Dear Dr. Gridlock:
Do the otherwise vigilant D.C. parking enforcers have a soft spot when it comes to double parking?
It amazes me that it would even occur to anyone to claim a lane of traffic as his private parking space, but in Washington it seems to be some sort of local custom.
I see it every day in the westbound lanes of the 600 block of Pennsylvania Avenue SE. If someone wants to use an automated teller machine, he simply stops his car in the middle of the street, puts on his flashers and goes about his business. Along come the parking patrollers, but they don't seem to mind maneuvering around these hazards as they slap other people with tickets for such made-up offenses as parking 13 inches from the curb.
If someone who innocently mistimes a parking meter is fined $20, anyone who parks in a lane of traffic -- an arrogant, deliberate violation that impedes traffic flow and endangers other motorists -- deserves life imprisonment.
What's the deal? Is this perhaps a gray area that neither the real cops nor the meter maids bother to step into? WILLIAM F. WALSH Washington
It's not a gray area. It is illegal to double park, but there appears to be no strict enforcement, and the fine is a still relatively low $50. So, not surprisingly, motorists in downtown Washington double-park all the time. Plenty of people are willing to stop and get out in a lane of traffic, forcing perhaps hundreds to squeeze around. These scofflaws want to run their errand, then go on their way; delaying others is of no consequence. Very seldom do you see these people ticketed, which is probably why so many do it. Most of the 1.4 million parking tickets in Washington are written by the D.C. Department of Public Works, which, unlike the police, has full-time employees writing parking tickets.
Tara Hamilton, a department spokeswoman, says the department does feel it is spending sufficient time citing double-parkers, but will be sensitive to public concerns if there is a widespread feeling they are missing something, or if there are concerns about chronic problems in specific blocks.
Double-parking is a primary cause of gridlock in downtown Washington. If you feel the city should be doing more to cite these people, drop Dr. Gridlock a line. Or, if you see chronic problems, Hamilton encourages you to write to the Bureau of Parking Services, 65 Massachussetts Ave. NW, Washington, D.C., 20001.Dear Dr. Gridlock:
There is a substantial traffic backup caused by new traffic lights the city has installed at 25th and K streets NW. Those lights control both the outgoing Washington Circle underpass traffic on K Street and the traffic coming off the circle on an access road that merges with K Street at 25th Street, heading toward the Whitehurst Freeway.
There is a 45-second hold on the K Street traffic, which is far too long for the number of cars coming off the circle. As a longtime rider of the Whitehurst Freeway express buses, I can tell you we never had the delays prior to the new light system that we have now. J.L. WILSON Washington
A number of people have had this complaint. George Schoene, the city's traffic chief, said this week he already has been made aware of the concerns and that the city is adjusting the light sequence to bring it into the best harmony for all directions. You should be seeing a change for the better by now. If not, please write again.
Cyclist Alert Dear Dr. Gridlock:
What is it going to take to have automobile drivers look out for motorcyclists? It is not the first time I've had a close call with an inattentive car driver, but yesterday's (July 18) experience angered me.
What happened? What always seems to happen: a driver steered (in this case, a red Volvo) into my lane without checking mirrors.
If that driver reads your column, I'd like her to know I saw her hand on her mouth as I swerved to get out of danger.
I won't preach if you won't preach, but let's agree on one thing: cars and motorcycles share the road.
Please tell your readers to keep attentive at all times and to look in their mirrors before changing lanes. On two wheels, we have a hard enough time avoiding the District's mammoth potholes. PAUL GROVE Washington
Thanks for the point well made.
Violators on Film Dear Dr. Gridlock:
I am writing to voice my outrage, along with a growing number of frightened motorists, to the horrific yet common practice of running red lights throughout the metropolitan area.
It is so widespread that drivers are forced to look in both directions before proceeding through an intersection. This slows traffic even more.
Having lived in Europe, we saw how the installation of cameras at major or dangerous intersections is a real deterrence. The traffic violations are mailed automatically and the fine is paid by mail.
Dr. Gridlock, we need your help to see that our state and local highway officials make this happen. LINDA W. MILLER Alexandria
Dr. Gridlock has been writing about his subject for years. I have talked to police authorities in West Germany and Australia, and have run photographs of red-light runners taken by the Bonn police.
Police in other countries report that the camera system drastically cuts down red-light running.
A similar system has been installed in Pasadena, Calif., with the same result.
Our regional Council of Governments has urged the governors and mayor to look at possible camera enforcement, but so far no action on the red-light front. On a recent day, Dr. Gridlock stood at the corner of 15th Street and K Streets NW and counted the red-light runners for one hour. Those were people who began entering the intersection (usually at a high speed) after their light had turned red.
The result: eight motorists and seven bicyclists clearly ran a red light. Only an automatic delay that keeps red lights on in all directions for about two seconds prevented likely collisions.
The doctor cannot make camera enforcement happen. If you want it, write in and I'll forward the letters to the appropriate people.
Cost of Rubbernecking Dear Dr. Gridlock:
This morning (July 20) there was a nasty six-car accident on the outer loop of the American Legion Bridge. Traffic on that side of the Beltway backed up all the way to Colesville Road. It is understandable that a monumental backup would result from such an accident, especially there.
