Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I am very glad you are publicizing the dangerous conditions for pedestrians crossing between the Mall at Prince George's and the Prince George's Plaza Metro station.

I live nearby and often drive or walk along East West Highway, and almost every day I see a potential accident.

I think the solution is simple: Make the area under the pedestrian bridge a ground-level crosswalk.

Traffic signal lights could be hung below the bridge, and the lights could be timed so drivers would not have to sit through an additional traffic stop.

The pedestrians crossing between the Metro and the mall have spoken with their feet. They want a ground-level passage. Why not give them what they want?

I am amazed that letter writer John M.B. Essex [Dr. Gridlock, June 16] was mostly concerned with the danger to "those driving down East West Highway."

When pedestrians and cars collide, the pedestrian inevitably gets the worst of it. Do we need to wait for a fatality before something will be done?

As Hyattsville becomes more urbanized, the rights and needs of the walking public need to be respected.

Martin Burke


First, it should be noted that during a recent state survey of 1,600 pedestrians crossing East West Highway at that point during rush hour, 90 percent went across a median, and 10 percent used the overpass.

Dave Buck, spokesman for the Maryland State Highway Administration, said there are pedestrian signal lights a few hundred feet from the overpass, at Belcrest Road to the east and at the main entrance to Prince George's Plaza to the west.

Plus, there is the overpass at mid-block, with signs around it warning of the danger of crossing the road there and urging use of the pedestrian overpass, Buck said.

"We try not to put mid-block signals on any road, especially one that would be right under something that is working fine," such as the overpass, Buck said.

You have a point, Mr. Burke, but so does Dave Buck. Pedestrians wanting to cross East West Highway have safe options and should reconsider the dangerous mid-block crossing across a median.

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Yes, the pedestrians crossing East West Highway to get from the Prince George's Plaza Metro station to the Mall at Prince George's create a hazard for themselves and drivers. But the enclosed overpass feels unsafe and forces people with baby carriages and packages to climb up and down many steps. It's no wonder that 90 percent of the people crossing -- 1,600 in a single rush hour! -- choose to remain at the street level.

Major development is planned for this area, and Prince George's County is pushing for more shopping. Why not welcome and respect customers who travel by Metro? Instead of complicating their trip to the mall, perhaps developers and business owners could work with Metro and government authorities to extend the station underground, with an exit/entrance on the mall side of the highway.

Sheila Bernard


Dave Buck, spokesman for the Maryland State Highway Administration, says that if strollers and packages are a burden, pedestrians should go to one of the intersections with signals on either side of the pedestrian overpass.

I don't see Metro's creating an expanded entrance when several pedestrian crossings are nearby.

Signs Behind the Times

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Metro extended the Blue Line to Largo in December. However, the brown pylons on the station platforms and the large signs over the escalators still list Addison Road as the final destination.

People who are unfamiliar with the system are constantly asking other riders whether the Largo train is the same as the Addison Road train.

When is Metro going to update the signs?

Eric Jackson

Silver Spring

Says Lisa Farbstein, spokeswoman for Metro: "We have not updated the signs. It's very expensive, but it's something we will do, definitely."

An Empty Tollbooth

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Recently I was driving south on Interstate 95 and approaching the Fort McHenry Tunnel. The far-right tollbooth's green light was on, but I found the booth door closed and no attendant.

I wasn't going to back up, so I went through and heard the buzzer. What should I have done?

Bob Koenig


You did the right thing. Officials don't want drivers backing up in traffic, because other motorists wouldn't be expecting it.

The buzzer indicated you had not paid the $2 toll. A photograph of your license plate was taken, and you will receive a bill for the toll. It is important to pay that promptly, according to Bryon Johnston, a spokesman for the Maryland Transportation Authority.

Johnston said it is unusual to find a booth unstaffed except in a dedicated lane for E-ZPass. He wonders if you got into an E-ZPass lane.

Railroad Crossing Rx

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

A few years back, I remember reading in one of your columns an address where one could report railroad crossings in need of repair.

What is that address?

The railroad crossing on Route 6 in La Plata is atrocious and in need of immediate attention, with many pieces of metal lying about and holes to suck up tires.

Whom can we complain to?

Andy Andrews

La Plata

CSX Corp.'s headquarters is in Jacksonville, Fla. Call 800-325-8182 with complaints. Please clip this out and put it in the pocket of your vehicle. You may need it again.

