Dear Dr. Gridlock:
On Connecticut Avenue yesterday, my wife and I watched with fascination as a young woman emerged from the bookstore just below Q Street, strode purposefully along the sidewalk to a row of nearby parked cars that had been ticketed for illegal parking, removed the ticket from one of them, carried it down the line to another car that hadn't been ticketed, and placed it firmly under the windshield wiper. She then returned to the bookstore.
A friend's daughter who works in the neighborhood has complained that on several occasions she's been forced to pay penalties for allegedly delinquent parking tickets she swears she never received. The foray of the young woman from the bookstore suggests that there are people who have discovered how to park illegally without risking a fine: Simply swipe a parking ticket from another car and put it on your own.
Is this sort of thing a common occurrence? And if so, what -- apart from, heaven forbid, never parking where you might get a ticket -- can be done about it?
EDWARD C. INGRAHAM
As there are bad people in the world, this goes on. How frequently, no one can say. Meter readers can't be expected to remember who they have ticketed. The city is kind of bewildered on how to deal with it too. One tip from Tara Hamilton, spokeswoman for the D.C. Department of Public Works: If cars around you have been ticketed and you are illegally parked, chances are you were ticketed too. The city writes 1.9 million parking tickets a year and is pretty comprehensive about it.
You can confirm a ticket by waiting two days and calling 727-5000 for a computer check by your tag number. Or, if you get a notice after 15 days that you have not paid a ticket, and you recall being at the place of violation, pay the doubled, $30 fine and chalk it up to life in the city.
It seems not to be illegal to steal a parking ticket, according to Hamilton. "I don't have any ideas what to do about this," she said. "Maybe some of your readers will have some suggestions."
Here's one letter:
Dear Dr. Gridlock:
Food for thought: While living in Vienna and other European cities, the local police had the authority to remove license plates from cars that were illegally parked. Obviously people could not drive around the city with no license plates, so they had to go to the central police station to retrieve their plates.
You had to pay your fine on the spot before getting the plates back. Why can't our police have that authority?
THOMAS F. BUCKLEY
That would help take care of the ticket-switching problem in the first letter. Hamilton, the Department of Public Works spokeswoman, was fascinated with your suggestion, but wondered if people would think that was too heavy-handed, and also how ticket writers busy collecting plates could match the volume of tickets issued by the D.C. government now. (The Austrian Embassy, by the way, says police in its country take tags only from abandoned vehicles and those determined to be a safety hazard). Thoughts?
A Motorists Lobby?
Here are two recent tales from the files of Gridlock:
1.) The National Park Service, having closed a portion of Beach Drive and the Rock Creek and Potomac Parkway to repair the Zoo Tunnel (forcing about 30,000 vehicles to change commuting patterns and use already clogged arteries such as Connecticut Avenue), elects not to announce that work is finished and the parkway is reopened. The reason is that the Park Service hopes people will have become so accustomed to their new routes that they will sort of forget about the parkway. The lack of any formal announcement last week was designed to keep down traffic through the park.
2.) The Howard Road exit off southbound Interstate 295, a vital link to the Frederick Douglass (South Capitol Street) Bridge and entrance into the city, has been closed since December 1988 for construction of the Metro Green Line Anacostia Station. That construction was done last October. The city decided to keep the exit closed anyway because it will eventually repair Howard Road and didn't want to confuse motorists with on and off detours.
Repairs to Howard Road are planned to last 15 months, meaning Howard Road will have been closed for three years when it is ready to be opened. Even if the repairs are finished sooner, city officials plan to keep the exit closed anyway to time the exit reopening with the grand opening of the Metro station. Theoretically, this maximizes exposure to Metro and possibly encourages motorists to switch before they get used to Howard Road again, in the mind of traffic chief George Schoene.
There are times when transportation officials should be autocratic. The taking of private property to build roads and the restriction of lanes for car pools are examples of two policies that might not be popular, but which one can argue help people get around.
Sometimes, though, officials could be accused of insensitivity to motorists in setting their agenda. Many readers have commented about the closure of Howard Road, which now requires a circuitous detour. Typical are the remarks of James L. House, of Seabrook:
"Why can't the Howard Road ramp be opened now? As far as changing the traffic patterns from what commuters have become used to, don't worry -- we've been dealing with it for years on the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, Route 50 and elsewhere!
"Incredibly, the city not only plans to keep the ramp closed unnecessarily for the 11 months between completion of the Metro station and the start of work on Howard Road, but they want to keep the ramp closed an additional 15 months, just to support some dubious notion of exposure for the new station!
"I hope your other readers who are faced with putting up with this situation will join in urging a prompt reopening of the Howard Road ramp. Any help you can give us in conveying our views to the D.C. government will be appreciated."
Conveying views is what Dr. Gridlock does. Maybe city officials will reconsider, maybe not. These kinds of seemingly capricious actions by transportation officials, and these kinds of desperate letters from motorists, are yet another reason the doctor wonders if there shouldn't be some kind of motorists advocacy group to help sensitize well-meaning officials to the motorists' reaction to some of their decisions. A group that, for say an annual fee of $10, would bring some unity and political power to the usually solo voices of the motorist. A group that looks for more accountability from transportation officials.
Dr. Gridlock is wondering whether you think a motorists lobby would be a good idea. Some say it is another special interest group putting itself ahead of the good of the whole. Others think it might be a good idea. You can express yourself with a vote by calling The Post's new electronic information system, Post-Haste. The number to call is 334-9000, and then press 8500 on a touch-tone phone at the prompt. The call is free.
Widening the Beltway Dear Dr. Gridlock:
What is the latest on the widening of the Beltway between the American Legion Bridge and River Road? I thought it was going to be done this summer, but the Virginia Department of Transportation, in response to a suggestion of mine, advised that the project wouldn't be completed until October 1991.
Please say it isn't so.
It shouldn't be so. The latest schedule from the Maryland Department of Transportation, which is handling the project, calls for completion by the end of this year.
Hearings on the Outer Beltway
Here are the remaining informational meetings and public hearings scheduled on the proposed Outer Beltway.
Wednesday, 4 to 9 p.m. at Chantilly High School, 4201 Stringfellow Rd.
June 11, 4 to 9 p.m. at Warrenton Junior High School, 244 Waterloo St.
Tomorrow, displays at 9 a.m. and hearing at 10 a.m. at Frederick (Md.) High School, 650 Carroll Parkway.
Monday, displays at 4 p.m., hearing at 7:30 p.m. at Potomac Senior High School, 16706 Jefferson Davis Hwy., Dumfries.
Tuesday, displays at 4 p.m., hearing at 7:30 p.m. at Broad Run High School, Ashburn.
Thursday, displays at 4 p.m., hearing at 7:30 p.m. at Seneca Valley High School, 12700 Middlebrook Rd., Germantown.
June 9, displays at 9 a.m., hearing at 10 a.m. at Thomas Stone High School, Route 5, Waldorf, Md.
June 12, displays at 4 p.m., hearing at 7:30 p.m. at Warrenton Junior High School, 244 Waterloo St.
June 14, displays at 4 p.m., hearing at 7:30 p.m., Chantilly High School, 4201 Stringfellow Rd.
The public hearings will be conducted by the Maryland and Virginia departments of transportation. The governors of those two states are expected to receive recommendations and make a decision late this year or early next year.
You can write DR. GRIDLOCK at The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071. Please include your full name, address and phone numbers.