Dear Dr. Gridlock:

You asked if HOV lanes are a failure. The answer is a resounding yes.

The purpose of HOV lanes is to reduce pollution from vehicles by encouraging carpooling. Carpoolers are rewarded with faster commute times than non-carpoolers. The idea sounds great in theory but is a complete failure.

HOV lanes are underutilized. The existence of a lane or lanes not being used to capacity means that the bulk of traffic is spending more time than necessary on the road, resulting in more pollution.

In many cases, HOV users are forced to cross multiple lanes of traffic to access HOV lanes and to exit the highway. The crossing of multiple lanes slows traffic tremendously, causes accidents and means longer commutes for the bulk of traffic, resulting in more pollution. And police enforcement of HOV compliance, whether it's an actual violation stop or simply an officer sitting in the median, causes more traffic delay.

HOV is a failure.

Keith Towery

Gainesville

You make some points here. But the one I'm most interested in is whether HOV lanes are still faster than conventional lanes or have they become just as congested, the result of a failure to enforce the HOV restrictions.

HOV lanes, as imperfect as they are, still move more people than the adjacent conventional lanes. Getting people into carpools, vans and buses should result in less pollution than if commuters drive alone.

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

The HOV lanes on I-395/95 are definitely not a failure. I think since they are separate from the regular lanes, they work better than the I-66 lane. Once you get on the I-95 HOV lanes, you can't get off until the Pentagon.

They are almost always clear, which means the buses that use them can have predictable schedules. They should never turn those lanes into a toll road, because then they would fill up and the bus schedules would be thrown off.

Patricia Alexander

Woodbridge

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

You ask: "I'm beginning to wonder whether the HOV lanes are a failure. Are they?"

I think you already know that the answer is implicit in the question.

I've ridden the Shirley Highway, morning and evening, since 1985. It's been clear to me, for many years, that the number of HOV violators is consistently around 40 percent. The infrequent attempts by various police agencies to enforce the restrictions cause as many traffic problems as they attempt to solve.

Until a group of non-government professionals -- perhaps you, radio station traffic reporters and the like -- decides to assume a leadership position and generate a politically directed groundswell among the citizenry toward solutions, things will continue to deteriorate.

Leadership is the key, and it's not going to come from anyone in government.

So, from where I sit -- you're it!

K. C. Nelson

Lorton

Thanks for the nomination. I don't believe I've got that power. I can't even get the Virginia Department of Transportation to erect overhead signs along with its traffic lights, an inexpensive and helpful gesture to motorists.

With the HOV violators, I'll keep running your complaints and looking for the impact of cheaters, such as gridlocked HOV lanes.

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I was gratified to read your expression of wonder about the obvious failure of the HOV concept in this area. It has been evident for a long time that creating additional lanes for traffic and then denying their use to the majority of motorists was a bad idea, notwithstanding all the hype about carpooling, fuel and environmental savings, etc.

The idea itself flies in the face of the ethic of "the greatest good for the greatest number." Perhaps we may live to see HOV lanes become available to all motorists in our lifetimes.

Mike Motsko

Springfield

The only thing I can see that will doom HOV lanes is if the number of violators creates the same amount of congestion in the HOV lanes as in conventional lanes.

Showing Riders the Door

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I board the Blue Line at Rosslyn in the evening, and there is often a great deal of people disembarking so they can change to the Orange Line. It takes time to let them get off, and I have heard the doors-closing chime before everyone has gotten off. I grew up in Philadelphia and took the "el" to school every day. I remember people blocking your way as you tried to get off, but never did I see the doors close before everyone had boarded.

Raymond Alwine

Woodbridge

Welcome to Metro.

Litterbugs Should Be Squashed

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Just read your column that contained a piece on littering. That is also one of my pet peeves! I do not understand why we, as citizens who witness a crime being committed (littering is a crime), cannot report the offender to the appropriate law enforcement officials and have the miscreant arrested.

It wouldn't take a lot of arrests before some, at least, would get the message and quit trashing our environment. But I guess you just can't trust us common citizens, now, can you?

John Drake

Sterling

The problem with a citizen alerting authorities about a litterer is what you do when the litterer denies the transgression and no law enforcement official saw it. That said, I'm with you in spirit.

'Compact' SUVs?

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I would like to bring this parking-related issue to your attention.

Many underground garages in the area have spots clearly marked for "compact cars only." These spaces are usually between cement pillars, at bad angles and extra small.

Since when are SUVs or large pickups considered compact cars? Aren't these vehicles bought specifically for their enormous size? What are they doing in the section for compact cars only? And why must they use up 11/2 spaces to get their monstrous vehicles into these tight parking spots? Awful manners. And awful parking to boot.

Please ask them to leave space for cars that are actually compact.

Amy Wilson

Arlington

You already have. Feel free to report these oafs to the garage attendant.

Bad Behavior

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Many of us have had to read, usually with disgust, letters from readers who either won't let drivers merge when they don't meet their somewhat twisted criteria or who simply can't be delayed because they might let another car enter the traffic ahead of them. When a car in front of you signals, even in heavy traffic, let them in! Otherwise, they may be the car forced later to make a rather tenuous move in front of someone else. Or worse, your car.

The single biggest reason, in my humble opinion, for traffic difficulty in our area is the way people choose to drive. Gone are the days when you always signaled a lane change. Or used the left lane for passing, instead of making many left lanes the slow or, in worse cases, the "speed limit vigilante" lane.

Remember when flashing your brights behind the car in front of you meant that you wanted to pass? Today, you're lucky if flashing your lights doesn't encourage road rage.

If people merely took the time to drive with some regard of the laws on the books, I don't think we would have the problems we do today. And it could start with merging.

Mark L. Solomon

Vienna

Transportation researcher Diane Mattingly contributed to this column.

Dr. Gridlock appears Sunday in the Metro section and Thursday in Prince William 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.