Lon Anderson has been friends with Andy O for over 40 years. Listen in to Andy describe the Lon Anderson he’s come to know. “He’s a big voice in our town. He’s helped us . . .get around town . . . You’ve heard his voice on radio. You’ve seen his face on TV news talking about one of the biggest issue that affects us daily. He’s been on the pulse of transportation issues.”
Andy continues, Lon’s “name has appeared in The Washington Post more than 500 times – sometimes favorably I may add. He can speak on any topic related to traffic safety, holiday travel, speed cameras, gas taxes and driving in snow. He’s been the spokesman for AAA Mid-Atlantic for most of his career. He sits with me on the Board of Directors of the Washington Area Regional Alcohol Program which grew out of some ideas that we had on WMAL years ago, with Jerry Sachs and others and we started this whole effort with WRAP. And, he’s my friend of many many years and a great great citizen of Our Town.”
Lon Anderson and WMAL
Andy considers Lon Anderson part of WMAL just without being on the payroll because Lon was on the air so much back then. Andy and Lon take a walk down memory lane. The talk about the talent at WMAL back in the day. Harden and Weaver. Trumbull and Core – co-hosts of “Two for the Road. Ken Beatrice. Lon says of Trumbull and Core, that there “it was the generational gap there . . .that really made it . . .it wasn’t a natural pairing that you would have expected . . . they were different generations. Boy, talk about making the evening drive a little easier for all those motorists.” Andy agrees that “it was so incredible the way they got on beautifully . . .they were entertainers. . . they were information outlets but really entertaining . . .that was the old WMAL to entertain people and make their drive safer going and coming to the office absolutely.” They go on to reminisce about WMAL’s popularity, at the time, with AM and PM commuters.
Education and Career
Lon went to Montgomery College and then University of Maryland. On the way to becoming AAA’s Mid-Atlantic Regional Director, he worked in public relations as spokesman for two different Secretary of Education and as a Vice President of Communications for a trade association. He began his career in journalism as a cub reporter with the Frederick Post where he covered Montgomery County council meetings as a part of the Montgomery County Bureau of the Frederick Post. The Frederick Post is alive and well and is published daily. Sometimes on weekends it is fatter than The Washington Post. Andy and Lon continue to discuss how things have changed geographically. Frederick is no longer the end of the world as it once was but very much a part of Our Town.
After the Fredrick Post, Lon became editor-in-chief of the News Express – a weekly community paper out of Bowie. After a couple of years at News Express, Lon bought a failing community newspaper, the Damascus Courier. He “decided it was time to go see if all the things I thought would make a good community newspaper work and happen.” He could see growth coming to the Damascus market. If he could just hold out it will come and he would be in clover. Lon renamed it the County Courier and expanded into Olney. Things worked out and Damascus grew as did Olney but then in the early 80s the recession hit. Lon ended up selling the County Courier to a competitor the Gazette Papers which ultimately sold to The Washington Post. The Washington Post ended folding the community papers.
Both Andy and Lon talk about how sad it is that community journalism is no longer. They continue the discussion about the general lack of newspaper readership and what that means. They finish up this segment talking Our Town newspaper history, including the demise of the Washington Star. Andy attributes its demise that in part to transportation problems in Our Town.
AAA and Transportation Problems Around Our Town
Lon Anderson is known by many WMAL listeners for his opinions delivered for many years on air as AAA’s Mid-Atlantic Director of Public and Governmental Affairs. He and Andy go on to discuss Lon’s views on traffic problems in Our Town over the years, which unfortunately is the same problem they talked about 50 years ago. Lon tells Andy “We have steadfastly not addressed transportation here in the Washington Metropolitan Area and when we have we’ve often got it wrong – bass-ackwards.” He goes on to relate a story about his grandmother and a comment she made to him when he was just a boy. They were getting ready to ride the streetcars in Our Town on their last day of operation. She was not happy about not having streetcars as a mode of transportation any longer. Listen in to hear what she said to Lon to impress upon him to study the past – past is prologue. He came to apply that to how he looks at transportation problems.
