Dear Dr. Gridlock:

It sounds like your reader complaining of bright lights from the SUV behind him is just another transplant into the highly populated urban, metropolitan City of Manassas.

He also doesn't appear to be familiar with the ride height of a typical four-wheel-drive truck, which will appear to always have the high beams lit. Here's a hint: Flip that little tab mounted to the bottom of your rearview mirror and quit complaining.

Glenn Dayoan

Manassas

No Way Around HOV-3

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

A friend who owns a two-seat vehicle had an interesting question recently: If HOV-3 restrictions require three occupants for a vehicle to legally use the lane, and a particular vehicle has seating for only two passengers (think Mazda Miata), can the two-seater use HOV-3 lanes if both seats are occupied?

My hunch is no. Buy a two-seater, and you're tough out of luck with the diamond lanes. Then again, a motorcycle doesn't require more than one rider to legally use HOV-2 or HOV-3.

What does the law say?

Also, do pregnant women count for HOV-2?

Nate Macek

Arlington

Your hunch is right. No two-seaters in the HOV-3 lanes. Motorcycles get an exemption because the powerful motorcycle lobby pressed for it in Richmond. Besides, motorcycling is a space-saving, less expensive and lower-pollution form of transportation that should be encouraged.

Nice try, but pregnancies do not count toward HOV-2.

HOV Exception for Hybrids

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I just bought a Honda Civic Hybrid for the express purpose of commuting by myself via HOV-2 on I-66 from McLean into the District every day.

I have an erratic schedule, and buying this car (for $22,000) was the best way to cut down on my hour-long commute. Plus, it gets 50 miles per gallon, so with a 13-gallon tank I have to refill it only every 600 miles.

But when I read the VDOT Web site, it said that cars like mine "are permitted to use HOV lanes until July 1, 2004."

My question is, what happens after July 2004? Is there a law somewhere that expires, and in two years will I no longer be able to drive my hybrid on I-66 into the District in the mornings?

Anna Aaron

McLean

The legislation that exempts hybrid cars from HOV rules does indeed lapse in 2004. Lawmakers wanted a chance to study the impact. The folks I talked to at VDOT say they expect the law to be renewed. Seems to me it is in the public interest. But that's no guarantee. If things head south on that front, you'll still have a vehicle that gets 50 miles per gallon.

How do you folks like your hybrids? Pros and cons?

Mysterious Machine

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

What's up with the machine that sits at the edge of the Theodore Roosevelt Bridge, as I-66 moves into the District?

It looks like it's used to make Jersey walls, but it doesn't seem to have moved for several years. Just curious.

Chris Kyer

Manassas

It moves Jersey walls. The Roosevelt Bridge has seven lanes; the machine moves the dividing wall so there are always four lanes for rush hour traffic. A pretty cheap, clever way to get an extra lane during rush hours.

I see the machine usually parked on the D.C. side of the bridge. Virginia picks up the tab for the operation.

FBI Agent's Good Deed

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

My car died last Friday on the shoulder of I-295 south, right before the exit to the Wilson Bridge. It was 5:30 p.m. and cold, very cold.

After sitting in my car for an hour with my emergency lights flashing, I got out of my car with a white handkerchief. Soon a car responded to my waving. I asked the driver to call AAA for me, but he didn't have a phone. He pointed out a police car with flashing lights on the median about a quarter-mile north.

I walked up the shoulder of the road and waited for traffic to break so I could cross. After crossing, I walked up to the car, noticing that it was unmarked, and the driver was not in uniform. However, the officer was discussing a recent bank robbery on the phone.

I asked the officer to call AAA, and he said he would after he finished his calls. He invited me to sit in the back of his car. After calling AAA (6:48 p.m.), he found that it would be about an hour before the tow truck would arrive.

He said that he was on his way home, but that he would drive me back to my car, and he let me wait in his car until the tow truck came. I was (and still am) very grateful.

I asked for his card and discovered that he was an FBI agent. We waited and waited for AAA. Several times I offered to just sit in my car, but he insisted it was too cold.

He made sure I called my wife so that she wouldn't be worried. Finally, at 10 p.m., the tow truck arrived. Then, and only then, did he drive away, knowing that I was taken care of. I have his card, but he did not want to be identified.

This FBI agent was the embodiment of the good Samaritan.

Phillip Thompson

Springfield

Dr. Gridlock, awash with stories of tailgaters, left-lane hoggers, HOV violators, speeders and road ragers, cannot get enough of good Samaritan stories. Thank you.

Valet Service

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I was surprised to receive a notice from the District saying that since I had not paid a $50 parking fine, a $50 penalty had been added to the fine.

After looking at the notice, I realized that my car had received the ticket while my wife and I were at dinner at a restaurant (Kinkead's) in downtown D.C.

I called the restaurant and they gave me the number of the company that handles their valet parking (Federal Valet Car Parking).

I called the valet parking company and they very nicely told me to fax them a copy of the parking fine and they would take care of it, and send me a copy of their response.

Within an hour or so, I received a fax from the valet company with a nice note and a copy of the check that they had sent to the D.C. treasurer.

I would recommend that anyone receiving a ticket while using valet parking contact the restaurant immediately.

At least in my case, my problem was handled quickly and very professionally.

I am sure that many downtown D.C. restaurants have valet parking and they do not want to lose customers who use that necessary service.

Don Wolkerstorfer

Arlington

These things happen with valet parking, and I've heard many stories of restaurants and valet parking services helping their customers in this situation.

Escalator 'Disaster'

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

The Metro escalator system is not merely "inconsistent" (your gentle modifier). It has been a disaster almost from the beginning. The low-bidder mandate meant a contractor not exactly famous for escalators (Westinghouse), and an incomprehensible maintenance contract set it free of responsibility after two or three years. It has never improved.

Your readers recently noted that escalators are often turned off, and this, too, has been the case since the beginning of the system. It is absurd.

One obvious solution, available from the inception of the system (since I observed it in Germany in the early 1970s) is to have a metal plate at the entrance point of the escalator which, when stepped on, activates the escalator. When the escalator has no riders, sensors turn it off. It would save energy as well as maintenance.

Has it never been suggested?

Escalators are, I believe, the biggest failure in the Metro system.

William Kloss

Washington

No argument here. At some point, the leadership of Metro should be held accountable. When Metro commissions an outside group of experts to study the failed escalator system for six months, then shelves the results in favor of yet more study, one might raise an eyebrow.

Germany, Italy and Belgium use the passenger-activated escalator system. Metro has rejected the idea.

Banning Cell Phones

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I have to go along with the suggestion to ban cell phones on Metro. Enough, already!

If folks on cell phones are annoying so many people, then a blanket ban is not unwarranted.

No, we don't know why each and every person has a cell phone -- and it doesn't matter.

I'm sorry your reader J.D. Walker has an ill family member, but there's nothing that can be done while on the train, and J.D. would have to wait until he/she got off to do anything, anyway.

The point is, we got along just fine without cell phones in the not-too-distant past, and we can do so now. Especially for 30 to 60 minutes at a stretch.

Jackie Salazar

Riverdale

I especially appreciate cell phone calls in movie theaters and at restaurants. The loud, one-sided personal conversations help me enjoy the experience.

Transportation researcher Diane Mattingly contributed to this column.

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