Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I've recently observed numerous incidents of seemingly healthy, mobile individuals parking in handicap slots.

Although their vehicles have handicap tags, the drivers don't have obvious disabilities. This reached a summit of irritation as I observed two vehicles park in the handicap spaces at a Giant supermarket and the drivers briskly walk into the store. If they had any handicap, it was not readily apparent.

A few minutes later, I watched a fellow in a wheelchair have to navigate the parking lot to get to the store because all the handicap spaces were full.

This is the height of the selfish, me-first attitude we observe in the area all the time. Is there not a law against this? Is there anything someone can do about this abuse?

I can't believe the audacity, laziness and lack of caring for a fellow individual exhibited by the people who do this. A $10,000 fine and a public lashing would be appropriate.

Anyone else ever observe that kind of behavior?

Dave McDonald

Woodbridge

First, a word of caution. Two of the biggest health concerns we have, heart problems and cancer, might not be apparent. We cannot assume these alleged interlopers don't have a disability, even if they are walking briskly.

If they have handicap license plates, as these did, they seem entitled to park in the designated handicap spots.

Spaces for people with disabilities are plainly marked and include a notice of a hefty fine for violators. Those spaces work best if healthy drivers observe the rules.

Taillights Provide Visibility

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

It's not the lack of headlights that bothers me during rain, but rather the fact that when the headlights aren't on, the taillights aren't, either. Taillights are most important during poor visibility.

With all the other safety features required on vehicles today, why not the simple one of automatically turning on headlights (and taillights) when the wipers turn on?

Emil Klingenfus

Manassas

No argument here.

Costly Parking Woes

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I started parking in the garage at my office building in Northwest Washington. I pay almost $200 a month, three times as much as the cost of commuting on Metro. But I have a new baby and think the ability to get to the caregiver at a moment's notice is worth the additional cost.

Having said that, the parking garage is the most stressful part of my day. Every space, ramp and aisle is so full you can barely drive. I spend 15 to 20 minutes most days waiting for the parking attendants to move cars so I can get mine out.

One day at lunchtime I went to retrieve something in my car. If there had been an emergency and I had to get to the babysitter's to get my daughter, the attendants would have had to move 15 cars (not in spaces) so I could have gotten mine out.

Mary K. Dillon

Arlington

My sympathies. Contact Commuter Connections, 800-745-RIDE or www.commuterconnections.org. Ask about the guaranteed ride home in emergencies.

If you take public transit or carpool to work, this program will pay for a ride home by taxi or some other method, up to four times a year, for a home emergency or unscheduled overtime.

You can take Metro, or they'll match you up with a carpool, which should be easy in Arlington.

Let me know if this works out.

Route 110 Updates

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I noticed an inquiry in your April 26 chat online asking about the construction on Route 110 near the Pentagon.

There's a Pentagon renovation and construction Web site that has information about that and the other projects at the Pentagon: http://renovation.pentagon.mil/. Scroll down to "Projects" and click on "Roads, Grounds, and Security." That will take you to the section that describes what's planned and what's completed. It also offers other information, including maps of the project.

David Beck

Arlington

Thanks for the tip. Several readers have been asking about the status of the Route 110 construction around the Pentagon.

I've talked to Department of Defense officials. The Pentagon has marked more than $100 million for transportation security improvements since Sept. 11, 2001. Part of that package is rerouting Route 110, which is a major access road to the Pentagon and a link between Interstates 395 and 66.

The new Route 110 will be built farther from the Pentagon. Work there should be completed in early July, well ahead of schedule. The old road will be converted to parking.

A new transit center has been built near Pentagon parking. Buses used to be able to park within a few feet of the Pentagon building.

A new truck interchange has been built along Route 27, to go with a remote truck center for pickups and deliveries.

Once Route 110 is relocated, the Pentagon will no longer need to pay Virginia State Police overtime to block trucks from using the road. That had been costing the Defense Department more than $3 million a year.

Paying for Order

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Regarding grocery stores that use the quarter deposit system to get customers to return their carts: I lived in San Francisco, and all the Safeway stores I frequented used that system. It worked great, though not perfectly. I'm not sure why Safeway hasn't brought that system here.

Debra Goldstein

Alexandria

XM Radio

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I was happy to see your suggestion of XM Satellite Radio for its 24-hour traffic updates [Dr. Gridlock, April 8]. I began subscribing to it six months ago and have never thought twice about the $9.95 monthly fee.

