In March, Maryland Gov. William Donald Schaefer unveiled the creation of his "Reach the Beach" program. Tired of stewing in traffic while trying to reach his trailer in Ocean City, he vowed to do something about beachbound congestion.
The state, he announced, would do a number of things to make summer travel to the beaches easier. These included increasing state police presence to assist motorists; providing express lanes at the Bay Bridge for exact toll and pre-purchased tickets; widening Rte. 50 on Kent Island and upgrading other major intersections, and establishing a toll-free traffic information center (800-541-9595) where motorists can get the latest traffic
The governor should be applauded for the effort.
But is it making any difference?
Now that the summer vacation season is about half over, readers are invited to answer this question: How is the trip to the Maryland-Delaware beaches these days?
Dear Dr. Gridlock:
I wonder if you can tell me why the no-parking areas usually located in front of businesses do not have a time frame consistent with the hours of operation for that particular business. For instance, several downtown Washington stores have "No Parking Anytime" signs displayed directly in front of their stores. I once saw a policeman ticket a car parked in that area. This occurred at least one hour after the store had closed for the day.
Because of the extreme rarity of free parking spaces downtown, wouldn't it be more feasible to restrict parking in front of stores from one hour before the store opens until one hour after the store closes for business? Stores generally keep consistent hours, therefore this would not be very difficult to put into action. MICHAEL CHANDLER Washington
This is a fair question.
The D.C. Department of Public Works says that businesses in downtown close at varying times up to 8 p.m., and after midnight for restaurants.
Posting that many signs would be expensive and is not likely to happen, according to spokeswoman Tara Hamilton.
Further, posting such signs might interfere with rush hour traffic flow, which is the city's first consideration, she said.
There is generally no streetside parking downtown from 7 to 9:30 a.m. and from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m., regardless of business hours.
Fleeing Fairfax's Traffic
Dear Dr. Gridlock:
I could not agree more with a recent letter that advised your readers to remember the traffic conditions during election campaigns.
Equal pay considered, no one would commute to downtown. And as employers recognize this, the employment base will move farther and farther outside the Beltway. Fairfax, Loudoun and Prince William counties are prime examples of this. I only hope these counties will remember what brought the economic prosperity. Continued congestion, especially in Fairfax County, will be the start of the flight from Fairfax to Loudoun and Prince William.
I wish to go on record with all elected officials that if they fail to support necessary legislation to improve the traffic conditions in Northern Virginia, they can plan on losing at least this one vote. And I will certainly support the candidate with a good transportation improvement platform. CHRIS JONES Fairfax County
More Blue Line Blues
Dear Dr. Gridlock:
I agree with Juli Carter on becoming an ex-happy Metro commuter. Using the Blue Line at Farragut West is getting to be an unpleasant experience. The Blue Line is now the second-class citizen since the opening of the Vienna station. In the evening, two consecutive seven-car Orange Line trains leisurely pick up passengers while the Blue Line passengers wait for a four-car Blue Line train that eventually arrives full of people (Metro advises us to let people leave the train before boarding, but you don't see this in the rude rush at Farragut West). In the tourist season, especially, the least that could be done is use seven-car trains or run a Blue Line train in between each Orange Line train as was done in the past.
Also, Metro advises us that when the door chime rings people should not continue boarding, but it is not pleasant to get smashed between the doors while the first chime is still ringing. PATRICIA PARSONS Arlington
This is one of those nagging problems that won't seem to go away. A number of readers made the same complaint in this column in May. The Metro answer is that there are more Orange Line trains because there are more Orange Line riders. However, because there are apparently many folks out there who are upset about this, perhaps Metro might take this complaint under further study. Also, note to train operators: Please don't smash riders by closing the doors on the first chime. Thanks.
Color Coordinating Graffiti
Dear Dr. Gridlock:
As costly as it is to paint over graffiti on highway overpasses and other public places, couldn't the highway people use a paint that matches the concrete or other material? So often the cover paint is the same gaudy shade as the spray paint. It seems to me that highway bridge concrete is a standard shade and paint could be had to match as it could with other surfaces.
