Dear Dr. Gridlock:

On July 10, I made a statement to the Arlington County Board, drawing on your Dec. 11, 2003, column about unreserved parking in high-rise buildings.

Your statement, which I credited and quoted in full, was: "I don't recommend moving into a high-rise unless there is reserved parking for you and your guests. . . . Although Arlington is a highly desirable area for its close-in location and access to Metro, residents with a vehicle -- and their motoring visitors -- are subject to run-ins with towing companies."

The context of my statement was part of community opposition to a proposed 15-floor affordable-housing (formerly low-rent, formerly public housing) project touted as space for teachers, policemen, firemen and nurses.

The parking assumption is that only 89 percent of these folks will have vehicles, because only 89 percent of a parking place is provided for each unit.

The parking places will not be reserved, but some will be designated for compact vehicles and handicapped drivers. Some are also "tandem" spaces, which is an architectural term that indicates a parking place accessible only through another parking place, or perhaps through the wall of the structure.

By the time the compact, handicapped and tandem spots are removed from the possible parking places, the odds start to look rather grim. This is where alternative creative parking and the towing companies enter the picture.

The Arlington County assumption seems to be that Metro has an infinite absorptive capacity, because that is the justification for providing only 89 percent of a parking place for each unit.

The recent flap about two-car trains shows that the simple presence of Metro in the general area does not mean there will be space for human beings on trains.

Again, thanks for your contribution to a good cause, that of reserved parking for all residents. The milk of human kindness sours quickly when parking becomes involved.

Richard Garrison

Arlington

Thanks for such a thoughtful letter. I've come to expect them from Arlington residents.

I agree that the parking formula above sounds inadequate. I suspect there will be more units occupied by adults (and driving-age teenagers) who each have vehicles than there will be units with only one vehicle per dwelling. And those tandem parking situations sound ridiculous.

The Arlington government has shortchanged its citizens by allowing high-rises to be built without sufficient parking for residents and visitors. The overflow clogs the streets and takes up curbside parking coveted by those in nearby single-family residences.

Then there are the rapacious towing companies that prey on poor drivers who are just trying to visit an Arlington business or resident.

If a sales or rental agent promises you X amount of parking during your first visit, get it in writing, for when you come back to sign the lease, the terms of that promise may have changed to your detriment.

Alternative to I-95

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I first tried using Interstate 81 as an alternative to Interstate 95 while on a trip to Atlanta a few years ago to avoid the Washington-to-Richmond congestion.

I have family in Richmond and drive down I-95 quite frequently, so I wanted different scenery, as well as a less stressful drive, for my Atlanta trip.

So I take Interstate 66 west to I-81 south, then pick up Interstate 77 south near the Virginia-North Carolina border and use that to connect to Interstate 85 in Charlotte for the last leg to Atlanta.

Because I have friends and family in Atlanta and central Florida, I take driving trips a couple of times a year, and this route is now my preference for any trip that takes me south of Virginia.

You've mentioned the heavy truck traffic on I-81, but on my several trips using that route, I have yet to identify trucks as a problem.

Weather conditions permitting, traffic moves along at a pace that's fast enough even for this regular Beltway speeder!

Rhonda Thissen

Alexandria

The principal congested interstate highway segment that southbound travelers should avoid at all costs, in my view, is I-95 between our Beltway and Fredericksburg. Only slightly better is I-95 from Fredericksburg to Richmond. You've avoided both. Congratulations.

By the way, I recently got stuck in an awful traffic jam on southbound I-95 near Richmond while en route to eastern North Carolina.

Then I remembered that four-lane Route 301 runs parallel to I-95 about five miles to the east. So I bailed out at the next exit and bypassed the incident with ease.

HOT Lanes, Essentially

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

It is with some amusement that I keep reading debates on whether we should create high-occupancy toll (HOT) lanes to help ease traffic congestion in this region.

Despite its overwhelming success in California, I continue to read stories here bemoaning the idea as beneficial only to the rich who can afford the tolls, hence the "Lexus lane" nickname.

I laugh about this because apparently no one has noticed that we essentially have had HOT lanes here for a number of years, and they seem to work pretty well.

Commuting to work daily from Leesburg, I have a choice. I can pay the toll and ride the deserted Dulles Greenway at the 65 mph posted speed limit (actual speeds may vary upward), or I can take Route 7 toward the Beltway for free but sit snarled in traffic all the way while inhaling exhaust fumes and guzzling gas that could easily have paid for the tolls in the first place.

Is this not the same choice the proposed HOT lanes offer? Ride for free in main lanes that are usually full or pay a variable toll to ride in what is likely a lane nearly devoid of traffic?

Frankly, I don't understand the problem some people have with this. We already have it, it works, and we should support anything that moves some cars around and alleviates everyone's traffic nightmares.

Kyle Thompson

Leesburg

I couldn't agree more. What is being studied is the construction of two extra lanes on the Beltway, in each direction, between the Springfield Interchange and near Route 193 (Georgetown Pike). These lanes would be free to HOV-2 vehicles and accessible to single-occupant vehicles for a toll, to be deducted through an electronic transponder mounted on the vehicle.

The new lanes would be built by private enterprise, with reimbursement from tolls.

Single drivers could make a choice: Stick with the conventional lanes or pay a toll to use the faster-flowing (in theory) HOT lanes. I don't see how anybody loses here.

Futile Hunt for Exit

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Recently my husband and I went to the Eastern Shore using a route you suggested, which was far better than driving halfway around the Beltway. (We live in Chantilly.)

The route we took was Interstate 66 to Route 110 around the Pentagon, then picking up Interstate 395 north to Interstate 295 north. We didn't realize that I-395 divides, so we wound up going through the tunnels underneath Capitol Hill. But eventually we came to New York Avenue and headed east, so we were fine.

However, we tried to take your route home using Route 50 to I-295 south, then crossing the Sousa Bridge and picking up I-395 and Route 110 again.

We obviously missed signs, an exit or something; we didn't see any exit off I-295 for Pennsylvania Avenue going west, only Pennsylvania Avenue going east.

So we remained southbound on I-295, looking for an exit to I-395, and didn't find that, either. We wound up staying on I-295 until we got to the Beltway and crossed the Wilson Bridge into Virginia.

Help! Once we're on I-295 coming south, how do we get back onto I-395 to return to Fairfax County? Is that highway not accessible when you're coming from the east? Or is this another problem with poor signage on some of the D.C. area's freeways?

Marilyn Lynch

Chantilly

What you encountered was a combination of incomplete interchanges and bad signs. There is no exit from D.C. 295 south to Pennsylvania Avenue west. So you can keep going south on 295 to one of the worst-marked exits in the city. That exit, marked "Howard Road-Downtown," will take you over the South Capitol Street Bridge and onto I-395, although neither of those is mentioned on the exit sign.

At the base of the exit ramp, turn right onto Howard Road and go one block through a seedy area, then turn right at the next light and thread your way onto the South Capitol Street Bridge. The entrance to I-395 is dead ahead.

The way you took, by the way, from I-295 south to the Beltway, avoids all that maneuvering but does run the risk of construction delays.

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.