Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I'm writing to you about land-use law. There is a common misconception that local government "lets" the developers build, as if the local government could turn down the development applications if there were insufficient infrastructure.

In actuality, government is very limited in how it can restrict the use of property. And no, I'm not a property-rights nut.

All the land in Northern Virginia is in comprehensive plans as available for development; that is, there are no agricultural- or forestry-only use requirements.

Therefore, if a developer submits an application in accord with a comprehensive plan, the local government pretty much has to approve it.

I'm asking that you not support the argument of those who say, "How can those local governments just keep approving development when we don't have the roads for them?" etc. etc. Local governments have to.

Kimberly V. Davis


I live in the Occoquan watershed. Development is limited because that watershed is the source of drinking water for many Virginians.

Local governments can limit development. They do so by establishing a comprehensive plan, and they control development through zoning limits. What I'd like to know is this:

When development exceeds the transportation system, as in Gainesville, why can't the county downzone remaining vacant land, like one dwelling per 10 acres?

I don't think county governments are as helpless as you suggest, Ms. Davis.

Vienna High-Rises

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I carpool on Interstate 66 to get to the Orange Line. The prospect of high-rises at the Vienna Metro, just two exits west of the Beltway, can only lead to worse traffic on I-66, worse traffic on the Beltway and the continued degradation of the overcrowded, often-delayed Orange Line.

Despite Fairfax County's best intentions, it can't control all of Metro's chaotic funding, so promises of more rail cars are just words until I see them in operation.

Even if that happens, the fare gates, platforms and escalators are dangerously crowded now. How many more people do high-density advocates think Metro can handle?

It seems that the people who think this is a good idea are not Orange Line riders. They blithely ignore Metro's capacity limits and funding problems, so "anything goes" when building near a Metro.

That this mind-set appears to have taken hold in my county government is, to say the least, highly discouraging.

Lora Ann Magruder

Fairfax Station

Metro's last deployment of its new rail cars went to the Red Line. What you see is what you've got on the Orange Line.

Residential density around Metro stations was a good idea at one time. Now, however, the roads around that station, and the Orange Line, are packed. Adding eight residential towers at the Vienna station will pack them even more. How much more congestion can we take?

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I have become a supporter of the new development because our area will benefit. One thing our homeowners association is trying to get pushed is a walking path and bridge (built by the developer) so that we may have direct access to the Metro. (Last I checked, it looks like it is going to happen.)

That will make my trip to the Metro less than a half-mile, or under a 10-minute walk. I am surprised to hear so many complaints. Of all places to develop, next to a Metro station seems logical.

Everyone complains about developers and local government boards clogging the roads and communities, but what I notice is that when the developers build, there is no shortage of buyers. In fact, the buyers usually come in such droves that the prices of the new homes actually go up as they are being built, and the homes are sold before they are finished.

The new development on Pickett Road is a prime example: The homes started at $700,000, and less than a year later are already up to $900,000.

It seems that more people are in favor of development than against, and they demonstrate that not by attending city planning meetings or voicing their opinions, but by spending the American dollar.

Wyatt Miedema


Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I drive on Interstate 66 to the Vienna Metro station. Both are overcrowded. The unpredictability of I-66 is bad enough, but the increasing crowds, breakdowns and delays on the Orange Line make a bad situation worse.

Development at the Vienna Metro station should not be increased until sufficient funding for improving both I-66 and the Orange Line is fully secured.

Michael Viands


I agree, Mr. Viands.

Taking Responsibility

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I just read Pat Julien's gripes about Fairfax County's "gouging" its citizens via four busy traffic courts [Dr. Gridlock, Sept. 16].

Recently, there was an accident here in Burke Centre in which a red-light runner swerved to avoid a legally turning car, careered across the median into opposing traffic and hit an oncoming car before flipping upside down.

I heard about it (my husband was 30 minutes late to work, since Burke Centre Parkway was closed for some time) and walked up to see, out of curiosity.

It was at least an hour after the incident, but the accident reconstruction team (two policemen) was still documenting it. I would guess that at least four officers handled the accident itself, directing traffic, assisting ambulances, cleaning up, etc. I wonder who Julien thinks should pay for that?

