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Commuters Snarl Local Traffic

By Ron Shaffer
Thursday, November 17, 2005

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I've read with interest all the talk in your columns about how people should live closer to their jobs. Frankly, getting to and from work is just one piece of the problem.

We live barely six miles from a shopping center that has most of what we need, but those six miles are arguably the most painful. We live barely three miles from a Virginia Railway Express station in the other direction, and those three miles often take 30 to 45 minutes to navigate in the evening.

Telling people to live closer to their jobs isn't going to cover up for a complete failure to keep up with the population growth in this region. The state and local governments have to be held accountable for keeping up with infrastructure. You can't have a skyrocketing population without equal growth in infrastructure.

We have thousands upon thousands of people pouring into the region. They need access to schools, shopping, recreation, public transportation and much more.

Todd Skiles

Bristow

Yes. Local governments continue to approve new growth even though there are no transportation system improvements to accommodate that new growth. Bristow, Gainesville, Haymarket are ground zero in the new suburban gridlock.

I am amazed that any local officials get reelected. But they do. So voters must want more of the same, right?

Conserving Fuel

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I'd like to respond to Tom Wiedemer's "Slow Down, Save Gas" letter of Oct. 20. While I agree that fast starts and high speeds will reduce gas mileage, the speed limit does not necessarily indicate the best speed for maximum fuel economy.

With the exception of hybrids, most cars today with overdrive transmissions have their sweet spot for gas mileage when cruising between 50 and 70 mph, depending on gearing, coefficient of drag, temperature, load and tire inflation, among other things.

If driving more slowly conserves fuel, more power to you. However, I would remind those driving below the speed limit around here (or even at the speed limit on many roads) to stay to the right wherever possible. It will certainly cut down on the reckless passing.

Right or wrong, people don't have the patience for environmentally conscious driving if it impedes their progress.

Wesley George

Manassas

So true. Sometimes, one person's conscientious driving is another person's road rage.

Clifton vs. Commuters

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

As a resident of the Clifton area for 21 years, I would like to respond to your recent column about commuters from Prince William [Dr. Gridlock, Nov. 3].

As I understand the situation, many people moved to Prince William County for a larger house, more land and a nicer neighborhood, among other reasons. Now, because their daily commute is inconvenient or time-consuming, they want us to degrade our parks, cut our trees and pollute our streams to build a mid-county connector so they can sleep later or get home earlier. They were aware -- or should have been -- that the main road system in the Clifton area has changed little since the Civil War and, as Dr. Gridlock pointed out, that Fairfax County rejected building such a mid-county connector 15 years ago.

My job occasionally takes me to Prince William, and I use the same roads for a reverse rush-hour commute. Most of the time I do not encounter another car going in my direction. Until there is a huge influx of Fairfax residents going to Prince William for employment reasons, I doubt very seriously a mid-county connector would be built.

The Prince William residents made their decision about where to live; they should stop complaining and live with that decision.

I ask the commuters to remember that our roads are winding, rolling and narrow, and we like them that way. There are hundreds of school bus stops, no streetlights and a lot of deer -- all the time.

David Stasko

Fairfax Station

Please read on.

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I live off Henderson Road, near the town of Clifton. I am not a rich snob. Our home is very modest and probably smaller than those of all the complaining Prince William commuters writing to you. We do have five acres of land, but that amount is required because we live in a flood plain. One reason we were drawn to the area was the lower density.

When we moved here 14 years ago, we knew that commuters traveled through the area. We knew that Route 123 and the Fairfax County Parkway were to be widened to provide alternative routes for commuters. However, we also knew that local roads, including Clifton and Henderson roads, were not scheduled for widening.

Over the last 14 years, the traffic coming through here has increased exponentially. I do not mind people driving through, but when they are willing to sit in miles-long lines in a residential area, you really have to wonder. How many more miles can those lines stretch before commuters decide that it is not good for them or for those of us who want to go on an errand a few miles away without having to plan for an hour-long trip and dinner to let the traffic die down?

I am disappointed at the anger shown toward people living in Clifton. I am disappointed that there is so little compassion and concern for others.

Mary Patricia Barry

Clifton

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I am a Clifton resident, and the Prince William commuters using our roads have a direct impact on me and my neighbors.

