USDA Stops Traffic in Beltsville

By Ron Shaffer
Thursday, March 31, 2005

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

A very odd four-way stop was recently installed on Powder Mill Road, midway between Edmonston Road and the Baltimore-Washington Parkway on the Agriculture Department's Beltsville Agricultural Research Center.

The two roads that intersect Powder Mill at the new intersection from the north and south have no traffic to speak of.

The new stop just slows traffic on Powder Mill and lines it up at this new stop during commuting hours.

Do you know the background behind this new four-way stop?

Kim Kidney


The USDA controls Powder Mill Road as it crosses the sprawling research center between Routes 197 and 1. The department erected the four-way stop in February to slow speeding traffic, according to USDA spokesman Sean Adams.

"We tried rumble strips and flashing yellow lights, but nothing seemed to work," Adams said. He advised commuters to obey posted speed limits, which are 25 mph or 35 mph through the center.

Superman Sidelined

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I know that people see amazing things in the Washington area, especially with all the famous people here. While driving on the Capital Beltway toward Silver Spring on a recent Saturday morning, who did I see on the right shoulder having car problems but Superman.

That's right, a man in a blue suit with a big red S. I didn't notice a cape, so I guess that is why he was on the side of the road.

The memory of that sighting still brings a smile to my face. But when I told a few people about it, most thought that this Superman was probably a party performer. I kinda wish I could have been of assistance, but I was too far over and was not going to risk an accident, even for Superman.

Gail Katz


Lower DVD Screens

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

You may count me as one curmudgeon who agrees with Jo B. Spiegelman [Dr. Gridlock, March 10]. DVD screens in other vehicles are extremely distracting, especially, but not exclusively, at night.

We can't help but look at them. Our eyes are made to spot motion. But, unlike you, I'm not hard-pressed to say the players should be outlawed in vehicles. You may be unhappy about a 3-year-old squirming in the back seat. Tough. Adults have had to pull to the side of the road and settle their charges for as long as there have been road trips.

The real problem is that these self-indulgent drivers with backseat DVD players can cause accidents -- other than rear-enders -- that do not involve them.

If a vehicle has a TV or DVD and similar screen, it should not be allowed to distract other drivers. That can be accomplished by darkening the windows or lowering the screens to below the window level.

Thomas E. Zmudzinski

Fort Washington

Don't Pass Off Parenting

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

DVD players in autos are not a good idea [Dr. Gridlock, March 10]. With so much research out there on the negative effects of too much video, why would you think the road is another place to plug in your kid?

Ask your parents what they did when you squirmed in the car. Talked to you? Sang? Counted state tags? Looked for shapes in the clouds? Just let you daydream?

Books or story tapes, which are easily had from your public library and actually increase a child's listening and concentration skills, would be a better choice and would not distract other drivers.

Please, take some responsibility as a parent and a driver; don't pass it off to Disney. There is no reason to feel a 3-year-old needs to be entertained nonstop for you to be a safe driver.

Think about it, Dad: What will you say when the car next to you has violent porn on the screen?

Nancy Mendez

Silver Spring

Until that becomes a problem, I'm okay with DVD players in vehicles.

Metrobus Complaints

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I walk to and from work and am constantly dodging Metrobuses that are running red lights and/or blocking crosswalks, particularly at Dupont Circle.

On more than one occasion when I have reported these actions, I have been told that Metro will talk to the driver and decide on any action to be taken, but there will be no report back to me.

It doesn't matter if you call or e-mail: It's a big black hole. So just laugh it off and be ever vigilant.

Richard Van Berkel


Metro gets about 1,000 questions, comments and complaints a week. I am told that when someone complains about an employee, the agency will provide an automated response, such as "Your comment has been received," but you will not be told of an outcome.

Those are private personnel matters, but you should be assured that each is investigated, and you should see a change in behavior, Metro says.

The complaint or comment number is 202-638-1328.

Police Car Parking

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Police should be setting a better example. Not only do they not enforce a rush-hour parking ban on northbound 14th Street NW, but a police car is often parked there, without flashing emergency lights.

Parking in the curb lane during rush hour is an accident waiting to happen.

Vic Marina


Parked police cars are assumed to be on duty and therefore may be exempt from traffic and parking restrictions, according to Sgt. Joe Gentile, a D.C. police spokesman.

