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Dr. Gridlock

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Ron Shaffer
Transcript
Monday, October 24, 2005; 1:00 PM

Since 1986, Ron Shaffer, better known as Dr. Gridlock, writes his column for The Washington Post, Dr. Gridlock Column. In it he tracks the region's traffic woes, finds the correct officials to answer drivers' questions and responds to some of the hundreds of letters he receives each month. He describes himself as "the Ann Landers of commuters."

Dr. Gridlock was online Oct. 24, at 1 p.m. ET.

Dr. Gridlock appears Sunday in the Metro section and Thursday in Extra. You can write to him at 1150 15th St., NW, Washington, D.C. 20071. He prefers to receive e-mail, at drgridlock@washpost.com, or faxes, at 703-352-3908. Please include your full name, town, county and day and evening phone numbers. If you included your name when submitting a question or comment to this discussion, your question may appear in an upcoming column, and may have been published in this discussion.

A transcript follows.

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Dr. Gridlock: Hello folks.
Dr. Gridlock here. Lots of entries here already, so let's get to them. As always, I invite reader responses to any posted item, and encourage especially ideas to help inquiring readers about the best ways to make particular commutes.

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McLean, Va.: I know D.C.-area drivers are not the most patient but I nearly lost it last Thursday.

I was in a funeral procession for a friend who died and the procession was long (about 250 cars and a bus from Carnegie Mellon.) I counted at least six people who were tired of waiting for the procession and tried to cut into it. Thank you to the police who caught the impatient motorists right away and ticketed them.

Yes Fairfax County Parkway was shut down for a while and people may have gotten stuck waiting for the procession to go through, but still show some respect for the dead.

Dr. Gridlock: I recall being in a long funeral procession in Raleigh, N.C. Not only did no one cut in, but pedestrians along the roadway stopped and placed hands over hearts.
Chalk this up to more me-first attitude of desperate commuters here. How sad...

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Silver Spring, Md.: I will soon be commuting from Silver Spring (Georgia Ave/Colesville Road) to Arlington (Glebe Road/Walter Reed Drive) every weekday during rush hour. Fortunately it's only temporary but unfortunately taking metro will not be an option. So, um, HELP! I've done the drive a couple times via 495/GW Parkway on the weekend but I don't think that would be my best option during rush hour. If it makes a difference, there will be two of us in the car. Advice?

Dr. Gridlock: I'll take your word for it that you can't use Metro; however, there is a Metrorail stop in Silver Spring, and 11 stops in Arlington on two lines. You might try www.metroopensdoors.com and click on "Trip Planner" to see if there are any options for you.
Otherwise, I invite comments from readers who know this commute, and will kindly share advice...

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Washington, D.C.: Everyone talks about problems with rush hour parking, finding parking, etc., on the street in D.C. After some recent trips to other cities it dawned on me: Why does DC have no public parking garages, especially in popular areas? Even near the DC government buildings there seems to be just one private parking garage (there are hourly rates but somehow, as in other garages in town, you have to pay for a full day up front -- another pet peeve, why post hourly rates then?). I can see wanting to maybe make money from parking tickets downtown, but there seems to be no enforcement at night anyway. Places like Dupont, Adams Morgan, U Street and other popular areas need public parking garages to end the street parking nightmare, and I don't mean these bizarrely designed and expensive private ones in office buildings. Bethesda, Santa Monica, even New York City has them; why not here?

Dr. Gridlock: A good question. I recall some clamor for municipal parking under the leadership of Mayor Marion S. Barry, but that didn't happen. Perhaps the city wasn't financially secure enough to acquire land and fund construction. Perhaps the city sold off development rights, like selling off alleys to commercial interests (leading to much of the double-parking of delivery vans today)...
Anyone have a comment?

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Annandale, Va.: Recently, my new Honda Accord started to sputter on the beltway. I was able to move off to the left shoulder when I discovered I was out of gas. Yes, it was my fault (although the teeny little yellow light and no warning chime on my always-lit dashboard didn't help!) and I was lucky I was able to safely pull over.

I also felt fortunate that my cell phone low battery held out long enough to contact roadside assistance and talk to the towing company. While I waited for help for an hour, I counted two or three police cars amongst the hundreds of cars that whizzed by.

Now I can understand why no motorists stopped -- it would have been too dangerous to pull off the left side of the road at highway speed. But, what about the police cars? What if I didn't have a cell phone? What if I had a medical emergency and needed help? Do the police just assume someone else has been called and would have helped me?

I was over a mile from the nearest exit (Exit 13, inner loop of the beltway). Do you know the policy of the Prince George's County or State troopers when it comes to helping disabled motorists on the beltway? Also, what advice can you give your readers should they find themselves stranded too far from an exit to safely walk for help? (other than always check the gas and keep a fully-charged cell phone!)

Dr. Gridlock: I suggest that stranded motorists pull as far off the road as possible, put on four-way flashers, tie something white to the antenna, raise the hood and wait somewhere safely in sight of the vehicle.
Someone should stop soon on the Beltway, either a Good Samaritan, a state courtesy patrol, or state police. Also, other motorists with cell phones often phone in stranded motorist sightings by callng 911.
Best suggestion is yours--a fully charged cell phone--and a membership in a roadside assistance service...

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Rockville, Md.: Hi Dr. Gridlock! I have a quick question about HOV on 270 in MD: The HOV lane hours are from 6-9am, and 3:30-6:30pm, M-F. However, there is still significant traffic on the highway from 9-10am and 6:30-7:30pm. Why can't the HOV hours be extended? I carpool 3 days a week, and we would make much better time if there were longer HOV hours (not to mention better HOV enforcement!!) Can't this be done? HOT lanes are not the answer!

Dr. Gridlock: I will ask. Last time I did, the state was adament about keeping the current hours. But you make a good point. With ever-lenghtening rush hours, car-poolers could benefit from expanded HOV hours, and seems like we should be making every effort to encourage car pooling.
I'd be interested in hearing from single-passenger drivers about expanding HOV hours...

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Rosslyn, Va.: Dear Dr. Gridlock,

After years of defending Metro, I've taken all that I can take. Today, it took me longer to take Metro from Union Station to Foggy Bottom than it did for my Amtrak train to go from BWI to Union Station. I planned my trip perfectly so that I would make it to class at GW in time, even padding my schedule a bit. After waiting nearly 15 minutes at both Union Station and Metro Center, I resigned myself to the realization that it almost would have been quicker to walk.

In the time that I was waiting, I realized that the delay on Metro made perfect sense. The possibility that the Metro will be slow is inversely proportional to the need that a person has for Metro to be reliable. Mathematically, it all makes sense.

Meanwhile, I'll be back on Metro this afternoon. I have nowhere to be and no reason to get there quickly, so Metro will be working perfectly!

Dr. Gridlock: Good observation. I'm not sure one can count on Metrobus or rail to get to a place at an exact time. When I have to make appearances around the Metropolitan area, I try to allow enough time to be one of the first to arrive, just to avoid this situation.

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Washington, D.C.-Arlington, Va.: Dr. Gridlock, Is there anything that can be done about the HOV lane squatters that sit on the shoulders of the I-395 HOV lanes from 5:30pm until they open up to all at 6pm? These people are a serious danger when they suddenly slow down to pull over, and then suddenly pull out into traffic at 5:59pm to get a jump on things. In addition to the danger they cause, they also add to the congestion in the lanes by causing slow downs for no legitimate reason. The Arlington, D.C., and Virginia State Police need to resume enforcement of the no stopping except for emergency rules. And the people that enter the lanes where they are open need to exit at the Pentagon if they got their timeing off.

