Robert Thomson, best known as the Washington Post’s Dr. Gridlock, retired as of April 1. The Doctor has been an integral figure for commuters in the greater Washington, D.C. region since 2006, when he first began reporting on transportation issues for the Post. In his last column for the Post, Thomson reminisced on how he was anointed the “Doctor Gridlock” persona:
“At first, I sought to maintain the title as just an alter ego. While Dan Tangherlini was in charge of Metro, he took me along on a tour of the Brentwood rail yard. He introduced me to workers there as “Dr. Gridlock,” and each time he did, I would shake hands with the employee and say, “Robert Thomson,” to indicate that I retained a separate personality.
These days, when I meet someone in a professional capacity, I say, “I’m Dr. Gridlock.” The response is either a smile of acceptance about the persona or the wide-eyed stare that says, “Does security know you’re here?”
Over the years Dr. Gridlock has served our region as a wise sage, exploring the intricacies of commuting, finding answers to our most absurd questions, and generally keeping his finger on the pulse of what the heck is going on with all this traffic in our region.
You can only imagine what a challenge Mr. Thomson took on when he morphed into the guru of transportation in this region. Frankly, we are surprised he lasted as long as he did. Most of us “live” our commutes 1-3 hours a day, Thomson lived ALL our commutes 24/7/365! Can you imagine? In his last article he noted:
Dr. Gridlock is like the chairman who presides over Kitchen Stadium on “Iron Chef.” You know he’s not really the chairman of anything, but it’s such a neat idea, you sort of want it to be real.
You should see me at cocktail parties. It’s like the old cartoons where people realize that a guest is a medical doctor and start divulging their symptoms. In my case, people who were strangers a moment before begin to share their deepest concerns — about their commutes.
I love that. I’m a slug at parties until someone starts talking about why something is the way it is on a commute. Then you can’t shut me up.
Some people take the idea a little too far. I’ve gotten “Dear Dr. Gridlock” letters expressing outrage over my response on topics such as right turns on red, or whether a driver absolutely must move into an intersection when waiting to make a left turn.
The letter-writers would blame me for regionwide traffic congestion on the day after my column appeared.
Over the years, Thomson has always been a big supporter of the Dulles Area
Transportation Association, speaking before our audiences and attending most of the public events and award ceremonies.
DATA wishes the Doctor all the best in his retirement. He will be sorely missed, but we also wonder if there is a Resident or RN who will fill the gap in the coming years. After all, you cannot Live More and Commute Less without a good Doctor in the house!
In closing the Doctor’s chapter, we reiterate his final advice – “My wish for the future is that people stop dividing themselves into categories based on how they get around and just look out for each other. We’re all in this together.” So true.