I carry the portable unit from my home stereo to my car to my office. I listen to it all day. I always find a station to suit my mood.

The addition of XM instant traffic and weather has been great. Once I know the status of my commute, I like to listen to the rush-hour information for other cities -- and, in most cases, be glad I'm not there!

Susan Zelenka

Arlington

For more information, visit www.xmradio.com/index.jsp.

Scenic Way to New York

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Recently, you provided an alternative route to New York City from Loudoun County that avoided the heavy tolls and monotony of the Interstate 95 corridor.

I took my family to New York for spring break and decided to follow your directions for the trip up and take the traditional route (New Jersey Turnpike to I-95) for the trip back.

For the trip up, I took Route 7 west to Route 15 north to Route 581 east in Harrisburg, Pa. From 581 I exited onto I-83 north, then took I-81 north, then took I-78 east (Allentown, Pa.) all the way to the New Jersey Turnpike, as you suggested. The total driving distance was 281 miles, 20 miles longer than the traditional route home.

Both trips took 4.5 hours of driving time. More important, the alternative route was a much more scenic and relaxing drive, as most of it is through rolling farmland without heavy traffic.

It was also cheaper; the only toll I paid was $1 for the short trip up the New Jersey Turnpike to the Lincoln Tunnel. The tolls on the traditional route were $15.

I highly recommend the alternative route, particularly during congested times. It's a little bit longer, but a much more enjoyable ride.

Thanks for the tip.

Jim Pearce

Ashburn

And thanks for the feedback. I'd like to hear from others as well.

Parking Dibs

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

This has happened to me twice in the past month, the first time at Tysons Corner Center and the second time at the Tysons Galleria mall.

Parking is always hard to find at either mall, so rather than just drive around aimlessly, I waited in the lot for someone to leave. Each time, someone was returning to the car in the row I was waiting in, and both times, another driver came zooming in from another area of the lot to "claim" the spot.

I have always been under the impression that it was understood that the driver already waiting in that row has dibs on the spot about to open up. I guess no one else told those two.

The first time, the driver drove around me, cut me off and took the spot. The second time, the driver tried the same tactic, but my "dirty look" persuaded her to find another spot.

What's your opinion? Does the person waiting patiently in a row deserve the spot?

Steve Rothenberg

Lansdowne

Yes, but first it must be made clear that the vehicle is waiting for that spot. That can be done by waiting in the aisle, adjacent to the vehicle pulling out, with your turn signal on.

If others aren't sure of your intentions, we can't blame them for their me-first attitude. If they are, shame on them.

Anyone have any other ideas to thwart parking space pilferers?

Police Help Move Traffic

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I am an employee at the Patriot Center in Fairfax County. I have worked parking there for nine years. I recently read that you are against off-duty police officers working in uniform at concert venues.

Concertgoers give little or no respect to the parking staff members who are giving them directions on where and when to go. If it were not for the police, it would take twice as long to get the lots cleared after a show. Police are there to operate traffic lights, direct traffic at busy intersections and arrest people who break the law.

I am glad they are there, as it makes everything run more smoothly, for myself as an employee and for the patrons who get home much faster.

Allan Richards

Leesburg

I generally don't believe in private enterprise being able to rent police, in uniform and in cruisers, for an event. In those instances, sworn, armed officers become accountable to the people who rented them.

Then you get officers sometimes not acting for the public good, but instead directing traffic for the benefit of the group that is paying them.

An example is a Fairfax County police lieutenant who reconfigured traffic flow on busy Route 29 to allow drivers to enter the drive-through lane at a Taco Bell, which was paying him.

You can make a case that the Patriot Center is part of George Mason University, a state institution, and therefore I should waive my concerns. And I probably would, but not for profit-making enterprises.

Adding a Lane as Needed

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I moved to the area in 1995. Since I have been here, there has been a large vehicle of some sort parked on the Theodore Roosevelt Bridge near the E Street exit.

What is that, and why has it been there so long? It does not seem to serve any purpose, except as a distraction.

Alexandra Simpson

Fairfax

Oh, but it does serve a purpose. The machine moves the Jersey barriers in the bridge median to allow for one more lane in the direction of rush-hour traffic.

In the morning, the bridge is four lanes eastbound and three lanes westbound. In the evening, it is four lanes westbound and three eastbound.

That is a huge benefit to Virginia commuters. The bridge is owned by the District. The Virginia Department of Transportation pays for the machine and the driver.

Transportation researcher Diane Mattingly contributed to this column.

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