Thank you for all that you do to help with our area travel woes, it is a never ending battle, but you put up a great fight for us.

Dr. Gridlock: Sure. State police can ticket them. Where on I-395 is this occurring? (That's not my commuting route).

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Upper Marlboro, Md.: In early June, my husband and I were driving north on Rte 81 in the right-hand lane, about to turn east on Rte 66, when a semi truck alongside us veered sharply into the right lane, forcing us off on the shoulder. I thought he didn't see us, but when we got on 66 and passed him, he began to chase us, accelerating and trying to ram our trailer. Only then I realized that, without realizing it, we must have angered him by not getting out of his way fast enough on 81 so he could exit at 66.

While I tried to evade him, at speeds up to 90 mph to avoid being rammed, my husband called the Virginia Highway Patrol with the semi's trailer license number and told them what was happening. They never sent a car and seemed not to take it seriously. We finally got away by taking an exit, and watched the driver and a passenger gesture at us as they passed. Later, we saw them in a rest stop, and called again, only to be told to call if he threatened us again!

Reading about road rage in The Post today reminded me of this incident. The truck driver's rage threatened our lives and the lives of everyone else on that stretch of 66, but the scariest thing was that there was no law enforcement help forthcoming, even when we called during the incident! We came close to being another horror story in The Post. What can a person do in this situation?

washingtonpost.com: Death Reflects Area's Unabated Road Rage (Post, Oct. 24)

Dr. Gridlock: There is no telling what that other driver is thinking. I'm sorry this happened. I'd go into maximum evasive maneuvers, including suddenly pulling off onto the shoulder so the tailgating rig can go past, or exiting suddenly at the nearest opportunity. It doesn't seem like accelerating to 90 mph is the best, safest solution, but I wasn't there.
Police say they will respond to such situations depending on the priority of the moment on their troopers. In any case, they were not going to solve your urgent problem, which is to get away from this maniac ASAP.
Any reader comment on this one?

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Washington, D.C.: Please, please everyone yield to traffic inside traffic circles -- specifically, Chevy Chase. Everyday there seems to be a near miss with people not following the traffic laws. It seems like either people do not see the yield signs or (more likely) ignore.

Dr. Gridlock: My sense is that a lot of people simply don't know what to do, or don't care.
When entering a traffic circle, one should look left, yield left. Once in the circle, Maryland suggests this: if your exit is more than halfway around the circle, take the inside lane first, and then exit from the right lane; if your exit is less than halfway around the cirlce, stay in the right lane to exit.

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Vienna, Va.: Arlington police often catch HOV violators as they get onto 66 from Sycamore Street. It's great that violators are caught. However, Arlington police seems to attract lots of rubberneckers' atttention whenever police cruisers all have their lights on. Wouldn't one police cruiser with light on be sufficient? I've notice less flashing lights usually create less rubbernecking. Maybe I'm wrong but it seems worth looking into.

Dr. Gridlock: You're probably right--more lights signals possible more severe incident, meaning more rubbernecking.
I wonder if what you saw was part of a team effort to stop as many violators as possible. Seems unlikely that many police would be pulling over a single HOV violator, unless the vehicle was reported stolen, or the driver was suspected of something more severe than an HOV violation.

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Rockville, Md.: Dear Dr. Gridlock, Maybe you can explain something to me -- I commute every day from the Damascus, Md., area to Rockville, Md. Every day on route 124, there is significant backup from Brink Road to Airpark. The main reason I see for these delays is the profusion of school buses taking that same route. There is about 1 bus for every 10 cars. Why can't these buses stay at their last drop off school until after 10am, so that commuters can finish getting to work on time without being stuck in bus-created traffic?

Dr. Gridlock: Interesting point. Perhaps there is not enough parking at the schools. Send me the names of the schools, the road they front, and whether you see empty school buses pull into commuter traffic...

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Arlington, Va.: I'm intrigued by the recent talk, by certain egregious politicians and in a recent poll I read about, of widening I-66 in both directions inside the beltway. The previous talk was about widening it in the westbound direction only, and a study was apparently commissioned on this. Suddenly, the talk is of doing it in both directions, that it can be done in existing rights-of-way, etc. Has someone pulled a fast one?

I'm interested in this because my house is right by eastbound 66 in Arlington; the road is kind of noisy, but it's a great house and I don't want the road coming even closer!

Dr. Gridlock: I don't blame you. I would hope (but not expect) that before any widening is done, the citizens of Arlington would be heard, through a referendum on the matter. These citizens didn't want the road in the first place, with it cutting into their neighborhoods and parks.
I always thought the discussion was of expanding I-66 by one lane westbound. I, too, saw the recent article whereby Republican gubernatorial candidate Kilgore is talking about widening it in BOTH DIRECTIONS> A fast one? I don't know, but VDOT is only studying a westbound lane.
I'll try to sort out the candidate positions before the election...

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Centreville, Va.: My question is about the competing HOT lane proposals.

I have still seen no discussion of how a car with a transponder but carrying 3 people will -not- be charged. Or vice-versa, how a single driver without a transponder will be charged.

How do they intend to determine (at highway speeds) who qualifies, and who doesn't? If this is technically possible, why isn't it being done now to stop HOV violations?

Thanks, Rob Pixley

Dr. Gridlock: I don't know, But that's a good question to take to the print column.
By the way, I'm still trying to figure out your earlier proposal to make Exit 52 off I-66 at Centreville into two lanes exiting right onto Route 29. There are only two through lanes westbound at that point, with a third that ends at O'Day Street...Don't see where the extra right turn lane from I-66 would be able to merge onto Route 29

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Alexandria, Va.: Hey Doc...What was the deal with traffic on 95 South last Friday? It was a NIGHTMARE. It took me nearly 3 1/2 hours to get from my office near the White House to Fredericksburg. And, if it happens again, any suggested alternate routes to Richmond and points south?

Chris Newbury, Alexandria

Dr. Gridlock: I avoid I-95 between our Beltway and Fredericksburg for just this reason. You can count on maximum congestion.
Alternative #1: Take Branch Avenue Route 5) out of the city, through Prince George's County, to right on U.S. 301. You can follow that road to near Richmond and avoid I-95 all together...
Alternative #2: Take Constitution Avenue to the Roosevelt Bridge onto I-66 westbound (outside of rush hours if you have no passengers) to exit at Route 29--Gainesville (not Centreville). Proceed south on Route 29 to Route 17, then east (left) on 17 to I-95 at Fredericksburg.
Alternative #3: Leave after 8 p.m,Friday, or leave Saturday morning. Friday afternoon presents rush hour congestion at its worst...
Any other suggestions?

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Silver Spring to Arlington commute: I actually do the reverse commute, from Arlington to Silver Spring, and if the person insists on driving, I'd recommend taking 16th Street and then cutting over to 14th Street and over the 14th Street Bridge. Once you're on 395 South, you can either take the Washington Boulevard exit to get to Columbia Pike and follow that to Glebe, or stay on 395 South and take the Glebe Road exit. Metro, despite all its faults, is not a bad idea here, as there are tons of buses on the 16 lines from the Pentagon and Pentagon City that will take you up Columbia Pike and drop you at either Walter Reed or Glebe.

Dr. Gridlock: Thanks for the suggestions...Hope this helps the poster...

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Washington, D.C.: Do you know when Metro will announce the named of the Rider Advisory Council? I put in an application and am anxious to see if I made it. I've got a list of suggestions as long as your arm.

Thanks!

Dr. Gridlock: I don't know, but someone like you should be on it. Try their public information office at (202) 962-1051.

