Dear Dr. Gridlock:

While I agree that there is minimal/no police enforcement of speeding on the Beltway, the suggestion by Mr. Robert O. Ruhling [Dr. Gridlock, Jan. 2] to reduce the speed limit from 55 mph to 45 mph is patently absurd.

That already low 55-mph speed limit was set decades ago only because there was a rubber shortage [in an attempt] to conserve tires longer. As such, it is now outdated and insufficient.

While I agree 75 mph-plus is unsafe, there is nothing wrong or unsafe about cruising at 65 mph like most every other highway in America these days. The speed limit should be moved up 10 mph, not down. Officials have done this on other roads (Dulles Greenway, for example), and the results do not show that speeders just go an additional 10 mph faster.

At the least, there should be a non-rush hour speed limit of 65 mph on the Beltway. Moving it down will only exacerbate the problem and difference in driver speeds, which is what causes accidents and tailgating.

Kyle W. Thompson

Leesburg

Mr. Ruhling's point was that by lowering the Beltway speed limit to 45 mph, drivers who usually exceed the speed limit by 10 mph would then be in the 55-mph range authorities had set for the Beltway.

By the way, I don't know anything about a rubber shortage. I thought the speed limits were set on an interstate highway according to its proximity to a major metropolitan area. A road such as the Beltway, or Interstate 95 through Richmond, is 55 mph, while a road such as Interstate 295 around Richmond is 65 mph.

I-95 Speeding

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I read with great interest the letter from Susan Brown of Mechanicsville in Hanover County about her experience on Interstate 95 between Richmond and Fredericksburg. I can vouch for the accuracy of her comments.

As my daughter is a freshman at Virginia Commonwealth University, we frequently drive between Dumfries and Richmond. That stretch of I-95 is like the Wild West. Traffic laws are violated with impunity, and law enforcement is rarely, if ever, seen.

Speeding and aggressive driving are rampant. Perhaps the Virginia State Police avoid that stretch of road because there would be no sport in catching violators -- just like shooting fish in a barrel!

I encourage any trooper with a quota to fill to spend a few hours on I-95 North from Richmond to Woodbridge.

By the way, I don't buy the excuse that there aren't enough troopers to go around. Virginia should just hire more, as the fines should more than offset the cost. If not, increase the amount of the fines! In my opinion, Virginia owes the law-abiding driving public a safer driving experience than exists today.

Ron Buchholz

Dumfries

I have made a few trips up and down I-95, and I most dread the segment you cite, Mr. Buchholz. You've got rampant speeding and lane weaving to the point that it is not clear which lane, if any, is safe.

This is what happens when there is insufficient law enforcement and drivers don't care.

Not a Scofflaw

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I just wanted to let you know that some alternative fuel vehicles (AFVs), including hybrid vehicles, qualify for clean fuel license plates from Virginia DMV that legally allow them to use the HOV lanes in Virginia with only single occupancy.

I drive a propane-powered truck that has the clean fuel plates, and people use obscene gestures when I legally drive in the HOV lanes by myself!

Could you spread the word that I'm not a scofflaw, just an environmentalist!

Greg Zilberfarb

Leesburg

Consider it done.

A Clear Signal

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

When I want to change lanes, I engage the turn signal. This is a cue for all drivers in the next lane to speed up and forbid me to make the lane change. After the speedsters pass me, there is always a clear and abundant space for me to pull over leisurely to the next lane.

I also use turn signals to clear the road behind and near me. For example, cars usually travel in groups -- or, as I refer to them, in herds. While traveling on a two-lane highway amid the herd, I use my turn signal. This is the stimulus for the herd to (1) not let me change lanes and (2) speed up and pass me.

Always works, never fails.

Salvatore N. Desimone

Fort Washington

Thanks for the tip.

Metro Car Proposals

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I am a senior citizen rider of Metrorail and have a 30-minute ride from West Falls Church to L'Enfant Plaza. If I have to stand, I do not want to hold an overhead rail because my arm gets numb. My votes on proposed Metro car changes:

* Bench seating -- no, no, no. Don't take away comforts. Cheaper than buying more cars but raise fares instead of taking a step back.

* Remove vertical stanchions near the doors. Okay, but leave at least one. When moving toward a door with the train in motion, I want something to grab when the train lurches.

* Seat-back-to-ceiling handrails. Yes.

* Elimination of windscreens near the doors. No. Would not improve access very much and allows cold blasts at above ground stations.

It seems almost impossible to keep passengers from standing near the doors. People going one or two stops do not want to struggle to get back to the door a few minutes after boarding. Have any other rail systems had any success with this problem?

Better periodic maintenance is needed with the public address systems. They are loud and clear on some cars and inaudible in others.

Bill Doole

Vienna

I also would like to know how other rail systems prevent customers from bunching near the doors.

Ban It All?

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

You advocated not using cell phones while driving. Why not also put away cigarettes, food, soft drinks, hot coffee, lipstick, combs and CDs? Why single out cell phones?

I've seen many studies on driver distractions. The one most meaningful to me is that accident rates have actually gone down since "everyone" got cell phones. To me, this does not mean that cell phones reduce accidents but rather that if cell phones were so dangerous, then as cell phone use climbed, so would have accidents.

Ric Rawson

McLean

It's hard for me to believe that using cell phones increases traffic safety. I say ban them, simply from my own experience. There is dangerous lane drifting while using them. New York state has banned them. I think it's just a matter of time before that law reaches our area.

Cheaper E-ZPass

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I just returned from New York City and was reading that some of your readers are being charged a maintenance fee of $1 a month for their E-ZPass. I have had an E-ZPass for three years and have been billed only for tolls.

I called up the New York service center and verified that it does not charge such a fee. Here is a link to terms and conditions for the E-ZPass issued by New York: www.e-zpassny.com/static/terms/2002.pdf.

The problem may be that other issuing authorities may impose fees if one has an account with them. I would suggest your readers contact the New York service center at 800-333-TOLL if they are interested in getting an E-Z Pass. I might add that having E-ZPass these last few years has saved me a lot of time and money.

Bill Pollack

Burke

I'm getting lots of questions about E-ZPass, the system by which users speed through toll facilities with tolls deducted from a transponder.

New Jersey is the state that has imposed the $1 monthly surcharge, supposedly to cover unexpected administrative costs. I'd call or link to the New York center if there are further questions.

Escalating Woes No More

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

When I was in a German train station, they had escalators that turned on when a person stepped on a large floor panel on approach to the top or bottom. Otherwise, during long periods of non-use, they would automatically shut down.

I know there might be maintenance issues of turning on and off the power, but there have been plenty of times I've seen a Metro escalator running into the night with no one around.

Christopher Dwyer

Alexandria

A reader cited the same in Italy. Metro said it is against federal law to use such escalators. Seems like an energy/wear-and-tear saver to me. Has anyone seen them in this country?

Transportation researcher Diane Mattingly contributed to this column.

Dr. Gridlock appears Sunday in the Metro section and Thursday in Loudoun 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.