Dear Dr. Gridlock:

The practice of businesses and churches being able to hire off-duty police officers to direct traffic in and out of their sites has been discussed previously in your column. Such a situation, on northbound Route 28 near Manassas Regional Airport, has become increasingly irritating.

Each Sunday around noon, three or four uniformed Prince William County sheriff's deputies (whether on duty or off, I don't know) stop traffic on northbound Route 28 to allow vehicles to exit from a large church parking lot.

Given the number of cars in that lot, it is obviously a popular church. But the deputies seem oblivious to the traffic backups they cause, which I have seen stretch for nearly a mile on Route 28.

I am willing to give folks a break, particularly on Sunday morning, but in these situations, don't the officers have some obligation to give priority to the through traffic on the main road?

Michael Ahern


In theory. However, if a business or church is paying off-duty officers $25 to $50 an hour to get vehicles into and out of parking lots, it's only human nature that those officers would give priority to the concern that is paying them.

That is why I oppose entities -- including churches -- renting cops. Police should serve all of the public all the time, and not some of them sometimes.

Who Can Use HOV?

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Darrel Smith of Montclair complained about law enforcement vehicles using HOV lanes [Dr. Gridlock, May 19]. He spoke of those cars being used for personal reasons. I'd like to know how Mr. Smith could ever know whether those drivers are using government cars for personal use.

Certainly he's not guessing based on how the occupant is dressed? Law enforcement officers use all kind of vehicles and all kinds of license plates, some of which are not recognizable as being for law enforcement. That is for obvious reasons.

The vast majority of law enforcement personnel work on call, and the need for a quick response could arise at any moment. Kind of hard to do when sitting in backed-up traffic in the regular lanes.

It's hard enough to respond quickly anytime in the Washington area, but the use of HOV lanes may speed up the response.

If government (non-law enforcement) employees are pulled over when using a government-issued car, then they deserve to be cited. But lay off exempt drivers.

Wayne Stewart


Many readers have said that government vehicles with a single occupant are a significant cause of congestion in the HOV lanes.

Darrel Smith contended that law enforcement commuters should not be exempt from HOV restrictions just for traveling to work. You suggest otherwise. The point seems moot because law enforcement personnel are exempt from HOV restrictions whether they are on or off duty.

What seems to be a problem to some is the number of government vehicles (not law enforcement) whose drivers are not exempt and seem to be taking advantage of HOV rules.

Public vs. Private Roads

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

With regard to recent comments on the effectiveness of the Virginia Department of Transportation's public-private partnerships on Route 28, an instructional case for planners is the ongoing upgrading of Interstate 66 and the Dulles Greenway toll road.

I-66, a state highway, is mired in daily backups along its length from Centreville to Haymarket because the planning for growth (more lanes, more interchanges and the appropriate funding) was not accomplished before the arrival of new homes and residents.

The state bureaucracy is in its usual catch-up mode, with a partial solution of adding four lanes to a three-mile section of the interstate, from Route 234 Business to Route 234 Bypass.

In contrast, the Greenway's private owner has planned, obtained financing for and begun construction of new lanes, interchanges and toll booths.

The Greenway improvements are being accomplished before the buildout of eastern Loudoun.

Give me that toll and free enterprise every time.

Joe Wagner


If you're suggesting that private enterprise take over more and more of the state's transportation role, that may happen, and it may be a good thing.

But remember, it is county governments such as those in Loudoun, Fairfax and Prince William that are approving runaway development while the state scrambles for dollars to keep up.

Considerate Bus Drivers

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

A bunch of us -- ages 18 to 48 and immigrants to the area from Hong Kong, Chicago and Connecticut -- were talking about mass transit in Washington. One thing we agreed on is that the District has the most considerate bus drivers in the world.

They will hold the bus for you if they see you running to catch it and will drop you off mid-block if the official stop would be more difficult due to weather or heavy luggage.

Most drivers also enforce decent behavior on their bus, taking pride in their role as captain of the ship.

We would like to set up a small fund for drivers to thank them. What do you think? Would the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority allow that? Would you administer it?

Willy Wilson


This letter nearly knocked me off my bus stop bench. I'm glad to have it. Check with Metro about your fund idea at 202-637-1328.

D.C.: Ticket or Tow

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Why is it, during the morning and evening commutes, that 19th and 20th streets NW are full of illegally stopped or parked cars that are neither ticketed nor towed? I travel from Arlington to Dupont Circle every workday, and the gridlock caused by these blockages can be significant, lengthening the trip by as much as 30 minutes.

Illegal parking around George Washington University seem to be the worst in the morning on 20th Street, but in the afternoon, stopped cars from Pennsylvania Avenue to E Street are causing horrendous backups. I have called the university and District police, to no avail.

Francesca Fierro O'Reilly


The city really must address these problems to relieve downtown gridlock.

Try lodging a complaint with the mayor's hotline at 202-727-1000. Then try 18th Street NW northbound in the morning and 23rd Street southbound in the evening. Both connect with Constitution Avenue.

Babies on Board

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

The other day I was in line at a store behind a woman who was carrying an infant in a sling close to her chest.

When I got out to the parking lot, I was appalled to see her backing out of her parking spot with the tiny infant still in the sling, between her and the steering wheel!

James E. Halpin


I would call 911 on that one, then get the license plate and phone child protective services for that area. With all the emphasis on child safety these days, it's astonishing that you would see something like that.

Police Directing Traffic

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Kudos to the Alexandria police for having cops at intersections such as Washington and King streets to keep things moving.

Now, if they could have one at Washington and Duke streets, it would be even better.

Sara Uehlein


A salute to the Alexandria Police Department. Stationing officers at busy intersections is one of the highest-profile assists that the police can offer residents.

Driver Training

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

From time to time, you have provided information on defensive driving courses for teenagers. I have been searching the Web without much luck in finding the one I sent two grandchildren to in the past. They were particularly good, with hands-on training and solid tips that have helped both my grandkids in tough situations during the past few years.

I would like to refer others to the group but have given away all the literature received online, and I changed computers without keeping the Web site in my favorites file.

I would greatly appreciate a list of the best ones you have listed in the past, as I am certain I will recognize the organization and be able to go to its Web site for information.

Walter Ochs


I have mentioned three companies:

(1) Car Guys Inc., of Rockville, 800-800-GUYS.

(2) BSR Inc., of Summit Point, W.Va., 304-725-6512.

(3) Driver's Edge, of Las Vegas, which has touring clinics that come to this area, 702-896-6482.

I've received positive feedback on all of them.

Transportation researcher Diane Mattingly contributed to this column.

You can write to Dr. Gridlock at 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071. He prefers e-mails at or faxes at 703-352-3908. Include your full name, town, county and day and evening telephone numbers. Dr. Gridlock cannot take phone calls.