Members of Congress, privileged citizens that they are, have access to all kinds of perks at the Capitol: private elevators, reserved parking spots and private dining rooms. This helps them conduct the nation's business. But how far should these extra considerations go? Should automobiles on the traffic-choked streets around the Capitol routinely be held up so they can stroll across the street?
Consider this letter: Dear Dr. Gridlock:
I was taking a bus east on Independence Avenue from my work at Voice of America about 4:30 on a recent Wednesday. The bus stopped at the bottom of Capitol Hill at First Street SW -- and stayed there. After waiting about 10 minutes or so, I got off the bus and began walking.
When I reached the intersection of Independence and New Jersey, I saw what the problem was: Capitol Police had jammed the traffic lights to keep the intersection clear in case a member of Congress had to cross over to the Capitol from the House office buildings. But in doing so they had backed up traffic -- during rush hour, no less -- as far down as Second Street SW and as far up as Third Street and Pennsylvania Avenue SE. saw the policeman on duty release the light for maybe five seconds to let perhaps three cars across. Then it was changed back to red. Angry motorists blared their horns, but to no avail.
Having worked as a reporter on Capitol Hill, I know that there was a roll call vote going on, and members have only 15 minutes to cast their vote. But I also know there are underground tunnels leading from the House office buildings (and the Senate buildings as well) that our elected representatives can use to walk to the Capitol if they are running late.
I find the Capitol Police action appallingly high-handed. The complete and callous disregard for the thousands of
other people who work and live in or
commute to the District created a totally unnecessary traffic jam and a terrible inconvenience for literally hundreds of drivers (and bus riders) who only wanted to get home.
Let the representatives wait for the light like everybody else -- or jaywalk. I'm sure they can get around a ticket for jaywalking. GARY P. THOMAS Washington
Inspector James Blacksdon, a U.S. Capitol Police watch commander, confirmed that Capitol police stop traffic, regardless of time of day, to get members to roll call votes. Said Blacksdon of delays to motorists: "I've honestly never heard this complaint before in 29 years on the force.
"I understand the frustrations involved when you're stuck in traffic," Blacksdon said. "One minute seems like 20. We stop traffic for other things, like parades and visiting dignitaries, but for one or two congressmen it's 15, 30 seconds max."
Yes, there are tunnels leading to the Capitol from the House and Senate office buildings that members of Congress can use without disrupting traffic. On the other hand there are 535 representatives and senators, and they have as little as 15 minutes to get to roll call votes. One could argue that holding up traffic for this purpose is justified. At the least, this letter may serve to sensitize Capitol Police and members of Congress to the inconvience caused to motorists by this procedure.
Is anyone else troubled by this? Backing in on the Bias Dear Dr. Gridlock:
In 32 years of driving, and having driven in almost every state, I have never heard of or seen a "back in, pull out" angle parking requirement, until I pulled into such an area at the end of Wisconsin Avenue, under the Whitehurst Freeway -- and received a $20 ticket.
Apparently 80 percent of the other drivers parking in this area of about 200 yards' length were also unaware of such a requirement. Undoubtedly the 20 percent who had backed into the spaces had been previously ticketed or happened to park near one of the freeway supports, looked up high enough, and saw the sign posting the area as "back in, pull out" parking.
I cannot imagine the danger and interruption of traffic flow associated with backing out of those parking spaces is any greater than the danger and interruptions of traffic flow associated with trying to get back into the spaces.
If backing into these parking spaces is so important for our safety, then the requirement should be posted better. If not, then the city should allow the usual, more natural pull-in parking, and find a more honorable way to obtain money. RICHARD WEAVER Potomac
D.C. Department of Public Works spokeswoman Tara Hamilton says that back in, angle parking is nothing new in the District -- 18th Street, between Columbia Road and Belmont Street, for example, has had it for a few years. "We can put more vehicles on a street with angle parking," she said. "And we think it is safer to pull out front first. We want to accommodate the need in the safest way possible."
As to how high up parking signs are placed, she said: "We'll take a look at them."The Urge to Merge Dear Dr. Gridlock:
I commute from western Fairfax County to the Tysons area using I-66 west to the Beltway. There is usually a backup as we are all trying to get onto the Beltway because (1) drivers don't or won't take advantage of the full length of the access lane as they are getting on the Beltway and (2) drivers already on the Beltway are often very stubborn about letting cars in on their left.
If those already on the Beltway approaching an access lane on their left would make way for us and either get into the next lane over, which is usually moving at a more rapid pace, or leave several car lengths between them and the car in front of them instead of tailgating, driving would be much easier for all concerned. If drivers were better about following the rules of one car length in front of them for each 10 miles an hour they are traveling, we would see a decline in the number of accidents and the brake repair folks would see a decline in their business. TONI A. KELLER Chantilly Leaning to the Left Dear Dr. Gridlock:
May I add my pet peeve: drivers who decide to make a left turn from the far right lane. I think they should have their licenses immediately revoked. It seems to be happening on a more frequent basis lately and it's so dangerous. People, please think. ANN WILSON Washington Taxi drivers are particularly notorious for this. Police ought to reel in these characters.
Dr. Gridlock appears in this section each Friday to explore what makes it difficult to get around on roads, from misleading signs to parking problems to chronic bottlenecks. We'll try to find out why bad situations exist and what is being done about them. You can suggest problems by writing to Gridlock, c/o The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071. Please include your full name, address and day and evening phone numbers.