Addressing transportation problems in Our Town has been very frustrating. Lon tells Andy that when you come in “as head of public and government affairs in Washington metropolitan area and you want to improve things for motorists. It doesn’t seem like a stretch to be able to sit down with elected officials and say your constituents are wasting time in traffic every day. They’re frustrated about it. You want to gain some votes shorten their commutes and make them safer. These are things that will make you popular with your constituents. You think it was a no-brainer but they refused to do it.” Didn’t matter where – whether it was in Montgomery County or the District of Columbia or Northern Virginia.
Lon contrasts how Virginia stepped up to the plate for its citizens by addressing its transportation problems, and how Maryland has woefully lagged. Virginia first address the “Springfield Mixing Bowl” by adding bridges with a multi-year multi-billion-dollar project. They also put in the Fairfax County Parkway which was originally a right away for the outer beltway that was never built. They ended up building it to help people get from 66 to 95 and not make them go down to the beltway and across it. They also just put in the Silver Line that will even get mass transit out all the way to Dulles. Maryland is another story. He likes to think of suburban Maryland as Rip Van Maryland. Listen in to Lon talk about what Maryland hasn’t done. They haven’t taken any action on 95, I-270, and it took them 50 years to decide to build the ICC. Lon spoke out about the flip-flopping done by Governor Glendening on the ITC, and the Governor called him and read him the riot act about Lon’s comments. Andy and Lon talk about how every year they put it off the price would increase.
Lon Anderson calls out Montgomery County planners who have suggested that they won’t now do traffic counts before a developer wants to build a building. They don’t need to be concerned with traffic, they say, because of course everybody’s going to be on mass transit. Lon holds no punches and tells Andy he thinks that marijuana has been legalized in Montgomery County because “what are they smoking”. Listen in as he continues to give concrete reasons why traffic matters!
Lon doesn’t just pick on Montgomery County for their bad planning. He tells Andy in fairness to Montgomery County he has gotten involved in a big zoning fight a couple years ago, in DC. DC didn’t want to require new buildings to provide parking if they are near a bus route or near metro. Lon goes into the arguments he’s heard for it, and then leads right into why there is everything wrong with this idea. He then tells a story about how this very idea was put to the test in Portland, OR. The result was lost revenue for the city because people stopped coming downtown because there was no parking. Andy adds that you see it time and again, the “planners are not planning in reality. They’re planning an object – build a building close to metro and everybody walk- that’s not true it doesn’t happen.”
Bay Bridge Traffic Issue and Resolutions
Andy and Lon Anderson come back from a break and talk about bridges. Andy prompts Lon to talk about the planning and building of the Bay Bridge. One of the issues Lon was most concerned about was the traffic pattern set up to handle heavy traffic patterns back and forth. Head on collisions were happening with regularity so AAA started clamoring for more safety on the Bay Bridge. They suggested using movable barriers similarly to what DC was doing on the Roosevelt Bridge during rush hour. The Bay Bridge folks did a study and they decided that the barriers were probably too heavy to put on the Bridge. Lon didn’t necessarily agree with the study and thought there were alternative ways to add movable barriers and hoped those in charge would take another look. The Bridge now is lined with lights and they’ve done other things that really do make it safer even though the barriers aren’t there yet. The number of head-on collisions and serious crashes have been dramatically reduced and Lon thinks that it was a result of AAA’s campaign – doing press conference after the press conference.
Listen in to the rest of this segment to hear how Lon Anderson deftly and systematically lobbied the Bridge engineers to agree to change out the barriers that were placed on the Bridge to keep cars from going in the Bay. His mission was because of two accidents where both times a vehicle and its driver ended up in the Bay and one of the drivers drowned. An investigation ensured, after many press conferences and conversations. Barbara Mikulski got involved and lent her support. Mikulski and AAA together forced repair of the existing barriers. Lon shares that he received a call from the Secretary of Transportation Maryland at the time, and he told Lon that they were going to make repairs right away, but that it would tie up some lanes over a holiday weekend and he wanted Lon’s full support. Lon agreed and although traffic was tough that weekend going across the Bridge it saved lives and that’s what was important.
