I-95/395 sluggers deserve protection

Saturday, October 16, 2010; 9:58 PM

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

High-occupancy-toll lanes on the Capital Beltway make sense. HOT lanes on the Interstate 95/395 corridor make no sense at all. Right now, there is a system in place that rewards people for carpooling or slugging. For the most part, those lanes move - an incentive!

Do you know how much money is in Prince William, Stafford and Fairfax counties? Everyone is going to buy those transponders, and we are going to have total gridlock! Look what happened when they allowed the clean-fuel cars on with single riders.

Unlike on the Beltway, commuters on this stretch of road have many options. In Prince William alone we have VRE trains, PRTC buses, slugging and carpooling.

- Barb Fraze, Woodbridge

People like Fraze who developed the very successful slugging system on I-95/395 have a strong stake in the future of those interstate lanes. While that version of the HOT lanes project has been on hold, I hope it can be revived, along with guarantees that the sluggers will continue to use the express lanes for free.

These commuters, who have made a historic contribution to the region's transportation system, shouldn't have to pay for anything, including transponders, to use the express lanes.

Fraze, who has been commuting to Washington since 1983, is right to feel protective about the slugging system. But doing nothing to improve travel on the interstate isn't likely to aid the sluggers. Traffic will get worse, particularly with the arrival of the federal workers shifted to Fort Belvoir and the Mark Center under the base realignment program.

The unfinished HOT lanes proposal would enhance bus rapid transit, which that corridor really needs. Plus, it could end the free ride now extended to the solo drivers of hybrids, who aren't making any collective contribution to clean air or congestion relief when they travel in the high-occupancy-vehicle lanes now.

Need a new sign

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I'm a skeptic about how trainable drivers are. As a regular pedestrian near Gallery Place, I'm intrigued by the new "no turns" traffic pattern [at H and Seventh streets NW, by the Chinatown arch]. It worked pretty well when there were half a dozen cops directing traffic.

I saw three separate incidents of vehicles turning right onto H Street from Seventh (heading east): two cars, one motorcycle. I worry that the new pattern encourages pedestrians to relax their vigilance at this intersection because cars aren't supposed to be turning. But, of course, some drivers will - either because they haven't noticed the change or they figure no one will stop them.

What may be needed is a new kind of traffic light when the signals are red for cars but on "walk" for pedestrians. Most cars read a red light as "turn right as soon as you can." If they haven't noticed the "no turns" sign, the red lights won't deter them. What about prominent new traffic lights that say "no turns"? Coupled with intermittent policing, it might possibly work. (Though I'm still skeptical.)

- Rachel Shaw, Rockville

Regular drivers in the area are starting to get the idea. The District does deploy police and traffic control officers to enforce the new rules barring any turns at the intersection, where the city now allows pedestrians to cross in all directions during one light cycle. A traveler wrote in recently to protest a ticket he received at the intersection. He saw a half dozen people wearing yellow safety vests around the intersection but didn't see the no-turn signs and made an illegal right turn. One of the traffic control officers pulled him over and wrote a ticket.

The officers can't be there all the time, and even when they are, I've noticed that quite a few drivers slip through and make right or left turns. Drivers always should be looking for signs regulating turns, but there's certainly plenty going on at this busy intersection near the Verizon Center to overload the senses.

Shaw makes a good suggestion about creating a new, more prominent form of traffic light to support the new crossing system.

Dr. Gridlock also appears Thursday in Local Living. Comments and questions are welcome and may be used in a column, along with the writer's name and home community. Personal responses are not always possible. To contact Dr. Gridlock by mail: Write to Dr. Gridlock at The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071. By e-mail: drgridlock@washpost.com. On the Dr. Gridlock blog: blog.washingtonpost.com/drgridlock. On Twitter: drgridlock.

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