Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I presume the workday for most people is 8 to 5. If so, why does the traffic as far out as Gainesville not ease until almost 9:30 a.m.?

The traffic snarls early, about 7 a.m., so commuters from the south and west can get to work on time. But then the situation would indicate that others start work at about 11 a.m.

Vincent M. Skrinak


Traffic in the Gainesville area is so congested, thanks to the many new subdivisions, outlying traffic and lack of road improvements to handle the increased traffic, that I suspect what you're seeing is people coming in on the backside of rush hour.

I suspect they are late to work.

What do you commuters think?

Enforcing HOV Lanes

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I genuinely believe that Virginia State Police officers are dedicated to doing their best to enforce the high-occupancy vehicle, or HOV, guidelines, but their job is nearly impossible without the cooperation and compliance of motorists.

Perhaps a friendly reminder in your column every once in awhile would help get the message out.

Mark E. Connolly


Voluntary compliance is necessary. So are increased fines. As of July 1, fines were raised to $500 for repeat violations.

When New to Virginia

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Regarding the "wipers on, lights on" law in this area: I believe you should include the recommendation that new residents pick up and read a "rules of the road" book at the Department of Motor Vehicles when changing their license and registration from another state.

There may be a lot more than just the wipers-and-lights law that a new resident needs to be aware of.

Keith Jones


Good point. Some residents complain there aren't enough signs to explain traffic laws, particularly new ones. They can learn about rules of the road by picking up the Virginia Driver's Manual at DMV offices or by logging on to Click on "Forms and Publications" and "New to Virginia" for information about tags and registration.

Contacts at VDOT

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

In your June 27 column, you presented details from a lunch you'd had with Maryland Department of Transportation officials, including Neil Pedersen, Dave Buck and Valerie Burnette Edgar.

Who are their Virginia counterparts, and where can I get more information about traffic management and the engineers doing the planning?

James Evans


The counterparts are Philip Shucet, highway commissioner, and Joan Morris and Ryan Hall, spokesmen. You can monitor some of their activities by logging on to

Bad Image for Police

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

There it was right on the front page of The Washington Post (Aug. 7): seven lanes of Beltway traffic backed up as far as the camera could see, multiple cars trying to change lanes to the left and, at the front of it all, two cops talking to each other and doing nothing to help traffic move.

Too many times I have been stuck in traffic jams like that. When I finally get to the front, I see an accident in one lane, police cars in a second lane, a third lane blocked off, and police officers talking to each other and not helping traffic move around the problem.

When multiple police respond to an accident, how about assigning one to direct traffic and help us get by?

Johanna Stein


It's a constant problem: officers standing around, and no one directing traffic. If police only knew what bad public relations stemmed from such apparent indifference -- in addition to gridlock.

Missing Highway Link

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I work at the Federal Center in Suitland and regularly use Interstates 395 and 295 for work and personal trips.

I cannot figure out why there is no seamless method for taking I-395 all the way through the city to link up to D.C. 295 north on the east side of the Anacostia River.

It seems as though that could be made possible at relatively little cost. Just install a cloverleaf interchange to go from Pennsylvania Avenue east onto D.C. 295 north. There is already room to put it in.

It also makes no sense to have no ramp to get onto Pennsylvania Avenue westbound when taking D.C. 295 south. For all the grand improvements talked about (like the disastrous Mixing Bowl), these small improvements could exponentially help traffic in this area.

I guess since Prince George's County and environs have very little political impact, this idiotic situation will forever get overlooked.

Even the Federal Highway Administration's Web site maps show a dotted line linking those highways. Why has it never been completed?

J.R. Wycinsky


This has nothing to do with Prince George's County. The areas on both sides of the Pennsylvania Avenue (Sousa) bridge are in the District.

The District had a plan, about 20 years ago, to build a freeway connecting D.C. 395 and D.C. 295 via a new bridge upstream from the Sousa Bridge. It was everything you proposed, and was -- and is -- badly needed.

The $200 million cost was to be covered by the federal government. The work would have meant thousands of jobs for District residents. The mayor at the time, Sharon Pratt, and the previous mayor, Marion S. Barry, endorsed it. It would have taken traffic off D.C. streets.

What happened? Special interest groups went to court and blocked construction. Eventually the city gave up, and the $200 million was spent for street repairs. Too, too bad.

Meanwhile, northbound I-395 traffic can cross the Sousa Bridge and turn left onto D.C. 295 north immediately at the end of the bridge. Southbound D.C. 295 traffic can exit at "Howard Road-Downtown." Turn right at the base of the ramp, then right again at the next traffic light and move onto the South Capitol Street (Frederick Douglass Memorial) Bridge. I-395 south is dead ahead.

