Dear Dr. Gridlock:
In response to letters from Richard Wallace [Dr. Gridlock, June 16] and Michael Ahern [Dr. Gridlock, June 2], and your comments, Dr. Gridlock: Rather than criticizing the off-duty police directing traffic at Route 28 and Routes 619/215, or the church for having a Sunday service, why not lay the blame squarely where it belongs?
Those routes are country roads that are being used daily by thousands of residents.
The traffic on those roads is an atrocity most hours of the day, not just on Sunday afternoon.
Shouldn't the state and county use our precious tax dollars to widen those roads and erect some signal lights? Prince William County has known for more than 20 years that it would permit dozens of new developments in the western corridor, but it did nothing to prepare.
The commonwealth does not spend anywhere near the money necessary to improve our roads. It is not the fault of the residents for buying homes in western Prince William (and farther west), but rather the fault of those who allowed the homes to be built and did not prepare for the human beings who would inhabit them.
I think you've answered your own questions, particularly in the last paragraph. Now I have some questions for Prince William residents:
The county approves development, and the state builds the roads. The state lags way behind and will not catch up, yet your county supervisors keep approving more and more traffic-choking residential developments in such places as Bristow, Gainesville and Haymarket. Does that make sense? Why do you good citizens keep reelecting them?
I'm probably missing something, but is it okay that you sit in traffic for hours on end?
I live in Centreville, right next to Prince William County, and thus see the stopped traffic on outbound Route 29 lined up for as much as five miles before the traffic light at Route 234 every weekday. And Interstate 66 is barely moving. Madness. What does that do for a person's quality of life, for the time available for the family?
We have friends who are building a new home in Haymarket. She works in Crystal City, he in the District. Oh, boy. What are they looking at, two-hour commutes in each direction? I wonder if they have thought this through.
I do hold home buyers responsible for some of this suburban gridlock: for choosing three-car garages, walk-in closets and kitchen islands while adding to congestion (and diminishing their own quality of life).
I look forward to answers to my questions.
Trucks Aren't Truckin'
Dear Dr. Gridlock:
I drive from Gainesville to Warrenton daily on Route 29. The speed limit on this stretch of road is 55 mph most of the way, and the travel time usually is less than 20 minutes.
Lately, however, I've noticed an increase in the number of construction vehicles and dump trucks on the highway. Many mornings the trucks can be found occupying both lanes, traveling around 40 mph, with no intention of turning onto a side street or changing lanes.
Are trucks allowed to travel below the posted speed limit on Route 29 in the left lane?
If they're all traveling at the same slower speed, they should do so in the right lane so commuters can pass them on the left.
Unless signs are posted prohibiting trucks from the left lane, as on the Capital Beltway, I believe they can use that lane. However, there is a Virginia law that says if an overtaking vehicle signals an intent to pass, the slower vehicle must pull to the right and let the overtaking vehicle pass.
Of course, if you're honking at truck drivers, that might get you crunched between two dump trucks.
The construction vehicles are another sign that your supervisors are irresponsibly approving more development that will attract more drivers who will need more road capacity that isn't there.
Count Her In
Dear Dr. Gridlock:
I noted the letter about the crowded four-car trains on Metro's Blue Line, and Metro's response that the Blue Line is the "least crowded" [Dr. Gridlock, June 30]. Metro has been saying that for years, and it's just plain wrong.
Metro apparently counts the number of people using the various subway lines only at the last stop on each line.
It is true that by the time a Blue Line train gets to Springfield, there are relatively few passengers left on board, compared with, say, the number who ride all the way to Vienna on the Orange Line. But what about the intermediate stops?
The Blue Line disgorges most of its Virginia passengers at the Pentagon, Pentagon City and Crystal City stations, and in Alexandria. Those passengers don't get counted using Metro's last-station counting method.
Anyone who actually rides the Blue Line knows that between downtown Washington (say, McPherson Square) and the Pentagon, it's absolutely packed; in fact, it's impossible for anyone except maybe a linebacker even to board a four-car Blue Line train at Farragut West. But of course, the people who count passengers and allocate cars for Metro never actually ride the trains!
Metro does count customers from the most crowded points on the line, according to Lisa Farbstein, Metro spokeswoman. The Blue Line count is taken at its most crowded station, which is Rosslyn.
The staff tallies the numbers according to passengers per car. By that count, here are the most heavily traveled lines, from most crowded to least:
* Green Line (103 passengers per car);
* Orange Line (96);
* Yellow Line (96);
* Red Line (91);
* Blue Line (86).
The Blue Line now has four-car trains. This fall, Metro is to begin receiving the first of 184 new cars that will be dispersed through next year.
The first priority, Farbstein told Dr. Gridlock, is to upgrade four-car trains to six-car trains. Then some trains will be expanded to eight-car trains. By the end of the new deployment, about a third of the fleet will consist of eight-car trains.
Sell SUV, Save Gas
Dear Dr. Gridlock:
I'd like to comment on a letter published June 30 and your accompanying suggestion. The writer had adopted a strategy of driving 5 to 10 mph below the posted speed limit to save gas, and you generally supported the strategy except on select beltways and interstate highways.
Driving significantly below the posted speed limit during rush hour on any road that is moderately or well traveled is inviting trouble.
We are all painfully aware of the increasing congestion on commuter routes in the region that leads to increased driver stress and anxiety.
The last thing commuters need is someone driving way below the speed limit because they think they will actually save gas.
More likely, that strategy will lead to an incident that would result in other drivers sitting in traffic and burning gas to go nowhere while the mess gets sorted out.
A better suggestion for the writer would have been to sell that 15 mpg Toyota Sequoia SUV and buy a fuel-efficient Toyota Corolla or equivalent car. That way they could do the posted speed limit and double their gas mileage at the same time.
I think the writer was recommending driving 5 to 10 mph slower than posted speeds, in the right lane, to feel safer.
I suggested staying off interstate highways. It's a commentary about our driving culture that such a suggestion evokes criticism.
Some Must Sit
Dear Dr. Gridlock:
Whoever proposed removing seats in up to 16 Metrorail cars in a pilot program to expand capacity does not ride Metro. Those of us over 65 are already unable to find a seat.
I am recovering from cancer, and the chemotherapy causes neuropathy. Standing is no longer simple, especially when there are no grip bars to help with one's balance.
There are no more seats for the disabled and seniors.
I've got Metro saying there are set-aside seats for the disabled, with new signs that include the language "Federal Law." I've also got passengers who say there are no signs.
Try this: If you see no signs for disabled seating, please send me the car number, the color of the line, date, time and direction, and I'll sit down with Metro and try to figure this out.
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 email@example.com, or faxes, at 703-352-3908. Include your full name, town, county and day and evening telephone numbers. Dr. Gridlock cannot take phone calls.