Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I sympathize with the writer for having to wait behind a humongous SUV slowly attempting to park on the ground level of a parking garage when space was available at the upper levels, but there is good reason for a motorist to prize ground-level parking [Dr. Gridlock, Extra, Aug. 26].

To exit a garage by foot, one has to use the elevators or stairwell. Unfortunately, many times an elevator is not operable.

With usually limited visibility, the elevator and stairwell make ideal venues for thieves.

Nelson Marans

Silver Spring

Good point, unfortunately.

Disastrous Bike Path

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I just got back into town and saw the letter complaining about bicyclists using the roadway of Rock Creek Parkway [Dr. Gridlock, Extra, Aug. 19], even though a bike path was available nearby.

I was unhappy to see your headline "Some Roads Just Aren't for Cyclists" put forward as a statement. It could have at least been phrased as a question, to show a more open attitude.

The writer said that "it seems absolutely ridiculous (not to mention rude and a little insane) for a cyclist to use Rock Creek Parkway -- a relatively high-speed, curvy road."

I am not sure of the exact location of this incident, but the maximum speed limit is 35 mph in the park, and in many areas it is 25 mph. I am sorry, but 35 mph does not make this a high-speed road.

Unless it were Mary Poppins with her umbrella on the bike, I'd expect a cyclist on that downhill stretch to be traveling around 20 mph. It's hard to see how this could have been a big problem.

The writer suggested that "a safe path is available right next to it." I'll guess that she has not looked at that path lately. Compared with the Capital Crescent and W&OD trails -- both used extensively by bike commuters -- it is a disaster.

It is way too narrow; my guess is it's less than half the recommended safe width for such trails. The pavement surface is terrible: buckled, potholed, just generally lumpy and so poorly designed that areas are often covered with mud.

I've used this trail off and on as part of my commute for years, and I certainly can understand any cyclist's choice to bail out and use the legal option of staying on the roadway. Such a decision is not rude or insane.

If the Rock Creek Trail was upgraded to meet safe specifications and properly maintained, it would be a boon to all commuters, bike and automobile, because it would give the cyclists a much better option than staying on the road.

Tom Forhan

Takoma Park

I've said it before: Our officials need to build more bike paths and maintain them to encourage commuters to get out of their motor vehicles and onto a bike. We all benefit.

I gather there is a new emphasis by transportation departments on bicycle travel. Paths are being built alongside widened roads. However, in at least the case above, more maintenance is needed.

Give Toll Lanes a Spin?

In case you missed it, Virginia's transportation commissioner has directed the state Department of Transportation to enter negotiations with the company Fluor Daniel to build two more lanes each way on the Capital Beltway, from near the Springfield interchange to north of the Dulles Toll Road.

This public-private partnership would allow the extra capacity to be built at a time when state funds alone are insufficient to cover the cost, Transportation Commissioner Philip A. Shucet said.

The new lanes would be high-occupancy toll (HOT) lanes, free to vehicles carrying three or more people and available for a variable toll (depending on congestion) to others. The toll revenue would help offset the cost of construction.

"The private sector is able to share in the risk of funding this project, which otherwise would be practically impossible if VDOT had to rely on traditional funding sources to improve the Beltway," Shucet said.

No timetable is available, pending completion of negotiations.

This is a potential milestone for public-private road endeavors and could help us reduce gridlock.

Maryland is also looking at express toll lanes, although they would be open to everyone for a fee.

Dr. Gridlock is for implementing such lanes to see how they work. What do you think?

Shoulder Strangeness

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Just when you think you have seen it all. . . . I was driving south on Interstate 270 and noticed a van that had pulled over on the right shoulder. As I drove by, I saw a man kneeling by his tire. I figured he was changing a flat.

Well, I was wrong. He was spraying his tires with some sort of tire conditioner to make them look better.

I can tell you, I have walked along this same stretch of road when my car broke down, and you might as well be walking next to a NASCAR race with the cars speeding by. It's definitely not a place I would stop to detail my car.

Craig Brown


Plus, it's generally illegal to stop on the shoulder of an interstate highway, except in an emergency. Strange. Maybe he was looking for a leak, or using a spray-can tire inflation device.

Trooper's Aggression

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I recently saw a Maryland state trooper on Interstate 70 past Frederick come up at high speed within a car length behind a car "cruising" in the left lane; hang there for 15 seconds, apparently trying to intimidate the driver ahead to change lanes; then change to the middle lane to pass, before continuing in the left lane.

The siren and lights were never used. This looked like aggressive driving, and the situation could have been solved by passing at a safer distance.

I complained to Col. Thomas Hutchins, superintendent of Maryland State Police, who passed along the information to Lt. Michael Cain, commander of the Frederick Barrack.

Kudos to Lt. Cain for calling me back and letting me know that the state police are actively discouraging aggressive driving in their own ranks.

There is no Maryland law that prevents people from going at the speed limit in the left lane of a highway, though slower traffic is advised to keep right.

If people actually did that, it would discourage people from playing slalom on the road.

It works in Europe.

Gerard Williger


It goes to driver's education and the driving culture. People in Europe don't dare cruise in the left lane because they might get run over. People here can and do cruise in the left lane, and that's a shame. They should keep right, except to pass.

