Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I suppose that after decades of watching the increase in aggressive driving and biking in the Washington area, nothing should surprise me. Every rush hour is a circus of drivers who refuse to use turn signals or who make "interesting" maneuvers with a cell phone pressed to their ear.

However, James Evans's complaints [Dr. Gridlock, July 7] about students who "just take their sweet time" boarding a school bus, "not caring about the drivers they are delaying," was more than a little over the top.

You were absolutely right in your advice that Mr. Evans explore an alternate route to work. But I am disturbed that a commuter took offense at such a situation, where the law is clear and the safety of youngsters is at stake.

Please, folks! If the timing of your commute is so strict that a delay triggers an aggressive response where children are present, think about leaving home 10 minutes earlier, changing your working hours, telecommuting and, most of all, adjusting your priorities.

Lee Nesbit


Thank you for a solid response.

An Alexandrian's View

Earlier this month, Dr. Gridlock took the side of the City of Alexandria in its decision to change the traffic signals on Washington Street in order to take green-light time from north-south commuters and give it to east-west motorists, who are more likely to be residents of Alexandria.

Here's a letter from a person who lives on Washington Street and commutes into Washington. So she sees both sides. She makes some good points.

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Regarding your comments of July 7: Oh, please. As a Washington Street resident who used to work in Old Town and now works in downtown Washington, I can attest that keeping Washington Street moving serves both Old Town residents and those from other areas.

The fact is, most Old Town residents don't work in Old Town. They are part of the crowd thronging Old Town's major streets, trying to get to or from the Capital Beltway, the District, etc.

In addition, Old Town is a historic city, located at the confluence of Routes 1, 7 and 236, plus the Capital Beltway and the George Washington Memorial Parkway.

Surely, no one can be surprised that people from areas other than Old Town use this transportation hub.

As a historic city, Old Town also has a complete grid of secondary streets that serve residents who want to drive around town without using major streets. When I worked in Old Town, I certainly did that, to avoid what I thought at the time was heavy traffic.

Finally, let me add that I cross Washington Street on foot each morning to start my commute, and it didn't become noticeably easier when the timing of the lights changed.

For me, the bottom line is that the afternoon commute was already two to three times longer than it used to be (due to Beltway construction), and the new timing of the lights has made the morning commute just as bad.

The more quickly everyone can move through Old Town, no matter where they live, the better.

Merideth Menken Poulson


So, the more green light for north-south traffic, the better for everybody? The city didn't see it that way when it made the changes. Thanks for your views, though. Well worth consideration.

Drop the Coins

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Metrobuses recently started using fare boxes that require more careful, one-by-one depositing of coins. Fare paying with coins now takes longer.

Metro might prefer that people use SmarTrip cards on buses, but some of us don't want to. It would be helpful if Metro resumed selling bus tokens and tickets that can be used for the regular and the elderly/disabled fares. Those slip into the fare box more easily.

Rachel Hecht


Here is a response from Candace Smith, a Metro spokeswoman:

"Metrobus fare boxes were outfitted with a new coin insertion slot last month to eliminate coin jams. Just [as with] vending machines, riders have to insert coins one at a time. Previously, riders would dump a handful of coins in the fare box coin cup, which caused the machines to malfunction and caused delays for passengers waiting to pay their fare.

"Metro encourages customers to use SmarTrip cards, because of the security, speed and convenience. However, we still sell and accept Metrobus tokens for regular-fare customers and students.

"Tickets were discontinued over 18 months ago, as they cannot be inserted into the new fare box. Seniors and people with a disability can purchase a weekly $6 Metrobus flash pass that provides unlimited travel on all Metro buses for that week.

"Information about these passes, and tokens, can be found by clicking on this link:

"Seniors also can pay half the one-way fare upon presentation to the bus driver of their WMATA Seniors card, or a Medicare card."

Thank you, Ms. Smith. I hope that covers your questions, Ms. Hecht. It seems that a flash pass would be the quickest way to board if you are a senior citizen and/or disabled.

Otherwise, tokens could be the way to go. Let Dr. Gridlock know how this works.

Left Turn Legalities

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I recall a couple years back there was a question about the legality of entering an intersection to make a left turn without an arrow.

I believe the answer was that it was legal, at least in Virginia, to proceed into the intersection and if an opening never came up, to turn left after the light changed to red.

It was legal for only the first car that was in the intersection, but no more than that.

If that was the case, is it still true? My son is going to behind-the-wheel driving classes in Virginia, and his instructor said it is not legal to do that.

Can you help me on this?

Randy Handt


You've got it right. It is legal for a left-turning vehicle to enter an intersection on a green light, and then make a left turn when oncoming traffic has stopped, even if the turn is against a red light.

However, following cars get no such grace. If they enter an intersection behind the left-turning vehicle, they risk being ticketed for running a red light or blocking an intersection.

