People in priority seats should be willing to rise to the occasion

Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 6, 2011

A tired and frustrated Metrorail rider wrote about her long trip on a weekday last month.

Dear Dr. Gridlock: This morning, Metrorail was backed up because of single tracking on the Red Line. It took almost an hour of standing for me to get downtown from my stop at Grosvenor to Judiciary Square. A sturdy-looking 20-something was sitting in the senior/disabled seats. I was standing, and being squished, right next to her. Shouldn't she have offered her seat to this 59-year-old who looks 59? I sure wish she had.

Susan Stein, North Bethesda

DG: We're talking about the priority seating for seniors and people with disabilities, the specially marked seats near the center doors in each rail car. The transit authority has improved the visibility of the priority designations on those seats, so they should be visible to riders before they plunk down in them. Metro and other public transit agencies are required by the Americans With Disabilities Act to maintain priority seats. A young, able-bodied person should give up one of these seats for a senior citizen or someone who is disabled. That part is easy and clear. But the letter writer's question gets into a murkier area of Metro etiquette, a topic we have discussed more often as Metro gets more crowded. Tired and squished as she was, she doesn't quite fit the rules for the use of priority seats. Should the young woman have gotten up? I say yes. Anyone taking those seats incurs an obligation to look up and be aware of who is standing nearby. The seated person shouldn't be looking at the standing rider and thinking, "Hmm, you look old, but are you old enough? And, you, you look distressed, but are you disabled? And this woman over here looks pregnant, but is pregnancy a disability?" Don't analyze their qualifications. Just offer the seat.

Here and back

If we steer drivers headed north around the Newark Toll Plaza on Interstate 95 in Delaware, we must guide them back. During the extraordinary traffic disruptions resulting from construction of the highway speed E-ZPass lanes at the toll plaza, we've been providing more alternatives for people heading north from the Washington area. But here's a note of caution about one of them.

Dear Dr. Gridlock: I've been avoiding the toll, thankfully, based on the information and map you've posted. Going north, I would take Exit 109, Route 279 toward Newark, make a right onto Route 4, another right onto South College Avenue (Route 896) and back onto Interstate 95 at Exit 10. South, the reverse. Going north this holiday trip, I tried the newer information that you published Nov. 14. It worked fine. When I tried it heading south, I found that you cannot make the left off South College Avenue onto Chestnut Hill Road. If folks were not familiar with the area and the route you provided years ago, they might face a delay until they sorted things out. Just a heads-up on the south toll bypass. Thanks for all the help with the roads. My trips on I-95 have been made a little bit easier.

Andy Muniz, Burke

DG: Performing my own experiment with toll plaza avoidance during the holidays, I had a fairly pleasant trip north along the south side of I-95, then connecting with I-295, well east of the dreaded toll plaza, to reach the Delaware Memorial Bridge. To accomplish this, I followed the guidance provided by the many of you who suggested that northbound travelers dodge I-95 by taking Route 50 to the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and then driving up Route 301 to Delaware. That's a very pleasant trip across the Eastern Shore farmlands. From Route 301, I followed the signs to Route 1 and then Route 13 to its interchange with I-295. All together, this route added about 20 miles to my standard interstate route from the Washington area. The construction of the highway speed E-ZPass lanes is scheduled to be finished in the summer, and that should ease the traditional bottleneck at the toll plaza. But many drivers will stick with their variations, to save on tolls along I-95 or avoid other congested areas.

Room for children

Carpoolers jealously guard their rights to High Occupancy Vehicle lanes, and as those lanes get more crowded, the debate over which drivers should be allowed to use the lanes gets sharper. In a recent exchange, I argued for continued tolerance of passengers without driver's licenses, including children, so as not to further burden law enforcement in HOV lanes. This letter finds another reason for inclusiveness.

Dear Dr. Gridlock: James Rankin argues that children should not count as people for HOV purposes because a parent driving his child does not reduce traffic [Dr. Gridlock, Dec. 16]. I am not a parent, but it seems to me that Mr. Rankin is making an unfounded assumption. How does he know how many children are in a given car and whose children they are? I grew up in Fairfax County, and I recall my mother and other mothers on the block taking turns driving kids to things such has soccer practice or the recreation center. It seems to me that in that situation, traffic is indeed reduced compared with having each mother drive her child. Practically speaking, by the way, the same principle seems to apply to a school bus using the HOV lanes. Compare the traffic effects of one bus, even if it does move slowly, vs. all those parents driving their kids separately. The proverbial bottom line is that a person is a person, and the HOV lanes are intended to move people. Moreover, as you rightly noted, once you start excluding certain classes of people from the HOV lanes, you quickly reach an unworkable situation in trying to regulate the traffic. It's impossible to assess which adult in a car is a licensed driver and which isn't.

Richard B. Rogers, Kingstowne

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