Friday, December 19, 2008

So the inner and outer loop thing - turns out, it's all one road

People who don't live in DC or its environs will likely not appreciate this. Unless all cities have a Beltway (or two) - do they?

Anyway. I learned this morning that my understanding of the major routes around DC is much like my tenuous grasp on the rules of baseball.

We awoke to the traffic report on NPR. It was raining. There was an accident on the outer loop. Traffic was jammed.

I turned to Nick. "It's always jammed on the outer loop. And people have to drive from so far already."

"I know. We're lucky."

"How far out do people who take the outer loop live ?"


"Well, like, we're never on the outer loop. Do we even know anyone who lives way out there?"

"Lis, when we come from your parents, we take the outer loop."

"We do not. They're close to DC. They live inside the beltway. Inside the inner loop, even."


I'm not going to bore you with all the convoluted details of the conversation that ultimately ended in my enlightenment when I can just go ahead and tell you this. In my mind, all these years, the Beltway, it consists of two major one-way roads: The inner loop and the outer loop.

The inner loop, which is close in to the city, and goes one way: clockwise. And the outer loop, which is way the hell far away, out there in farmland and down by Richmond. This road also goes one way: counterclockwise.

And here's the thing. I have driven on 495. Which turns out to be the Beltway. And still, I didn't get it. I was always nervous about THE Beltway. The idea that you would be stuck going only one way around that whole loop made me twitch.

Plus, I have always wondered why people didn't just take side roads to get on the inner loop when traffic on the outer loop was terrible. Wouldn't that make a lot more sense than just being stuck on the outer loop?

And now that it's been explained to me, I realize it makes about as much sense to have two one-way rings around the city as it does for the home team to get to keep batting till it wins.



  1. I'm right there with you...the Beltway's confusing! Why so many names for one road?

    1. It could have been worse.....It was going to be called the CIRCUMFERENTIAL HIGHWAY........

  2. Even with an illustration, I don't get it. The whole thing makes my noggin ache.

    I'm never leaving DC. Ever.

  3. Okay, this seriously is the funniest thing I've ever read.... but then I grew to heart the Beltway when living in DC. Yes, I know that makes me a freak.

  4. It took me a little while to figure that the inner loop and outer loop were parts of the Beltway/495, too. This does not surprise me, because we are apparently the same person at least some of the time.

  5. Liebchen - Thank you. Nick laughed really had at me.

    FreckledK - My preference would be to never cross the bridges, so I definitely understand where you are coming from.

    Stacy - No, it makes you efficient. I understand the Beltway can actually be a great way to get places.

    Jessica - It's not transparent, it's really not. Although everyone I've asked at work knew already.

  6. The beltways around Raleigh literally have reduced me to tears... quite a few times. I am super glad to be carless up here!

  7. Yeah, even with the really cute map, I don't get it.

    In Austin, one of the main highways is "Loop 1". Which isn't a loop at all, runs North / South. For one portion, the Missouri-Pacific railroad runs down the middle, so everyone calls Loop 1 "Mopac". It's a little confusing.

  8. As your drawing made perfect sense to me (I rarely drive), I had to check wikipedia to see where I've been mixed up.

    From Wikipedia: Traveling clockwise, the Beltway is designated as the "Inner Loop"; traveling counter-clockwise, it is designated as the "Outer Loop". This parlance too has led to its own confusion, with unfamiliar motorists imagining two separate, distinct highway alignments, one some distance inside the other.

    So, not a completely off-the-wall belief!

  9. You learn something new every day!

  10. You're funny. Are you sure you're not exaggerating for comic effect?

  11. LiLu - I never had a car down there, so I don't know the area at all, even after four years!

    HKW - That just seems like mean labeling. Why call a non-loop a loop?

    Anonymous - That totally makes me feel better! Yes! "two separate, distinct highway alignments" - much better put!

    saratogajean - And I love learning new things!

    Wendy - I cannot even tell you how many times I've wondered how far out the outer loop goes or why people don't just scoot over to the inner loop to make their commute easier. It's so stupid.

  12. Must...control...maniacal... laughter. Oh sweetie, I feel your pain, but...I can't help joining in with your beloved. Maybe it's just a guy thing.

  13. heh.

    i was going to ask if this was a blonde moment, but then I saw that you had already termed it as such.

    And I hate the Beltway. I was not aware of Loop terminology, but now that I am, I feel rather smug from far away. Thanks Lisa. :)

  14. I hear you.

    Don't tell Wendy that after 5 years in the ATL area, I still don't know the difference between the Perimeter, 400, the connector and I285.

    If I can't get there north/south on I75, I need google maps, Xanax, GPS and a St. Bernard with the little whiskey barrel around his neck to rescue me when I get lost.

  15. I takes a courageous woman to admit this.

    Thank you for giving me this laugh. My first Hanukkah gift.

  16. This inner-loop outer-loop thing is confusing, but no less so than highways in other cities...

    Cincinnati also has a loop all the way around it (I-275), but they don't use DC's loop terminology. Instead they say "eastbound I-275," but it is often hard to tell which eastbound I-275 segment they're talking about, the northern one? or the southern one? And when exactly does eastbound I-275 turn into southbound I-275? etc... Confusing.

    Chicago is even worse. Every stretch of road has a name; the Kennedy, the Edens, the Dan Ryan, etc... For example, you can drive through Chicago-land on I-90, and at various points you will be on the Jane Addams Memorial Tollway, the Dan Ryan Expressway, the Kennedy Expressway and the Chicago Skyway. If you drive through Chicago-land on I-94, you will cross parts of the Kennedy Expressway, Edens Expressway, Dan Ryan Expressway, Bishop Ford Freeway, Tri-State Tollway, and Kingery Expressway. To further complicate things, the standard Interstate Highway rule that even numbered interstates go east-west and odd numbered interstates go north-south doesn't apply in Chicago-land. I-90 and I-94 go north-south and I-55 goes east-west. Confusing.

  17. I LOVE the drawing. LoveitLoveitLoveit. =-)


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