Dear Dr. Gridlock:

As any driver in this area -- or reader of your column -- knows, enforcement of traffic laws in this area is pathetic. For one example, I myself see at least one red light run each day, which is dangerous and inexcusable. And I spend less than an hour a day on the road, most of it on interstate highways.

One explanation frequently given in your column for the insufficient enforcement is lack of enough police officers to do the job. I find this inexplicable.

The Fairfax County police informed me that the fine for running a red light, speeding, or making an illegal turn generally runs between $30 and $35, and can go up to $200, although it usually does not.

A police officer writing a mere 15 tickets a day could therefore gross $112,500 per year in fines, assuming a five-day work week, 50 weeks a year. That would surely be enough to pay the officer's salary and overhead. If not, the officer could write more tickets per day.

In one hour at my intersection at Spring Street and Old Keene Mill Road in Springfield, an officer could write a dozen illegal U-turn tickets per hour. Alternatively, the fines could be increased. All this means that the area police departments could hire as many officers as they need without increasing taxes, if only the officers would spend enough time enforcing the traffic laws.

I would also observe that the deterrent effect of a $30 fine in 1990 in one of the wealthiest areas of the nation is negligible. And a mere $30 penalty for a crime as dangerous as running a red light is an offense to justice.



That's a fair question. Here's the answer from a spokesman for the Fairfax County Police Department, Officer Boyd Thompson:

"You wouldn't want a revenue-generating police department. It would create ill will with the public. We don't get any of the money (from tickets). It would create a bit of distrust from the public that we were writing tickets because we needed new equipment, or to get a pay raise. A lot of small towns do that and you know them as speed traps. They rely on that for revenue, and it gives the police and the town a bad reputation."

Other thoughts?

Motorist on Patrol

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

In all the discussion of red light running, I haven't seen many suggestions about what individuals can do to stop this menace.

A fair number of red light scofflaws are driving commercial or government vehicles. When I see such cases, I note the location, license plate number, time and company. Then I call the vehicle owner to report what I've seen.

Metro is very responsive and will discipline drivers who run red lights. Most commercial companies I've talked to have also been concerned and responsive. After all, they don't want their vehicles involved in accidents, and they don't want consumers to associate their companies with reckless driving.

The only apathetic reaction I've had so far was from the U.S. Postal Service. After several calls to different offices, I got the impression they just couldn't be bothered.

I support cameras at intersections and more police attention to red light running, but I think the average citizen can also help by doing what I do.



You're absolutely right. Many trucks now have signs on the rear doors inviting motorists to comment on the driver's road conduct. Some even provide a number to call. Please read on.

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

With District of Columbia police driving their cruisers as they do, it is no wonder drivers have little consideration for traffic laws or other drivers.

In the last four weeks I have:

Been cut off by a southbound police cruiser traveling straight from a left-turn-only lane through an intersection with only one lane on the other side of Kansas Avenue NW.

Watched a police cruiser run a red light downtown.

Watched a D.C. cruiser run a stop sign at about 20 mph at a four-way stop on Eastern Avenue between 13th Street and the traffic circle on 16th Street.

Been cut off by a D.C. cruiser making a sudden right-hand turn from the left lane with no signal on 13th Street NW.

Waited in stopped traffic during evening rush hour while a cruiser made a U-turn in the middle of the bridge on 16th Street, just before Arkansas Avenue.


Silver Spring

Some of this sounds like it could be sudden changes in direction as a result of a police dispatcher's instructions. But to give full weight to your concerns, you might try Ms. Munro's suggestion and note the time, location and cruiser number and write Police Chief Isaac Fulwood Jr., 300 Indiana Ave., Washington, D.C. 20001.

Cyclists off the Path

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

In the Washington area, we are fortunate enough to have some lovely bike paths. One of the most pleasant is along MacArthur Boulevard.

My question is: Why don't bikers use it?

On my commute home, traffic is invariably slowed by sleekly dressed bikers in the roadway, while the bike path, just a few feet away, is available.

Is it considered wimpy by serious bikers to use the bike path? As a recreational biker myself, I find their unnecessary flirtation with danger puzzling and upsetting. How can we bikers ask municipalities to provide and maintain bike paths if we don't use the ones we have?



Good question. Perhaps some of the answer can be found in the third paragraph of the following letter from a bicyclist living on MacArthur Boulevard:

Bud Roberts {Aug. 24} says "almost no one uses bicycles because it is dangerous riding on the road." I have commuted by bike for 15 years. I use the roads. Bud advocates a "network of bikeways" for travelers and commuters, but why not simply build slightly wider roads?

Bikes are designed for roads. {Paved roads of the early 1900s were designed for bikes.} Speeds are comparable to that of cars -- especially in town. Legally, bicycles are vehicles.

Bikes have more in common with other vehicles using roads than they do with typical "bikeway" traffic. Pedestrians, carriages, leashed and unleashed dogs, kids, young cyclists and runners introduce safety problems on bikeways. Barring such traffic is difficult -- and perhaps unfair. Left turns, intersections, inferior surfaces, poor lighting, and limited sight-distance are other safety problems with using bikeways as commuting routes.

Bikeways are not cheap. Bud's per foot comparison with sidewalks is telling. His estimate of $50 per foot means just one ten-mile commuter route would be $2.6 million.

A complete network is unlikely. Cyclists would still need to ride on roads.

Bud's gas-tax financing raises the usual issues of fairness and efficiency.

A better policy to encourage bicycle commuting has two parts: (1) effective education of all vehicle operators about the rights and responsibilities of bicyclists and (2) systematic construction of roads with slightly wider curb lanes to accommodate bikes.

One unified system and one set of rules for all roadworthy vehicles is simpler, safer, cheaper and fairer than a separate system for a vehicle which, after all, was designed for the road.



A number of cities, particularly on the West Coast, are doing just what you suggest: building roads with extra-wide shoulders, and a clearly marked path for bicyclists.

In an older, urban area, like this one, it may be too late to add on such shoulders without enormous disruption to existing residential areas, to say nothing of the difficulties in obtaining the right of way. However, with traffic building as it is, if we don't do something more aggressive with alternative transportation, someday no one is going to be able to move.

Tour of Metro Stations

On Sept. 15-16, Metro will conduct special tours of the new Wheaton and Glenmont stations for senior citizens and people with disabilities. The tours, between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m., will include a look at the new stations, free train rides between them, applications for reduced-fare ID cards, and lift-equipped Metrobus demonstrations. For more information, contact Stephanie Robinson at Metro at 962-2707.

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.