Visiting one of our airports these days has become about as pleasant as a trip to the dentist. You can count on late or canceled flights, late or lost baggage, full parking lots, or at least heavy traffic. Even picking up arriving passengers isn't easy anymore. Once Dulles International Airport was a breeze to get in and out of, but with the number of people now using it, that's no longer the case. Just trying to pick up Mom and Aunt Tilly can be enough to bring on a migraine. Consider the plight of Ms. Childs, who wonders just what the rules are these days:

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I recently had a disturbing experience trying to pick up passengers at Dulles Airport.

As usual, I asked my elderly aunt and mother to call me upon their arrival so that by the time I arrived to pick them up, they could be waiting with their luggage at the door to the level marked "Arrivals." I saw my aunt and mother at the far set of doors, waved, and pulled to the right out of the traffic lane next to an island behind a Washington Flyer van parked with no one inside. I hopped out to open the trunk and was accosted by an officer who told me to keep moving because I couldn't park where I was. I asked the officer where the designated passenger car loading area was so that I could move there, and was told I could park down at the end of the terminal (in spots marked "Crews Only") or in the short-term parking lot. I explained that I simply wished to load my passengers. His only response was to threaten me with a citation if I didn't move immediately.

It now became a matter of principle for me to find out where the legal passenger loading area was on this arrivals ramp. I said as politely as my frustration would muster that I would be happy to move if he would tell me where it was legal to stop and load my passengers. He continued to threaten me with a citation if I didn't move, and when he finally got the idea that I was not going to move until he told me where it was legal to stop, he waved in the direction of the remainder of the island I was near, but which was blocked by the passengerless van and another passengerless auto.

Dr. Gridlock, I understand that the airport gets a lot of revenue from the cabs and shuttle bus companies, but to treat private vehicles who are doing everything to accommodate a busy airport so rudely is inexcusable. Why is there only enough curb space for two cars to load passengers on the arrivals ramp? Why are shuttle buses and taxis allowed to park in this private vehicle area without threat of citation? Why are shuttle buses allowed to block the traffic lanes without citation? I have this vision of driving slowly while my elderly relatives run alongside throwing luggage into the car and then leaping to get in.

I suggest turning the entire ramp over to the cabs and buses and putting an arrivals area down with the short-term parking. The parking gate could be moved to allow folks like myself to pull up, load passengers, and leave without waiting (sometimes 20 minutes) in line at the exit booth. What is the policy for picking up arriving passengers at the airport? And, when a 747 lands and all those passengers move onto the arrivals ramp at once to look for relatives trying to pick them up, exactly what would the airport like us as either passengers or transporters to do?



Dulles officials concede that there is major congestion on the arrivals ramp, and picking up passengers can be a problem. "That ramp gets tremendous use," said Keith Meurlin, operations manager for the airport. There are taxis, charter buses, shuttle buses to Washington and points all over the metropolitan area, shuttle buses to rental cars and hotels and people like you trying to wedge in and pick up passengers.

What airport officials want people like you to do (although it is not stated on signs) is use the short-term parking lot to pick up arriving passengers. That lot is right in front of the lowest level exiting from Dulles (the arrivals ramp is the middle level and the departures ramp is the upper level). You can park, greet your relatives at the door of the lowest level (or in the terminal) and then walk back to your car. The first 20 minutes of parking is free for this purpose (although that is not widely known), and toll takers are said to be lenient a bit beyond that time. An hour in that lot costs about $1.50.

Airport officials say it no longer takes a long time to exit that lot because three toll booths have been added. "I drive out of there at all hours and there are generally less than three cars in front of you," said Bill Hall of operations.

You can still pick up your relatives on the ramp. Officials said seven spots are designated for that, marked with signs that say "No Parking; Unloading and Loading Only." Most of the ramp, however, is for buses and taxis, and Meurlin concedes that buses sometimes double park and stop in your spots. That is allowed, Meurlin said, "because far more people are served" by those vehicles.

Meanwhile, police on the ramp are under instructions to keep traffic moving. People are not allowed to park and wait in any case, or even to stop and pick up passengers if by the officer's discretion the ramp is too congested. What might have happened in your case is that you couldn't see or get to the seven spots for picking up passengers, and the officer directed you to the "Crews Only" area to deal with you. "A policeman can use {that area} for oddball circumstances to get people out of the way of the flow," Meurlin said.

The number of passengers at Dulles has increased during the last decade from 2 million passengers a year to 12 million a year and continues to grow. Meurlin said officials are studying long-term options for more parking and ramp access, including the possibility of decked parking, and more ramp area.

