Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Since you're curious about Arlington commuters on Metro, I'll share. I was a frequent Metro user, picking up a Metrobus in front of my apartment, and then taking a single Orange Line train to Federal Triangle, from where I could walk easily through the Reagan Building to my office in the Department of Commerce.

It's got to be one of the easiest commutes in the Metro area . . . on paper.

The trains were usually standing room only when I got on at East Falls Church, and over two years, it just got worse and worse.

Not to mention that Metro loves running four-car trains during rush hour.

And the delays. Always the delays: Fire. Sick passenger. Backup. Whatever. Gilda Radner said, "It's always something." So true of Metro and its delays.

Anyway, on good days, from door to door, the commute would take about 45 minutes.

What is it by driving time? Twenty minutes. And I have my car nearby, so I can leave and return whenever I want. I like to stay later at work and hit the gym; well, do that with Metro and try getting home in a reasonable time after rush hour. It was never reasonable, and it was never an hour.

My attitude at work is much better, and I arrive way ahead of Metro.

Every month I do write a relatively hefty check -- money out of my pocket, not the government's, by the way -- to the Reagan Building for parking. I do it gladly, and with a flourish, knowing that the other option really isn't an option, even though it looks good on a map.

Mike Walker


Housing Near Station?

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Regarding the response to the proposed development of eight residential towers around the Vienna Metro station, I wondered: What do the readers expect to happen if the development is denied?

My thoughts: The developers will build elsewhere, further causing sprawl. If there is more development in Prince William, Centreville and Fair Lakes, the traffic on Interstate 66, Route 50 and Route 29 will still be there, causing more congestion.

Our neighbors in Arlington have used Metro stops in a way that reduces the use of cars, builds a tax base and gives the neighborhood an urban feel. The people living in those neighborhoods walk to dinner and shopping, or walk because they choose to. They ride the Metro. That gets them off the roads. What could possibly be wrong with that idea?

Some of the writers suggest that we not build with mass transit in mind. We give Metro a lot of money for operations. Why can't Metro give two more cars during each run on the Orange Line?

I live around the station. However, I plan to purchase one of the condos in this new community. Hopefully, Fairfax will finally have the insight to reduce traffic, reduce pollution, get the community walking and create a great tax base.

Yvonne Potts


In theory, residential development should be clustered around Metro stops. But that was 20 years ago. What has changed is that the transportation elements around the Vienna Metro station, the Orange Line and the adjacent roads -- I-66, Route 29, Route 123 and Nutley Street -- are at capacity.

There is no more room. How much more discomfort are riders or motorists willing to sustain to accommodate yet more residential development in Fairfax County?

Regardless of the residential towers at the Vienna station, development will continue in the outlying areas.

Please read on.

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I ride the Orange Line from Vienna to McPherson Square in the District and back on a daily basis. In the past couple of years, as developments have popped up like weeds along the Orange Line in Arlington and Fairfax, the quality of my commute has worsened.

Metro is in a well-publicized cash crunch, trains break down more frequently, and commuters are often crammed in like sardines.

In the evening, I often let trains go by me because they appear dangerously overcrowded. Sometimes I get so frustrated that the marathoner in me takes over, and I decide to run home via the bike trails. Clearly, I am concerned about the proposed development for the Vienna Metro station area.

I believe that planners have to honestly and thoroughly assess the state of the transit system before deciding what density, and what type of development, are correct. I see little evidence that this type of deep inquiry has been occurring.

Our Metro system appears to be approaching crisis. If Metro gets a cash infusion and is able to accommodate all these new riders, then we must see to it that the residents and workers in developments near transit stations such the Vienna stop are weaned off their cars through aggressive application of transportation-demand-management measures.

Otherwise, there is absolutely nothing "smart" about locating such dense development near Vienna, the terminus of the Orange Line, and near Interstate 66, an overcrowded highway.

Anne Pastorkovich


All one has to do to see that the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors is destroying the county's transportation network is examine what is happening along Route 29 between Fairfax City and Centreville.

The trees are going, going, gone, replaced by acres and acres of townhouses and more and more residents -- and vehicles.

Are any significant improvements scheduled for Route 29 or I-66? No. But residential developments are approved as if they would have no impact on the transportation infrastructure.

HOV Lanes' Efficiency

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I challenge our transportation planners to perform a rudimentary comparison of the number of vehicles per lane mile at peak hours in high-occupancy vehicle and non-HOV lanes. The difference is staggering!

Most of us choose to drive alone for a variety of reasons, and HOV lanes have not really changed that. This area continues to grow in population, both of people and vehicles.

The failure to add sufficient lane miles to handle the increase in both is the cause of more pollution, time lost in gridlock and driver frustration.

Jack T. Pitzer


Sorry, Jack. The HOV lanes move more people per hour than the corresponding conventional lanes. Virginia is moving toward building more express lanes, with private enterprise, on the Beltway. These would be HOV lanes (known as HOT lanes). Discussions are ongoing.

The state is not thinking about adding more conventional lane miles, as you suggest. No money. None in sight.

Cell-Phone Distraction

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Another reason for drivers not using their turn signals could be that they are using their cell phones.

I was in Alexandria recently behind a car waiting to turn left from Duke Street to Reynolds Street (no left brake light, no turn signal).

As the driver turned, I noticed she had a cell phone at her left ear. After driving slightly erratically a few yards farther, she suddenly turned right into an apartment complex (right brake light on, no turn signal).

Anthea DeVaughan


Just one more reason why driver use of hand-held cell phones should be outlawed.

Lawbreakers Abound

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

In response to Pat Julien of Sterling, who seems to think the Fairfax County government is out to make money on traffic tickets [Dr. Gridlock, Sept. 16]: The reason Fairfax County has four courtrooms operating is because all those people broke the law (and got caught).

If the public behaved within the law, none of those courtrooms would have a single traffic case.

David Quante


Lane-Change Rite

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

To argue with one of your other readers, I want to point out that I was taught that the proper order was mirror, -signal, -head check when looking to change lanes.

Pam Divins


Sounds good to me. I wonder if most people do the head check (a backward glance to make sure the move-into lane is empty). I find it crucial.

Tricking Tailgaters

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I have had several experiences of being tailgated when there was no opportunity to pull over to the right lane because that lane had too many cars. This usually happens when you are passing other cars but the driver behind you does not think you are passing them rapidly enough.

What I have done is throw on my emergency blinker lights.

That has always succeeded in alarming the driver behind me enough that he (yes, it has always been a "he") has slowed down and put more space between our vehicles. That gave me time to find an adequate opportunity (car gap) to move over to the right lane.

That is really the biggest problem with tailgaters: when they are tailgating you not to force you to move to the right lane (which is full) but rather to force you to accelerate, often above (or well above) the speed limit.

Julie Locascio


That bothers me, too. But safety professionals advise against using hazard blinkers, because other drivers don't know your intent.

How about putting your right blinker on and slowing until someone lets you in, or the tailgater passes you?

Turning Up the Volume

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I believe that the main reason turn signals are not turned off is because very many people don't have hearing capability to pick up the faint sound that the turn signals are on.

Perhaps a blinking light or a better sound system would eliminate the problem.

Joe Kobylski

Landover Hills

Good point. How about something that sounds like an oven timer left on? That should do it.

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.