Dear Dr. Gridlock:
We are newly arrived residents of Northern Virginia. My wife and I have lived here for seven months after having spent the last 15 years in Hawaii and California. While we are no strangers to the horrors of traffic congestion (it takes 45 minutes to travel 10 miles in Honolulu during rush hour), I am utterly in shock at having to endure bumper car warfare as I travel between Burke and the District Monday through Friday.
I can't believe how many inconsiderate and reckless people are driving in this area. On my way home last Friday, I saw four wrecks within two miles! Enough is enough!
People seldom use turn signals when changing lanes and even when they do, it doesn't mean they are going to wait until it's safe. Oh no. A turn signal here seems to indicate I'm changing lanes and I don't care if it causes you to slow down, hit your brakes, or change lanes to avoid being hit by me.
A gap of more than a car's length between you and the next car appears to be an open invitation for someone to jerk their car in so they can get 10 feet ahead of where they were. A safe gap (that is, one car length for every 10 miles per hour) also means that you are "inviting" someone to pull out directly in front of you with no regard for their safety or yours.
Observance of speed limits or driving at a safe speed is nonexistent. It's a riot watching people race off from a red light only to go 100 yards and wait at the next red light.
Don't people have to take a driver's test and pass a written test? There seems to be no regard for rules and no concern for someone else's rights. I have seen more wrecks here in only seven months tha I have seen in my 26 years of driving.
Why is everyone in such a hurry? MICHAEL E. LOGSDON Burke
Because we're real busy around here, Mike. We've got to get to work, or home from work, and run errands and deal with the kids and household chores, so people cut other drivers off and double-park and block intersections and run red lights because doing that is seen by some as a faster way to get where we're going. One less obstacle in our path. And other drivers have learned to tolerate it.
Have you seen our road system? A lot of people would trade you for a 45-minute commute in Honolulu. It can take one to two hours to get to work around here, and that's without any fender benders. And without any balmy trade winds. Weekends aren't much better; everyone else is trying to run errands, or get out of town. Traffic congestion seems almost ever-present these days.
Look at how we live. Grim faces in the supermarkets. No time for small talk at the cash register.
Some of the inconsiderate drivers would be oblivious to others anywhere. If you're seeing more of it here, you may be onto something. We have our rude drivers (ask any pedestrian).
Maybe it has become part of our culture. Many people here seem permanently stressed. Some of the reasons may relate to our climate, the emphasis we place on work, and the lack of an adequate transportation system.
Many people seem to throw themselves into their jobs here. "What do you do?" will be one of the first questions asked. Worth means promotions and raises, not golf handicaps. More women work outside the home here than any other major metropolitan area.
That means for many an enormous child-care struggle, on a daily basis. Getting to work, working, getting home from work, child-care complications, cooking, cleaning, children's activities (try getting involved in youth soccer) and errands just about fills the week. Where is relaxation?
Maybe it's partly the difference in climate, and the opportunties to enjoy the outdoors. Don't people in the West seem to barbeque more? To take weekend trips? Does this translate into more patience on the roads?
Maybe it's partly the transportation system. California has an advanced highway network: wide, smooth roads with large, easy-to-read signs; roads built along with development, not as an afterthought (like here).
Street signs are easier to read; highway signs advise of the next three off ramps, and their distance, unlike here, where we can so easily make wrong turns, and where street signs and commercial addresses are often hard to read (try finding a business on Rockville Pike).
The Maryland State Police commander for Montgomery and Prince George's counties, Capt. W.E. Brooks, was astounded to come here from a more rural assignment and see how people drive on the Capital Beltway and Interstate 270: shaving and putting on makeup and even reading while inching along in traffic, then in faster traffic, giving no quarter.
This is not to excuse bad behavior or say there aren't lots of decent people here.
Helping someone and then asking them to pass along the favor, as sugggested by a reader below, is a thoughtful way to spread courtesy. Sometimes, though, it seems like canoeing upstream. Please read on: Dear Dr. Gridlock:
You think you've seen it all, and then something new happens on the road that sets new standards for stupidity.
Last Friday, I was heading north on the George Washington Parkway about 6 p.m. when, at the 14th Street Bridge interchange, a black BMW with D.C. tags entered parkway traffic. Looking over as I passed, I was amazed to see that the driver had a paperback book propped on the steering wheel. When he passed me a short while later, the book was still there.
Let me add that traffic was fairly light and moving quickly, and this guy was not plodding along; in fact, he was quite aggressive in running up behind cars, changing lanes, and obviously intent on getting wherever he was going as quickly as possible.
Now my question is, what in God's name is the matter with people like this? Are they complete numbskulls? Do they have absolutely no sense of responsibility for what they are doing, or could do?
Is there anything that can be done about this kind of menace, or is it another case of "if the police don't see it, there's nothing they can do."
Perhaps your column could be used for readers to report similar stories, complete with car descriptions and license numbers. Maybe the prospect of their idiocy showing up in print might make such drivers think twice? It's worth a try. MIKE DUFFY Rockville
Sorry, Mike, but can you imagine the army of people that would be necessary to take complaints from drivers about other drivers? Let alone verify the complaints. Dr. Gridlock believes in sharing the pain, but not that much pain.
P.S. Driver-bookworms should note that there are many fine books available on audio tapes.
For hope, please read on: Dear Dr. Gridlock:
At forty-something, I have my first driver's license and and an older car. My first few weeks as a new Washington driver have been frightening.
Recently, on my way to work via Military Road, I had my first flat tire. I noticed a thumping, flapping sound coming from the rear of my car, but I continued to drive in panic. I finally managed to pull off onto a side street. I sort of parked the car, and sat there shaking. My mind was a blank. Then I noticed the open door on the house across the street. I thought I'd better call work and tell them I was going to be late. I identified myself to the lady at home and said that I worked at a local store.
She let me use her phone, then she said she knew how to change a tire. She left her son to watch his sister while she and I tackled the tire problem. When we couldn't get the jack to work, she bundled her kids and me into her car and drove me to work. Later, I arranged for a tow truck and tire change.
A special thanks to Kathy Reicher of Chevy Chase, D.C.
This morning my car stalled in an intersection. I froze. A teenage boy driving in the opposite direction stopped and asked what was wrong.
He hopped out of his car and restarted my car. I managed to get across the street, and it stalled again. This time an older gentleman in a van pulled up and asked what was wrong. He parked my car, and he and his wife drove me to the Metro station.
When I thanked him he said, "last week my car stalled on the highway, and only one person stopped. He helped me and when I offered money, he said to just help the next person you see in trouble."
I'm always reading about terrible drivers; some drivers are pretty terrific. CORNELIA TOBIN Washington
Thanks Cornelia; we needed that.
For about one year, one mile of East West Highway (Md. Route 410) between Meadowbrook Lane and Washington Avenue has been unpaved since the paving was scraped away, leaving a bumpy, ridged surface.
Is there any way you can find out why the repaving of this road has not been given higher priority in view of the hundreds of thousands of vehicles that use it every day? If other drivers want to complain and request action, who can they call?
The ridges were put into the road because it was slippery when wet. Maryland hopes to resurface the road in 1992, but doesn't have the funds yet. You can complain to Dolly Allen, spokeswoman for the Maryland State Highway Administration, in Greenbelt, at 220-7312.
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.