Dear Dr. Gridlock:

My daily commute from Waldorf takes me to the Branch Avenue Metro station. I normally take Auth Road from Branch Avenue, which eventually leads to a traffic circle at the entrance to the parking lot.

I've noticed a dangerous lack of knowledge on the proper use of the traffic circle. People seem to be using the lanes improperly, coming close to accidents.

Could you identify a Web site that has this information?

John Stuart


There are 24 "roundabouts" in Maryland, with seven more under construction. The state likes them because they eliminate traffic lights and reduce side-angle crashes, such as someone running a red light and hitting the driver's side of another vehicle.

The Maryland State Highway Administration has a Web site with the information you may be seeking: Click on "Driving It Safe," then on "Roundabouts."

Let me know if the information there answers your questions.

Escalating Woes

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Recently, I prepared to exit the L'Enfant Metro station (Department of Transportation exit), when I found three recently refurbished escalators out of service.

Customers were expected to struggle up a four-story set of stairs.

What is going on with the poorly repaired escalators?

Jesse Winston


You've every right to know, Mr. Winston. The sad fact is that Metro is the most escalator-dependent subway system in the world, and system officials never have been able to keep them running reliably.

Here's a report of Metro's latest efforts, as summarized nicely by spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein:

In the middle of 2002, Metro's chief executive, Richard White, appointed a blue ribbon panel of outside experts to figure out what's wrong with Metro's escalators and elevators. This panel was to report to White by the end of 2002.

In early December, White briefed Metro's elevator and escalator mechanics on the panel's findings, which were about to be released.

During the briefing, ideas were brought up by the mechanics that had never been considered. "They had some very positive ideas on what Metro could do to improve elevator and escalator performance for our customers, using in-house capabilities," Farbstein said.

Afterward, White committed to a three-month process of working with the mechanics to listen to their ideas and suggestions and iron out how some of their recommendations might work with those of the blue ribbon panel.

In March, White will present a plan that includes a combination of recommendations from the blue ribbon panel and the "blue collar" panel, Farbstein said.

"While this may seem like a lengthy process, let me assure you that it is because Metro is serious about sound, workable solutions to the vertical transportation problems," Farbstein said.

I have a couple of observations about this process:

1. How can a blue ribbon panel take months to study the problem without including the suggestions of the mechanics?

2. How could Metro management not know about these suggestions long ago? If you're dealing with a train wreck, don't you talk to the mechanics?

I'm going to file these questions along with enduring ones, such as why Metro built an escalator system exposed to the rain, snow and ice; continue to receive e-mails from frustrated customers such as Mr. Winston; and hope that this latest effort to fix the problem will bring improvement.

Hard to Stay Back

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Because of the traffic volume here, it is difficult to maintain a safe distance from the car ahead. Under the old rule of thumb, one car length for every 10 miles an hour equates to a safe distance.

No matter how hard I try to adhere to that standard, someone moves into the space, and I end up much closer than is prudent, ever watchful for brake lights ahead.

Maybe your correspondent was right: It's next to impossible to maintain a safe distance here.

Ronald K. Crockett


I'm afraid so.

Cheaper Route to Boston

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

A few months ago, you published a route from the D.C. area to Boston that avoids the New Jersey Turnpike. I thought I had cut it out but can't find it. Could you print it again?

Don Gleason


Sure. Take the Baltimore Beltway north to Interstate 83 north, then connect to Interstate 81 north near Harrisburg, Pa. This takes you toward Wilkes-Barre and Scranton. At Scranton, turn east on Interstate 84, which will carry you all the way across Connecticut and connect to the Massachusetts Turnpike (Interstate 90) at Sturbridge, Mass. Take the turnpike into Boston, 30 or so miles.

This could take an hour or so longer, although my last correspondent measured the time on this route and on the New Jersey Turnpike way as about the same. Either way, the route you asked for is more scenic and less costly.

Let me know how it turns out.

How to Get Help Mary Curtis of Dayton in Howard County recently had the misfortune to sustain a flat tire and transmission fluid leak when she struck a basketball-size rock on the Beltway during morning rush hour.

Ms. Curtis is miffed that AAA could not respond to her for at least 2 hours and 40 minutes (her husband eventually came to the rescue).