However, if the officers are not on duty, they can be and are ticketed, Gentile said. They are expected to pay for the ticket and may be subject to disciplinary action.

They should not park in a traffic lane during rush hour unless they are responding to a crime. If you see what appears to be routine parking abuse, you can report it to the district station near which the questionable conduct occurs. Ask for the administrative lieutenant on duty, Gentile said.

If you don't know which district you are in, call 202-727-1000 for the district and a phone number.

If enough people complain, perhaps police will think twice about blocking traffic needlessly.

Red-Light Roulette

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

While I can relate to the public's anger over hidden speed traps, I do not feel the same about red-light cameras in the District. Red-light cameras can be lifesavers if properly placed and monitored.

At night when I leave the Department of Interior and cross the intersection of 19th Street and Virginia Avenue in Northwest, it is scary to see numerous cars run the red light on 19th Street in their rush to get home.

It happens so frequently that most pedestrians now wait until all traffic has come to a stop, regardless of whether the walk light is on or not.

Because this is almost a nightly occurrence, I called and e-mailed the 2nd District police station to ask for a red-light camera or, at a minimum, police officers to observe the situation.

Three weeks later, no action and no response.

Until the police realize what a dangerous situation exists at this intersection, I guess drivers will continue to play red-light Russian roulette with their lives, and others' as well.

Roger Stillwell


If were up to me, I'd put red-light cameras at every intersection. Or at least the housing for them, and then rotate the actual cameras.

Some Would Rather Sit

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I'm really opposed to eliminating seats on the Metro. I'm a 57-year-old woman who intends to continue working for at least five more years.

Although I don't look my age, my body is plagued with back, hip and knee problems.

I really appreciate the days when I am able to sit on Metro rather than stand, even for the short ride into the District from my apartment in Arlington. Instead of eliminating seats, let's encourage Metro to add more trains and more cars per train.

Marilyn Lang


Metro is adding more cars in the next few years, first by building the fleet to all six-car trains, then by adding eight-car trains.

In trying to get the most out of its cars, Metro is eliminating eight seats from a few test cars and 24 from a few more. That is being done to encourage passengers to spread out into the aisles rather than bunching up near the door. That should lead to more capacity plus easier on-and-off access.

The current system, in which departing passengers bunch up trying to exit and arriving ones try to force their way on, is horribly inefficient. One solution would be for Metro to use station markers on the platform. The markers would indicate where each train will stop so people can line up in an orderly fashion. The agency is looking into that, according to Richard A. White, Metro's general manager.

I applaud Metro for looking at alternative ways to carry more passengers more efficiently.

Cameras and Privacy

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

When I was teaching my son to drive, I would ask him, "When you are at an intersection and the light turns green for you to go, when do you go?"

The (trick) answer: "When everyone stops running the light."

The police can't be everywhere, and only the certainty of fines will keep some people from running lights. Only cameras that are everywhere can do that.

I don't buy the privacy concern about red-light cameras. When was the last time you used an ATM, bought candy at a convenience store or even walked down the street? We are pretty much constantly being monitored. How is this any different?

Don't want your picture taken? Don't run the red light!

Joanne Martin


I agree. Red-light cameras reduce red-light-running, and that is a good thing. Unfortunately, some Virginia legislators are opposed out of a bogus fear of invasion of privacy. Too bad.

ISO Carpoolers

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Due to my office's recent relocation, I've had to switch back to driving by myself from Leesburg, along the Dulles Greenway and Toll Road, to reach my new office in Falls Church.

My modest attempts so far at finding eligible carpoolers to share the ride have not been successful. My previous office's location downtown allowed me to use public transportation (Loudoun County Transit) to get to work, and I wish a similar or realistic option existed for my new location.

I say realistic because driving to catch a series of local buses, Metro and a shuttle bus to reach work would take too much time.

Misha Ptak


I wonder if you've tried making a carpool match through the free government-sponsored Web site . Or call 1-800-745 RIDE. They have lists of people looking for carpools and may have a match for you.

Transportation researcher Diane Mattingly contributed to this column.

Dr. Gridlock appears Sunday in the Metro section and Thursday in Extra. You can write to Dr. Gridlock, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071. He prefers to receive e-mail,, or faxes, at 703-352-3908. Please include your full name, town, county and day and evening phone numbers.

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