Dear Dr. Gridlock:
There it was on the front page of the Aug. 7 Washington Post: 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?
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.
Dear Dr. Gridlock:
Whenever I read about multi-mile backups on the Beltway caused by an accident, I can just imagine how many people are inconvenienced. Sure, I feel sorry for those involved in the accident, and I'm all for those emergency personnel who rush to their assistance. However, it seems that no one is concerned about the others who can't get to where they are going.
How about this for a solution? If an accident occurs on the Beltway between Exits A and B, the authorities would block the Beltway at Exit A and direct approaching motorists to get off the Beltway at that exit. They also would not let anyone onto the Beltway at Exit A, if the motorists were headed toward the accident scene.
Motorists stuck between Exit A and the accident scene would be allowed to make a U-turn on their side of the Beltway and, with a police escort using the shoulder of the road, be led back to Exit A so they could get off the Beltway.
Of course, the challenge for those not familiar with adjoining or parallel roads would be to get back onto the Beltway at Exit B.
That's when the nearest "Beltway Patrol Volunteer Unit," monitoring the police radio frequency, would spring into action. It would determine the best route for those motorists and set up distinctive "Beltway Detour" signs at key turning points. The volunteers would remain at those sign positions to assist motorists as long as needed.
Well, I'll give you an A for creativity. We're going to need ideas like that as we get more and more congestion.
I got caught once trying to get onto the Beltway at Braddock Road when there was a tractor-trailer accident at the Springfield Interchange. The Beltway on-ramps were closed at Braddock Road, and traffic was diverted through Annandale and on eastbound Duke Street.
We motorists can use all the help we can get.
But how would you get volunteers to the scene and coordinated for a run-of-the mill accident? Wouldn't the accident scene be cleared while they were being deployed? Could someone accurately estimate how long, say, the Beltway would be closed?
Headlights in the Rain
Dear Dr. Gridlock:
Regarding the motorists who don't put their headlights on when their windshield wipers are needed, here's a solution:
Have weather and traffic reports on radio and television state that it's the law to have them on during inclement weather.
Something sponsored by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments would be the perfect public service announcement.
A number of people have suggested that. Perhaps it will come to pass.
Rules for Roundabouts
Dear Dr. Gridlock:
With the increasing number of roundabouts being built in Maryland (I don't know about Virginia and the District), I wonder if more effort isn't required to educate the public on the proper techniques to negotiate them.
I have more than 26 years of experience in roadway design and have helped design a number of roads in Maryland. A few years ago I took a three-day class on designing modern roundabouts, taught by the same people who wrote the Federal Highway Administration's guidelines.
My daughter took driver's education about seven years ago and was using the same book (or so it seemed) that I used more than 30 years ago. Nothing in the classes included even a mention of roundabouts.
When driving, I often encounter bewildered or ignorant drivers who stop when they shouldn't or don't stop when they should. If you have ever driven one of the two-lane roundabouts when it was busy, you know how treacherous it can be.
I've seen some nice Web pages in other states, and I know the Maryland State Highway Administration has created brochures when certain locations have had roundabouts constructed.
For more information, go to www.sha.state.md.us/safety/oots/roundabouts/index.asp.
Thanks for the Web address. A lot of people have trouble with the protocols for traveling safely through roundabouts.
Maryland is building roundabouts to replace traffic lights and reduce side-angle accidents. The results have been favorable.
Flee Dangerous Drivers
Dear Dr. Gridlock:
Truckers claim that automobile drivers are rude, cut them off and are a menace on the highways. Auto drivers say the same about truckers. There is plenty of blame to go around. (For the record, I am not anti-trucker.)
However, on Interstate 66 the other day, with most of the traffic doing 75 mph in a 55-mph zone, a loaded tractor-trailer came speeding up in the lane to the right of me. The car in front of the trucker was going slower (probably 70!), forcing him to either slow down or change lanes, so he abruptly moved in front of me and almost caused an accident.
The trucker kept weaving in and out of traffic at nearly 80 mph. That never got him very far. I kept catching up to him merely by staying in my lane at the same speed.
With more aggressive lane changing, the trucker cut me off again!
A mile or so down I-66, traffic slowed to a crawl. I passed him one last time, but not before getting his contact information and license plate number. Turns out he is an independent trucker from Madison, Va.
The next day I looked up his address and phone number on the Internet and called him. I asked him if he was aware of how he was driving, and I described what he had done to me. He replied that other drivers are rude to him, "so I guess that makes us even."
I asked how that justified his reckless driving and endangering me. All he could muster was that I must have cut him off somewhere, or that I "must be exaggerating."
It is amazing the extent to which people will go to rationalize their ugly behavior.
It's unusual for a motorist to track down another and have a dialogue about the miscreant's driving habits. It's hardly surprising, though, that the trucker did not concede the error of his ways (speeding, unsafe lane changes).
My advice is to get away from these drivers, pronto. Get off the freeway or slow down (in the right lane) until they are out of view. Call the state police at #77 if you have a cell phone.
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 sec; 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 ability to presuppose the ambulance driver's intentions.
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.
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?
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 sitting mayor, 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.
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 email@example.com, or faxes, at 703-352-3908. Include your full name, town, county and day and evening phone numbers.