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Washington, D.C.: As I drove into town (from Rt 50) this morning, at New York Avenue and Bladensburg at 10 a.m. there was a throng of people on the eastbound south interesection and traffic was blocked off with yellow tape ... as I drove past it, Bladensburg south of New York Avenue seemed to be closed off as well. Any ideas on what that was all about? (I checked the paper and saw that there was a botched carjacking of a rap star leaving a nightclub last night, but that happened at NY and NJ Ave. intersection ... and seems unrelated.)

Many thanks, Joanna Harkin, a D.C. resident

Dr. Gridlock: I can't look into that during this chat. Perhaps another reader can add some detail...

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Arlington, Va.: In the hopes that today's chat will address traffic bottlenecks --

There is a persistent bottleneck in Arlington on westbound Washington Blvd. just west of Lee Hwy., at the on-ramp to I-66 westbound. I see it in the morning, but I'm willing to bet it's there in the evening as well. The single-lane on-ramp is fed by three lanes on Washington Blvd., plus cars coming south on N. 25th St. There are a couple of issues: first, all three lanes of Washington Blvd. should not be allowed to merge onto the exit ramp. I can see two lanes, to reduce spillback across the intersection with Lee Hwy., but the far right lane should be straight-ahead only. As it is, some lovely people, seeing two lanes backed up and the far right lane empty, zoom all the way up to the intersection and then cut in. Second, maybe there should be consideration of blocking access from N. 25th St. to the r I'm sure the residents of that street would like to have less traffic.

But the real question is, why can't the on-ramp be widened to 2 lanes, as the ramp from westbound Fairfax Dr. was a few years ago?

Who's in charge here? To whom can I voice these complaints/comments?

Dr. Gridlock: Arlington has a county transportation department and is also served by VDOT. My first guess would be that this is a VDOT question (703-383-VDOT). You might also try Arlington's government through its communication director, Diane Sun at 703-228-3247.

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Clarksburg, Md.: Ron, thanks for making yourself available to help we commuters.

I know that the road improvements to accomodate the surge in population between Rockville and Frederick center around constructing a pay-as-you-go lane on 270. I don't understand why 355 isn't under consideration to be widened. I'm told it's considered historic, therefore cannot be improved. Have you heard this? Also, is there talk of extending Midcounty Highway through Clarksburg? If so, any chance you know the proposed route?

Again, thank you for taking time out of your busy day to answer our questions.

Dr. Gridlock: You were so kind I feel extra guilty at not knowing immediately the answer to your question about the Mid-County highway. Perhaps someone else will.
As to Rockville Pike (Route 355), which segment would you propose widening? I would think right-of-way acquisition would might be a problem, what with the existing development along the Pike.
Maryland hasn't got the funds to do a much smaller project, building an interchange at Randolph Road and Georgia Avenue, so I doubt they'd have the amount needed for widening the Pike...

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Hyattsville, Md.: What has happened to the traffic light timing on 13th Street approaching Michigan Avenue in N.E. One crosses the green at Taylor and before getting halfway across at Michigan the light turns red. Very dangerous when the traffic on Michigan cant see you coming and their light turns green. Help. Was almost broad sided here.

Dr. Gridlock: Try city DDOT spokesman Bill Rice at (202) 671-2004. Tell him it's an urgent safety concern and Dr. Gridlock sent you...

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Washington, D.C.: Someone from Virginia wrote in a while ago about getting a ticket in DC for an expired inspection sticker. This has also happened to me and although you promised to look into the legality of this extraterritorial enforcment, I haven't been able to find your answer. Did you discover anything?

Dr. Gridlock: D.C. officials tell me they can ticket out-of-state motorists for expired inspection stickers as well as expired license plates...And they do it!

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re. school buses: Make the buses stay at their last school? Don't they get to go home or shopping until it's pick up time? Somehow, I can't see bus drivers waiting when they could be somewhere else...

Dr. Gridlock: Thanks for another view. What do school bus drivers normally do when they have dropped off their charges in the morning. Surely they don't run errands in a school bus. Do they take the buses home?

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Olney, Md.: I'm glad you took a submission about funeral processions today. I recently passed a funeral procession on Georgia Avenue in Montgomery County. For the area in question, Glenmont to Aspen Hill, Georgia Ave. is three lanes and has a 45mph speed limit, but the procession was going about 30mph. I passed them with an empty lane in between us (they were in the left lane and I was in the right lane), and the cars carrying the mourners were not marked, so I did not realize it was a funeral procession until I passed the hearse in front. Should I have pulled over at that point to let them pass?

Dr. Gridlock: It would really help if every vehicle had, say, an orange or purple pennant stuck to the front of the vehicle, as is done in some instances.
That would help trailing drivers who aren't going to see all the forward-facing headlights on, and may not be able to tell the procession from normal rush hour traffic.
If in doubt about passing on the right, pull over, or pull off the road to be safe. In this incidence, I would think passing on the right would be okay...

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Metro Media Relations, Washington, D.C.: In response to the question on Metro's Riders Advisory Council, we hope to announce the names to the Council by the end of the year. Steven Taubenkibel, Metro Media Relations

Dr. Gridlock: Steven: Thanks for coming online today. I hope you can look in from time to time to take any other Metro questions...

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Waldorf, Md.: Again, I wonder why there are no proposals for carpool lanes from Southern Maryland. The daily commuting time is now at 3 hours total. Those of us who ride the commuter buses sit creeping along with single rider cars.

In NOVA they've got shoulder use in some areas to provide the extra space for carpool lanes. How can we begin a process to get something like that in Southern Maryland? Who would we need to petition?

Thanks!

Dr. Gridlock: Your county commissioners, to start. Each county sets its transportation priorities, and the state (which would have jurisdiction over car pool lanes) gives much weight to the county priorities when deciding where to make improvements. Get a petition going. I know there is a lot of commuter pain coming from Southern Maryland (Calvert, Charles and St. Marys counties).
Meanwhile, there alternatives such as the MTA Keller buses, car pooling, and the best set of regional office centers I'm aware of, run by the College of Southern Maryland. And I wonder if working at home is an option for some commuters--even one day a week...

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Washington, D.C.: I commute between Petworth and AU.

Almost a year ago now, the "No left turn" sign was removed from Van Ness eastbound at Wisconsin Ave NW. This has resulted in large backups on Van Ness coming from Nebraska Ave (west of Wisconsin). These backups have gotten even worse lately, due to the construction in Tenley Circle.

There is only one lane eastbound on Van Ness. It's not an appropriate place for left turns.

Is there any way to get the sign back? And why was it removed in the first place?

Thanks, Sarah Fairbrother, Washington, D.C.

Dr. Gridlock: I'll ask. There is also a No Left Turn sign missing from eastbound K Street at 14th Street, I'm told. I'm awaiting an answer on that one, as cars now turning left onto 14th are holding up what was through traffic...

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Crystal City, Va.: The I-395 HOV squatters ususally position themselves just across the 14th street bridge in Virginia. There's a "non-HOV must exit now" sign at the exit just after the river, and the squatters like to pile up there in the emergency lane.

Dr. Gridlock: I'll check with state police to see if they're just too busy to pay attention to this (apparently)illegal habit, or if they are otherwise focusing on HOV violators...

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Beltway Land: Doctor -
Can you explain the Route numbers on the Beltway? Is the whole "right side" of the beltway Route 95? In other words if I drove from Baltimore to Richmond, would I be on 95 South the entire way?

And is everything else some variation of 495 North/South/East/West?

