Metro is slow to change styles and designs

February 17, 2011

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

A year or so ago, I remember Metro was trying out some new styles and designs for its trains. Readers discussed and even voted on several fabrics.

It's amazing that after all this time, Metro officials still haven't made a decision. I'm wondering whether they have started over from scratch, as the seats I remember had various prints, not just a different fabric. I share the other writers' concern about slippery floors. On a crowded train, you cannot always get a secure hand hold. I'd suggest something like rough textured strips of the sort that might be used in a pool or tub, only more durable.

Harise Poland-Wright, Silver Spring

DG: Metro makes most of its design and style changes quite slowly. The transit authority has been testing ideas for the next generation of rail cars since 2008. Four of the newest cars in the fleet got a makeover to test out the appearance and durability of various floor and seat coverings. At that time, we displayed the test versions in a Commuter page feature and received many reader comments.

From time to time, riders write in to say they've just seen one of those test cars still traveling the system. I think the fabric seat coverings have held up quite well, as did the darker-colored ones. The other floor styles, with their shades of gray, are starting to look old.

Metro is reviving the process of getting public comment as it moves into the final phase of designing the next generation of rail cars, the ones known as the 7000 Series. The Jan. 30 Commuter page described the process and included many comments we've already received from readers about potential design changes.

When we discuss those potential changes, most riders vote for a style of seat, or a pole placement or floor design that they're comfortable with. Should the transit authority also consider how these and other changes in the rail cars' appearance harmonize with the system's overall design?

Metro's original planners spent a lot of time designing a system in which colors, patterns and designs meshed. The generations of planners and managers who came after them have slowly eroded the original design concept, for better or worse. Many riders don't notice these slowly evolving changes or find them acceptable. For example, I doubt that many will notice the disappearance of the "Metro brown" paint from the exterior of the 7000 Series cars. It was a decorative touch that harmonized the car detailing with the station detailing.

WIPERS AND HEADLIGHTS

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Your column about the live chat of Dec. 13 got my attention, especially about headlights and windshield wipers. This topic came up in your column months ago, and I learned that drivers must turn on their headlights when using their wipers.

What do headlights have to do with windshield wipers? The real issue is that rain reduces visibility to everyone, and headlights make your vehicle more visible. Why on earth did the General Assembly get windshield wipers in the equation?

Technically, this stupid law requires you to put on your headlights whenever you wash your windshield while driving. This law should be replaced with one that requires you to use your wipers whenever precipitation or road spray is present, whether your wipers are on or not.

Bruce Kirk, La Plata

DG: Many states have similar laws intended to increase visibility for drivers in bad weather in daytime. Relating the use of windshield wipers with headlights is a convenient standard. If the weather is bad enough to make you turn on your wipers, it's bad enough to require headlights.

Maryland's law is worded this way: "If a driver of a vehicle on a highway operates the vehicle's windshield wipers for a continuous period of time because of impaired visibility resulting from unfavorable atmospheric conditions, the driver shall light the vehicle's headlamps or fog lights." (Notice that the law kicks in when the wipers are in continuous use.) The fine for a violation in Maryland is $25.

CHILD CARPOOLERS

In a debate over the rules governing High Occupancy Vehicle lane use, I supported the law that counts a child - or any warm body - as a person for carpool purposes. To do otherwise, I said, would make the law even tougher to enforce. This writer suggests an alternative.

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I'm writing to support the view that infants and children should not count toward HOV passenger requirements. The purpose of HOV lanes is to reduce the number of cars on the road, and clearly infants and children would not be driving themselves.

I agree, though, that enforcement could be difficult, so here's a suggestion: Rather than requiring that all passengers be licensed drivers, which could not be verified visually by police, mandate that only children 16 or older could count toward the HOV passenger requirement, and instruct police to target cars in which children appear to be 12 or younger. It is unlikely that most 16-year-olds would not appear to be at least 12, and in the rare case where that happened, the ticket could be contested. Would some people get away with using the HOV lanes with 14- and 15-year-olds? Sure. But at least the travesty of deeming a car with an adult and an infant a carpool would be ended.

And I agree that the hybrid exemption should be ended as well, especially now with full-size SUV hybrids that still don't get as good mileage as a midsize sedan. But no matter how good the mileage, a car with a single driver doesn't reduce traffic.

Jim Cohen, Bethesda

drgridlock@washpost.com

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