After 20 Years of Columns, Checking the Rearview Mirror One Last Time

Dr. Gridlock departs with some ideas for relieving traffic congestion, such as allowing more employees to work at home.
Dr. Gridlock departs with some ideas for relieving traffic congestion, such as allowing more employees to work at home. (By Bill O'leary -- The Washington Post)

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By Ron Shaffer
Sunday, June 25, 2006

After 35 years at The Washington Post, including the last 20 as Dr. Gridlock, I'm heading for early retirement. This is my last column for The Post. Griddaughters Mary and Carrie were 6 and 8 when we started this, and your correspondence (about 400 communications a week) became part of the family.

I took your letters with us to the beach, amusement parks and weekend outings. We have had piles of correspondence all over our house for 20 years.

The girls are long gone, but your letters keep rolling in. You've kept me aware of things that weren't right with our transportation system, and sometimes we've gotten things fixed. Some highlights:

Clara Barton Parkway

We once had two George Washington Memorial Parkways, in Fairfax County and in Montgomery County. They were parallel, separated by the Potomac River. You folks complained this was confusing.

We presented the problem to the National Park Service and Rep. Constance A. Morella (R-Md.). They conducted a contest to rename the one in Maryland. The winner: the Clara Barton Parkway. Take a bow.

A Less Confusing Beltway

For a long time, half our Beltway was Interstate 95 and half was Interstate 495. There were signs stating that to continue on the Beltway, you had to get off at the next exit, when all you really had to do was keep going straight. Lots of resistance from bureaucrats, but eventually we got dual I-95/I-495 signs on the eastern half of the Beltway.

Quick Start, Quicker Stop

I actually saw this at the Department of Motor Vehicles branch in Fairfax City: A teenager passed her driving test and bounded up to the counter with her beaming father to get her driver's license. She then sprinted to their Chevrolet Suburban, started it up, and crashed right into the DMV, shattering glass, cubicles and counters.

Fortunately, no one was hurt, but the father took back the keys from the sobbing rookie. Perhaps a little more practice was in order.

Lightening the Load at Dulles

One of my favorite moments involved intransigent officials at Dulles International Airport over what was a logical improvement. My family arrived late at night from Phoenix, laden with baggage, and no skycap in sight. We dragged the bags across a parking lot.

The next day, I asked the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority why Dulles was the only airport in the civilized world that didn't have those Smartcarte baggage carriers. I was told there was no room.

So I met the airport manager at the baggage carousels, and I noticed that the roomy airport manager's office was next to baggage claim. Didn't need to be there. Next to that was a Dunkin' Donuts outlet. Folks struggled with their luggage, but they could get a doughnut.

Finally, I asked the Travelers Aid folks what their most common complaint was. You guessed it -- no baggage carriers.


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