Now, a more important question is whether this driving school will provide your teen behind-the-wheel driving experience on the Capital Beltway or other interstate highways, teaching him how to enter and exit such roads, how to merge and how to respond to a tailgater. Do they teach the use of turn signals, how to drive in city traffic, how to pass a slow-moving vehicle on a two-lane road and how to correct if your vehicle drifts onto the shoulder?

Do they provide experience in paying at a toll plaza, what to do if an animal suddenly jumps in front of your vehicle or how to react when a bee buzzes the driver's head? Do they teach how to correct skids, how to use automatic braking systems, how to change a tire, proper maintenance of a vehicle and how to drive in rain, in snow or at night?

I have yet to find a commercial driver's school that teaches those skills, so it is up to the parents to be sure their teenager has lots of practice, until they feel comfortable that he or she is ready to drive solo.

Animal Matters

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I was very disturbed to read about the injured, struggling deer by the roadside [Dr. Gridlock, July 7]. Please advise your readers that one can dial 911, explain the situation and ask to be put through to the local animal control dispatcher. An officer will be sent out immediately to end the animal's suffering.

In Fairfax County, if an individual does not feel comfortable calling 911, he or she can call the county Animal Shelter at 703-830-1100 or the Police Department's animal control division at 703-691-2131.

With regard to dead-animal pickups, the Virginia Department of Transportation has a wonderful staff of customer service personnel who address these matters. The local number for the Northern Virginia District Office is 703-383-8368. The toll-free Highway Helpline number is 800-367-7623. You can also make a report online at

I have found that VDOT has been very responsive in these matters. If an animal is not picked up in 24 hours, I call back just to make sure the report was not missed. The customer service staff is always very accommodating.

Marcia Sullivan


Thanks for the tips. They are worth clipping out and putting in the glove compartment.

Accident Cleanup

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Who pays for cleanup of road accidents?

A recent accident on Interstate 95 near Fredericksburg closed the road for many hours and required extensive cleanup and pavement repair because a large amount of pesticide or herbicide spilled onto the road.

This accident was caused by a truck rear-ending another truck.

James Ireland

Great Falls

The cost will be the responsibility of the company operating the truck that caused the accident, according to Ryan Hall, a Virginia Department of Transportation spokesman. The accident occurred about 1 a.m. on July 7 when a tractor-trailer rammed into another truck. The driver of the tractor-trailer was killed, and his load of corrosive chemicals was propelled through the cab and onto the pavement.

The accident closed southbound I-95 for 28 hours and the northbound lanes for nine hours. A VDOT contract crew worked overnight in the rain to repair the road surface, Hall said.

Once the cleanup contractor submits a bill to the VDOT, the department will send it along to the insurer of the tractor-trailer, Hall said.

Anti-Theft, to Boot

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Here's an idea to discourage car thefts that's no more odd than others I've seen. I wonder how much it would cost to buy a "boot" such as the ones the District government attaches to one of your vehicle's wheels if you're too much of a scofflaw.

Seems to me that it would be bulletproof and ought to discourage a car thief.

Mark LaBarre


That's a novel approach. What does it say about the number of cars stolen in our area that we may now have to boot ourselves for protection?

I haven't heard of citizens booting themselves to keep their vehicles from being stolen.

Anyone out there have any knowledge of that?

Rumble Over Strips

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

With respect to the motorist's complaint about the rumble strips on lower Cathedral Avenue [Dr. Gridlock, July 14]:

The strips were installed with the support of this toddler-filled residential neighborhood because of chronic speeding by commuters.

If the motorist drove within the speed limit, his car would not "rattle apart."

Judith Shapiro


I'm learning about this in increments. I believe the writer was not complaining about the rumble strips, which were put in by the city as a traffic-slowing measure, but about a large pothole and rutted conditions of Cathedral Avenue between Connecticut Avenue and the Rock Creek and Potomac Parkway.

Readers are directing me to different segments of the road, and it is difficult to determine on paper where the problem is.

In addition, jurisdiction rests partly with the District of Columbia Department of Transportation and partly with the National Park Service.

I'll take my NPS map and walk the road to see if we can determine where the District/NPS boundary is, and where the problems are.

Which Way?

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

The street sign on the Northwest corner of 15th Street and Rhode Island Avenue NW says Rhode Island Avenue NE.

Dane Lifsey


I've passed this on to District officials, and they said they will get right on it. Let me know when they make the change.

Lumps in the Road

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

What's with the asphalt lumps every 45 feet or so across all lanes on the Capital Beltway outer loop between St. Barnabas Road and Route 5?

Like minor speed bumps, they are extremely uncomfortable, and you can't avoid them.

Michael R. Kelley

City of Fairfax

What you're seeing and feeling is patchwork on the Beltway. The Maryland State Highway Administration is going to resurface the inner and outer loops of the Beltway between Routes 210 and 5. First comes the patching, then the overlay.

Elsewhere on the Beltway, the highway department is doing the same work from the Prince George's-Montgomery county border to Route 193 (Greenbelt Road).

Each of those projects is about three miles long and scheduled to be finished next spring.

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.