Dear Dr. Gridlock:
Over the past several weeks, I have noticed that the D.C. police seem to use the curbside parking around Judiciary Square as their own private perk. They park at expired parking meters and block driveways. Parking is at a premium in this area. There isn't enough for your average citizen trying to do business with the nearby D.C. Superior Court, the Municipal Center, the Securities and Exchange Commission and the many law offices.
This morning I counted 12 illegally parked police vehicles in the 500 block of Fifth Street NW and the 400 block of F Street NW. Most are unmarked police cars. There are signs on the dashboards identifying the vehicles as police, or sometimes they leave a ticket book on the dash, or a uniform shoulder patch, or a portable red light. This happens every day.
Meter maids leave these cars alone but ticket those not identified as police-owned. It would seem from my observation this is selective enforcement of the District's parking regulations.
What is the policy?
Please withhold my name and address as I fear retaliation for this letter should police identify me as its author. AN ARLINGTON RESIDENT
This is the one of the few times Dr. Gridlock has withheld a name, but after talking with you and visiting the scene, you can be excused for being concerned. What you describe seems to exist (see photo).
About 2 million parking tickets are written each year in the District, 75 percent of them by the employees of the Department of Public Works. (By the way, they don't care to be referred to as "meter maids," a term they find demeaning and inappropriate because half the ticket writers are men; the new term is parking control aides.) The Public Works Department does not write up police vehicles, leaving that to police themselves. So when you see the dark blue, uniformed ticket writers passing police by, that's a matter of policy.
The police department does issue parking citations against its own. Police cadets have been assigned to ticket police parked illegally in the courthouse area, according to Gary Hankins, head of union activities for the Fraternal Order of Police.
Hankins and a police department spokesman, Officer Walt Ferguson, disagree on whether police can be ticketed by police at expired parking meters: Ferguson says yes and Hankins says no. They agree that police in marked cruisers or unmarked cars can be ticketed for blocking driveways or parking too close to an intersection. Such tickets can be reversed if it can be shown that police were on official business that required such illegal parking. But getting those tickets reversed -- once almost automatic -- is now very hard to do, according to Hankins.
"This parking situation near the court is a constant, irritating problem for police," Hankins said. "It's bad enough you can't go to bed when you get off duty because you've got to come to court; then you get a ticket too." Hankins said the union is trying to negotiate more parking flexibility with Police Chief Isaac Fulwood Jr.
Both Ferguson and Hankins deplore the lack of parking near Superior Court. Hankins says this is one more result of a conscious city policy in the 1970s to reduce parking availability to encourage people to use mass transit.
Back to the original question: Should police officers making court appearances receive preferential treatment at public parking spaces that is not available to average citizens, including those summoned to meet the officers in court?
I think not. They should be ticketed at parking meters -- and by the city parking control aides too -- like any other citizen, particularly where there is a shortage of parking, as there is around the Superior Court. Let police supervisors review the tickets to determine if there was any practical alternative.
Should police officers whose jobs regularly require them to appear in court be provided some kind of new parking facility? It looks like that can be justified, considering their jobs require them to be at places where there's insufficient parking. The faster they get from court to their cars, the faster they return to duty on the streets.
What do you think?
Dear Dr. Gridlock:
A few summers ago, we went to New England with some friends and they introduced the kids to a game called "pediddles." Every time you were the first to see a car with a burned-out headlight, you yelled "pediddle" and got a point. When they described the game, I figured this is going to be dull; how many burned-out headlights can there be?
The answer is plenty. Every couple of minutes you'd see one. I couldn't believe it. I figured maybe it was just New England. But when we got back to Maryland, it was the same. On one trip home from Wild World to Bethesda, the kids racked up over 240 pediddles!
I do think the reason is that most people don't realize the condition.
Clearly it's going to take more than a reminder in the paper to address this dangerous problem. I think the manufacturers should add a warning light for it. It wouldn't be that big a deal, probably adding a few bucks to the cost of the car. MICHAEL MORSE Garrett Park
What you suggest sounds perfectly reasonable; however, there may not be support for installing such a device on all cars. Manufacturers are worried about the cost of cars and agonize over anything that adds even pennies to the price, said Tom Carr, a representative of the Motor Vehicle Manufacturers Association. "We think there are more cost-effective ways to get the job done," he said. "We keep trying to make the motorist more responsible for his vehicle, for checking things like headlights, windshield wipers, using seat belts."
