In preparation for the first day of my postdoctoral fellowship at the NIH, I mapped the route from my new apartment to the NIH campus. I inquired with the administrator ahead of time about the parking options. I had even driven to the office on the evening before my first day to make sure that I would not get lost.
Come Monday morning, I thought I was well prepared for the work commute. Boy, was I wrong.
The GPS gave me an expected travel distance of 8 miles and an expected travel time of 12 minutes. Apparently, the GPS was not designed to account for the long stoplights and the bumper-to-bumper traffic on the major roads in the Washington, D.C. major metropolitan area. Thankfully, I had left home early … but still arrived at the office late and rather frustrated.
“Welcome to D.C.,” my new colleagues knowingly acknowledged with understanding.
According to the annual national traffic survey conducted by the Texas Transportation Institute based at the Texas A&M University, Washington, D.C. ranks first in the nation when it comes to hours wasted stuck in traffic, tying with Chicago.
I learned quickly in my initial forays to various locations around the D.C. area that the estimated travel time provided by my GPS should always be augmented by an additional 30 minutes. Still, it is hard to predict that the same 25-minute drive from Rockville, MD, to Fairfax, VA, one Saturday morning could take almost 2 hours the following Saturday morning because of highway construction projects, an accident, or simply high volume.
I also learned about the options for commuters provided by the NIH:
1. Transhare: This is a federal system designed to encourage employees and trainees to use public transportation. The NIH provides a monthly subsidy to cover the costs of the commute that utilizes the Metrorail or Metrobuses of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, among other modes of local public transit.
2. Parking: Except for visitors’ vehicles, all vehicles parked at the NIH must display parking permits. General permits are issued to individuals to park in designated parking lots on main campus. Satellite parking permits are available for those who participate in the Transhare program to park at off-site parking lots.
3. Shuttles: Several shuttles circle the main NIH campus at regular intervals. Other shuttles connect the off-site campuses.
4. Bicycling: Showers and lockers are available for those who bicycle to work. There is also an NIH Bicycle Commuter Club.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the U.S. Government.
Wenny Lin, PhD, MPH, is a fellow in the Cancer Prevention Fellowship Program at the National Cancer Institute. Prior to joining the Nutritional Epidemiology Branch in the Division of Cancer Epidemiology & Genetics, Wenny earned her MPH from the Harvard School of Public Health in 2009 and her PhD in Cell & Molecular Biology from the University of Pennsylvania in 2008.