Dear Dr. Gridlock:

The HOV lane on Interstate 270 is a joke. Every day I sit in the non-HOV lanes and watch car after car whiz by in the HOV lane with one driver, no passengers. Yesterday I counted eight cars in a row with only a driver.

Unfortunately, when officers do sit on the shoulders on I-270 to catch the violators, it gums up traffic.

Why not place cameras (similar to those that catch red-light runners) along the HOV stretch to catch violators? Nothing is more irritating to me than sitting in the parking lot of I-270 during rush hour while these folks speed by in the HOV lane.

Katherine M. Glenn

Bethesda

The doctor feels your pain. There are a couple of problems with using a camera to detect HOV violators. I have stood on a bridge overlooking the Interstate 66 HOV lanes, and you can't see from that angle into the back seat. Nor, I suspect, could a camera at any angle see an infant in a car seat, or a small child below window level. Plus, some of these sport-utility vehicles have windows so dark you can't see inside if you're standing next to them.

Effective enforcement of HOV lanes has proved difficult. Either the state doesn't build room to pull violators over (such as on I-66), or police pulling over a violator cause more congestion from rubberneckers.

Maryland is moving to simplify enforcement by making HOV lanes on Route 50 in effect all the time (no hours to remember) and by studying a concept called express toll lanes.

Those would be separated by barriers from conventional lanes and would offer everyone a chance to travel faster for a fee. They would not be HOV lanes.

The state is looking at building two lanes in each direction in the I-270 corridor as well as on Interstate 95 between the Washington and Baltimore beltways.

Virginia is studying similar toll lanes, only they would be HOV lanes, requiring continuous enforcement. I think Maryland might be onto something.

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I am commuting every day from Frederick to Washington by Interstate 270, the Beltway south and George Washington Parkway. I have a question regarding the HOV-2 lanes on I-270. Can I drive on the HOV lane with my infant?

My daughter is 4 months old. Somebody told me that I can, but somebody else told me that I cannot. It is confusing me. Could you give me an idea, Dr. Gridlock?

Hungcuong Van Nguyen

Frederick

Any living person in your vehicle counts toward HOV-2 restrictions. So you and your daughter are fine. You can use the express lanes.

Roadside Perils

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

The tragic death of the trooper who was killed after writing a traffic citation on Route 50 is an example once again of the danger of stopping on highly traveled highways for relatively minor incidents.

Stopping should be permitted only when bodily injury or immobile vehicles are involved. Stopping to write citations, change tires, etc., is simply too dangerous on these busy roads. This change of policy not only would save the lives of police officers and others, but would have a side benefit of preventing the traffic tie-ups these stops can cause.

By the way, this idea is not new and should have been enacted years ago.

Jack D. Francis

Gaithersburg

You're right. It's just too dangerous to stop at the side of many of our roads. That is why, I think, police are reluctant to pull people over on the Beltway.

A crash involving a speeding driver and a stopped motorist is only a brief distraction away. I recall an accident some years ago in which a woman on the Virginia Beltway looked to the back seat to check on a child, ran off the road and struck the back of a parked truck. Her car slid under the truck, and she was decapitated, with her unhurt child still strapped in a car seat.

You've underscored a point with me, Mr. Francis. I would like to see motorists pull off busy highways and get to a parking lot or side streets when pursued by officers -- and officers who let them.

Parking Garage Woes

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Here's a question inspired by a scene in a Bethesda parking garage, in the heart of the restaurant/theater complex around Woodmont Avenue:

The world's largest SUV insists on waiting for a space near the entrance, thus blocking more than 20 other cars coming in from both directions.

Said SUV then tries, repeatedly and unsuccessfully, to squeeze into the space. When the driver gives up and we all begin to move, I find, as I had suspected, that the top two levels of the garage are nearly empty.

I call this behavior unthinking, inconsiderate and stupid, but surely someone else can come up with a more clever name for it!

Ellen Paul

Chevy Chase

It's amazing how many motorists creep along trying to find a space on the main level when, as you point out, the top levels have plenty of parking. There are almost always elevators serving the top levels, too.

Braking for Animals

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Based on your "Duckling Alert" story in the July 11 Metro section, I have to ask if Dr. Gridlock might have lost his mind?

You say that you "saw . . . goslings crossing I-66 and slammed on [your] brakes"? I take it that your choice of the word "slammed" meant that you, and the traffic around you, were traveling at a reasonably high speed at the time, in which case you were right to worry about a rear-end collision.

I have nothing against people stopping to allow wildlife to cross roads when it is clearly safe to do so (i.e., when you are the only person on the road, or it is very slow-moving traffic).