The American Automobile Association agrees, according to Rob Krebs, spokesman for the local chapter. He encourages motorists to walk around their cars periodically to check the lights.
Having heard this, your suggestion still makes sense, Mr. Morse. Wouldn't it be wonderful if everyone checked their tire pressure frequently, changed oil regularly at 3,000 to 4,000 miles and did not exceeded speed limits? But that's not reality. Some cars have dashboard warning lights when windshield washer fluid is low. Why not add dashboard information that signals when a headlight or taillight is out? Some cars already have them. Where to from here?
When to Blink
Dear Dr. Gridlock:
While driving home on I-270, the Beltway and I-66 during a recent snowstorm, I saw eight or 10 cars going along with their emergency blinkers on.
All were traveling the prevailing speed -- about 15 mph.
Most of them had Georgia or Florida tags. Is this practice legally required in those states? Required or not, I think it's a bad practice; it creates confusion under driving conditions that are already bad. HARRY O. OLIVER Clifton
You're right. It is confusing and not recommended. When cars are stopped or moving slowly during snow, it's not immediately clear to the drivers behind them whether the vehicle is stopped or moving slowly or trying to get off the road.
Unless you have pulled to the side of the road or your car is inoperable, it's best not to use the emergency flashers, according to Rob Krebs, local spokesman for the American Automobile Association.
As for laws, driving with emergency lights on is permitted (not required) in Georgia, Virginia, Maryland and the District. It is not permitted in Florida.
Dear Dr. Gridlock:
I am writing in response to the recent letter from Ann Stephens of Germantown. Metro's floor cleaning solution also causes me problems.
I have several allergies and Metro's cleaner is one of them. The scent irritates my eyes, nose and sinuses. It makes my eyes sting and my sinuses ache. I've noticed this problem mostly in the train stations, but also on Metro trains. The irritation isn't caused by other passengers' cologne, etc., because it happens in nearly deserted stations and trains too.
I hold my breath as I pass Metro attendants mopping the floor, but it's hard to run without breathing.
Please pass this on to Metro and persuade them to change to a less offensive cleaning solution. JILL WASILEWSKI Washington
Well, maybe this is a more serious problem than when it was first raised in this column and the doctor sort of brushed it off. Beverly Silverberg, the Metro spokeswoman, wonders how people can know that it's the cleaning solution that sets off their allergies. She says different solutions are used on the train station floors and on the subway and bus seats. Silverberg has allergies too, and points out there are tests that might pinpoint the problem.
She notes that the agency has received letters from riders who compliment Metro on its sweet-smelling cleaning solution and inquire about what it is. (Metro won't reveal the secret for fear of endorsing a product, but does acknowledge that the recipe contains oil of extract from the sassafras root.)
Metro has half a million passengers each weekday on its bus and rail operations. If allergic reaction to cleaning solutions is a significant problem to a lot of riders, let's hear from more people.
Here are some more New Year's resolutions from readers for our beloved local transportation officials:
A New Year's resolution to Arlington, Fairfax and Prince George's counties: Put block numbers on your street signs. Finding addresses would be much easier for drivers, firefighters and ambulances. DAVID THOMPSON JR. Washington
Officials: Do something for your place in history. Create bike paths, the transportation artery of the 21st century. Enough bike paths and every city father (and mother) can have one named after them. KATHY WEBER Washington
For local officials: REALLY get serious about apprehending and prosecuting red light runners. MURRAY H. LOEW Alexandria
One important thing Virginia officials can do to cut down on nauseating emissions from diesel trucks and buses is to copy New York City, where such offenders are ticketed for idling more than five minutes! Pedestrians who were getting gassed by parked trucks and tour buses now have some relief. Come to Williamsburg, where you have 20 "idling" tour buses to air condition the driver while he is waiting, and you'll appreciate the need for action! PARKER CUMINGS Williamsburg
Dr. Gridlock appears each Friday. Write (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.