Recently, a five-word, two-comma love note on the railing of an I-495 overpass in Fairfax County was covered over by painting seven black blocks, each about 12 inches square, including one for each comma, I suspect.
In all fairness, I find that the local and state governments do respond to requests to cover over the paintings. JOE SAFRAN Washington
Don't blame the Virginia highway department for the horrible paints used to cover graffiti, spokeswoman Marianne Pastor said. The department's policy is to sandblast graffiti from structures it maintains, she said.
"In instances of particularly vulgar or offensive graffiti, we do occasionally take mortar and paste over the writing until proper removal can be scheduled and the offensive graffiti sandblasted from the structure," she said.
"However, there have been instances, as you might well imagine, when the graffiti scribe has written something so offensive to another individual that that individual, or a member of their family, has taken it upon themselves to paint out the slur as soon as they become aware it existed and before we had knowledge of the problem. Obviously, a person under this kind of stress may not choose the most tasteful paint, but instead would use anything they believed would cover the offensive remarks.
"When we learn of either the original graffiti or graffiti which has been hastily covered by another party, we follow our own removal procedures."
Pastor noted that graffiti of any type on a public structure, "either by someone putting it up or someone attempting to cover it, is against the laws of the Commonwealth of Virginia. It is a Class I misdemeanor that carries a fine up to $1,000 and the possibility of a jail sentence of up to 12 months."
On Guard for National Guard
Dear Dr. Gridlock:
Recently, I was traveling north on I-270 at about 1 p.m. The traffic seemed to be quite heavy. But because of the ongoing road construction, and the fact that it was a holiday weekend, I thought it was justified. After a few miles of stop-and-go, zero-to-50-to-zero, I decided to try and pass on the left. It wasn't long until I found the real source of the backup. A convoy of military vehicles (at least 15) were in the center lane, traveling 50 mph. The trucks and Jeeps were marked "DCNG" (D.C. National Guard, perhaps?).
Does the DCNG follow special driving rules? KARA RICKARD Mount Airy
The D.C. National Guard does follow special driving rules. Lt. Col. Bert Nicholls, a military support officer with the DCNG, said there are no restrictions on when a convoy may travel as long as the proper state transportation officials are notified of the start and stop times and the times a locality may expect to encounter the convoy.
DCNG convoys are held about three weekends a month for training, but less often in the winter months. The convoy speed limit is 45 mph and 50 mph on interstates.
"At the speeds we travel, we like to stay in the far right lanes," Nicholls said. "We do have problems with civilian vehicles weaving in and out, but we allow it so that cars approaching an exit ramp are able to exit."
Asked why the convoy cited by Ms. Rickard was in the center lane, Nicholls said, "I would guess that possibly the convoy was either moving out of an exit-only lane on the right, or perhaps moving to the left to make their own exit. But without knowing the specifics, I would have no way of knowing whether the convoy was in its proper traveling lane."
Briefings Slated on Dulles Toll Road
The Virginia Department of Transportation has scheduled information briefings Tuesday and Wednesday on a proposed 13-mile extension of the Dulles Toll Road from Rte. 28 to Rte. 7 near Leesburg.
Both briefings will be held from 4 to 9 p.m., with an overview presented on the proposal at 7 p.m. The Tuesday briefing is scheduled for the Huntland East Ballroom of the Leesburg Westpark Hotel, and the Wednesday briefing in the Ramada Renaissance Hotel, near the Rte. 28 and McLearen Road next to Dulles Airport.
A Transportation Department spokeswoman said the briefings will be informal and are intended to give interested persons a chance to learn more about the proposed extension and talk to project engineers. The proposed extension is in the preliminary engineering stage, and its location and cost have not yet been determined, the spokeswoman said.
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 telephone numbers.