I asked for your nominations for the longest red traffic lights in the metropolitan area and received a robust response. Among them:
* Commuter Kimberly Ellison regularly eats her breakfast at a seven-minute-long red light at Duncan Drive and Route 236 in Annandale.
* Anne Hedian tells of a red light that never changes: Edmonston Road at Kenilworth Avenue, just outside Bladensburg. "That light does not change at all. Ever." She turns right on red and then does a U-turn on Kenilworth Avenue.
* Vehicles on Idylwood Road must wait an excruciating 2 minutes and 38 seconds for a red light at Route 7 near Falls Church. Someone posted a homemade sign there: "I LOST 40 POUNDS WAITING FOR THIS DAMN LIGHT TO CHANGE."
* Lt. Tim Long, of the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Rescue Squad, says the red light at Bradley Lane sometimes inexplicably holds southbound Wisconsin Avenue traffic for two light cycles, "wreaking havoc on Bethesda traffic."
* Tod Krell, of Calvert County, says a long red light on the outbound Suitland Parkway at Stanton Road SE regularly backs up evening rush hour traffic across the Anacostia River all the way to Interstate 395.
These commuters and many others who wrote in from across the metropolitan area reported that their commutes are being bollixed by some extraordinarily long red lights. Whether these are by design, or are outdated, or are malfunctioning remains to be seen.
Traffic light signal chiefs--who may be the most powerful people in the Washington area--generally tell Dr. Gridlock that sometimes signals get out of sync and that they will respond to any complaint with a field visit and make adjustments, if warranted.
When is a red light too long? Two minutes is my threshold. At that point the wait is noticeably, uncomfortably, grimacingly, something-must-be-wrong long.
From across the area, readers reported lots of two-minute waits. And three. And four and five. A few reported six and seven minutes before a light change. Some of these lights must be malfunctioning or in need of updating.
A listing of long red lights reported in your area will run in the Dr. Gridlock column later this week. Meantime, I'll send your complaints to the appropriate officials, and we will get back to you with their responses. Please allow some time for their considerations. And thanks for participating.
P.S. A number of you said a bigger problem is too-short green lights. I'll start taking those nominations now for a later column.
Dear Dr. Gridlock:
In reading your recent columns about road rage, I remembered how much stress traffic used to cause me. Being stuck in backups every morning coming in and every afternoon going home used to drive me crazy.
The radio didn't help, and trying to read and drive was too risky. So I took up the harmonica. I bought a $10 blues harmonica and started playing during my commute.
Teaching myself, trying to figure out tunes, learning the breathing mechanics and generally entertaining myself made a world of difference. During times when I was fatigued, it kept me from going to sleep behind the wheel.
Basically, it turned a time of torture into a time of fun.
Robert Lee Williams
We asked Mr. Williams if he plays with two hands or one. He responded:
"I use one hand. There are harmonicas with a button on them that require two hands. . . . I save those for home use."
Dr. Gridlock has also received reports of Trumpet Man and Guitar Man playing while driving. If your vehicle can be driven safely--and the experts call for two hands on the wheel and no distractions--then enjoy this novel commuter stress relief.
Perhaps there will be a run on harmonicas now. What does this say about our quality of life?
Dear Dr. Gridlock:
With all the road rage and lack of civility on the roads, I suggest that signs be posted around the Beltway that say, "COURTESY--IT'S CONTAGIOUS."
I am a believer in the better part of human nature. Witness your Thanksgiving Day good Samaritan column.
When someone lets me in front of them, I reciprocate the kindness to another driver. Consideration does become infectious. What do your readers think?
I'll tell you what I think: good idea. This message could certainly be put on the overhead electronic boards when there's nothing else to report and would be a good thing to post permanently elsewhere.
A Puzzler to Sneeze At
And now, the answer to the most recent license plate riddle, GSNDHT. The question was, what kind of car bore this plate?
Many of you figured out that this inscription stood for GESUNDHEIT, a good health wish following a sneeze. But then opinions dispersed.
Folks nominated the Plymouth Duster; a VW "bug" or Volkswagen, a VW Passat, an Acura Vigor, an Oldsmobile Allegra.
Many of you got the right answer, an ISUZU. If you wonder why, shout that name a couple of times very fast and see if someone doesn't wish you, "Gesundheit!"
Dr. Gridlock's assistant, Jessica Medinger, contributed to this column.