Dr. Gridlock: A sore point. I-95 runs from Maine to Florida. It was planned to go right through Washington, D.C., but city leaders balked, and got the money instead for Metrorail. Can't quarrel with that. So I-95, from Prince George's County around the east Beltway to Springfield, and on south to Richmond, is all I-95.
After readers complained in this column, we got, at least, dual signing for I-495/I-95 for that part of the Beltway that shares I-95.
Meanwhile, the entire Beltway is known as I-495, and there is still the confusing sign, heading towards Tysons Corner from the Wilson Bridge, that says in order to get onto the Beltway (which you are already on) you have to take an exit (not true--just stay on the Beltway}.
I feel for visitors...

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Ashburn, Va.: Ron -- Are there any plans for VDOT to increase the number of Fast toll lanes at the main toll plaza? I thought the purpose of the speed pass was to speed people through the toll -- with only two lanes for that purpose, the fast toll lanes consistenly back-up further than the rest of the plaza. It makes no sense. Thanks

Dr. Gridlock: VDOT is please with the number of fast-toll users, and promotes that. They tell me as the number of users increase, they will increase the number of fast-toll lanes. Perhaps they are a little behind in their surveying.
Give me some ammunition to ask them: How much longer are the fast-toll lanes than conventional lanes, and is this an everyday occurrence. At what times?

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W. Springfield, Va.: Dr. G....I live in Springfield and my boyfriend lives in Elkridge MD. When we decide to get together in the evenings and I head to his place, I always seem to get stuck at the 14th street bridge/DC 295/BW parkway. It easily adds 45 minutes to my drive. I usually leave my house about 6:30-6:45pm. Do you know of a better route to take that doesn't back up as badly? Perhaps your readers do? Thanks

Dr. Gridlock: Your route is, I belive, the most direct. HOwever, if you want to try something else, you could take the Beltway around either side (east or west) to I-95 north and exit in Howard County. I think you'd be better off leaving 60 to 90 minutes later. Less traffic (in theory).

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Alexandria, Va.: A couple of months ago, I took a taxi from my office to another office in D.C. I take this trip via taxi often, and know the fare. The driver tried to overcharge me by several dollars. When I politely asked him to explain the extra charges, he became enraged and began screaming at me to get out of the taxi, calling me a "b----" several times. He even began driving away slowly, although I was still in the cab with the door open. I finally paid him (the correct fare) and got out of the taxi, but I was very shaken by the experience. I have sent in three complaints (with description of the incident, time, date and taxi driver's name and license info) on this issue via the D.C. Taxicab Commision's e-mail complaint process, but I have gotten no response at all. Should I send a registered letter to the Commission, or do you have another recommendation so that I may get some action on this issue?

Dr. Gridlock: Try your D.C. City Council member, and the Mayor. I don't like the "zone" system of charging because it is hard to comprehend, especially for visitors. I prefer meters to avoid the tupe of misunderstandings you encountered...
What do you folks think?

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Capitol Hill, Washington, D.C.: Does Metro have any arrangements for adding trains and cars on evenings when concerts are planned at the MCI Center? Last week after the U2 concert ended, trains were running on the normal (i.e., every 15 minutes) evening schedule, leading to huge backups on platforms and a significantly less warm and fuzzy feeling toward taking metro to MCI Center for events in the future.

Dr. Gridlock: Good question. Metro spokesman, are you still with us?

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Washington, D.C.: I recently moved here from San Diego. My question: what is up with all the double-parking? I'm assuming it is illegal, but is it ever ticketed? The areas up in Adams-Morgan and on Pennsylvania Ave, SE right after you pass the Capitol are the worst I've seen. Also, I have discovered a new pet peeve: people who park on Connecticut Ave. NW 15-20 minutes before the rush hour restrictions end, staying in their cars as if it made a difference.

Dr. Gridlock: The city unfortunately allowed commercial interests to take over city-owned alleys for additional development. That means delivery trucks often have to double park to provide timely service. Motorists follow suit. Lax law enforcement and lack of volunantary compliance leads to the kind of traffic anarchy you have described.
Illegal double parking s a major contribution to gridlock in the city.

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Dulles, Va.: Are we ever going to see a sane toll collection system on the Dulles Toll Road -- like the ones in NJ and CO where you can go through at highway speed?

Dr. Gridlock: In theory, you already have it. The Virginia Smart Tag system and the E-ZPass system you use on I-95 are interchangeable. You should be able to move through the toll gates without stopping, unless the traffic during rush hour congestion is so heavy as to prevent free movement...

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Alexandria, Va.: With the recent terrorism scare in Baltimore involving the two tunnels there, it made me wonder: Are there any easy ways to travel around the bridges and tunnels in our area that would allow us to travel if one was cut off for some reason? I'm specifically thinking of the Wilson and Cabin John bridges.

Dr. Gridlock: there are ways around most obstacles. I'd need to know which ones to suggest an alternate...

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Washington, D.C.: Re: the 395 "squatters": I don't commute this way, I don't even commute by car, so I don't have a dog in the fight, but you seem awfully quick to take the poster's word that this practice is dangerous. But the poster's real concern seems to be the annoyance factor, when there are other motorists who -- gasp -- want to use the same road at the same time. Isn't it just a fact of life that we have to deal with?

Dr. Gridlock: I think parking on the shoulder is not only illegal, it's dangerous. A careless motorsist reaching for a CD, can just that quickly be over the line between the through lane and the shoulder. How many of us have hit the embedded tread marks on either shoulder, jarring us to get back on the road. That jarring could become the sound of a collision if we allow this parking practice on interstate highways..

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HOV lane squatters: I often see squatters on my drive home on 110 South between the 395 exit and Iwo Jima as well as on 27 South between 110 and the HOV entrance.

Dr. Gridlock: Thanks. Sorry to hear that...

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Rockville, Md.: Hi,

I regularly take metro to weekend activities but I am getting really annoyed with groups of abnoxious teenagers who don't have the education on how to behave in public. Almost every weekend, I am stuck with a group who is loud, careless, and use unappropriate vocabulary. Last weekend, there was a group who was lounging on each seat with their wet feet on the next one, talking back and forth between 6 rows when I was going to Kennedy Center. On the way back, there was a loud group in the back who were in a burping competition. I am a 30 yr old single woman, so I am not sure how to react, but is there anything we can do?

Dr. Gridlock: This is an annoyance and a problem. Metro says it is concerned, and invites you to notify the train operator through the car intercom, or call Metro police on a cell phone. They say police will respond and can make arrests for disorderly conduct (although counseling may be more the case)plus a letter home to parents.
I would get off at the next stop, and get on a following train car that does not appear to have such a rowdy group.

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Zone vs. Metered Taxis: While I know people who argue for zones (normally they live and work in just 1 or 2 zones), I hate the system. I never know how much it is going to cost, you can't read the zone maps that the taxis show (and living in the area, I at least know where most of the streets are- showing just the outline streets for each zone is no use for a tourist), often I am taken out of the zone to add a charge or my directions are ignored in order to pass through another zone and my litany of complaints goes further from that point. I truly do not understand how the zone system is better for everyone.

Dr. Gridlock: Me, either. Perhaps it allows for cheaper rides on short trips, but I am totally dependent on the cab driver's interpretation of the zone fare structure, when I'd rather have a electronic means making that decision...
Does any other city have a zoned fare system instead of meters?

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Rosslyn, Va.: They're parked on the shoulder of 95, the LEFT shoulder in Springfield, waiting for HOV restrictions to expire. It is exceptionally dangerous ...

Dr. Gridlock: I assume you are talking about evening rush hours, heading south. Dangerous--and a sign that both voluntary compliance with traffic laws and law enforcement, are failing...

