Dear Dr. Gridlock:

The I-270 widening as you described it {Sept. 11} is an impressive project, but one can't help wondering if reversible High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes with their higher capacity might have been a better solution. On Shirley Highway (I-395 in Virginia) the two HOV lanes carry twice as many people as the three outside lanes. Even in auto-oriented Houston these lanes are being added to existing freeways. Did the Maryland authorities consider such an arrangement?


Shepherdstown, W. Va.

That's a good question. They did indeed. And they decided not to do it. Here's why, according to Maryland's chief highway planner, Neil Pedersen:

"In contrast to the obviously very successful Shirley Highway HOV lanes, the Shirley Highway penetrates downtown {D.C.} and I-270 does not. In order for HOV to be successful you need lots of people destined for the same area.

"On the Shirley Highway lots of buses are carrying people long distances. In the I-270 corridor that role is served by the Metro rail system. There are almost no buses at all on I-270.

"The third big difference is that the majority of trips in the I-270 corridor are short ones going from a suburban jurisdiction to a suburban work place. Even for people going to the same place, you don't have a lot of time saving for car poolers because the distances traveled are so short.

"We made projections as to how much {HOV} use there would be and we concluded there would be very little," Pedersen said. The Beltway Miracle Dear Dr. Gridlock:

First, let me confess to a terrible practice. I let my gas tank go to empty (and I mean empty) before I stop at a filling station. In 24 years of driving, I've run out of gas twice. I realize that's probably twice more than most people ever have, but . . . .

So, during that terrible heat wave I found myself on the Beltway in Virginia, about one-half mile shy of the Rte. 1 exit, out of gas, during the lunch hour.

The purpose of this note is to report a miracle.

As I stand there in the heat and chaos, and watch two state police cars whiz on by, disregarding my frantic waves, a small yellow truck finally stops. A state highway vehicle. I run up and stick my head in the cab and tell him I'm out of gas. He asks my name, address, vehicle make and license number. He fills out a form and asks me to sign it.

He gets out of the truck, fills a container with gas from a larger container in the rear of the truck and pours the gas into my tank.

Car doesn't start. He says to open the hood and we'll prime the fuel line. Great, I say. Not only do I not know how to prime the fuel line, but in five years, only my mechanic has had occasion to open the hood. I'm standing next to him in front of the car, waiting for him to stick his hand into the grille and pop the hood like on my old 1966 Impala. He looks at me and I know he's expecting me to do something.

I stick my hand in the grille and feel around. He continues to look at me. "What are you doing?" he asks. "Opening the hood," I reply weakly. He goes around the car, feels under the dash, pulls a lever, and up pops the hood.

He comes around front and starts unscrewing what I am positive is the air filter. Should I say something? I do. His look is a mixture of disgust, contempt and disbelief. I decide not to say another word.

He pours in a little gas. The car starts. He nods and walks to the truck. I trot after him, wondering if he'll take a credit card. He tells me there is no charge. That it is a service provided by the state of Virginia. He says the troopers call and advise them of stopped vehicles.

He wishes me a good day and drives off. God bless him.



Thank you for that letter. With what we all put up with on the roads these days, we needed that. Motorcycle Space Rules Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I am a visitor to the D.C. area. I am using a motorcycle to get around town.

A few days ago, I was given a parking ticket for "Not parked in meter space." I parked in a full-sized metered space big enough for an average limousine only to have a van pull into the empty gap on one side. I paid for the meter. But I got the ticket. Two days later, I parked in a similar spot, this time making an effort to block the whole space.

This time I got a ticket for "failing to park parallel." It seems that, although they take up less room on the pavement, cycles are assumed guilty as the violator. I have neither the time nor the resources to prove myself innocent. On the other hand, I am not guilty of any offense I am aware of. In the past week, I have seen a lot of reckless activity around the District. Yet when I try to act safely and legally I am fined for petty violations. In a city with such a severe downtown parking problem, a little understanding and leniency is in order.


Madison, Wis.

This may not help you now, but here is some more information. Motorcylists have a couple of parking options. The first is to use some 375 spots in 32 locations around the city that are set aside for motorcyles. These are small, angled spots, and the cost is much less than for a car. If a motorcyclist is going to use a regular curbside parking place, the advice from D.C. Department of Public Works spokeswoman Tara Hamilton is to "park like a car." That is, parallel to the curb with the front wheel near the meter.

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.