Dear Dr. Gridlock:

As a daily user of the Capitol South Station on the Blue and Orange lines, I am appalled at how dirty the outside escalators are. They are filthy, constantly breaking down and have lights burned out. Metro used to clean these, but they have stopped since last summer. Did they stop cleaning them to save money?

Davin Peterson

Woodbridge

Many readers ask whether budget cuts have affected Metro's ability to clean its rail cars and station areas. Metro says no, and that it has a full complement of custodians who regularly clean cars and station areas.

Every three months, Metro samples 400 users about service and cleanliness and generally gets a grade of B, according to Steven Taubenkibel, a Metro spokesman.

"If riders have concerns on cleanliness issues, we encourage them to call us at 202-637-1328," Taubenkibel said.

Yellow Ribbon Debate

In the Sept. 19 column, I noted that motorists seemed to have yellow decals in the shape of ribbons on the back of their vehicles. The decals said, "Support Our Troops." I asked where they could be obtained.

In response, readers suggested that these magnets (not decals) could be purchased at Hallmark or Total Crafts stores, or by logging on to www.magnetamerica.com, among others.

Reader Chris Bennett of Springfield wrote: "I hope your column does not encourage people to get these magnets.

"If you put one on your trunk, no troop will see it. No life will be saved. If someone does or does not have a magnet on their car, is the war closer to being won or lost?

"What purpose does empty, more-patriotic-than-thou symbolism serve?"

Dr. Gridlock responded: "I think you have to be stationed abroad to appreciate the meaning of a care package . . . or 'Support Our Troops' magnets, which our soldiers can see while on home leave. They are serving for you, Mr. Bennett. You can salute them, or not."

Among those commenting:

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

As one who spent 37-plus years on active duty in uniform (some 20 years of that time stationed abroad) and who participated (albeit insignificantly) in two wars, I would like to respond to your (perhaps unintended) somewhat snide retort to the letter from Chris Bennett.

As I read it, his letter had nothing to do with saluting or not saluting the troops, or with letters and care packages. It did address what I and some of my military friends consider to be a totally jingoistic exercise in feel-goodism, designed to call attention to the driver/owner of the vehicle involved.

The ribbons basically say, "Look at me, I'm doing my part" -- without doing anything at all. As you say, it's possible that some soldiers will see them and be encouraged, but I believe most will see them for what they are: more-patriotic-than-thou symbolism (Mr. Bennett's words).

While there undoubtedly are some -- especially family members of those deployed -- who sincerely display such symbols as a show of support and encouragement, I would argue that many, if not most, do so (perhaps subconsciously) to assuage underlying feelings of guilt, inadequacy, insecurity or aggression, or some combination thereof.

If they really want to help the cause and show support, they should drive down to the local recruiting station -- but don't hold your breath waiting for that to happen.

At least the yellow ribbons are not as bad as the flags emblazoned with "United We Stand," usually seen on the rear of an SUV that runs you off the road when the driver unexpectedly cuts in front of you (his/her time being much more important than yours) while giving you the one-finger salute and, apparently, yelling at the top of his/her lungs.

One wonders with whom they stand united.

W.B. May

Woodbridge

It's America. You can place one of these magnets on your vehicle, or not.

Getting to Fed Ex Field

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I have never driven to FedEx Field and never will. I drive from Annandale to Metro's Addison Road-Seat Pleasant Station and take a shuttle bus to the stadium. Every once in a while, I take Metro from the Dunn Loring-Merrifield Station to the Addison Road Station and transfer to a shuttle bus. Works for me.

When the shuttle started running to the stadium, there were three stations for pickup, and that distributed the crowd better. Now the shuttle serves only the Addison Road and Landover stations.

With the opening of the Morgan Boulevard and Largo Town Center stations on Dec. 18, it will be interesting to see if we can walk in to FedEx.

Whatever, hail to the Redskins, from a 50-year ticket holder.

George S. Parsons

Fairfax

Congratulations for figuring out the transportation system and commuting by Metrorail and bus.

I drove to the Dallas game on a Monday night. The trip from Braddock Road and the Beltway via Interstate 395 and D.C. Route 295 to Route 50 east to Landover Road took 21/2 hours of inching along. Never again!

The gradual increase in stadium capacity, now to 91,665, is going to cause more commuting difficulty for some patrons. I'm interested in other ways you folks have conquered the congestion.

Hybrids in HOV Lanes

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Are hybrid vehicles required by law to have the Clean Special Fuel/CF license plates to legally use HOV lanes on Interstate 66 inside the Beltway?

Steve Berto

Annandale

Yes. Those license plates qualify a vehicle for an exemption from HOV rules in Virginia.

Rush-Hour Parking Woes

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I wrote to you in April and suggested that the folks who illegally park in the right (or left) lane during rush hour should be fined $500 per occurrence.

Since writing that letter, I actually witnessed a police cruiser on E Street systematically pull up behind illegally parked folks and turn on a siren-type noise; those folks quickly moved away from the curb.