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Arlington, Va.: I realized on Thursday that I have been overcharged by at least $10 on cab rides from the District to Arlington (Ballston). I had always suspected I was being overcharged, but I am new to the area and didn't understand the "zone" system until recently. I have friends who have started giving what they think is appropriate due to cab drivers taking advantage of driving without meters. Then again, I was charged $25 for taking a cab from National Airport to Ballston by a VA cab, so maybe the meters don't necessarily help.

Dr. Gridlock: $25 sounds for that ride sounds high to me, unless you were stuck in traffic and the meter keeps running.
You probably know that one can get on Metrorail at National Airport and be at the Ballston station nine stops later (with a change to an Orange Line at Rosslyn). Won't cost anywhere near $25.
I try to ask the driver what the estimated fare will be BEFORE I sit down in the cab, to avoid big surprises.

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Toll Road Land: Is there any reasonable way to get from the dulles toll road to arlington during rush-hour restricted times in the AM? GW Parkway has failed me twice - is this normal or did I pick bad days?

Dr. Gridlock: I could get you to the GW Parkway via Reston Parkway, Baron Cameron Road/Springvale Road to right on Route 193, but you say the Parkway has failed you. I don't have any other thoughts for this heavily-traveled corridor. Anyone?

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Herndon, Va.: Who does one talk to in Fairfax County about traffic-light timing? The county seems to have plenty of money to put in new traffic lights at every intersection (Centrevile Road), but no money to time them. When the lights have been timed, it seems the goal is to inconvenience as many people as possible (Fairfax County Parkway, Rugby Rd to I-66). It is extremely frustrating to just get up to speed only to have the next light turn yellow, time after time after time. During rush hour, some of this is expected due to volume. The problems I experience are at 5 AM, so volume isn't the only source of the problem.

Dr. Gridlock: Mark Hagan, chief of traffic lights for VDOT in Northern Virginia . Try 703-383-VDOT for his direct dial. Tell him I sent you...He's a really nice person...

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Metro Media Relations, Washington, D.C.: In response to Capitol Hill's question, yes, Metro always has a service plan in place after major sports and concert events either at the MCI Center, FedEX Field and RFK Stadium. We always have additional station personnel and extra trains on standby to move large crowds out of a station. For example, last week's U2 concert at the MCI Center, we would have used two to three trains on the Red Line towards Shady Grove and Glenmont. Steven Taubenkibel, Metro Media Relations

Dr. Gridlock: Thank you, Steven. I assume that is two or three EXTRA trains toward Silver Spring and Glenmont?

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Manassas, Va.: To Arlington people whining about I-66, get something straight. You elect DEMOCRATS. Now you think you have the right to complain about widening I-66 one lane in each direction, when you elect DEMOCRATS. Be thankful we don't widen three lanes in each direction, and take your "bike paths and parks" while we're at it.

Dr. Gridlock: Arlington votes for Democrats, but what does that have to do with widening I-66 in Arlington?

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Arlington, Va.: Dear Dr. Gridlock, I have been an Arlington County resident for the past four years, and I actually would like to see I-66 increase to 3 lanes in each direction. I have never understood why residents who live near I-66 always complain about widening the road there. I live right next to Route 50 in Rosslyn, which is three lanes in both directions, has no noise barriers, truck restrictions or HOV rules, and yet I don't have any problems with noise or traffic in my neighborhood. So what is wrong with widening I-66?

Dr. Gridlock: I poll people when I make appearances in Arlington, and the vote is surprisingly (to me) split on this issue. Many Arlingtonians would support another I-66 lane inside the Beltway on the theory that it might reduce traffic on parallel Routes 50 and 29, and speed their own I-66 trips to Dulles Airport....

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Silver Spring, Md.: Just for another perspective, I think it's ridiculous for one dead guy to tie up all that traffic. One person's hallowed tradition is another's silly superstition, and the roads should be open to the public.

Dr. Gridlock: I wonder if you would feel the same way if you were in the procession? This is a courtesy extended to the loss of a friend/loved one. I would hate to see these processions turned into the kind of every man for himself chaos we already have often enough...

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Taxi Zones: I live between 23rd and 24th Street, and because of zones, I often have to walk two blocks to 22nd Street since it is a zone boundary in order to avoid incurring extra fare costs. Talk about ridiculous...

Dr. Gridlock: Thank you.

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Manassas, Va.: Hi Doc, Thanks for your service over the years. You make the pain of commuting a bit more bearable. Question re. the segment of Rt. 28 in Centreville between Rt. 66 and Braddock Road. Are there any plans to improve the traffic patterns on this stretch of road? Every workday evening the southbound portion of this road is a parking lot. Rt 28 is a mess all the way from Dulles to Manassas, but this particular segment is even worse. If there are no plans to improve this part of 28, could you suggest to the powers that be to drive this route some weekday, say around 5:00, to experience it for themselves? Thanks!

Dr. Gridlock: I'm not aware of any plans to widen this segment of Route 28. The state has partnered with a private partner to build new interchanges at Westfields Boulevard (now open) and McLearan (open Fall 2006), that erases some traffic lights between Dulles and Route 29. Sorry I don't have more for you.

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Re: Dulles Toll Road to Arlington: From Rt 123/Chain Bridge Road, this person can go right on Old Dominion and follow that all the way to Lee Highway. The problem is that around 8:00 am or so - it's all backed up - but I'd do that over GW Parkway. Also, before 7:00 am, the GW Parkway isn't too bad (I started going to the gym by my office in the morning so I could go in earlier & do something useful).

Dr. Gridlock: Thanks. A number of commuters leave early to miss rush hour traffic, and use the saved time to work out. Seems healthier way to go...

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Metro Media Relations, Washington, D,C.: Yes, two to three EXTRA trains on the Red Line to clear the platforms at Gallery Place. Steven Taubenkibel, Metro Media Relations.

Dr. Gridlock: Thanks, Steven...

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Overcharged In Ballston: I do live relatively close to a metro station, but as a small female I feel very uncomfortable making the 15 mintute walk late at night. It doesn't quite seem fair that I'm probably taken advantage monetarily for the same reasons.

Dr. Gridlock: I understand. Ask the cab driver the estimated fare before sitting down, and if you don't like it, go to the next cab (or inquire of the dispatcher)...$25 sounds high from National Airport to Ballston...

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Washington, DC: Two commuting pet peeves:

1. Why do people park their SUVs and minivans in spaces marked "compact cars?" I hate those things to begin with, most especially when I have to squeeze myself out of a barely-opened door because one of them is parked in a too-small space. I realize, such as in my own employer's parking garage, that in many garages many of the spaces are marked that way, and the garages cannot accomodate all of these huge vehicles in the spaces available for them, but shouldn't people consider that when they buy one of these unnecessary things? Or is it just that people who care so little about the rest of us in general that they would purchase one of those stupid, dangerous vehicles are not going to care about parking in a space not designated for them?

Second, I know you have addressed this before, but can't the district do something about all the delivery trucks parking in the right lane during rush hour? It has really been getting ridiculous. K street inbound in the morning is a prime example. One truck can cause a 10 minute delay in a commute that is long enough to begin with. How can the police have time to arrest people with a .03 blood alchol level but not enforce the parking laws? I am starting to wonder if the district is in cahoots with these companies. I realize middle of the night deliveries may be unworkable, but how about prohibiting them from 7:30 -10:00 am and 4:30 - 7:00 so we don't lose a lane during rush hours? Why aren't the people and agencies who allowed alleys to be closed off being called to answer for this mess?

Dr. Gridlock: 1. I suspect either the SUV owners don't care or don't see markings for "Compact Cars." They should be more careful.
2. The city certainly can enforce laws about double parking in major commuter corridors. They should. And the D.C. Council and mayor should enact stiffer penalties for doing so. My take: The city government just doesn't care.