And the cost of the county-funded ambulances that transported the injured? Will the driver of the car at fault be "gouged" by a ticket for his illegal actions? No, because he was thrown out of his vehicle and was killed.

Taking responsibility for one's own actions, and paying for whatever the consequences may be, is called being an adult.

Sylvia Kelty


The readers of this column, as evidenced by their letters to Dr. Gridlock, would vote overwhelmingly to support police efforts against traffic violators, such as tailgaters, speeders, red light runners and HOV violators. If anything, these readers would add more traffic courts.

Lose That Tailgater

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I was surprised at the number of responses in your column concerning tailgaters that involve self-righteous vigilante actions such as slowing down, using your windshield washers or turning on your headlights to fool the offender into thinking you are slowing.

That all sounds like an unreasonable amount of backward-looking perspective in which the rear-view mirror and someone's sense of "rights" become the primary focus during driving.

That results only in producing hazardous conditions and is just as dangerous as aggressive driving.

Somehow, people rationalize that going slower is within their rights but speeding is bad, even when they are driving 10 to 20 mph slower than the prevailing conditions.

Speed limits are static numbers on signs and do not represent the actual driving conditions at the time. My advice is to drive in the real world while striving to work within the legal parameters.

It is the state's responsibility, not the responsibility of other drivers, to educate the public on preferred driving tactics.

The answer is still, as it has always been, very simple and straightforward: Move to the right.

Derek T. Havens

Mason Neck

Rush Hour Is Time to Tow

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Over the years, it has been my observation that there are many little things that the D.C. police and D.C. government could do to help ease gridlock in the District.

Unfortunately, what I usually see are D.C. police officers sitting in their cars, or driving around, ignoring people who violate traffic laws.

One of the most frustrating things is cars parking illegally on major thoroughfares during rush hour. All it takes is one car to seriously compound traffic woes.

On Sept. 22 at 5 p.m., there was an illegally parked truck on Constitution Avenue between the 2nd Division Memorial and the police barricade at the entrance to the Ellipse.

I'm sure one of those officers must have noticed. As I continued on my way, I passed a D.C. police tow truck (license No. DC 1052) parked at 18th Street and Virginia Avenue, where the tour buses park. He was just hanging out. It was the third time in the last year that I have seen something like that.

What are these people doing?

Where is the accountability?

Jeff Ludwig


Constitution Avenue at that location is under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service. It contracts with a private towing company to relocate illegally parked cars onto the Mall, next to the Constitution Avenue curb. Those vehicles also get tickets. The result is a clear curb lane (in theory), but you may have seen an illegal parker after the tow truck sweep.

D.C. police and the parking control aides of the D.C. Department of Public Works could receive so much love if they would do two things: (1) Ticket and tow illegally parked vehicles during rush hours, and (2) position traffic police at busy intersections.

Danger Is in Dialing

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

There is a lot of talk about the safety benefits of cell phones being hands-free. D.C. requires it, and Virginia and Maryland need to do so as well.

The real danger, however, is not in the talking; it is in the dialing. In four years, I have never created even a remotely dangerous situation when talking. On three occasions while dialing, however, I narrowly averted accidents. I needed my best reflexes to prevent serious collisions.

When talking, I am able to see the road in front and back clearly; when dialing, my eyes are off the road.

The point here is that you and others are misleading the public into thinking that hands-free phoning will make our roads safer. At best, the improvement will be only at the margin.

As a nation, we were able to survive and flourish for many years without talking and driving, and we may need to return to that. I love the convenience, but is it worth the price? Dialing -- not talking -- is the problem.

John R. Powers


I think talking may be a problem, too. People engaged in conversation can lose focus on driving.

I do agree with you that dialing is hazardous. Even taking your eyes off the road for a second or two can cause one to move into another lane.

Directions, Please

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

If one is traveling south on Interstate 295 from Maryland into the District, how do you get on Interstate 395 south (the Southeast-Southwest Freeway) to cut across town and into Virginia?

Tom Orrell


Head south on D.C. 295 to the Howard Road/Downtown exit. Turn right at the base of the exit ramp. Go one block and turn right at the traffic light, a move that will carry you onto the ramps to the South Capitol Street (Frederick Douglass Memorial) Bridge.

The signs for I-395/Richmond are overhead and come into view after you've crossed the bridge.

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.