AAA and School Safety Patrol
Andy O is quick to tell Lon that he was on school patrol when he was a boy and he did a fabulous job.
Lon Anderson made the school safety patrol a major part of high school life in Our Town. It’s a wonderful program. Tens of thousands of young people in the Washington Metropolitan Area have participated, and some of them have gone on to become President, Supreme Court Justices, and Members of Congress. The program teaches responsibility and the importance of public service – saving other children. Each year AAA gives awards nationwide to school safety patrols who have saved other children’s lives. Lon espouses the virtues of this program as making a positive difference in a child’s life. The program promotes leadership, creates awareness of traffic safety and saves lives. Lon and Andy reminisce about the parade that used to be held every year for safety patrols.
George Washington Parkway Problem and Resolution
Andy prompts Lon Anderson to talk about a victory over barriers causing accidents on a stretch of the George Washington Parkway. In 1996, or so, over a course of five or six months five lives were lost on a five-mile stretch of the George Washington Parkway. The problem was that “while it used to be a bucolic little thing that was built in the Roosevelt administration and the truth of it is that it had become, and still and is today, a high-speed commuter road. . .cars going in opposite directions . . . doing 55 65 70 miles an hour and in some areas along that road there was only a foot or two of pavement in the median . . . and it would have been 6 or 8 inches high so if you’re in a fender bender on one side the car would often lose control, hop over and be in a deadly head-on collision. The Park Service had a study that they had already done 10 years before saying that they needed to barrier separates the traffic flow. They couldn’t find the money for it. After one particularly bloody crash I went out and held a press conference on the side of the George Washington Parkway . . .I said this stretch of road may be the most dangerous stretch in America. AAA is declaring war on the George Washington Parkway. . . that was on a Tuesday . . .the next Saturday” Lon was at the movies with his wife, and in the middle of the movie, he received a page from a news reporter asking him to come down to that stretch of the George Washington Parkway because there had been another head-on collision and talk to the reporters there. Lon describes the accident “there was two destroyed cars and pieces everywhere it looked like a bomb had gone off and then we have life lost another one severely injured”. That Monday, Lon got on the phone with the offices of Frank Wolf, Tom Davis and Jim Moran. Wolf and Moran’s office got involved and had a meeting with the National Park Service. Lon received a call a couple hours after the meeting “they said barriers will be built on the parkway within six months they suddenly found the money they couldn’t find for 10 years since the last study. . .” A press conference was held the following week announcing that the barriers would be built. Since the barriers were built there have been no more fatal head-on car collisions resulting in fatalities.
Washington Regional Alcohol Program (WRAP)
Andy and Lon wrap up by talking about the Washington Regional Alcohol Program. Lon Anderson is a proud Member of the Board of Directors and recalls when he was Chairman of the Board in the early 2000s. AAA policy work is complementary to WRAP’s they are both fighting drunk driving all the time and how to keep our drivers from drinking, getting behind the wheel after a few, and driving. Lon recalls interviewing WRAP’s current President Kurt Erickson for the job. Andy and Lon agree that they are not against drinking but they are against drinking and driving. Drinking is a choice and the one choice that no one should make is to have several drinks and then get behind the wheel. That could end your life or someone else’s life.
Andy and Lon Anderson agree that Our Town is one community. We are all in this together. It is unique. We are the capital of the United States, and we are DC, Maryland and Virginia. We are not by way of the Maryland beltway or the Virginia beltway we are by way of the Beltway and it’s very hard to make transportation progress when people don’t realize that. We are one Washington Metropolitan Area and we need to, somehow, find a way to work together.