Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Is it still illegal to pass a stopped school bus when the bus has its lights flashing and the stop signs out?

Even if there is a median strip, I was under the impression that it is illegal as well as unsafe to pass a stopped school bus. Has this changed, especially in Prince George's County along Good Luck Road and East West Highway?

Risa Lapidow

Riverdale

If you approach a stopped school bus, with red lights flashing, you must stop until the red lights go off. However, if you are on the other side of a thoroughfare, divided by a median, you generally do not need to stop. In that case, proceed with caution, as children may be scattering in your direction.

I can be more definitive if you give me exact locations where there are problems, Ms. Lapidow.

Alternatives to Baltimore

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

My wife and I live in Greenbelt. She commutes to the University of Maryland Medical Center in downtown Baltimore.

Morning trips are relatively good, averaging 35 to 45 minutes via I-95. The evening trip is another story. Without fail, there is horrendous southbound traffic on Greene Street in the city, and then on Maryland Route 295 at the Baltimore Beltway (I-695) exit.

Her I-95 south traffic is slightly better than Maryland 295, but she slogs through at least 15 to 30 minutes of congestion at I-395 south (Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue).

Are there any less congested routes out of Baltimore that provide access to Maryland 295 or I-95? She has been averaging 70 to 85 minutes of southbound travel time, and my familiarity with Baltimore is limited to the Inner Harbor area.

Kurt Flick

Greenbelt

I have often made the same commute, Mr. Flick, without the congestion you mention. I take Fayette Street away from the medical center and then turn left onto MLK. I've never run into much traffic on either Fayette or MLK, even at 5 p.m.

Then, after only a few blocks on MLK, I can turn right onto Russell Street, which runs into the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, or I can take the left ramp onto I-395 connecting with I-95 to Washington. I prefer the parkway, because it's more restful.

One of the nice features about Baltimore's rush-hour traffic, compared with Washington, is that Baltimore has more police at intersections to move traffic along. There is a more orderly flow to it.

That said, maybe I'm just lucky. I'll happily pass on observations or helpful alternative routes that readers may offer.

Cheating at Bridge

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

The exit from the [Southeast] Freeway onto the Pennsylvania Avenue bridge is an excellent example of why drivers attempt to block last-minute merges in front of them.

Drivers routinely speed up to the front of the line in what is the stadium-only lane, then force themselves into traffic ahead of those of us who have stayed in line.

I recommend that either a traffic police person sit at the lanes leading to the bridge, or that a camera be positioned there to cite unsafe lane changing and reckless driving.

A camera and citations are probably the less expensive route, but a patrol car has more weight.

Claude Bernard

Laurel

Police have been stationed at this notorious merge, and I understand they've made quite a haul. Another thing the city could do is install vertical pylons along the lane lines so bullies can't merge in at the front of the line.

In that same area, curiously, readers report that there is an ideal merge. That would be from the two left turn lanes at the eastern end of the bridge onto outbound D.C. 295 (Kenilworth Avenue). There, as the entrance ramp narrows from two lanes to one, drivers seem to take turns in a model of merge etiquette, readers tell me.

This could involve some of the same drivers who create such bedlam during the previously mentioned merge just blocks away.

Anybody know why?

A Source of Md. Tags?

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

One of the reasons that Virginia drivers see so many cars with Maryland plates during their commutes is the fact that virtually all rental cars have Maryland tags.

I'm sure this has some financial advantage to the rental companies; probably the lack of a required yearly inspection.

Paul Katsanis

Reston

Next time you rent a car in Northern Virginia, folks, see to what extent this is true. Ask the customer representative if this is so, and why. Let me know. Thanks.

Clearing the Smoke

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

You might want to inform your readers complaining about smoking on Metro escalators that it is impossible for someone to be allergic to smoking. That is because tobacco smoke contains no allergens. This is why no one has an anaphylactic (i.e., life-threatening) reaction to smoking.

It is, instead, a pollutant, and the symptoms your readers describe means they are sensitive to tobacco smoke pollution.

By the way, I, too, am very sensitive to tobacco smoke, so my only agenda here is to educate, not diminish their very valid concerns. Check with an allergist if you think I'm not correct.

Erin Gilland Roby

Ellicott City

Transportation researcher Diane Mattingly contributed to this column.

Dr. Gridlock appears Sunday in the Metro section and Thursday in Prince George's 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.