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Funeral Processions: Sorry, but "the dead" don't care about the length or timing of the funeral procession. It is presumptuous for the grieving to assume that the rest of mankind can afford to yield for such a lengthy event. What about medical appointments? Court dates? Day care? Illness? Any 250-car-plus-a-bus event should have some mechanism to break for normal traffic occasionally, provide additional escorts periodically along the way. Funeral processions don't exactly move at a normal pace! Provide written directions to all on the route for anyone who gets separated from the pack.

Dr. Gridlock: Funeral processions, in my experience, travel between rush hours...I have no problem at all yielding to them.

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Re: Metro Teenagers: Rockville again: this was the second car I moved to because of another group, and the train had only 6 cars.

Dr. Gridlock: If it's still upsetting, I'd keep changing cars. Sorry to hear that this is so widespread...

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District Heights, Md.: I attended the Maryland-VA tech game thursday night, and after the game, traffic leaving the area was not too bad, considering the size of the crowd. However, I did see one opportunity for the state highway officals to improve the flow of traffic after the game. Many who would be taking the beltway south would take Paint Branch Parkway east to Kenilworth Ave. (MD Route 201), and turn left from there. Unfortunately, there was many who attempted to do just that, but the cycle of the light for those two left turn lanes was only about 15 seconds, which resulted in a sizeable jam at that intersection. I think that if it could have been adjusted to be about 30 seconds or so, much of that gridlock could have been avoided. This has always been a problem at this intersection after a Maryland football game. As traffic at this intersection is generally light at that time of night, changing the timing of lights should not cause much problems , if any. Anyone who goes to these games have any thoughts on this?

Dr. Gridlock: That's the kind of constructive suggestion that officials should welcome. The lights may be set this way because of demand for green from other directions, but you can ask.
E-mail your comment to Chuck Gischlar, public information officer for the Maryland State Highway Administration at cgischlar@sha.state.md.us. Tell him Dr. Gridlock sent you.

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RE: Manassas: boo-hoo.
I think someone had a bad time commutting on I-66. I'm don't mind widening I-66, but I want my bike path. I'm a republican too.

Dr. Gridlock: Thanks for another view...

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Washington, D.C.: For the person whose car ran out of gas and nobody stopped:

A few years ago I blew a tire on the freeway just outside of Indianapolis, at 10pm. I went to change it, but discovered my flashlight batteries were dead, and there wasn't enough moonlight to safely change the tire. I put on my blinkers, figuring a police car or somebody would stop (I didn't have a cell phone, they weren't so common at the time).

After an hour, I turned off my blinkers because I was afraid of running down the battery too far.

Well, nobody stopped to help me THE ENTIRE NIGHT. I fell asleep despite being terrified that a semi would hit me if they went onto the shoulder a few feet (a steep ditch meant I couldn't pull off any further).

I woke up when it got light out, and changed my tire. I was on the side of the road eight hours.

Dr. Gridlock: Glad you made it out of that awful situation. All the more reason to join an automobile service club...I would not recommend waiting in your vehicle; what if a drowsy driver crashed into you?
Also, I think some autoparts stores have cardboard signs that say, something like, HELP, Call...."

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Germantown, Md.: To Washington, D.C., who seems to think that everyone who buys an suv or minivan couldn't care less about everyone else around them. This is not the case. Some of us do try to park in spaces that are large enough for us. And we buy the large vehicles because maybe we have more than two children and by law we must have a seat for each of them. And they must be strapped into their car seats.

We are not all selfish drivers who only care about ourselves. We are just trying to get our family around.

Dr. Gridlock: Thanks for another view.

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Dulles TR to Arlington: When I used to do this route, I would get off the toll road on 123 and take a right at the first light onto Great Falls. Follow that over I-66 and turn left onto Lincoln. Follow that to the I-66 intersection at the East Falls Church Metro station and then either take Washington Boulevard (straight) into Arlington or Lee Highway (left) into Arlington. Either way works.

Also, don't forget the express bus from Herndon-Monroe Street P&R to Rosslyn ($3 one way). And, there is a semi-slug line from H-M P&R to Ballston/Rosslyn and sometimes into DC.

Dr. Gridlock: and free matches at the governmental ride sharing program (1-800-645-RIDE).

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Arlington, Va.: The poster who has been charged $25 for taking a cab from National to Ballston was more than likely taken there via 50 and the Parkway. Unless you tell them to cut through town, they tend to go the other way and earn about $10-15 more depending on a number of factors. The Metro sometimes takes a while, but if I can take it, it's sure cheaper than a taxi. However taking the Metro for a business trip adds extra paperwork for work because you don't have a receipt. Often it's a toss up on a Sunday between a rock and a hard place.

Dr. Gridlock: Thanks.

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Washington, D.C.: May I suggest you do a column and host a discussion on the taxicab (zone system) and its problems.

Dr. Gridlock: Good idea. So far, of several hundred comments today, I don't believe I've received on IN FAVOR of the current zoned system...

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Ashburn, Va.: Dr. Gridlock -- Why isn't there an exit into the West Falls Church Metro from the east bound toll road (just before the toll road merges into Rt. 66 west)? Actually, there is an exit, but it's for buses only! If I am driving to the WFC Metro from Ashburn via the toll road, I have to exit at Rt. 123, then take Great Falls Street to Haycock Road to get to Metro -- it's very inconvenient and time consuming. Can you shed any light on this poor planning decision?

Kerry Konrad, Ashburn, Va.

Dr. Gridlock: Hello, Loudoun: It is difficult, especially in this venue, to know why something isn't. I don't know, but suspect it had to do with cost. If anyone has a better route to this poster's Metro station, would love to share it...

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Vienna, Va.: What is the latest about VDOT allowing "clean fuel" vehicles in the HOV lanes? I have a Toyota Prius (I never loved a car before, but I do now) and can't decide whether to spend the ten bucks getting the special plates for the very few times I go into the city at rush hour.

Dr. Gridlock: Far as I know, the special legislation that exempts hybrid vehicles from HOV restrictions expires June 30, 2006. I don't expect it to be extended....

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Washington, D.C.: I don't buy the "I'm not a selfish SUV'er because I have CHILDREN to strap in" argument. Why can't two car seats fit in the back of a four-door sedan?

Dr. Gridlock: Thanks for your view..

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S. Arlington: Ron,

To the gentleman or lady from Manassas,

In Arlington, we do elect Democrats and we have a far better school system, lower crime rate, lower property tax rate, and better quality of life than those who reside in Manassas. Aside from viewing the battlefield, why would anyone ever need or want to visit Manassas. The next time the Manassas resident is stuck on 66 trying to get somewhere, Arlingtonians will have already driven, metroed, walked, or taken a leisurely bike ride to get where they need to go.

Dr. Gridlock: Ouch. I have a hunch the next comment will concern relative costs of housing...

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Washington, DC: Okay, I'll play devil's advocate - the zone system is good b/c it discourages cabbies from taking a longer route just to rack up miles on the meter (I've had this happen in other cities). that's the ONLY benefit I can think of - I too live on a zone border and think it's stupid. I pay far more for cabs here than in NY.

Dr. Gridlock: If you use it regularly, and still don't like it, that speaks loudly for a change in the system...

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SUV/minivan in a compact parking space: No, SUV/minivan owners are not always out to "squeeze" you. When I arrive at my office building parking garage (8:30 am) after dropping my two children off at daycare, the only spots available for me and my minivan are compact spaces. A quick look at the occupied "Full size" spaces shows some SUVs parked in those marked spaces, but also a Honda Civic, a Toyota Prius, and even a Mini-Cooper.

