Maybe this isn't the right time to bring this up. Maybe there's no right time. During the holidays, Dr. Gridlock heard from a number of people who are concerned about increasing confrontations between panhandlers and commuters.
Until recently, panhandlers pretty much stayed on the sidewalks of downtown Washington, and pedestrians had the option to walk on by. Now, however, some panhandlers have taken to standing in the road at busy intersections, holding up their signs (usually containing the words homeless or hungry) and trying to make eye contact with people waiting in cars at a stoplight. Sometimes they stand in front of vehicles and obstruct progress.
They are on Metro, too, in the rail stations and now occasionally in the subway cars, sometimes hovering over passengers until they are paid to move on.
However sympathetic we may be to the plight of the panhandler, others have a right not to be harassed. There is a vagrancy law in the District, and police will enforce it, especially if summoned to the scene or informed of a chronic problem that interferes with the rights of others to move about, a police spokesman said. Complaints can be made by calling 202-727-1010. Metro's consumer affairs specialists, at 202-637-1328, also will take complaints. Passengers who feel they are being harassed on the subway should go to another car and call the train operator on the intercom, a Metro spokeswoman advises, and police will be dispatched.
Sometimes the lines are blurry between simply begging for money and harassment, intimidation and extortion. In some other places, teenagers will ask tourists to give them money to watch their cars -- the implication being if you don't give, you will be very sorry. Or youths will approach cars at traffic lights, wipe a damp rag across the windshield, and then ask for money in a menacing way. In the District, at least one panhandler is approaching motorists with this pitch: "I watched your car -- give me a dollar."
This is not to say we shouldn't take pity on the less fortunate. This is just to say this situation exists here. Perhaps what we have been seeing is only seasonal, or perhaps it is a reflection of increasing hard times. Any thoughts?
Some New Year's Resolutions
This being the time for New Year's resolutions, here are some for local officials to consider, based on some of the most frequent complaints received from you readers:Be it resolved that officials pay closer attention to the usefulness of present signs, and the need for new ones. There are confusing problems that can be fixed without major spending by paying more attention to signs. Perhaps a panel of volunteers could screen proposals for new signs as advisers to transportation departments. That law enforcement agencies increase their efforts to ticket red light runners, intersection blockers, illegal parkers, HOV lane cheaters, and bozos who speed to the front of a line of vehicles and then cut in. That the part of the Beltway designated Interstate 95 also be designated Interstate 495, with signs for each. If there is a compelling reason to designate half the Capital Beltway I-95, and half I-495, without using dual signs for the overlapping segments, Dr. Gridlock hasn't heard it. Dual signing is done on interstate highways in other parts of the country. That traffic lights be synchronized throughout the area. This is costly, but possibly nothing short of billion-dollar expenditures would provide more relief to the gridlocked. That road project updates, possibly through this column and elsewhere, be provided comprehensively as to when long-awaited projects will begin and when ongoing ones will be finished. That officials encourage greater compliance with traffic laws by running public service ads on radio and television about the importance of doing so. That requirements for obtaining and renewing driver's licenses become more stringent, and provide more examples of current driving conditions, such as how to handle merge situations and how to drive on the Beltway.
Here are some others: Resolve to build curb cuts for every street corner to assist people moving heavy equipment, pushing strollers and using wheelchairs; and to ticket every car in a handicapped parking space; and to ticket vehicles that are parked in front of ramps for people with disabilities. DALE BROWN Washington Resolve that Metro instruct its train operators in the proper use of the public address system so that audible announcements will be heard. JOE SHAFRAN Washington That an area gasoline tax be levied and proceeds given to Metro to reduce fares and attract more people onto mass transit. THOMAS W. CREWS Silver Spring Give westbound Interstate 295 drivers access to the South Capitol Street bridge without making them negotiate the maze of detours. That is, open Howard Road. FRANCIS DALLAVALLE Cheverly
Resolve to establish HOV restrictions on Beach Drive to reduce traffic volumes in Rock Creek Park. RALPH A. BLESSING Washington
And finally, this:
I would like to share some of my own resolutions for the new year: I resolve not to make other drivers guess what I'm doing next, but rather, to use signals. Likewise, when other drivers use their signals, I will not speed up to interfere.
I resolve to treat other drivers as kindly as I wish they would treat me (and to patiently forgive them when they don't). Happy New Year. EARL SHOOP Silver Spring
This last one may be the hardest to implement -- and the most worthwhile.
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.