Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I've been meaning to write you for some time about this, but Alex Fraser's letter {July 24} finally prompted me. Mr. Fraser wants to do away with the two "unnecessary" lights on Connecticut Avenue across from the National Zoo entrance, at least during the hours when the zoo is closed.

As a resident who lives one block from this intersection, I couldn't disagree more. Thousands of children, many of whom are unsupervised, cross the street here each week on the way to the zoo. All the time I see drivers, either confused by the twin lights or simply refusing to acknowledge the pedestrians, push right through the walkways. I dread the day when I read in the papers that a family of four was killed by some driver who insisted on running the first yellow light, then the second red.

What this intersection really needs is a couple of those blinking strobe lights, like the ones at 25th and K streets Northwest (a large, blinking white light directly behind the red light) so drivers will really understand that a red light means STOP! As for zoo off-hours, this intersection is highly trafficked by both cars and people well into the night.

Take away those lights and we're inviting a disaster.



Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I am writing to reinforce and comment further on the traffic lights on Connecticut Avenue at the National Zoo and Kennedy-Warren {apartment building}.

As someone who often uses Connecticut Avenue evenings and late at night, {I find} these lights are an ever-annoying obstacle. During these times, I have yet to ever encounter any person or car using them. As they are currently timed, the lights are out of synch with the neighboring traffic lights on Connecticut and thus always impose a one-cycle wait. This is one of the most annoying light situations in D.C. At the very least, the situation should be improved by changing these lights to blinking after the zoo is locked for the evening, with a further possibility that the lights could be actuated on demand by pedestrians (as on 17th Street crossing the Mall).



Dear Dr. Gridlock:

These lights are much more of a traffic delay than Mr. Fraser mentioned. There are five closely clustered lights there, starting with Devonshire Place on the north, then the Kennedy-Warren light, a zoo vehicle light, and finally the pair of zoo pedestrian lights on the south. In the morning . . . those lights are almost never in phase. If you're lucky, you can drive steadily down Connecticut Avenue from Chevy Chase Circle all the way to that cluster of five lights at the zoo. Normally these are out of phase, and traffic must come to a stop and wait for one of them to turn green. Then traffic accelerates like crazy to be sure to make the next light at Cathedral and resume the steady drive downtown. Mr. Fraser is quite right that frequently these lights turn red for no cross traffic at all, vehicle or pedestrian, which seems wasteful. But my big beef is that they seem always out of phase for southbound rush-hour traffic. Incidentally, {D.C. Chief Traffic Engineer George} Schoene says the zoo lights keep working after hours for pedestrians who want to cross to the west to visit shops. What pedestrians? When the zoo is closed there are no pedestrians on the east side. And there's no reason to take the lights away -- just make them push-button lights, obviously.



Schoene says that at one time at least one of those pedestrian lights was a push-button, pedestrian-activated light. But a push-button light requires a lot more maintenance than a regular traffic light, and it was a constant source of trouble, so the city switched back to a regular light. The District is now putting in a new traffic signal system, with the lights on Connecticut scheduled to be replaced in about two years. A new push-button light may be installed at that time, Schoene said.

As for the lights being out of synchronization, Schoene said, "That was a problem we were having this spring, but I thought we had it resolved." He said he would look into your complaints. Finally, Schoene noted that because of concerns about the safety of pedestrians in that area, the city is about to modify the crosswalks in front of the zoo. There are now two crosswalks. Soon the city will combine them into one huge pedestrian crosswalk, about 75 feet wide, between the two traffic lights in front of the zoo. The new crosswalk would have diagonal stripes to reinforce the rule that drivers must stop there and allow people to cross the street. Given the number of people who use Connecticut Avenue to get to and from work, and to cross the avenue at the zoo, it is hoped the city will spend all the time necessary to focus on this situation and better serve drivers and pedestrians. Getting these lights into better synchronization seems a must. The strobe backup also makes sense, given the number of pedestrians during zoo hours and Mr. Waldmann's observations. Pedestrian-activated lights would seem another improvement -- now, not two years from now. The increased cost of maintaining those lights must be weighed against the lost time of all motorists on this major commuter artery waiting at the zoo for cross traffic that isn't there. It is good Mr. Schoene is looking at this again.

Taking a Dip Into the Van Pool Lanes Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Most mornings, the right lane of the George Washington Parkway northbound is backed up from the 14th Street bridge nearly to National Airport. The entrance ramp has a separate lane that is restricted to buses in the morning and not used at other times {see map}. Can the Park Service open this lane to car pools or van pools as well as vehicles classified HOV-5 or higher?



For about three years, U.S. Park Police have permitted van pools of eight or more passengers, which are considered buses under D.C. law, to use the bus lane and "queue in" or merge at the front of the line on the parkway exit ramp onto the 14th Street bridge, says parkway Superintendent John F. Byrne. Most commuters may be unaware of the special privilege given the big vans, he said, "but we've worked with the van pool associations and they all know about it." A "Buses Only" sign indicates where the bus-van lanes occur. Some motorists illegally try to use the bus lane, but Byrne says Park Police officers are frequently there to nab them, as well as the motorists who try to force their way into the head of the line waiting patiently for the parkway exit ramp. It's these pushy motorists who cause most of the morning traffic jams, Byrne says, by blocking other lanes as they force their way into the line.

Va. Plans Hearings on HOV-4 Lanes on I-95

The Virginia Department of Highways and Transportation will hold two public hearings on a state proposal to extend HOV-4 lanes on I-95 from Springfield 19 miles south to Triangle. The project would involve creating two HOV lanes on that stretch between northbound and southbound I-95 traffic. The two HOV-4 lanes would be flanked by concrete barriers and three lanes of regular traffic in each direction, similar to the I-95/I-395 express lanes now in existence. Some folks apparently oppose the removal of trees to widen I-95, and others are opposed to HOV lanes, preferring instead to widen the road for all traffic. Some proponents see the HOV concept as a way to get cars off the road and benefit all travelers. The public hearings are 7 to 10 p.m. Aug. 25 at Lee High School, 6540 Franconia Rd., Springfield, and Aug. 26 at Gar-Field High School, 14000 Smoketown Rd., Woodbridge. Those wanting to speak at these hearings can sign up for a five-minute presentation on a first-come, first-served basis upon arrival. Written material and comments can be submitted through Sept. 4 to HOV Public Record, Virginia Department of Transportation, Northern Virginia District Office, 10777 Main St., Fairfax, VA 22030.

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.END NOTES