Dear Dr. Gridlock:
Several Saturdays ago, I headed home from the Eastern Market Metro station, leaving myself plenty of time to catch the not-too-frequent train to New Carrollton. My 84 bus from New Carrollton leaves only once an hour on weekends, so I left plenty of time to catch that, too.
Much to my dismay, the train broke down at the Cheverly station. We waited and waited, and finally another train took us on our way. Sure enough, we pulled into New Carrollton two minutes after my bus departed.
While waiting at Cheverly, I asked the station attendant to phone ahead and hold my bus until the new train arrived. I was informed it is not Metro's policy to hold buses. Why does Metro have such a strict policy? It's bad enough to be stuck two stations away from one's destination for 25 minutes. Then, to arrive just in time to miss a once-an-hour bus is doubly infuriating.
Metro has no such policy, Nick. Not only did you miss the bus, but you got a wrong response when you asked for the bus to be held. "We try to coordinate buses in a rail emergency," said Metro spokeswoman Beverly Silverberg. "The station manager should have called central control as a matter of policy in an emergency situation. The rail control supervisor could very easily have gone over to the bus control supervisor and said, 'Look, we've got a late train, hold the buses at New Carrollton.' I don't know why it didn't happen on that day, particularly since the person had the foresight to ask. Sometimes there is a gap between management directives and reality."
If this happens to you, Silverberg advises telling the station attendant that you understand it is a Metro policy to coordinate buses in a rail emergency, and to please check with central control to confirm that. Let's see what then happens.
Just Do It!
Dear Dr. Gridlock:
I read in the Post recently that Virginia officials have decided to make a car pool (HOV-3 only) lane out of the third lane under construction on the Dulles Toll Road. The shoulders are being constructed wide enough to allow for a fourth lane, if needed.
What idiots make these decisions, anyway? If our tax dollars are going to create a road capable of handling four lanes in each direction, why don't they just do it! If four lanes were available to the current and expected future users, there would be no need to create a special car-pool lane, at least for quite a while.
This decision means that two years of putting up with construction bottlenecks will benefit almost no one. For six rush hours, morning and evening, I have seen only three other cars with more than one person.
I'm all for car pooling to conserve oil, but I'm also a realist. It's bad enough I and many others have to spend a buck and a half each day to commute a few miles on that road, but spending an additional $45 million of taxpayer money to benefit a minority seems backward when some common sense could benefit us all.
The folks who made this decision are members of the Commonwealth Transportation Board, a group of residents appointed by the governor to approve major transportation projects. They decided that the new third lane should be HOV (High Occupancy Vehicle) because they are promoting car pooling.
The third lane is being built on the inside of the toll road, and the right-hand shoulder is being constructed sturdily enough that a fourth lane for conventional traffic can be marked off there. Work is scheduled to be finished in the fall of 1991. The HOV lane will require a minimum of three people per car from 6:30 to 9 a.m. eastbound and from 4 to 6:30 p.m. westbound on weekdays. At other times the express lane can be used by conventional traffic.
The Virginia Department of Transportation staff originally did not recommend a HOV lane because there were no gathering points, such as parking lots, set aside to form pools, and because there was a concern the demand was not there. The state was skittish about criticism should the HOV lane appear to be little used while traffic in conventional lanes stood bumper to bumper.
But there was considerable political pressure to dedicate the lane to HOV. Mark Warner, a Northern Virginia representative on the transportation board, said, "We held a meeting with all the elected officials from Northern Virginia before the board made the decision, and there was uniform support (for HOV). Our general policy is to support HOV as much as possible."
This is something of a chicken-egg proposition. It's hard to tell what the demand will be for HOV lanes until they are in place. Once there, people may form car pools to get to town faster. That assumes there will be sufficient compliance by the public (plus law enforcement effort) to keep the lane clear for pools and buses.
The HOV lanes between Springfield and Woodbridge, which are also not walled off with a barrier, have not worked particularly well. The express lane is full of violators and state police find it difficult to pull them over for lack of a median shoulder. The Dulles road should have more inside shoulder room, but it's still going to take an honor system to make it work. People going to and from Dulles International Airport, for instance, are exempt from the HOV rules, setting up the same potential for abuse that now exists on Interstate 66, which also draws scofflaws.
Why not designate the potential lane on the right shoulder for conventional traffic and open it immediately? It's exactly as you suggest: There would be no need for the HOV lane, according to Mary Anne Reynolds, spokeswoman for the Virginia Department of Transportation. Traffic needs to be more congested to make the express lane work, then if congestion continues, a fourth lane can be opened, she said.
This may sound weird: preserving congestion to promote an express lane, but that's what appears to be happening.
Audrey Moore, chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, says she is pushing to open both the express lane and the right shoulder lane at the same time, meaning three lanes for conventional traffic and one express lane.
Moore notes that the HOV lanes will be needed more and more as the area is developed, particularly if the toll road is extended to Leesburg. "We want those people in Loudoun to get on buses," she said.
One can argue both sides of this. Many readers believe that taxpayer-supported roads should be available to all drivers.
Others argue that simply widening roads means they eventually fill up with more traffic; therefore, we've got to explore building a transportation network that includes express lanes, rail and bikes and whatever else if we are to escape choking on our exhaust.
Promoting car pooling seems to make sense on paper. But will there be enough demand to make the express lane useful? Will unaccompanied motorists stay out? Will there be adequate law enforcement? So far the undivided express lanes, such as the Interstate 95 corridor from Springfield to Woodbridge and Washington Street in Alexandria, have attracted plenty of violators, infuriating the law-abiding public. This corridor may provide another good test for the HOV concept.
Dear Dr. Gridlock:
More and more, new-car buyers are adding fog lights to their cars. According to salespeople, this has become a "style" item. It makes the cars seem more like racing machines, I guess.
However, most of these drivers leave the fog lights on all the time! On normal nights, this creates a lot of glare for oncoming traffic. On rainy nights, it's much worse, making it almost impossible to see the lane markers.
Dr. Gridlock, could you appeal to these folks to turn their fog lights off unless it really is foggy?
JAMES C. BIGGERS
That seems a reasonable request. Is there any reason to keep fog lights on (absent any fog) considering how they seem to affect fellow drivers?
Dr. Gridlock appears each Friday to explore what makes it difficult to get around on roads, from misleading signs to parking problems to chronic bottlenecks. You can suggest topics by writing (please don't phone) to DR. GRIDLOCK, The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071. Include your full name, address and day and evening phone numbers.