Dr. Gridlock: If there are no spaces for your SUV besides those marked for Compact cars, one might exit the garage and look elsewhere. I wouldn't park an SUV in a compact spot. Maybe that's just a quirk of mine...

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The Eternal War - SUVs and Minivans: Nobody was complaining about minivans, they were complaining about SUVs. Minivans are comparable or to superior to SUVs in every single way - cost, gas mileage, emissions, features, comfort, reliability, and most importantly, the safety of passengers, pedestrians, and other motorists. Minivans are only lacking when it comes to towing a boat over 40 feet long and driving offroad. If you need to do neither of those things, then it's incredibly selfish to buy a crappy giant car as a status symbol because you just don't want to be seen in a minivan. Good job choosing the car that your kids are much more likely to die in.

All unrelated to the original comment, since minivans shouldn't be parking in compact car spaces either, but driving an SUV instead of a minivan is absolutely a thoughtless, selfish choice.

Dr. Gridlock: I have driven both. The SUV handles better. And it is the most comfortable vehicle I have used. However, my beef with the SUV is that it is costly to fuel it. So I wind up commuting in an old Ford Escort compact car.

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Re: Twerps football: Wouldn't a solution to some game day traffic in College Park be to put a traffic cop in certain intersections. And that person(s) can make the judgment call on the spot as to which directions warrant priority?

Seems like a better, solution than trying to predict a situation and computerize it.

Dr. Gridlock: It would if jurisdictions were willing to allocate the manpower to it. Most often, they are not...Too bad, but I don't manage their budgets.

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Zones: A zone argument is that the cab drivers make more money using zones instead of meters ... but is this becuase they're cheating us?

Dr. Gridlock: Possibly. That's the point. We don't know.

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Washington, D.C.: To Washington DC again. I said "more than two children." Obviously two car seats can fit in the back seat of most smaller vehicles. But what about those of us who have three or more kids. We are pretty much stuck with buying the larger vehicles.

Dr. Gridlock: Thanks.

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Washington, D.C.: This is a suggestion for the chatter from Upper Marlboro who wrote on 10/24 about being chased by a truck driver with road rage (they were unable to get help from the state police). Anyone can report truck drivers who are driving dangerously to the US DOT's Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), which regulates the trucking industry.

Just go to Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. It helps if you know the company name and U.S. DOT number (on the door of the truck cab).

Dr. Gridlock: Thanks. The trouble with that is that there are license plate numbers and numbers on both the truck cab, and the trailers. The industry wants you to report the numbers that are on the driver's door, I believe, and that is sometimes hard to do because there are many numbers and you'd have to ride alongside the offending driver to get it...

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Funeral processions: I think I agree with your last two correspondents. I always yield happily, but a 250 car procession is absolutely ridiculous. Who can sit and wait for 45 minutes?

Dr. Gridlock: So, break into it? Not me. I'd look for another route (of course, you can't know how much longer the procession will take)..

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SUV/minivan in a compact parking space: I pay for motnhly parking in my office building. So if there is no full size spot in my office building I am supposed to exit the garage and go to another office building and pay for another parking spot?

Sorry, I cannot afford to pay for monthly parking that goes unused and pay for another parking spot on a daily basis.

Dr. Gridlock: I would complain to the garage management that you pay for a spot and there often isn't one available for you, other than compact spots, and ask their advice. Compact spots, as I understand it, aren't built for large vehicles--the lines are closer together, and, the space may not be as deep....

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Three, Four, and more: Larger cars for larger families are called station waggons. They're finally back. They can have three rows of seats.

That's all you need, the seats. Not the altitude that those truck borne (SUV's AND Mini-vans are federally classified as trucks) vehicles have.

Dr. Gridlock: Thanks.

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Washington, D.C.: I'm the person who got stuck by the side of the road in Indiana.

You said you didn't recommend waiting in the vehicle; well, my alternative was walking along a freeway in the middle of the night. There wasn't an exit within visible distance; at worst it could have been 10-15 miles.

I figured that if my car was hit by a semi, at least I probably wouldn't feel it. Getting kidnapped by a serial killer/rapist as I walked along the freeway seemed like a worse option.

Dr. Gridlock: That's a long walk, I agree. I wonder, weather permitting, if you could ahve waited away from the scene, but still have your vehicle in view...

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DC Cabs and Zones: I always advise friends and tourists I meet to "ask before you enter" a cab in DC. It's easy enough to ask, and if the fare seems high or isn't what a local is used to paying for the same ride, then wave the cab on and look for another one. I actually like the zone system because it allows the driver to take the route he thinks is quickest. I have never been charged extra for "passing through more zones" even when the cab took a different route than I would have chosen. Sometimes the cabbie even discusses the route and gets my approval before going a specific way.

However, if the zone system is kept, it must be better diagrammed.

$25 from National to Ballston! No way. It costs around $18 to go from NW DC to National.

Dr. Gridlock: Thanks.

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Smart Tag Lane Speeds: "Dulles, Va.: Are we ever going to see a sane toll collection system on the Dulles Toll Road -- like the ones in NJ and CO where you can go through at highway speed?

Dr. Gridlock: In theory, you already have it. The Virginia Smart Tag system and the E-ZPass system you use on I-95 are interchangeable. You should be able to move through the toll gates without stopping, unless the traffic during rush hour congestion is so heavy as to prevent free movement..."

I don't have the paperwork with me, and the web site isn't helpful, but I'm pretty sure that the packet you get with your Smart Tag transponder tells you to pass through the readers at no more than 35 MPH to ensure that it's read. Of course, most people go through at 55 MPH or higher and have no problem, but technically, we're all supposed to be slowing down to well below highway speeds.

Dr. Gridlock: I am not aware of this 35mph restriction. Thanks for sending it along. However, I would think the speed limit at toll gates for all vehicles wouldn't be greater than 35 mph, and is probably lower...

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Silver Spring, Md. to Washington, D.C.: Look, instead of cute campaigns saying "we don't drive on your kitchen table" or whatever it is, and hiding some little illegible red circle at the bottom of the Metro map behind the heads of riders, why can't Metro just use big posters that say: "Eating and drinking is illegal here. It could cost you $50. Don't do it."?

Dr. Gridlock: A number of people have suggested something similar. Better signing would seem to be in order, especially during the tourist season...

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Washington, D.C.: Dr. Gridlock -- what should I do when I see young children riding in the back of a pickup truck? Yesterday, I saw a truck with three kids in the back -- one looked as young as 4 -- turn onto Rte 50. Is it illegal? Should I have called the cops?

Dr. Gridlock: First, it is legal to ride in the back of pickup trucks if the child is over a certain age (I think this is horrible). Under a certain age (I don't have it at my fingertips) a child must be belted inside the vehicle.
The reason people are allowed to ride in the back of pickup trucks is that rural Virginians sometimes claim they only have the one vehicle, and want to take their family in it...or something like that.

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Baltimore, Md.: OK, I know this has probably been asked before, and I probably know the answer you're going to give me(!), but yet I still feel compelled to ask -- are they ever going to widen the B-W Parkway? There's plenty of room for a third lane in each direction ... Thanks!

Dr. Gridlock: Not that I've heard. They recently finished resurfacing the 20 mile road (and reconstructing some interchanges), and that took 15 years. ...

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SUVs: "To Washington DC again. I said "more than two children." Obviously two car seats can fit in the back seat of most smaller vehicles. But what about those of us who have three or more kids. We are pretty much stuck with buying the larger vehicles."

I grew up in the 70s when SUVs were nonexistent, with a brother and twin siblings (that's right, 2 car seats) We whined and complained but fit just fine in the back of a car. We were children! I wouldn't buy a bigger car simply because I had 3 kids

Dr. Gridlock: But the point is that now child restraint seats are required. I don't think you could fit three child seats abreast...