Defer to Ambulances

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Have the rules regarding the right of way for emergency vehicles changed over the years? I thought that if you see or hear an approaching ambulance you must either stop or move out of the way (if you are at an intersection), pull over (if you are on either side of an undivided roadway or if you are on the same side on a divided roadway) or slow down and be ready to stop. And you must stay back quite a ways once emergency vehicles have passed.

The practice around here seems to be: Move reluctantly, or not at all, if it sort of appears the emergency vehicle can pass okay; take your foot off the gas for a second; and once it has passed you, resume full speed ahead.

The other day I was near George Washington Hospital and two ambulances were coming, with lights flashing, so I stopped gently at a green light well clear of the hospital entrance.

Some guy (also clear of the entrance) screeched his wheels behind me, pulled around me and started yelling and gesticulating at me for stopping.

Was I supposed to keep going, assuming that the ambulances were headed for the hospital? I didn't think the law gave a motorist the right to presuppose the ambulance driver's intentions.

David Heath


You should try to make way for emergency equipment. That could mean pulling to the right shoulder, or the left, depending on the circumstance. Usually, you should not pull into an intersection to clear a path.

Ambulance drivers report that motorists often do not make way for them and even clog the emergency (shoulder) lanes. That is a shame.

Flee Maniac Motorists

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Yesterday, as I was on my daily commute home from work, I had a confrontation with a very aggressive driver (who also had a child in the back seat). This was not on the Beltway or the Greenway, but in my very own community of Ashburn.

I was waiting to make a left turn at a stoplight. There was a single left-turn lane onto Ashburn Farm Road, which is a four-lane road.

When the light turned green, I turned into the left lane. I realized the man behind me was in a huge hurry, so I got out of his way into the right lane. I guess I did not move quickly enough because he pulled up next to me in the left lane and began gesturing for me to get off my phone.

I will never forget that balding jerk in his dark-colored sedan with his child in the back seat.

He then zoomed past me and slowed down to wait for me to catch up, since I was traveling no faster than the posted speed limit (40 mph). As I approached from behind, he sped up and tried to run me off the road.

I slammed on my brakes and got as close to the curb as possible. Then Mr. Dark Sedan took a left, and I headed home.

He ruined my day and had probably ruined his, but I guess he would blame that on me. He had also taught his child (a) complete disrespect for others, (b) that driving like an idiot (even if I was in the wrong for changing lanes) is completely acceptable and (c) some really bad manners.

Regardless of whether I was on my cell phone, this man was in a hurry and I was in his way. I was paying attention -- I saw him in my rearview mirror approaching rapidly, and I moved out of his way.

By the time I arrived home, my blood pressure was boiling and I was fuming, especially knowing that there was a child in the back seat of that vehicle. I called the police.

The very pleasant man who answered the phone advised me there was nothing the police could do because I had not called immediately after it happened. He did give me some tips should something like that happen again. Needless to say, I was not completely satisfied.

I know that everyone who travels busy roads has dealt with an idiot, but for that behavior to happen on community streets is an outrage.

I understand that the police cannot be everywhere all of the time to catch these jerks and their aggressive driving, but we, as drivers, should have a way to report such incidents.

I also understand that it is my word against this jerk's, but considering that prosecutors can pin a murder case (or any other case, for that matter) on the same type of evidence, I would think that the region could create a task force to deal with driver complaints.

If, say, there were five complaints against a license plate within one year, then there should be some type of investigation, mandatory driving school or even suspension for a month. Maybe then we would all be more courteous drivers -- and better neighbors to boot.

The positive thing that came out of all of this is that I will be a courteous driver, even if I'm in a hurry. It's not worth risking an accident and having someone get hurt. I hope Mr. Dark Sedan will learn the same thing.

Cortney A. Smith


I hope this letter was cathartic, Ms. Smith. The sooner you can lower your blood pressure, the better for your health.

Police have been consistent in saying they have to see a moving traffic violation to ticket a motorist. Had you called the state police at #77 on your cell phone or the Loudoun County Sheriff's Office, a trooper or deputy might have been able to spot the driver in the dark sedan.

My advice for when someone encounters a madman behind the wheel is to lose him as soon as possible. Turn off. Turn around. Get to a public place. Unless you've got a medical emergency, that should be your top priority.

P.S.: Unlike the District, Virginia has not outlawed the use of hand-held cell phones while driving. But such a practice is dangerous and appropriate only for emergencies.

Also, we really don't want a society in which drivers can report on other drivers, which can lead to suspension of a license based solely on the word of the other driver, do we?

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