Slowing Down to Save

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

With gas prices making operating my 2002 Toyota Sequoia more expensive, I have adopted a strategy of driving 5 to 10 mph lower than the posted speed limit to improve gas mileage.

As a result, I have noticed that navigating has been much smoother, and I feel safer.

However, I frequently notice that vehicles drive up close behind me and then speed around to pass on the left, as if I am impeding their travel.

I believe road mannerliness is an art that needs more attention and documentation in the region. I witness many signs of good and bad road manners.

I don't wish to inflame other drivers, which could create a more dangerous and expensive commute, nor do I want other drivers' impatience to cost me more money in fuel consumption. What should I do?

Drew Asher


It depends on whether you are on an interstate highway or secondary roads. I would not recommend that you drive 45 mph on the Capital Beltway, which has a 55 mph speed limit, because people actually drive 70 to 80 mph there. I have the same advice for Interstate 95 between the Capital and Baltimore beltways.

You should be able to drive more slowly on secondary roads, as long as you can put up with the tailgaters who want to pass you.

I'd map out roads that are the least traveled and proceed with your method.

Trains Too Short

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I use the Blue Line to get to and from work and am astounded that at the height of rush hour, either 8 to 9 a.m. or after 5 p.m., Metro runs four-car trains.

Besides overloaded trains, this causes waiting passengers who spread out on the platform to run after the train and tackle other passengers who are positioned in front of the train doors.

What criteria does Metro use to determine how many cars run on a line? Also, why would it run four-car trains during rush hour?

Kristin St. John


"We don't have any more cars," said Lisa Farbstein, Metro spokeswoman. "Right now, the Blue Line is the least crowded, so four- and six-car trains are all they need right now.

"More cars are due to arrive later this year, and on into 2006, and we will decide where they go.

"Our first priority is to make all four-car trains into six-car trains, and some of those into eight-car trains."

So, by that standard, you should see those four-car trains turned into six-car ones by the end of the year. Good news, I think.

Teens and Motorcycles

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

From reading your column over the years, I am aware that you are a strong advocate of thorough driver training for teenage drivers. My teenage daughter will be turning 16 in March, and she is already taking classroom instruction at her school. She has a learner's permit and has proven to be a sensible and cautious driver.

She drives defensively, follows the rules of the road and treats other drivers courteously. If only all drivers were like that!

Now for the problem. Her father, my ex-husband, wants to get her a motorcycle for her birthday. I objected very strongly, but I realize that other than forbidding her to ride it in my presence, my hands are tied.

It has been suggested that I am overreacting to this matter, but I truly am not trying to rain on her parade. The thought of this terrifies me, but my main concern is not her driving ability. It's the driving ability, or lack thereof, of everyone else on the road.

I am concerned for her safety. Her father has a motorcycle and occasionally takes our children riding, but he has been driving for 35 years.

Am I overreacting? Are there any statistics that support my belief that common sense says this is a bad idea? Are there any parents out there who have been through this? And, lastly, if she gets the motorcycle, are there any motorcycle training programs?

I would really appreciate your thoughts on this matter.

Nancy Jennings


I'm with you, Mom. A 16-year-old operating a motorcycle scares me to death, and I wonder, if you have custody, why you couldn't prevent it until she turns 18. Don't you have to give your permission for her to get a driver's license?

Here's more from Norman Grimm Jr., a safety expert for the American Automobile Association:

"You have an inexperienced driver who needs to learn, and any parent should want to surround that child with as much protection as possible, and here they are on two wheels, with no protection other than a helmet," Grimm said. He said he wouldn't allow it, either.

Good luck, Mom. Keep me posted.

No Longer Priority Seats?

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I am writing to see if you know why the priority/handicap seating signs have been removed from the ends of the cars on the Metro trains. There is still priority seating at the centers of the cars that is impossible to get to when one boards at the end of a car and the cars are full.

It might be possible to get to the center priority seats through the center doors, but that would require the train cars to always come to a stop at the same spot, which I don't think I will see in my lifetime.

Is the sign removal a policy change?

Richard Puckett


Metro has replaced the old signs with new ones with this approximate wording: "According to federal law, these seats reserved for persons with disabilities," according to Lisa Farbstein, Metro spokeswoman. That should give the restrictions more bite than the old advisory signs.

Farbstein said she is not aware of any signs that have been removed and not replaced. If you find any, send me the car number, line, date, time and direction.

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.