A few weeks ago, a Woodbridge resident, Jeffrey W. Gibbs, questioned whether the doctor was a wimp for not dealing with HOV lanes. Wimp Factor aside, it is useful to examine the matter, what with more and more cars on the road and more folks living further out. The doctor invited responses to Gibbs, who wrote:

"It is obvious that HOV lanes are the main cause of traffic congestion. I've lived in three states, including California, all without HOV lanes. In all cases a 20-mile commute took around 20 minutes. In the Northern Virginia area it takes around an hour and a half. This keeps inner-Beltway housing outrageously high. Let's build more lanes, with everyone's money, and let everyone drive on those lanes." Mr. Gibbs, you sure know how to stir things up. A number of people are quite emotional -- on both sides of this subject. There have been more responses on this than anything else raised in this column.

For those not familiar with HOV (High Occupancy Vehicle) lanes, they are set aside for the use of car pools, van pools and buses during rush hours. The major ones in this area are on Virginia's I-66 and I-395-95. Later, we'll survey public officials and offer some thoughts. For now, here is a sampling of what people are writing:

Jeffrey Gibbs is wrong, wrong, wrong! HOV lanes are not part of the Washington area's traffic problems; they are part of the solution! Look at the ridership figures for Shirley Highway -- the two car pool lanes carry more riders than I-66, which turns into a parking lot every night as soon as the HOV restrictions come off.

If HOV restrictions were abolished, I (and lots of other car pool members) would skip the hassles and delays of waiting for our pool partners and opt for the convenience of driving our own cars. The result? Many more cars, and even longer tie-ups than exist now.

Gibbs and other single drivers should be happy that the HOV lanes give the five members of my car pool and many others like us an incentive to put up with a certain amount of personal inconvenience, and keep four cars off the road and out of his way every day. If the HOV lanes were abolished, there would be no incentive, and you can be sure that we would all be right out there fighting for space with Gibbs.


We couldn't agree more with Jeffrey Gibbs' letter. Moving to Virginia in 1986 from California, we were used to freeways that are realistically designed to accommodate traffic. Imagine our astonishment to discover that I-66, which traverses the area's fastest growing sector, has only two lanes in each direction, and they are restricted to "communal" (three or more) drivers during rush hours.

Rather than building a functional freeway system, Virginia's transportation bureaucrats decided instead to declare war on commuters who have the criminal audacity to drive alone or in pairs.

Gridlock in Northern Virginia is planned. It is the punishmment meted out to commuters who refuse to be herded together in threes in order to use the freeways their taxes have subsidized.

Enough of the totalitarian lunacy. Enough of the bureaucrats. Put the police to better use ticketing those who threaten our safety rather than those who exercise their freedom in car pooling or not car pooling as they choose.

Free the freeways!


Jeffrey Gibbs of Woodbridge needs to move back to California. I ride the express lanes in a van pool every day. It's his type that makes commuting so darn hard in this area. Look at the regular lanes. Very rarely do you see more than one person per car.

Why should I and my fellow riders be given some extra consideration with the HOV lanes? I have given up my personal convenience of having my car in town, leaving when I want, being able to get home easily in the case of an emergency, being able to park in my building instead of walking three blocks from my pickup point, etc.

Does Mr. Gibbs really think that building more lanes is the answer? If every van pool disbanded, there would be 14 more vehicles going up and down the road, and three more vehicles with every car pool that disbanded. Council of Government studies show that the HOV lanes move more people than the other lanes combined. I wish the van and car poolers would set aside one day per year to all drive in. With the resultant total gridlock, Mr. Gibbs would be looking to join a car or van pool, and he would quit harping about how mistreated he is.

JUDI L. CLINE Washington

Abolish the HOV lanes on I-95 and I-66! How can some bureaucrat tell me that I cannot drive my car on a public highway? The taxes I paid along with thousands of others built those highways and I believe it is illegal, unconstitutional, and I am sure it is discriminatory to forbid anyone with a duly registered vehicle to use a public highway. I say scrub the HOV lanes.

JOHN H. BAUGHER Springfield

I don't know where Mr. Gibbs' fairyland exists where a 20-mile commute (by car) takes 20 minutes, but certainly not in any American city of any consequence, HOV or no HOV. One need consider only Los Angeles, that temple of the private motor vehicle, with mile upon mile of multilane expressways, to realize that the single-occupant car or truck as a viable means of commuting in a large city is a joke. Any other means of transport, whether subway, bus, multioccupant private vehicle, bicycle or plain old shoe leather, occupies less space, pollutes less, uses less energy, and ultimately costs less on a per person basis. What this area needs are more incentives for people to use these other means, not less.


