On July 7, I ran letters from commuters who wanted the City of Alexandria to better synchronize its traffic lights along Washington Street so they could get to work faster.
I ran a response from the city's transportation chief stating that the Washington Street lights had been changed to allow for more cross traffic by Alexandria city residents. I lambasted the non-residents of the city who seemed to feel they are entitled to priority on Washington Street.
Now it's readers' turn to lambaste me:
Dear Dr. Gridlock:
Oh, so you "concur" with the Alexandria official's suggestion that commuters "use interstate highways instead of Washington Street," do you? And which "interstate highways" are those, pray tell? I've noticed none between, say, Mount Vernon and Crystal City in the 25 years that I have lived in Alexandria. Maybe I am missing something.
And I am so pleased that "Alexandria officials have shown restraint in allowing this commuting corridor to exist." How good of them.
Are you out of your mind? Do you hear yourself? There are all sorts of traffic problems in Alexandria because those same officials think that ignoring reality will make it go away.
They don't synchronize the traffic lights. They don't allow adequate entrances to the Eisenhower Valley area (fear of the dread commuter and "cut-through" traffic), but allow endless development. The main ways in and out of Eisenhower merge with Beltway entrances and back up every morning and evening in all directions.
They approved Potomac Yard development without widening the roads, so that area backs up. Russell Road backs up at rush hour every afternoon. All is made worse by the ongoing Woodrow Wilson Bridge construction.
Some people can't see the forest for the trees. I think you -- and the "Alexandria officials" -- are leaf people.
Ouch. The interstate highways are the Beltway, Interstate 295 and Interstate 395. With all that's going on with the Woodrow Wilson Bridge construction these days, I'd think you might want to head west toward I-395, with an easy shot into Crystal City.
Dear Dr. Gridlock:
I was disappointed -- no, appalled -- by your response regarding stoplight timing in Alexandria.
It is a fairly simple process to time stoplights in both north-south and east-west directions. But apparently the mayor and City Council prefer instead to have pollution, packed streets, gridlocked intersections and road-raging drivers instead.
I used to work in Alexandria in the 1980s, and that is how it was then. Then someone wised up and for some years it was about as good as could be expected. Now it's back to the bad old days.
James R. Campbell
Dear Dr. Gridlock:
Your reply to John Wright [Dr. Gridlock, July 7] was poorly conceived and missed the point. Even Alexandria officials surely see the benefit of allowing traffic to move with ease through the city during rush hours.
How much more pollution does the city receive if commuters take 30 minutes instead of 10 minutes to drive through town?
How much more painful is it to residents if intersections are blocked because the signal lights are poorly coordinated?
How much more likely are weekday commuters to return for weekend or evening spending sprees if the city seems to manage daily traffic well?
Rather than getting on your soapbox, give the city the chance to say whether there is a problem or whether they have made a change that isn't working.
The city officials aren't saying there's a problem; some commuters are.
Dear Dr. Gridlock:
I am appalled at the Alexandria Department of Transportation for changing the traffic signal timing in Old Town to discourage commuters from using Washington Street.
I am a resident of Old Town, and I am being punished by the city along with those commuters.
Over the last few weeks, my 20-minute commute has turned into an hour-long commute, with the last four blocks to my house taking 25 to 30 minutes to travel.
Yes, additional cars trying to avoid Route 1 construction add to the problem. But it is obvious to everyone stuck in the Old Town gridlock that the traffic light timing is the major problem. Residents of Old Town can't use their cars to shop or run errands between the hours of 5 to 7 p.m. because we can't move through the gridlock.
The Alexandria Department of Transportation needs to consider that its actions to discourage commuters also have a negative impact on Old Town residents.
What if an Old Town resident, or a commuter for that matter, needs an ambulance or other emergency help and can't be reached in a reasonable amount of time because the city has changed the traffic lights to discourage commuters?
That would be a big-time lawsuit for the city. And I'm sure the folks thinking about how to evacuate the District in the event of a terrorist attack can't be thrilled to know that one major artery out of town has to be taken off the map.
I think the Alexandria Department of Transportation needs to rethink using traffic signal timing to discourage commuters.
Dear Dr. Gridlock:
I have long advocated extending the HOV period on Washington Street until 7 p.m. Traffic is at its height at 6 p.m. and continues to be heavy until 7 p.m. There would be ample parking for restaurants either behind the restaurants or on Washington Street going north. I have easily reached Old Town Alexandria restaurants from Mount Vernon during rush hour and found parking.
I think your response to John Wright, especially, was unreasonably sharp [Dr. Gridlock, July 7]. Fairfax County residents from the Mount Vernon area probably make up the majority of the people shopping, dining and attending the theater in Alexandria. More important, expediting traffic would also benefit local residents.
There would be less pollution, especially from cars idling at lights. And if roads were less congested, residents could move about more easily and quickly.
In the past, the lights were synchronized to favor north-south traffic during rush hours and east-west traffic the rest of the time. That seemed to work to everybody's advantage.
Well, we certainly exchanged views on this one, didn't we? North-south commuters have less green on Washington Street because the city this spring re-timed the lights to accommodate east-west traffic. We'll see how this works out.
As I've said before, I feel sorry for you commuters living south of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge project. I wish I had better news, but the work is not scheduled to be completed until late 2011.
Meanwhile, it's okay that we disagree sometimes. It doesn't mean that you're wrong, or I'm wrong. We just have a difference of opinion.
Opposing views make for a broader debate.
You've made some good points. Thanks for your comments.
Dear Dr. Gridlock:
Law enforcement officers in our city certainly don't deserve to be reported for parking illegally to grab a bite to eat or a cup of coffee [Dr. Gridlock, July 7].
I support any type of police presence, even double-parked police presence.
It is ludicrous to expect officers to park legally while conducting non-emergency business. If, by parking illegally, officers are able to patronize local establishments and increase their on-street presence, I fully support the practice.
We should be doing everything we can to support these officers -- not griping about a motorcycle on the sidewalk.
And your request to readers to pass along information about offending vehicles for police to investigate? Please. These men and women deserve far more respect, support and accommodation.
Well, that is certainly a counterpoint. The voices I have heard on this subject are mad that police park illegally. They don't like police doing something they can't do, especially when police are not on an emergency call.
However, now that you mention it, if I were a downtown merchant, it would be okay by me if police parked on a sidewalk near my front door or picked up a cup of coffee nearby.
We disagree over the matter of double parking, however. We don't want police on a non-emergency call blocking a lane of traffic. We want police to move traffic along, not block it.
Thanks for your views, Mr. Farley.
Metro on Parking Spaces
With regard to Metro's parking lot procedures, Metro's parking customer service representatives survey each facility by 9 a.m. weekdays to see if a lot is full. If it is, with the exception of the reserved spaces, a representative will place a sign at the entrance that says the lot is full except for the reserved spaces.
Reserved parking spaces for permit holders are held until 10 a.m. After that time, all unused spaces are available to general parking customers. If a customer enters a parking facility and cannot find a space, the representative can let the driver exit without paying.
Metro is working on a pilot program to install "Lot Full" signs and associated equipment at several parking facilities by the end of the year.
Public Affairs Specialist
Area Transit Authority
So, there you have it. If the lot is full, a sign should be posted at the entrance. If you are inside and can't find a parking space, a customer service representative can let you out without charge.
Let me know how this is working 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 firstname.lastname@example.org, or faxes, at 703-352-3908. Include your full name, town, county and day and evening telephone numbers. Dr. Gridlock cannot take phone calls.