However, the inner loop was also backed up, to around Tysons Corner, even though all the inner loop lanes were open.
Traffic was backed up on the inner loop because of rubbernecking. That made a lot of us late to work and frustrated.
When I was learning to drive, one of the major things I learned was to keep the flow of traffic moving (and to keep one's eyes on the road). Now that it appears there will always be Beltway construction, commuter accidents and heavy traffic, it would seem constructive to: (1) encourage rush-hour radio traffic reporters to always remind drivers to keep up the flow of traffic and (2) to post signs in accident-prone areas, such as bridges, major merge areas, and construction sites, reminding drivers to maintain good traffic flow. Repeated suggestions can have a substantial effect on people. We commuters need all the help we can get! BILL McGARRY Vienna
Sounds like a good idea to me. If you see "Maintain Speed" signs on long bridges and in tunnels, the result seems to be a greater consciousness to maintain speed.
Getting people to move along at accident scenes runs contrary to the natural urge to gawk at the unusual, but if we could all move as expeditiously as is safe around accident sites, we'd be the better for it. How to get this going? You've just planted the seed. Let's see if it grows.
NIH's Parking Headache Dear Dr. Gridlock:
I work at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda. This government facility is quite large, with 50 buildings and not enough space devoted to parking. As you can imagine, every morning is a zoo as cars scramble for parking. Many people end up parking on the grass or creating their own space. The NIH police are kept busy writing tickets.
This is meant to encourage people to car pool and take public transportation, but apparently to no avail. I live nowhere near a Metro station, and our neigbhborhod does not have bus service. I am a researcher with odd hours, making car pooling all but impossible. Now the county has said we have too many spaces for a facility of this size and must remove 20 percent of the existing spaces. The reasoning is that we generate too much traffic for the neighborhood. Taking away parking spaces is going to create havoc. We have extra space here for more parking but NIH is not allowed to add more spaces even though they are now building another institute that will house an additional 1,000 or so people.
The bigwigs around here know we have a problem, but since they have special parking permits they don't actually feel the problem.
What can we do? SUSAN BARBIERI Gaithersburg
How much parking to provide is a problem for many employers and there is no easy answer. The challenge is to assess the need to reduce traffic impact on residential neighborhoods and reduce pollution, and to promote ride sharing to get the most efficient use of roads, and balance that against the need to provide employees with a place to park.
The parking situation at NIH is difficult, with no easy parking alternatives other than on campus, but the future seems not quite as severe as you may have heard.
Montgomery County acts only in an advisory capacity; NIH can proceed as it sees fit with parking plans. There has been no agreement to reduce parking at NIH, nor is there a freeze on more parking as new facilities are built, according to county and NIH officials. Both the county and NIH agree, though, that the ratio of parking spaces per employee should be gradually reduced.
NIH employs between 14,000 and 15,000 people and has just under 8,700 spaces, according to Norman Mansfield, NIH's associate director for research services.
The current ratio is somewhere between 0.55 and 0.65 parking spaces per employee. NIH wants to reduce that to about 0.5 spaces per employee and will do so by providing a little less parking that is built with new facilities.
"We're trying to get people to share rides to make more efficent use of the roads," said Alex Hikimian, transportation coordinator for the county Planning Department. "We've got a lot of vehicles with four or more seats in them; typically a car has one seat occupied and is taking up a lot of road space for that one person. Only when there is limited parking will people weigh choices about coming to work."
Mansfield said NIH is developing programs to promote ride sharing.
What can you do, Ms. Barbieri? Perhaps the best opportunity to emphasize your point is to send administrators something in writing that indicates how many colleagues share your view.
Shame on Us Dear Dr. Gridlock:
Our airports are a national disgrace . . . overcrowded, dirty, lacking such basic services as toilet paper, signs, chairs in waiting rooms, and drinking fountains!
At National Airport, passengers parking in the lots and taking the shuttle are discharged at the bottom of a flight of stairs -- no directions, no elevator, no porters and no assistance for the handicapped!
What are the taxes applied to air fares being used for? What can we, the traveling warriors, do to get relief? BARBARA PETERSEN Washington
Dave Hess, spokesman for the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, said the authority will look into every point in your letter. A contractor is supposed to be monitoring toilet paper, and that will be looked at. Drinking fountains exit, "but you have to know where they are," Hess said. Some waiting rooms have chairs, but some do not because there is no room for them, he said.
There are perhaps fewer porters at the base of the stairs from the shuttle runs because there are fewer passengers there than at other places, he said. There are signs and elevators and access for the handicapped from that point, but it may be hard to understand what to do because of poor temporary signing. Hess said he would look into it.
National Airport is in the early stages of a five- to seven-year renovation that will convert the airport, opened in 1940, into a state-of-the-art, 35-gate facility with covered people-movers to garages and to the Metro station. Hess asks indulgence from the traveling public during the interim and says most people understand. That doesn't mean things can't be better in the interim.
For specific concerns, write to the following:
Airport manager's office, main terminal, Washington National Airport, Washington, D.C., 20001.
Airport manager's office, Washington Dulles International Airport, P.O. Box 17045, Washington, D.C., 20041.
Dr. Gridlock appears in Metro 2 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 (please don't phone) to DR. GRIDLOCK, The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071. Please include your full name, address and day and evening phone numbers.