I am in total agreement with the letter from J.W. Gibbs. I think we should do away with all HOV highways. The thing that bugs me is that the HOV lanes seem to be built with the philosophy that when I need them the most, I cannot use them. But when I don't particularly need them, it's okay to drive on them. Ugh!

BILL CRISP Gainesville

In response to the Bozo who advocated abolishing the HOV lanes in Virginia and reducing all "crush hour" commuters to a snail's pace: BALDERDASH! Anyone who doesn't think that the HOV lanes move more people and fewer vehicles into the city either can't read or can't see. Or maybe both. I recently read that a traffic survey found that the two HOV lanes on I-395 move 16,000 people into and out of the city during the daily rush hours and the remaining four lanes move only 10,000. And the four non-HOV lanes move at a much slower pace.

I have commuted fromm Manassas to D.C. since before the completion of I-66 and the additional HOV restricted lanes have significantly reduced the commuting time for our car pool. Anyone who thinks eliminating the HOV restrictions will improve the flow of people into or out of the city should be sentenced to drive the HOV lanes every day immediately before the restrictions go into effect or immediately afterward. One week of torture should be enough to put the driver in a padded cell and the car in the body shop.


Three cheers for Jeffrey Gibbs who took the time to expound on the inane HOV lanes. The HOV lanes are a slap in the face to the hard-working people of Virginia who are forced to live 35-plus miles away and commute into the city just so they can put a decent roof over their heads.

Figures used in citing usage of the HOV lanes by Virginia {highway officials} are grossly inflated. All one has to do while sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic is count how many "legal" vehicles use these lanes. I believe these studies are distorted so our so-called traffic experts can turn the blame on the masses of motorists because they don't or can't choose to travel to work like a sardine. Nothing is {worse} than looking at one and two lanes wide open and an occasional car or van whizzing by on it while you plod along at 8 mph, sucking up exhaust.

When it takes up to two hours to travel 35 miles there is something very, very wrong. It's time to put a stop to a few inept bureaucrats ruling the masses. I think it's time Virginians rebelled.

DIAN C. SMITH Manassas

Those anguished cries to open the HOV lanes come from commuters who don't know how to count. The next time they see a bus pass them in the HOV lanes, they should imagine that 40 cars are driving by. For a van pool they should count 10 cars, and for each car pool, count four cars. This exercise has two effects: 1) It will show that the HOV lanes are NOT underutilized, and 2) it will occupy the minds of those who are creeping along one to a car.

W.S. HOFFMAN Springfield

I question the highway department statistics supporting HOV lanes. Those statistics are a lot different from what I see in the outbound HOV lanes while I'm driving inbound on I-395 between 3 and 5 p.m.

From each hilltop I usually see three or four regular outbound lanes filled bumper-to-bumper with cars carrying one, two, three or more riders. Any two outbound lanes are normally carrying more than 200 vehicles per mile -- certainly more than 200 riders. The two outbound HOV lanes in that same mile are carrying, on the average, six to eight vehicles, with four to five riders in the cars; up to 10 in the few vans.

From my observation I conclude those two lanes now limited to HOVs would carry a lot more riders if they reverted to their designed purpose. They were built as reversible lanes for all traffic supplementing regular traffic lanes at rush hours.

I've studied statistics preparation. I know how easy it is to support the conclusion you, or the boss, want to reach.

It's my recommendation to the powers that be that they review the assumptions and test data used to reach conclusions that HOV lanes move more people.


I would recommend to the reader who complained about HOV lanes that he try it and he wouldn't have to inch along. But it requires some personal sacrifice in flexibility and convenience and privacy. However, the benefits of reaching one's destination more quickly and saving (natural) energy is more than worth it. Please endorse the van pools and cut down the horrendous number of cars clogging our roads with single drivers.

CAROL D. DRURY Springfield

Apparently the "tunnel vision" advocates of HOV lanes have not considered the fact that not all drivers work for the government or large companies where they have regular office hours. There are many of us who could not function in our jobs without the use of our cars.

Since we all paid taxes to build these roads, we all have a right to equal access. It is time to "Heave HOV."


Forming and maintaining a car pool is a nuisance. If one is scheduled to drive and then becomes ill, for example, it is necessary to get on the phone and rearrange things. During vacation periods, there is a lot of rearranging. There is waiting for late arrivers and there are the normal problems of spending several hours a week with people who might not be the ones you would choose to socialize with. However, the alleviation of some of the delays to and from work, the reduction in the number of vehicles polluting the air and clogging the roads make car pooling (or using buses) worth it.

