Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I have to side with Don Juran ["Signals Can Help Turn Away Tailgaters," Extra, 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.

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 an 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

More Parking

In case you missed it, Metro has begun construction on a 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 the summer of 2005.

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

Metro Defends Cleanliness

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

As a daily user of the Capitol South Station on the Blue/Orange Line, 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 says 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, said 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 Quagmire

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:

Say again? Your comment to Mr. Bennett was rather brusque and displayed the very attitude that was his concern.

You are now indicating that the absence of a flag magnet on a vehicle says that the driver does not "support our troops" and does not "salute" them, whatever that means.

As a former member of "our troops," I believe that we need to move toward emphasizing the substance of citizenship and patriotism and away from the symbols. I would rather see you pushing for "Be patriotic and obey the laws of our nation" or, more specifically to your assignment, "Be patriotic and stop at those red lights." I would "salute" you for that.

Another slogan: "Be patriotic by registering and voting in November." You don't need to wave the flag and do that; just do it.

Thomas Crews

Silver Spring

I should have delivered a different response to Chris Bennett, one that might be less inflammatory: "It's America. Place the decals on your vehicle, or not."

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I don't see the decal as any great degree of support for the troops; it's generally just a simple statement of "I support them, and to show you that I do, I bought a decal from a for-profit company."

If you displayed the same decal from a company that moved the profits to the USO or that passed the profits into helping provide transportation for family members to see injured members of the military at Walter Reed or other military hospitals, or things similar, then I'd have no objection to displaying the decals.

Until such time, the majority of the decals are no different from the numerous cars displaying multiple American flags to show the driver supports America, is anti-terrorist, etc.

I don't believe that returning troops (or those that are stationed in the D.C. metropolitan area) see the decals and think: "That driver with the decal supports us; that other car there without the decal, he doesn't support us." Just as I don't believe that displaying an overpriced flag (or two or three or more) purchased from a for-profit company makes you more American or more patriotic than the driver of a car without the flags.

Want to support the troops? Call up the USO, at Fort Myer for example, and tell the person answering the phone that you'd like to take the money you would have spent on a decal and would like to make a contribution to the troops.

Your neighbors and other people passing your car won't see a decal showing your "support," but you'll feel good in your heart that you've supported them.

And when you think you need another flag to display on your car, dig out the USO's phone number and make another call. You'll feel better than you did when you made the first call.

Jeff Kern

Gaithersburg

Who would have thought a $5 "Support Our Troops" magnet placed on a vehicle could be so controversial.

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I was dismayed by your exchange with Chris Bennett, who questioned the point of displaying "Support Our Troops" images on vehicles.

I'm not interested in hearing Mr. Bennett's personal opinion of people who display certain images on their cars, and I'm equally not interested in reading your retort to same. It was enough that you provided interested readers several venues from which to purchase these images. Why was any commentary on their use necessary?

I don't care to read a political debate in your column, and I think printing Mr. Bennett's letter, and your response, showed poor judgment.

I don't see where this has anything whatsoever to do with the issue your column is supposed to treat: traffic.

Kathy Brand

Olney

I thought the widespread use of these magnets on vehicles was appropriate for a transportation column. I do wish I'd sterilized my answer to Chris Bennett to something less controversial.

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I read with interest your admonishment of Chris Bennett, in which you suggest that one would have to be "stationed abroad to appreciate" care packages and the visibility of "Support Our Troops" magnets while on leave. You told Mr. Bennett that he could choose to "salute them, or not."

I suggest that one doesn't have to be stationed overseas to understand that our troops overseas would much rather receive orders home than care packages. Especially the large contingent of National Guard troops who left families and businesses behind.

I remind you that a salute is a military courtesy intended to show one's respect for another's sacrifice and dedication to duty.

Pasting a magnet on your car to boast of a trivial donation is hardly worthy of being described as a salute. If anything, it is a hollow, self-serving gesture that ridicules the immense, and tragically futile, sacrifices made by our troops in Iraq every day.

A more fitting salute would be to do your best to see that no soldier is ever again asked to put it all on the line in defense, not of his country, but of a bankrupt foreign policy.

Peter Dodge

Silver Spring

I think these little magnets are an indicator that some civilians support our people in uniform. Nothing more, nothing less.

Obeying, Learning the Law

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I'm writing to commend the Maryland State Police and the Calvert County Sheriff's Office for working so diligently to slow the drivers who use Route 4/2 south in Calvert County. Their enforcement of the speed limit has been consistent and fair.

I'm also writing to ask if the appropriate police department personnel could monitor the drivers coming onto Route 4 north from the new Route 260 ramp. None of those drivers seems to understand the meaning of the big yield sign at the end of the ramp. They constantly just drive, very quickly most times, up the lane to the end and move left into traffic -- often with absolutely no regard for the vehicles already in that lane.

Thank you also, Dr. Gridlock, for your suggestions regarding young drivers and helping them gain confidence and experience. Unfortunately, Calvert High School lost a senior honor roll student Sept. 29 to a traffic accident.

Our young people need additional training in all aspects of motor vehicle operation. Perhaps with that education would come less loss of precious life.

Patti Doty

Prince Frederick

In case you missed it, I wrote about driver training for teenagers in my column on Page 2 of last Sunday's Metro section. I recommended delaying children from getting licensed to drive until they can get more experience and driver training, which should be supplied by parents.

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.