Dear Dr. Gridlock:

There needs to be a better solution to all this congestion on Interstate 270 and the Beltway. It is getting worse and stressful. Maybe we can have dump trucks and trucks hauling equipment not commute until rush hour is over after 9 a.m.

My commute is almost two hours from Frederick to Bethesda. What can we do? Where are all the people coming from? Please help! This is getting really stressful, and when you have to be somewhere at a specific time -- even if you leave earlier -- it is still bad.

Kathy Dunn

Frederick

I have no cure for ever-worsening gridlock. A two-hour commute each way is a terrible drain on quality of life. I wonder if you can work at home at least part of the time and/or use the Metro Red Line.

Perhaps there is some wisdom as to how we got this way in the following letter:

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

How can Montgomery County officials keep allowing developers to build more homes, retail and commercial developments to accommodate nearly 900,000 residents, delay and/or scrap badly needed highways and still say with a straight face that they're stopping sprawl while the county's population and the traffic congestion that comes with it are still increasing without additional road capacity?

Linwood T. Herring

Alexandria

Development should be dependent upon building adequate transportation infrastructure to accommodate the growth. Just a thought.

Blink for Tailgaters

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Regarding the tailgating in the right lane, I know what my friend would do if it happens. She simply turns on the emergency blinkers. This way, the tailgater would either slow down or move to the left lane avoiding that "slow car."

Adele Shuart

Ellicott City

Icky Commute

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I recently moved to Kentlands in Gaithersburg, right off Sam Eig Highway (Interstate 370) and have to commute to my job next to Springfield Mall.

I was wondering if you could tell me a back-road way of avoiding some traffic. If not, can you point me in some direction where I can get traffic-friendly directions?

Jeff Harris

Gaithersburg

That's an icky commute. I'd look into working at home, or taking Metrorail. If you must drive, the obvious road solution is I-270 south to the Beltway, and the Beltway into Virginia to Interstate 95 South, and then taking the Franconia Road (Route 644) exit to the Springfield Mall area.

The problem here seems to be that there are only a few bridges over the Potomac River. If others care to share a better way, I'd like to hear.

Commute by the Book

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I don't feel that an audiobook is any more distracting than a good talk show or news. All do indeed occupy some part of my attention, but I naturally shut them out in a situation where I need to concentrate.

At least with a book on tape I can back up and listen to a passage again. Also, I don't listen to books with the intention to pass a test on the material. It's just something a little more interesting than the same old songs and commercials over and over.

I have found a few books that I actually wished the drive was longer so I could listen more.

Mark Gillam

Lovettsville

Most people who write me on this subject say audiobooks are a blessing on their commutes.

Don't Block Metro Doors

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I commute to and from graduate school on Metro every day and I, too, am irritated by the number of people who block the open doors of the trains [Dr. Gridlock, Oct. 2].

The doors are wide enough to allow two people to enter or exit the train side by side; however, there are often people leaning on the little partitions on both sides of the doors, narrowing that gap to the size of one person.

Rather than step outside the train for a few seconds, they think they are being considerate when they suck in their stomachs to take up a teeny bit less space. Or, people outside the train who are eager to get on quite effectively reduce their chances by crowding the doors and allowing only one person off at a time.

I agree that some solution needs to be found to this problem to reduce the time it takes to load and unload at each station. That would help trains move faster through the system, reducing crowding on each train.

Perhaps an automated message would help? There is already a pleasant voice that says "doors closing." Maybe one should be broadcast when the train comes to a stop that says, "Please move away from the doors so passengers may board and exit more quickly."

I have noticed that train operators will sometimes make such announcements during very busy times; an automatic one would probably be cheap to implement, just as effective and would allow the drivers to focus their attention on other matters.

Sarah Christianson

Washington

The way we get on and off Metrorail cars seems to be a constant complaint. Here are some comments from Lisa Farbstein, a Metro spokeswoman:

"We used to have a message that told people to move further into the rail cars, but we received complaints from customers that they did not like the message.

"Often customers will hear their train operators encourage people to move into the cars, and into the aisles, where there is more room to stand. I like to stand there and hold onto a hand rail behind a seat."

For more on this subject, please read on.

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I just came back from a business trip to New York, where the people don't crowd at the door to get out. They are distributed throughout the subway cars. Why? Because there are poles every few feet across the subway car -- and a bar on top that's easily reachable. There are plenty of places to hang on to and keep your balance.

Contrast this to the D.C. Metro, where the only poles are near the doors. That is why people crowd by the doors. If you walk to the middle of the car, you'd better have great balance if you don't want to fall. The only place to hold onto are the backs of the seats.

It makes me uncomfortable to put my hands so near the shoulders and heads of the seated passenger. You are forced to invade the person's space, and sometimes inadvertently touch them.

It looks to me like it would be fairly easy to put plastic or metal poles in the aisle. Or a metal rod connecting the ceiling and the seat near the aisle, so you could grab it without touching passengers.

Here is my question to you, Dr. Gridlock: How do we get the people who work at Metro take the suggestion seriously? I suspect it's one of those incremental improvements that tend to be overlooked in American organizations. It isn't to anyone's career advantage to push it. So, Metro management proposes expensive solutions while simple suggestions get ignored.

I've noticed these poles in a lot of subways in many cities. We may be unique in not having them!

Dale S. Brown

Washington

Again, Ms. Farbstein, Metro spokeswoman:

"Customers like to stand by the doors. They do so because often they are going only one or two stops, and they don't want to bother to sit down or to move further into the car.

"Sometimes they do it because they want to rush off the train when it arrives at their stop. Sometimes they do it because they want to be one of the first up an escalator.

"For whatever reason, they like to stand at the doors and hold onto those vertical poles. The overhead bars aren't lower because we don't want people to bump their heads."

What remains a mystery is why other subway systems find it efficient to use more vertical bars and apparently lower overhead bars, but our Metro system does not. Any thoughts?

Transportation researcher Diane Mattingly contributed to this column.

Dr. Gridlock appears Sunday in the Metro section and Thursday in Montgomery Extra. You can write to Dr. Gridlock, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071. He prefers to receive e-mail, at drgridlock@washpost.com, or faxes, at 703-352-3908. Please include your full name, town, county and day and evening phone numbers. Dr. Gridlock cannot take phone calls.