Meanwhile, airport officials might consider not charging for the first hour in the short-term lot. It's awfully hard to gauge an arrival, park, connect, load and leave within 20 minutes, particularly if children are involved. If it were widely known -- if there were signs -- that the first hour was free, more people might use the parking lot and decrease some of the traffic on the arrivals ramp. Asked about this, Meurlin said, "We'd consider anything, that's for sure."

Golden Hubcap Award

A Golden Hubcap Award to the D.C. Council for passing a bill this week requiring bicycle couriers to carry a license and pass a safety test. The license number would need to be visible from the bicycle and couldn't be transferred, and a wallet-size version would include a photograph of the courier. A number of complaints have been aired in this column about bicyclists who race through city streets, violating traffic laws and scattering people on sidewalks. Some of this has been directed at bicycle couriers. Because they carry on a trade in the city, and use vehicles to do so, it seems only fair that they be licensed, particularly considering the problems encountered with some of them. The bill now goes to Mayor Marion Barry for his signature.

Quit Honking at Cyclists

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

My beef is beeps! As a city cyclist, I have found one of the most annoying habits of the motorists in this area to be use of their horns to communicate. You can't imagine how irritating it is to be honked at when you're riding your bike -- concentrating on a million things -- in traffic.

Granted, there are certain circumstances in which it is necessary for a motorist to honk at a cyclist. However, motorists shouldn't do it to say hi and they shouldn't do it to "let the cyclists know they're there." First of all, if you want to say hi, how about a wave? And, second of all, we know you're there -- believe me, I can tell when a car is behind me. Even without a rear-view mirror, I can feel a car's exhaust; I can hear its engine; and I can see it with the eyes I've recently developed in the back of my head.

Try standing in front of your car and having someone honk its horn. Now try it while riding a bike. See how loud it sounds? See how it makes you jump out of your skin and almost fall off your bike?

This is a small matter -- but one I think motorists should be made aware of. So, when driving, try to keep from beeping!



Three Kinds of Drivers

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

My dad drives to work every morning, and every morning he meets the same kinds of drivers on the Beltway. The kinds of drivers are the Meanies, the Weakies and the Normsters.

The Meanies will usually be driving low, gray Hondas, big four-by-four trucks, or anything with "Turbo" written on it. Wherever they go, they make trouble.

The Normsters are normal people who can usually handle Meanies. They usually drive minivans or Toyotas.

The Weakie gets really nervous and starts to shake when he finally sees his turn and tries frantically to get over, but the Meanie cuts him off and he drifts off into Maryland and gets really mad and wishes he had a lawyer. Ways to spot Weakies:Try to find a Buick that has a new paint job. See if the driver is sort of wimpy-looking. See if he has his brake lights on. See if he is looking around nervously and shaking frantically.

There is a subclass of Weakie called the Know-Nothings. They are usually people from out of town who just happened to get stuck on the Beltway at the wrong hour. They are always hung out to dry.


7th grade, Cooper Junior High School


Thank you, Sidney. Do you think you'll want to get a driver's license some day?

Drivers as Mr. Hydes

Dear Dr. Gridlock,

The mottoes of the present generation of drivers appear to be as follows: 1) Never take your foot off the gas pedal merely to shift to other lanes -- even though there aren't any apparent openings. 2) Tail behind the car in front so that you can see the hair rise on the driver's neck. 3) Speed up when you see someone entering or crossing an intersection in front of you, so you can beat him across the intersection. 4) When getting off an exit, always make sure that you pass in front of a car {that is also exiting}. 5) Never change normal driving habits such as tailing, rabbit hopping or speeding in rain, snow or icy conditions.

In short, drivers somehow become Mr. Hydes when they get behind the wheel.



Are you sure you want to get a license, Sidney?

More Winter Driving Tips

Dear Dr. Gridlock,

While the snowy-weather driving tips compiled by AAA-Potomac and published in The Washington Post last week were very good, I would like to expand on the first one, which urged drivers to take the time to clear snow off all of their windows and lights. While this is only common sense and should not even need to be mentioned, it really doesn't go far enough. Drivers should take a few extra minutes to clear the snow off the entire car. If snow is left on the hood, it blows onto the windshield as you drive, obscuring what may be already-limited vision. Snow on the roof and truck blows onto both the back window and the windshield of vehicles behind. When the car warms up a bit, snow on the roof is also prone to sliding down onto the rear window.

It doesn't take long to push or brush most of the snow off a car, and it makes driving easier for both you and the guy behind you.



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 topics 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.