I live on a private road that is owned and maintained by the homeowners living along it. The road is barely wide enough for two cars to pass, is composed of chip and tar, has blind spots and has no sidewalks. Two signs at the entrance state that the road is for homeowners and guests only and that the speed limit is 20 mph.

Walkers, horseback riders, children on bikes and dog walkers can be found on the road at any time. There are several residents who take late afternoon walks.

Whenever there is a backup or congestion through the town of Clifton, our road becomes a speedway for commuters trying to avoid a few minutes' wait. I have actually stood in the middle of the road trying to slow these vehicles down, but to no avail.

My point is that not all Clifton roads are funded by taxpayers' money, so commuters, please don't use them. We are not snobs on our road, but are merely trying to preserve the tranquility and safety of our private road.

Patricia Hall

Clifton

Here is my take on the Clifton situation. The problem is only going to get worse with more and more people moving into new subdivisions to the south and commuting north. As water follows the path of least resistance, so do commuters. They will continue to stream into the Clifton area in greater and greater numbers.

Seems to me Clifton residents have three options:

(1) With county and state approval, they can barricade the roads coming into the county in this area.

(2) They can allow a mid-county connector to be built, confining the commuter traffic to a narrow corridor, and having no interchanges near Clifton.

(3) Each resident can determine the point at which their quality of life is so ruined that they must move. In this case, better to move soon, while homes still have some value.

(4) They can tolerate the current situation.

What other options do you folks have?

Avoid Angry Drivers

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I live out in the western Fairfax County suburbs and often commute on Interstate 66.

The HOV-2 lane is a wonderful thing, but it seems to be causing a lot of stress for its users. I admit I feel a lot of glee when I see HOV violators pulled over by police. Stopping violators eases the commute for drivers legitimately using the HOV lanes.

What bugged me the other day, though, when I was driving home with my 13-month-old daughter in the HOV lane, was the driver behind me who held up two fingers, which I took to be an attempt to remind me of the two-person requirement for our HOV-2 lane.

I resisted the urge to reply with a single finger of my own, but it struck me as an inappropriate concern for this person.

I would much rather he had simply concentrated on his own behavior, or, if it really bothered him, had his passenger call the police.

Perhaps you could suggest to people that they pay attention to their own behavior, rather than policing other people's.

Eric Anderson

Centreville

I'm afraid that some drivers' tempers boil over at the number of cheaters in the HOV lanes. Lack of both police enforcement and voluntary compliance aggravates the situation. The driver clearly thought you were a solo driver ignoring the HOV-2 rules.

If you sense anger behind you, I recommend that you simply move out of the HOV lane momentarily, let the Aggrieved One pass, and then slide back into the HOV lane. Perhaps the angry one will see your child safety seat when he passes. Either way, wish him well and forget about it.

Beware of Broken Meters

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

On a recent trip into the District, I found a parking space close to my destination and used my rusty parallel parking skills so effortlessly that I was strutting with pride, until I discovered the parking meter was broken.

However, there was a shiny new sticker on the meter telling me to call a number if it was broken. I did so, and within seconds received a report number which I displayed in my car window. I also was told that if I received a ticket, I could submit a letter with the report number and avoid a fine. I was truly impressed with this wonderful system.

Motorists can park at a broken meter without fear of becoming mired in bureaucratic hell, a valuable parking spot is utilized, and the city receives timely reports of broken meters.

Now, I don't know how quickly the meters are actually fixed, but this system made me think for a moment that the District was really getting its act together. End result: no ticket, no fine and no bureaucracy, and I got a warm, fuzzy feeling about D.C.

Paige Conner

Alexandria

Don't get too warm. Had you gotten a ticket, chances are you'd receive a letter one day saying that because you haven't paid your ticket, the fine is doubled. That happens to people. They write to me to complain. The city says your ticket can be dismissed if you report a broken meter immediately, but that doesn't mean the ticket will be dismissed.

The scenario you describe is how the system ought to work. The city claims to have 95 percent of all the parking meters working at any given time, and says your calls help them fix the ones that aren't.

Nevertheless, I won't park at a broken meter. That's because I read my mail.

Transportation researcher Diane Mattingly contributed to this column.

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

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