However, Dr. Gridlock would be doing drivers in this area a disservice if he didn't remind people that their first responsibility is to protect themselves, their passengers and other people on the road, not goslings, squirrels, cats, dogs, etc.

I hope to never be the driver behind such a good Samaritan, who would likely give me no warning that he/she was about to slam on the brakes; the small animal would likely be shielded from my line of sight.

In this area, this is an particularly important point for young drivers to come to grips with early.

Matthew A. Mitchell

Gaithersburg

You're right. As difficult as it may be, motorists may have to strike an animal to avoid an accident.

During driver training, one of my daughters was driving on a two-lane road with no shoulders (Virginia Route 50) when a rabbit ran onto the road. She simply had no other choice, and I commended her for not swerving into a car or a tree to spare the animal.

When I stopped for the mother and goslings, by the way, all the other traffic was slowing, too, so it was clear something was going on. Once I stopped, I could see the procession across I-66 and felt good that nature could prevail in the land of the internal combustion engine.

Trapped, but Rescued

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I have a good Samaritan story I'd like to share.

On June 17, I was traveling home via the road leading from Rock Creek Golf Course in Washington to Beach Drive when a tree fell on my car.

Two passersby, one on foot with his dog and another in a vehicle, stopped to see if I was all right. They were able to direct me to move my car back a bit so I could get out of it, as the tree had me trapped.

U.S. Park Police and D.C. fire and rescue arrived soon after and were all wonderful.

Officer Clark put me at ease, and Officer Duran was kind enough to give me a ride to the Silver Spring Metro, so I was able to get home. Fortunately, I escaped relatively unscathed, and for that, I feel truly blessed.

I just wanted to say a big thank you to all the folks who helped me that evening.

Linda Kangas

Kensington

Metro Congestion

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

At the ends of most Metro cars, there is a section without seats so that bikes, wheelchairs and large baby strollers can be accommodated. On the middle doors of some cars, there are small decals indicating that bikes should not enter by those doors. Why not add pictures of wheelchairs and strollers also, directing them to enter at the end doors?

On returning from a doctor's appointment, I witnessed a woman in a wheelchair almost panic when she came to her stop and was unable to get past the vertical pole at the center door. Passengers helped her. Not only was she disturbed; without help, she might have missed her stop. Moreover, her wheelchair blocked two seats for other disabled or senior passengers who may have needed those seats. The car was crowded.

On that same day, when I changed trains, I encountered a woman with a huge baby stroller seated in the priority seating and blocking the seat next to her with the stroller. This car was very crowded.

As a senior with arthritis, osteoporosis and other health concerns, I find it difficult to stand, so I asked that the passenger move the stroller slightly to let me squeeze into the seat. She did so, but muttered annoyance.

Had the woman in the wheelchair and the one with the stroller entered the cars at one of the ends, both they and other passengers would have been better served.

Grace C. Cooper

Lewisdale

Thanks for the tip. If there is extra space at the ends of cars, passengers with strollers, wheelchairs, backpacks and bikes might be better off using those places.

If they are still bunching up at the middle doors, I wonder if it would make sense for you to get away from that congestion and sit at the ends of the cars.

Metro's Sign Outages

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Why are the Metro overhead arrival signs so frequently not functioning or not functioning properly, especially for the Red Line at Van Ness going south, the Yellow Line headed toward Huntington at Gallery Place, and all of the signs at Reagan National Airport, which rarely work?

At Gallery Place, the Green Line signs operate perfectly. The Yellow Line is ignored except when the train enters the station.

As soon as the Green Line train leaves that station for Branch Avenue, another message pops up immediately telling the wait time for the next Green Line train, when it should let passengers know what the wait time is for the Yellow Line train.

Carol Woodard

Washington

Consider this, Ms. Woodard: Metro is an agency that has had no idea how much money had been collected from its parking lots and had no idea what it was owed. That went on for years and led to a significant loss of revenue.

To cure the problem, the agency decided to eliminate cash transactions and force customers to buy a SmarTrip card for $5, and use that -- and that alone -- for parking transactions.

However, once the new policy was announced and the public started buying the SmarTrip cards, Metro discovered it didn't have enough cards.

Now you're reporting all sorts of cockeyed signs. I ask you, considering the above, are we surprised?

I'm beginning to wonder if Metro's problems are deeper than just lack of enough dedicated revenue.

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 at 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071. He prefers to receive e-mail, at drgridlock@washpost.com, or faxes, at 703-352-3908. Include your full name, town, county and day and evening phone numbers.