Dear Dr. Gridlock:
I would like to raise the topic of panhandling on Prince George's County streets, specifically at Allentown and Brinkley roads. The last I heard, panhandling was illegal in the county, yet there seems to be no enforcement of the law.
On any given Saturday, it is common to find high school students wading through traffic, panhandling for change, presumably for a charitable cause.
I believe the schools' practice of sending children into the streets begging for money is appalling and unsightly. I cannot believe that the faculty and parents are teaching our future leaders how to beg for money instead of teaching students how to earn.
What happened to bake sales, carwashes and talent shows? What happened to parents and teachers seeking sponsorships through business and churches? Will it take a child getting hit by a car while panhandling for the police and County Council to respond?
This has been a recurring problem in Prince George's County. Panhandling in the streets is a violation of county law, and police tell me they take it seriously.
"Feel free to call us, especially if young children are involved," said Cpl. Debbi Carlson, a spokeswoman for the Prince George's County Police Department.
The number is 301-333-4000. If there are still chronic problems at a certain location, go to the nearest police district station and talk to the commander or duty officer.
I share your concern about youths in traffic. It is a dangerous way to raise money.
Why Bus Avoids HOV Lane
Dear Dr. Gridlock:
Why aren't Metrobuses required to use the HOV lane on Route 50? The gasoline savings alone should make it mandatory.
I'm sick of sitting in traffic and spending additional commuting time while the HOV lane is wide open. What is the purpose of this lane if eligible vehicles don't use it?
Route 50 is bad enough during rush hour without people entitled to use the HOV lane clogging up the regular lanes.
Metro's sole bus route on Route 50 is the B-22, which runs between New Carrollton and Bowie. The reason the bus doesn't use the left-hand HOV-2 lane is because it travels only a short distance on Route 50 and would have to cross four lanes to get to the HOV lane, then four lanes back to exit on Route 197 at Bowie. It's a safety issue, said Metro spokesman Steven Taubenkibel.
Driving Instruction Falls Short
Dear Dr. Gridlock:
My 15-year-old son recently finished a driver's education program with a well-known driving school to satisfy a requirement for obtaining a driver's license.
Imagine my surprise upon hearing that his teacher had not taken him on the Capital Beltway or Interstate 270, both of which are less than five miles from where we live.
That experience, it turns out, is not unique to my son. Almost all of his peers received the same inadequate driving instruction.
Granted, the responsibility for ensuring that a teenager is ready to drive does fall predominantly to parents, but in light of the current spate of teenage deaths due to poor driving skills, it would behoove driving schools, and the authorities who should oversee them, to take their jobs more seriously.
Mercia Ordman Rindler
You would think the state legislatures would require such schools to provide certain basic instruction, such as practice on an interstate highway, but that's not the case. The legislators are asleep when it comes to driver education standards.
For years I've cautioned readers to expect little from these commercial driving schools. By all means, do not think your teenager is ready to drive solo just by "graduating" from one of these schools.
Teenagers should receive their primary driver's education from their parents, over a long period, with training in every conceivable driving situation, including interstate highways. Only when parents feel their child is ready to drive solo should they allow a driver's license.
The commercial driving schools provide certificates necessary to get a license. Expect nothing more.
Dear Dr. Gridlock:
Has Maryland stopped requiring front license plates on cars? I have noticed an increasing number of cars with rear Maryland license plates but no front plates.
When did Maryland change the rule, if it did? And if front plates are still required, why isn't the law enforced?
Maryland, Virginia and the District all require plates front and rear. Some states do not require a front plate, and I wonder if there is some confusion.
I haven't received other letters suggesting that this is a widespread problem. Maryland law enforcement officers wrote 3,096 missing license plate violations for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2004, and 2,634 for the fiscal year before that. But those statistics do not distinguish between missing front plates and rear plates. The fine is $55, with no court costs.
If you see a violation, hit #77 on your cell phone, and police may respond, depending on their availability.
Is anyone else seeing one-plate cars in a two-plate state?
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, the 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 paying.
Let me know how this is working out.
Signs Slowing Traffic
Dear Dr. Gridlock:
I was driving south recently on Interstate 95 in Howard County in freely moving traffic, but as I approached the exit for Route 198, traffic came to a sudden stop. Lots of screeching tires, with one car even veering off onto the shoulder to avoid hitting another.
The apparent cause of the sudden slowdown was an electronic overhead sign warning of delays and slow traffic approaching the exit for Interstate 495.
I took note, because that was my intended destination, and continued on my way.
Immediately after the sign, traffic picked up again and was moving freely . . . until another electronic overhead sign appeared right before the exit for I-495 with the same "traffic warning."
Once again, traffic came to a drastic halt as motorists hit the brakes to read the sign. And, just as before, as soon as I had passed under the sign, traffic resumed its easy flow, even as I exited onto I-495.
So, my question is, who is in charge of deciding when and what messages should be posted on those overhead signs? I can certainly see their utility in alerting motorists of accidents and road closures, but in this case they seemed to cause more traffic problems than they prevented.
The Maryland State Highway Administration is in charge. The agency monitors state highways from a command center near Baltimore-Washington International Airport. This matter has come up before, and the state says the signs are serving their purpose in getting drivers to slow down.
I'm not sure how the state could do it better. Thoughts?
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.