I believe that people who put up with the disadvantages of "mass commuting" deserve the advantages of HOV. Opening the HOV lanes removes a good deal of the incentive for putting up with the downside of car pooling.

My primary gripe is with bosses who decide to have meetings right at the scheduled quitting time or who have no qualms about letting meetings run well into the evening. They are making it impossible for their workers to participate in car pools. I have always had bosses who understand that I live about 25 miles from the office and that car pooling is the most efficient way for me to get to work. Meetings are scheduled for earlier in the day than quitting time, and it is understood that if one goes beyond 5 p.m., I leave. That kind of consideration for employees should be encouraged in an area that is plagued with the kind of commuting problems typical of many large and rapidly growing areas.

SARA B. TOYE Fairfax

Car pools work for groups of people with regular working hours. But many, many people work irregular hours. Car pools don't work for such people who go to work at the same time each morning but return at different hours each night.

Why not try something different for a month? Lower HOV to two or three passengers, although I'm not sure that would help at all. The promise of Metro is not realistic for those folks who live in Woodbridge and Dale City, most of whom must spend one to two hours {commuting} each way. I live in Arlington, and Ballston to work {on Metro} takes me 1 1/2 to two hours, including two bus trips, and costs $7.50 a day. I will always drive.

P.S. I have been driving the 11 miles from Arlington to Michigan Avenue NE for seven years -- always the same route. It used to take me 20 minutes -- now it takes 45 minutes to an hour. Help!

J. SMITH Arlington

Sure, there are plenty of reasons why people don't like car pools. Like me, Mr. Gibbs would probably prefer to drive into work on his own schedule. Perhaps he'd like to work late some days, or go out for a drink with friends from the office afterward, and car pools do make this difficult. Doubtless, it would be more convenient for Mr. Gibbs to do errands on the way home with his own car, or perhaps he doesn't like to get up as early as he'd have to to share a ride. He may be a fanatic for playing only one certain radio station, which no one else likes, or perhaps he just can't stand sitting next to someone else. Who knows? I've heard a thousand excuses (a few of them valid) as to why people "can't" car pool, but I'm sure there are still plenty more I haven't yet run across.

The truth of the matter is that enough reasons exist to keep almost everyone out of a car pool, if it weren't for compensating advantages like HOV lanes, which at least allow people who share transportation to avoid some of the traffic hassles that other commuters face.


I car pool from Fairfax to Rosslyn and back daily. We've lost our third person, and so are relegated to other routes {I-66 has a minimum of three riders for rush hour use}. Our attempts to locate more riders have been unsuccessful (when a call was placed to the Ride-Share number posted on signs along Rte. 50, no one even returned the call). When we used I-66, there was never enough usage to justify the road, we felt. How about dropping the rules to two people per car?


Both my husband and I work in Arlington, and the only place we could afford to live was in Woodbridge, so why should we be penalized? My husband works 6:30 to 3 p.m., and I work 7:30 to 4:30 p.m., so we ride together. We leave at 5:10 a.m. in order to take advantage of the HOV lanes in the morning, which puts us both to work at 6:30 a.m., then my husband waits to pick me up at 4:30 p.m., and we usually get home by 7. Fourteen hour days get old real fast, which makes tempers even worse than normal! We are unable to consider car pools or van pools, because we often work overtime. On the rare occasions when the HOV restrictions have been lifted, we can leave at 4:30 and be home by 5:30. It would be heaven if this wasn't the exception!


Certainly car pooling groups should be rewarded by a quicker, easier way into town. The incentive of not having to wait for hours in bumper-to-bumper tie-ups is the only incentive. What else, green stamps? What we really need are more creative incentives to encourage more individuals to team up. Doing away with HOV into town would merely bring more traffic into town more quickly, creating a bigger and badder jam than we have now.

What I don't understand, however, is HOV out of town. It should be quite obvious that opening up more avenues for traffic out of town would spread that traffic out and facilitate the flow. Let's dump HOV outbound ASAP.


Your call for comments on HOV may cripple the postal department's ability to deliver the responses. If HOV was enacted to force car pooling during the gas shortage years, then this law is no longer required. If traffic management was the reason, HOV creates more problems than it resolves, at least on I-66. For example, at the bewitching hour, 6:30 a.m., I-66 eastbound at the 495 (Beltway) intersection, a five mile backup begins. Vehicles not meeting HOV spcifications must merge onto 495 north or southbound. I-66 east to Rosslyn becomes virtually vacant except for the state police waiting to serve citations to violators. I-66 represents acute myopia on the design table where congestion begins at Gainesville.

P.R. EDLICH Warrenton

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.