Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I was extremely disappointed in your response to a reader who complained about lack of parking in the city [Dr. Gridlock, Feb 16]. You said she should move: "Why not relocate to a high-rise apartment building in the District, one with a garage space? Or, if that's too expensive, try a high-rise in the close-in suburbs."

Let's ignore for a moment how the suggestion to uproot oneself is unhelpful and relatively impractical. At the very least, it would be like jumping from the frying pan into the fire.

Certainly, the writer would have no problem with parking out in the suburbs. But the trade-off would be that she would be spending an hour or more in gridlock or on the train.

If she endures her current parking situation, presumably she likes living in the District. Indeed, the District has a lot of non-car-related benefits that outweigh any benefits the suburbs have.

I also found your blanket statement that the city is scary at night patently stereotypical and equally unhelpful. If you're suggesting the suburbs are safe, you're preaching a false sense of security.

In fact, I also live on Capitol Hill and have met a number of neighbors at night. Moreover, the few times there have been problems, the neighbors talk and rally and are fully apprised of what's happening.

You could have informed the writer of the option of renting a parking space or at least given her sympathy and statistics so she feels justified in her frustration.

There might be other options. For example, in her neighborhood are services such as Flexcar and Zipcar, which might allow her to give up the expense of her own car without giving up the convenience.

Rather than get up and move to a different set of problems, though, I'd rather find or create solutions where I am. Please be more creative and worldly in the solutions you propose.

Richard Luna


Certainly life in the city has many benefits. But parking is not one of them.

If you can't unload your groceries, or anything else, without risking a $50 ticket for double-parking in front of your home and if you have to walk four blocks alone at night because there are no parking spaces, I suggest moving to somewhere in the city or the suburbs where there is parking.

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

To live without a car in the District, you must start by living near a subway station and a grocery store, and by working near Metro.

But then you must figure out how to get to church or rehearsal or the book group. And you must figure out how to visit your friends, of whom only a small minority live near a subway station.

You need to be able to find a cab easily, and you need to be a Zipcar or Flexcar regular. And it helps if you're unashamed to cadge rides.

If you have children, forget it. Carpools to school, birthday parties and soccer games are impractical with cabs or Flexcar. The best you can hope for is one car for the family, plus bicycle, Metro and Zipcar.

Because a car is essential for everyday needs in Washington, some say we're not a real city, like New York or Chicago. In those cities you can easily live close to work, school and church, using a car only on weekends. Here, even on Capitol Hill, it's impractical.

That's why planners need to concentrate facilities near Metro stations and why residents need to support the necessary upzoning and redevelopment.

Unfortunately, NIMBYism has continually throttled such plans near the Cleveland Park, Van Ness and Tenleytown stations.

Charlie Cerf


Arlington is one of the few jurisdictions to develop vertically along Metro routes. As a result, it has a lot of Metro riders. But because of the population density, it has horrendous parking problems.

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


For more information, visit

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


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?

Taillights Needed in Rain

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 lit, 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


No argument here.

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


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.

Parking Next to SUVs

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

In response to John Horvath's letter [Dr. Gridlock, April 8], has he ever tried backing out of a parking space between two SUVs while in a Honda Civic? His advice suggests that all is fine and dandy in the realm of parking safety as long as you own an SUV. You can't see oncoming traffic through the windows of vehicles parked next to you if you are the little guy.

His other advice -- to park farther out in the parking lot -- is reasonable.

Mind you, I am not completely anti-SUV and own a Subaru Forester after many years of driving a Civic. But I am amazed that, even in the Forester, some of these vehicles still tower over me.

I am amazed that it always seems like the drivers of these giant SUVs don't realize how huge their SUVs are, putting everyone not driving an equally large vehicle at risk.

Building on Horvath's suggestion, perhaps it would be a good policy to add special parking for extra-large SUVs on the outer perimeter of parking lots. That way, there would be less pedestrian traffic in their blind spots, and it would make pulling into and out of parking spaces safer for drivers of conventional cars.

Amanda Nothaft


SUVs come in all shapes and sizes. I cannot imagine how anyone could relegate some of them to parking in outlying areas and have the drivers comply.

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, or faxes, at 703-352-3908. Please include your full name, town, county and day and evening phone numbers.