She has several questions for me:

"Why doesn't the AAA tell its members to expect two-hour delays to respond to a call when they join?"

I've had AAA respond in less than two hours; it depends a lot on time of day and weather conditions. A call for help on the Beltway during morning rush hour could easily take two hours.

"What alternatives are available? Do you call 911?"

No. That is generally for more severe emergencies. You might try #77 on a cellular phone. Passersby are generally pretty good about reporting disabled vehicles to police using that number.

"I regularly drive from Maryland through the District to Virginia and I don't know who to call for help in all these areas."

You might look in the Yellow Pages to find some towing companies in the areas that you travel; make a list and keep it in your glove compartment. Also, if you're dissatisfied with AAA, there are other auto clubs that offer roadside service. Sears and Shell come to mind.

Getting stuck on the Beltway in rush hour is no picnic. I welcome reader suggestions.

Extending a Courtesy

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I was recently stopped at the light at Hoadly Road and Dale Boulevard in Prince William County.

A mid-size business truck stopped behind me, and its headlights were beaming directly into my mirrors.

I adjusted the rearview mirror, but the side mirrors were also catching the glare.

I don't know if the driver saw me flip my rearview mirror down to night vision, but he actually turned his headlights down to just his parking lights and left them that way until the traffic light changed, and we were on our way.

It may seem like a small act of kindness, but I definitely appreciated the thought.

Patti Barry


What a nice driver. Wouldn't it be wonderful if others in high vehicles followed his example? I'm glad to know he's out there.

Not All SUVs the Same

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I read with interest your recent columns with readers decrying the width of sport-utility vehicles.

You may want to note that not all SUVs are monsters that take up more than their share of parking spaces. I have a Jeep Grand Cherokee. It is not as wide as my Corvette (72.3 inches compared to 73.6 inches), or a Ford Taurus, for that matter (73 inches).

On the other hand, you have the behemoths like the Ford Excursion at 79.9 inches.

My point: There are SUVs and there are SUVs.

John Drake


Thanks. Good point. But the overwhelming number of complaints about SUVs that I have received dealt with the height of SUVs. People don't like riding behind them because their height blocks a view of the road ahead.

There is more bitterness out there aimed at SUVs than I would have imagined. And it has nothing to do with width.

No 'Smooth' Enforcement

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I have to agree with your other readers that the Smooth Operator law enforcement program is a joke. In response to Christine Hanson's comments [Dr. Gridlock, Dec. 12] about the police doing nothing about reports of aggressive drivers when you call #77 -- I agree 100 percent.

I, too, inquired within the last year why nothing was being done when these reports were received. At the time, my county (Prince William) had a program under which, if you witnessed trash being thrown out of a moving vehicle, you could report the tag and a letter would be sent to the owner's home.

Why couldn't the same program be implemented for aggressive driving, I asked. I was told that:

1) It would be too much administrative work.

2) There is no one to staff the telephone line that would be necessary to take the angry calls from residents who receive the letters.

So, we can have the police contact drivers about garbage but not about life-endangering behavior. How's that for priorities?

Jennifer Dunleavy

Fairfax City

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

It appears from the negative responses you received about Smooth Operator that a lot of drivers do not appreciate the monumental task it is to patrol our area roads. We have some of the nation's busiest highways, with the added difficulty of multiple jurisdictions.

For the most part, aggressive driving is part of living in any crowded urban area.

I, too, have questioned the effectiveness of the police at curbing rude and dangerous driving but realize, in these days of lean budgets, that there are only so many police patrols available to work our highways.

I am appreciative that they respond to accidents and other major events.

The police have an extremely difficult task. We can all help by avoiding driving behavior that can lead to dangerous responses by others:

Be aware of others. Keep right except when passing. Use your turn signals. Drive defensively. Drive with the traffic flow. Share the road.

Derek T. Havens

Mason Neck

Police say voluntary compliance is the only way to bring traffic violations under control. But that doesn't work without a strong law enforcement component. Drivers need to see violators pulled over.

I'd settle for seeing more people pulled over than officers talking with each other in the interstate median strips and in parking lots.

Transportation researcher Diane Mattingly contributed to this column.

Dr. Gridlock appears Sunday in the Metro section and Thursday in Southern Maryland Extra. You can write to Dr. Gridlock, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071. He prefers to receive e-mail, at, 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.