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Washington, D.C.: Any word on getting a traffic cop at Thomas Circle in the mornings? The construction on the circle is causing big Southbound bottlenecks and a traffic cop to manage the circle traffic, which tends to barrel into the Southbound lane well after the Southbound light has changed green, would go a long way.

Dr. Gridlock: You might suggest that the Department of Public Works station one of their two dozen traffic control aides temporarily at this location. E-mail their spokeswoman: Mary.Myers@dc.gov.
We will not see a metropolitan policeman at that, or most any other intersection. That is not among their priorities...

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DC's Cab Zones: I think a big problem with the zone system is that most cabbies don't understand it! I'm serious. 15 years ago I never had to explain how to get to my destination (always within DC) to a driver, now I have to explain 25% of the time. And I sometimes have to argue and explain the zone system to THEM, although usually they don't argue my explanation.

I wish DC had a system like the black cabs of London. Those guys spend years learning "the knowledge" (all the tiny windy crazy streets of metro London) before they get their cab driver's license.

Dr. Gridlock: Seems like we should be able to get a cab ride without an argument over the fare, or feeling that we are being overcharged...

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Alexandra, Va.: Regarding Compact Car parking, when Compact Car parking as available, should compact cars be restricted to Compact Car parking spaces only?

Theoretically, the compacts could fill all of the full-size spaces and leave no spaces for anything but compacts ...

This type of specialization in our culture has gone too ar, just make all the spaces big enough and 1st come-1st served.

Dr. Gridlock: But doesn't all spaces the same size mean the facility would hold less vehicles?

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Arlington, Va.: The Post article on road rage today got me thinking that a very good way to reduce road rage incidents would be to work to reduce some of the more common frustrations associated with people's daily commutes. Specifically, people cruising in the passing lane. This applies not just to highways but to any multi-lane road. Obviously in dense traffic it doesn't matter but multiple times every day I encounter drivers cruising side by side in all lanes of the highway blocking every car behind them from passing. This is extremely frustrating and I've seen many drivers perform fairly dangerous maneuvers in order to pass on the far right lane (often accompanied by a popular hand gesture). I think a campaign to educate the public about how to drive so as to not irritate other drivers would not only decrease road rage, but it would also improve traffic flow and probably reduce non-road rage related accidents as well. It also seems to me to be a lot more realistic of a goal to shoot for than essentially trying to outlaw what is for many a natural response to a very trying situation.

Dr. Gridlock: The left lane cruisers are a consistent point of contention in this column. In Virginia, motorists must pull right, out of the left lane, if a trailing motorist signals his intention to pass by flashing headlights or sounding a horn.
(good luck with enforcement).
Otherwise, people can drive in the left lanes. No law requires everyone out except those passing.
I'm afraid we have just too many vehicles for our overwhelmed transportation system to keep one lane clear for passing...

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Arlington, Va.: Ron, Why do we have so many SUV haters here in the USA, the land of the free, and inventor of the WW-II winning Jeep? If most of these self-rightious folks would look at there own lives, they would most likely find all sorts "wasteful" things that they do, which bring them happiness and joy, yet infringe in someway on others. Live and let live!

Now if I could just get my fellow Arlintonites to let I-66 be widened so that those "evil SUV's" would not be sitting around ideling in gridlock so much, maybe we could all be happier!

Dr. Gridlock: Thanks for your view...

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Cars/SUVs: You know, the thing that always makes me laugh when I see those arguments is that I have a friend who exclusively rides a motorcycle who claims that it's irresponsible for a single person do use a car instead.

Dr. Gridlock: Interesting point...

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Washington, D.C.: Wow, you certainly have some super-sanctimonious readers. I hope those who are so judgmental about SUV-drivers (without knowing the multiple reasons a person might have for driving one BESIDES it being a "status" symbol) are practically perfect in their own life. Recycle everything, only eat organic, don't eat meat, don't wear leather, compost, etc.

Dr. Gridlock: Thanks for the viewpoint.

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Springfield, Va.: Dr. Gridlock,

You may have already addressed this-- are there additional late night lane closures scheduled for 495 eastbound near the mixing bowl? I'll be making lots of trips from Sterling to Alexandria the next 10 days, and would like to avoid that if possible

Dr. Gridlock: I don't know. CAll Steve Titunik, the public information officer for the Springfield Interchange project. He's at 703-383-2530. Ask to be put on the mailing list and you will get reams of info about such temporary closures...

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70s child again: Nope, we were all restrained in the back seat. Two car seats, and two kids buckled in regularly. Sure, it was tight, and someone was always "in my space", but it worked!

Dr. Gridlock: Thank you.

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Parking space sizes.: You would think that a standard size is just fine. But in an effort to cram a few extra cars in, the 'Compact Car' spot was born. Usually in some wierd corner or near building equipment.

But with the larger vehicles, I think that having 'Compact Car' spots near the end of parking rows makes sense, since that will allow more/easier vision and presumably less accidents.

Dr. Gridlock: Thanks.

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Re: B/W Parkway: There's no chance of the B/W Parkway being expanded in the conceivable future. Many of the overpasses have just enough room for the two lanes of traffic as it currently stands. It would, however, be possible to add shoulders to this road. I can't count the number of backups I've seen caused by a stranded vehicle that can't or won't hop the curb into the grass median.

Dr. Gridlock: I questioned those curbs on both sides when they were constructed. They are mini-curbs, I believe, and can easily be hopped over. Stranded vehicles, if they can move, should go onto the median or right grassy area...

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Double Parking Nightmare: Why doesn't the city view this as a revenue mechanism just like red-light cameras and speed traps at the end of each month? Bump the fine to something outrageous like $500 for the first infraction, $1000 for the second and so on...and direct that money into transportation improvements (potholes, traffic signs/lights, and metro)

Dr. Gridlock: They don't do it because they don't want to. And because delivery services (and their customers) would scream.

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Cabs at night: I can understand being reluctant to walk from the Metro to your home at night. At Ballston there is a taxi stand- perhaps the young woman who was overcharged could take the Metro to Ballston and then a taxi for a couple of bucks more home? She may save some money and prevent being overcharged that way.

Dr. Gridlock: Sounds like an excellent suggestion. Thanks.

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Safety for broken down cars-: Last safety briefing I had from security firm (at a US Embassy for returning attaches) recommended leaving your car and waiting nearby, away from shoulder. As woman, that didn't strike me as safe, and what to do if it's raining or at night?

Dr. Gridlock: You've got a lot of unfortunate, bad choices. But I think avoiding being struck and killed by another vehicle would be at the top of the list.

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Arlington, Va.: The "Mixing Bowl" is at the Pentagon, not Springfield. Been that way since at least 1942. Why does The Post insist on misusing that name?

Dr. Gridlock: You're right, the spaghetti roads at the Pentagon were known as "The Mixing Bowl" in the 1970s. I think the term was applied to the Springfield Interchange because it was handy for the media, and many in the media weren't aware of the history. I don't object. The term has a certain resonancc...

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Arlington, Va.: You learn something new everyday! I didn't know that I had to yield when someone behind me honks or flashes his lights. Makes sense, I guess...although somehow I feel like it would just encourage agressive driving.

Dr. Gridlock: That's the law in Virginia, anyway, but not in the District or Maryland...

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Dr. Gridlock: Folks, I'm going to say goodbye for now. We had a great session today, with spirited exchanges about SUVs/minivans, taxi fares, parking in "Compact" spots, road rage and assorted other comments. Thanks for participating. See you in two weeks...

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