Why can't that be done daily for a month and repeated as necessary? Please beg those people you know in power to try it. The excuse that there are not enough police to do that does not fly.

Sheila Wing

Washington

A lot of the vehicles illegally parked in the curb lane during rush hours have no drivers. What good would a siren be? Also, the siren alert that sends some illegal parkers scurrying for cover simply reinforces the notion that there is no penalty for illegal parking. Police will warn, but not ticket. That encourages more violations.

What we need are higher fines (they were raised to $100 last year) and meticulous enforcement to get these scofflaws off the streets and help traffic move.

More Metro Parking

In case you missed it, Metro has begun construction on a new, six-level parking garage near the White Flint Metro station.

The new structure will have 1,272 parking spaces. It is scheduled to be completed by summer 2005.

For more information, call Metro at 202-637-7000, or log on to Metro's Web site at www.metroopensdoors.com.

Frightening Talk

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

It's very scary to watch someone drive by you, fully engaged in a cell phone conversation, with one hand on the phone and the other animated in the air while not on the wheel. It takes only seconds for a disaster to happen, and you have seconds to respond.

I've also observed drivers not only on the phone, but reading a map spread out across the wheel while in traffic. What's wrong with these people?

Having laws against cell phone use is fine except the laws are not enforced. New York state has such a law, and many people there still use hands-on cell phones while driving (we travel to New York often, so we do notice the lack of enforcement of this law).

Police are not actually pulling people over for using a cell phone. They may issue summonses for breaking this law after you have been pulled over for a traffic violation or expired registration and the officer notes that you were using a hand-held phone.

What to do? Stay off the phone while driving! Pull off the road if you need to talk. Use the hands-free devices that are available. At least you'll have one hand on the steering wheel!

Terri Wujick

Sterling

The District has outlawed the use of a hand-held cell phone while driving. I think Virginia and Maryland should follow suit. It's dangerous.

Thwarting Tailgaters

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I have to side with Don Juran [Dr. Gridlock, Sept. 23] in thinking that slowing down gradually is the best way to deal with tailgaters.

I know you suggest moving to the next lane on the right, but what does one do when she or he is tailgated in the right-hand lane?

That has happened to me a number of times, most often on Interstate 95, north of Baltimore. The apparent reason is that the driver is planning to make a right exit -- some five or 10 miles ahead. These people are lazy as well as stupid!

Each situation has to be judged individually, but generally, I think that allowing these maniacs -- as you aptly call them -- to run the rest of us off the road is counterproductive.

Carl Yaffe

Rockville

We want to put the maniacs ahead of us as fast as possible. That's why I suggest moving to the right.

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I usually pull over when it is safe and let tailgaters go by. After reading your Thursday column on the subject in Southern Maryland Extra, I told my husband, and he had occasion to try it that evening. It worked.

Mary Shifflette

Prince Frederick

Now, that's results! Let them zoom on by, out of your way.

Courthouse Switch

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I received a letter from Montgomery County Parking Citation Services about a change in the date and time for my hearing about a parking violation. I decided to call and confirm it.

A lady acknowledged that the change was correct, and then asked if I knew the location had also been changed. The letter did not mention any change in location. If I had not called, I would have gone to the wrong place.

Since there are undoubtedly many others who will go to the original location and then possibly be late getting over to the new one, I made another call (240-453-0113) to find out if letters were to be sent out about a change in location.

That lady said letters would be sent out, but in answer to my query as to whether I would be getting one before my court date, she said, "I doubt you will."

The new location for my trial is not at 8665 Georgia Ave., but the new District Court at 8552 Second Ave. in Silver Spring. The telephone number there is 301-563-8500 in case anyone wants to confirm where to go.

John Christian

Bethesda

The Right Thing to Do

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

My boyfriend and I recently moved to the area from New York and northern New Jersey.

One thing we have had difficulty with is that drivers on Maryland highways completely ignore the fact that the left lane is for passing.

I am often stuck behind a driver in the left lane who is traveling at the same speed as the driver to his right, causing a back-up. In addition, Maryland drivers simply ride in the left lane when no one is in the right lane.

Although I am not a tailgater, it is frustrating when I wish to pass, but can't because drivers don't respect the passing rule.

Everyone complains about people weaving in and out of traffic, but if this rule were respected, the drivers wishing to pass would simply be in the left lane doing so while the slower drivers would be in the right lanes.

I don't condone aggressive driving, but I do believe people should set their pride aside and stay to the right unless they intend to pass.

Save us all the frustration of watching tailgaters, aggressive drivers and others weaving in and out of traffic to get around the car that won't get out of the way.

Linette Henry

Laurel

Left-lane cruisers annoy plenty of drivers here. They should use the left lane for passing, then move right. If they did so, as you point out, there would be less lane-weaving and other dangerous maneuvering.

Is it any different in New York and New Jersey?

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