Crazed by Caffeine?

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Have there been any psychological studies examining the correlation between the proliferation of caffeine merchants such as Starbucks and road rage?

It seems to me that anyone in a high-pressure job who stomps up and down K Street with a big cup of coffee in hand is a time bomb behind the wheel.

Michael Joy


I haven't heard of such a study, but your observation may help explain the aggressive behavior of some drivers. I've known people who become different -- more vocal, more pushy -- when they've had an infusion of caffeine.

Laid-Back Life in Fla.

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I was a longtime resident of the Washington area, having grown up for the most part in Prince George's County in the 1960s and '70s. I returned to the area in 1985 and lived in Northern Virginia until I moved again in July.

I now live in Palm Bay, Fla., and have not regretted the move at all. There is no traffic to speak of; people are courteous and nice; customer service is very evident; and I rarely see any examples of aggressive driving or road rage.

For me, all the great quality of life the D.C. area purports to have was offset by the terrible commutes, a too fast-paced lifestyle and generally very rude, self-centered and aggressive drivers.

Having said that, it's only fair to point out the downside of living in this area. It being a beach community and the South, the lifestyle is verrrrrrry laid back.

But the D.C. area has nothing on this area when it comes to red-light running. It's fairly common here to see people blowing through red lights for five seconds or more when your light has already changed to green.

Still, I'm very pleased with my relocation.

Honestly, why do so many people there seemingly wake up angry at the world and do battle with one another on the roads?

Chuck Fraley

Palm Bay, Fla.

I'm glad you found your place in the sun, Mr. Fraley. Your questions will have to be weighed by each of us when we contemplate retirement.

Alternate Route to Va.

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I noted with interest your response to Marilyn Lynch of Chantilly regarding finding Interstate 395 from D.C. 295 south (Dr. Gridlock, Extra, Aug. 26).

You had advised Ms. Lynch to exit at the poorly signed Howard Road exit (3B) and proceed over the South Capitol Street Bridge and through several traffic signals to get to the entrance to I-395.

I may have a better route for Ms. Lynch.

Although I'm a Virginia resident, my family and I often travel to Maryland to visit friends and enjoy the restaurants, shopping and entertainment the state has to offer.

To get back to Virginia from southbound D.C. 295, we travel south and take the first exit past the Howard Road exit, or 3A, marked Suitland Parkway/Navy Yard. We stay in the off-ramp lane, which then becomes the freeway on-ramp to D.C. 295 north. We thus get back onto the freeway heading north. We have essentially made a legal U-turn by using this off/on-ramp.

The next exit after getting onto D.C. 295 north is the 11th Street bridge, which will take drivers to I-395 (either north or south). In fact, the exit is marked as leading to I-395.

From there, it's a pleasant drive over the 14th Street bridge and back to the commonwealth. Although you do slow down to exit D.C. 295 south, and have to accelerate again at the on-ramp to D.C. 295 north, you will not encounter a traffic signal, stop in a seedy area or otherwise have to stop.

It's a great solution to the dilemma of finding I-395, and you and your readers might want to try it.

James Chen


Thanks for the tip. I'll try it next time.

Isn't it a shame you have to go north in order to go south, and put up with confusing signs to boot? Please read on.

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Marilyn Lynch from Chantilly asked a good question about a return route to the District from D.C. 295 south.

This is such a good question, it has been asked over and over again. Your answer, once again, is great advice.

Now the question is, why doesn't someone fix the sign on the road? How hard is it to add a sign to the Howard Road exit, saying "To I-395"? This is not the only problem regarding road signs. There is a major problem in this area, and I am not sure who is to blame.

The D.C. area is a tough place to drive in and around, but if the signs were marked better and posted at a distance far enough to allow drivers to safely maneuver, it would ease frustration for those of us who live here and for the enormous number of visitors we receive each day.

Does a local Department of Transportation even exist here? What does it do? This problem is not unique to the District, but also can be found in Maryland and Virginia. Is there a central agency, along the same lines as Metro's transit system, that handles all road issues?

E. Scott Howard


There is no regional agency. Each state and the District has its own transportation department. They can work with each other, as they are doing on the Woodrow Wilson Bridge project.

The Howard Road exit sign is a bad one because it doesn't include a "To I-395" or any reference to the South Capitol Street Bridge, a major entrance into the city.

This has been a sore point in this column for two decades. Apparently, city officials just don't care about this bad sign.

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

In your Aug. 26 column, you noted that readers could connect from D.C. 295 to Interstate 395 by exiting at Howard Road and passing through a "seedy" block en route to the South Capitol Street Bridge and I-395.

I take issue with your use of the word "seedy."

That small stretch on Howard Road going toward the bridge is well kept, with the Howard Road Academy and a relatively new mental health building.

There is a car repair shop -- neatly fenced in; there is the entrance to the Green Line Metro parking lot; there are two small garden apartment buildings; and the grass is well kept in that area.

Perhaps you should revisit this area and see for yourself. I live one block from the Metro station.

Shirley R. Allen


Ms. Allen, I apologize. I haven't been on that route for a while, and it appears the situation has changed. I applaud your neighborhood pride.

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.