding like a local’ gives some pretentious people a sense of superiority to others.

        • i don’t care if someone sounds like a local, just putting in my 2 cents on what the airport usually gets called. “an observation, not a judgment.” it’s an inane question, but is arguing over a neighborhood’s boundaries.

    • Miss the zone system? HAHAHAHHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.

      Over a 5 year period under the zone system, I flagged a cab at least twice a month to National from 18th and Columbia. More than 50 trips. I don’t think I was ever charged the same fare twice. They ranged from $14 to one guy who tried to charge me $30. I threw $17 at the latter guy and told him that if he didn’t like that amount, I was happy to wait for the police to arrive and sort it out.

      With the meter, I now go from Brightwood for fares ranging from $19 to $22 for being picked up at my house and delivered to National. The fares have depended on the time it took due to traffic. The cabbies usually ask me which route I want to take when I get in the car. I haven’t felt ripped off in any cab since the meters went in.

      • Ha, all the “locals” I know who’ve lived here for a while miss the zone system…

        The zone system was a lot cheaper getting downtown from where I live.

      • The thing about the zone system is half the time it helped you, half the time it screwed you. Actually, most of the time it screwed you, because of where the boundaries were. Good riddance.

    • Miss the zone system? Ew. Seriously, the biggest scam ever.

      • How on earth could anyone possibly miss the zone system?

        Yes, let’s give cab drivers a very easy way to cheat passengers and illegally withhold taxable income from the D.C. government.

        • Of course you miss the ZONE SYSTEM.

          The ZONE SYSTEM was the best… if only you knew the boundaries.

          Cabbies used to HUSTLE for their one zone fare. Quick pick-up, quick drop. Now, they LAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAGGGGGG so slowly. BRING BACK THE ZONE!

  • Augh! Don’t tell the world about the magic lights of 12th!

    • Agreed, everyone hush. They’ll take the magical lights on 12th away like they did the magic lights on 15th.

  • This is neither here nor there, but wasn’t the 14th street bridge closed for a while yesterday due to an accident?

    • omg. all of 395 was closed for a while yesterday because of a couple different accidents. disaster.

  • Walking up 14th St the other day, I saw someone who looked like they were with the city taxicab commission or something, pulling over taxis? I can’t remember exactly, but I remember wondering if there was some kind of license enforcement sting going on.

  • From Petworth, Piney Branch is quicker early in the morning. But if you have an evening departure when the parkway is one way north, or a weekend departure when Beach is always backed up at Rock Creek Parkway, Sherman to FL to 9th street tunnel is the best way. From CH or U Street though I would think 14th would be quicker especially early in the morning.

  • DCTC has been doing major enforcement up and down 14th St lately. Also d. has been shutting the 14th St Bridge down at night for roadwork. These are two reasons cabs may be avoiding 14th St.

    I had to fight with a cabbie once to take 12th St north from the Mall. He insisted his way was faster. I finally had to tell him if you want to get paid you’ll drive up 12th St. He relented and then remarked. “wow. this street is faster.”

  • I simply refuse to refer to DCA with the name of the 40th president. I imagine the folks in New York had a say in renaming Idlewild after JFK, whereas the folks in the DC area had the renaming of the airport and the adjacent Metro station crammed down its throats by mindless drones who worshiped the guy. And “National” is part of the airport’s name. We just don’t use all the name, the way most people don’t use the entire names of many landmarks. I call the stop “U Street/Cardozo” because adding in the bit about the Civil War Memorial is just too unweildy. I typically don’t add “Adams Morgan” when referring to the Woodley Park stop for the same reason (and AdMo is a good 20-minute walk from the station).

    Anyway, if I’m going to or from DCA, I use Metro, even if I have luggage. I hate cabs and only use them when utterly necessary.

  • i just call everything reagan.

    the reagan anthem
    reagans stadium
    the reagan zoo
    the reagan gallery of art

    except for the verizon center. i call that MCI.

  • I am a local who proudly calls it Reagan National, he had his faults, but they were greatly outweighed by what he did for this country and the world.
    Do you still call the stadium the MCI center just to prove you’re a real loco…I mean local?

  • jburka

    People have short memories, especially when they’re not actually locals.

    One reason people were pissed about the renaming of National was that Reagan, Mr. Small Government, was just months away from the completion of a THREE QUARTERS OF A BILLION DOLLAR building named for him (and in fact, I happen to be sitting in that building now). Of course, people like Grover Norquist saw the irony in that naming — which is why it apparently made sense to them to waste even more money on yet another naming.

    When the city complained that it would be too costly to redo street, metro, and other signage, Congress insisted that this did not need to be done as long as the official name of the airport changed and the signage at the airport itself was updated.

    Naturally, Congress later insisted that all of the signage needed to be updated to reflect the legal name of the airport. Guess who paid? Nope, not Congress! In 2001 24 members of congress told WMATA to rename it. WMATA and VA refused, and so Bob Barr (now Mr. Libertarian) threatened to withhold federal funding for Metro. So WMATA paid for the name change — at a cost of $400k.

    So, yeah. We’re bitter. And we’re calling it National Or DCA.

    (14th works great unless you’re stuck due to construction on the bridge and/or traffic)

    • Because the building wouldn’t have cost $750 Million if it was named something else? That makes total sense.

  • Anon 4:22, I want to know how you even got a cab to come and pick you up in Brightwood? I haven’t managed to get one to come to my house yet. I finally gave up and rode the Super Shuttle.

    • It ain’t easy. Diamond Cab used to be pretty good about coming if I called the night before, but the last two times no one showed up and they didn’t send anyone until after I called to see where the f**k my cab was.

      If I’m on a trip of less than 3 days, I usually just drive myself down there and park in the Economy lot.

      The last time I called Diamond was two weeks ago, and it will be THE last time. Called them at 6 am for an 8 am flight. They said someone would be here in a few minutes. 6:30–no cab, so I called back. The dispatcher replied, “Oh, he’s still looking for a cab for you.” I said, “what do you mean, LOOKING for a cab. DO you have cabs or not?” She replied, ” I SAID he is trying to find you a cab.” I asked her exactly how long I was supposed to wait to find out if “he” was ever going to find a cab, and she just put me on hold.

      I’ve tried a couple of other cab companies with no luck.

  • the cabbies do this because it is a higher fare to take you on a roundabout route.

  • real locals still go to concerts at uline arena.

  • shit i remember when columbia heights was a suburb

  • It’s “National.” Or “DCA.” Never “Reagan.”


  • I’ll never fly into Reagan. National yes, DCA yes but not Reagan.

    If you are from here and/or were around when Reagan was president, you’d understand. By “around” I mean older than elementary school.

  • I’ve always found the fasted way to the airport to be the yellow line.

  • Apologies – *fastest.

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