Dear Dr. Gridlock:
When driving from the Leesburg area to visit my family south of Richmond, I usually take Route 15 to Route 17, which intersects with Interstate 95 at Falmouth near Fredericksburg.
I've avoided the Capital Beltway that way for many years, but the traffic on Route 17 now backs up for miles before the Interstate 95 ramp. On a Friday afternoon, when local drivers mix with out-of-state travelers, the delay can be more than an hour.
Are there any plans to synchronize the traffic lights through this congested area? If not, can you suggest a faster way to get to I-95?
The congestion at this interchange is the logical result of development creep along Route 17, west of I-95, without improvements to the I-95/Route 17 interchange.
The road simply has too many vehicles to make synchronized lights work, I believe. It has saturation congestion. I've been there. Best to avoid it on Friday afternoons, if you can.
VRE Lot Capacities
Dear Dr. Gridlock:
My brother-in-law is looking at houses near Burke. He hopes to catch the Virginia Railway Express train from the Burke Centre station on a daily basis.
About what time does the parking lot there become full in the morning?
I'm afraid VRE doesn't keep that information, according to spokesman Mark Roeber.
We can get the parking capacity of the Burke Centre station lot, and of the stations before and after Burke, and the average use figures for each station during the month of August.
Burke has 552 parking spaces and was running at 91 percent capacity in August; Manassas Park to the west has 600 spaces and was running at 105 percent capacity; and Rolling Road (Springfield) to the east has 368 spaces and was running at 85 percent capacity.
Keep in mind those are figures for August, when many people were on vacation. Usage is probably higher now.
VRE is planning an upper parking deck at the Burke Centre station that will increase capacity to 1,400 vehicles, more than double the number available now. That should be ready in 2007.
Perhaps some readers can give us a better answer as to what time their VRE lot fills up these days, particularly at the Burke Centre station.
I hope that helps, Mr. Feeney. Good of you to think of mass transit. You might want to try the trip planner on www.metroopensdoors.com, which will tell you of Metrorail and bus options for your relative's commute, and you might also check out the free carpool matchmaking service at 800-745-RIDE.
Slow Down, Save Gas
Dear Dr. Gridlock:
I don't get it! Among the havoc caused by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita was damage to many of the refineries and oil drilling platforms along the Gulf Coast. We were told this has disrupted our fuel supply, causing some gas stations to run dry while others had huge lines -- not to mention the huge spike in prices felt by all.
In response, I went into my socially responsible mode and changed my driving habits. I'm walking, instead of driving, to my nearby neighborhood shopping center; eliminating frivolous trips in the car; and driving more slowly, which is the real complaint I have with my fellow motorists. Is it rocket science that the faster one drives, the more gasoline they'll burn?
So why does it seem like I'm the only one trying to conserve gas by driving at, or slightly below, the posted speed limit?
Where are those drivers we see just about every night on the news complaining about the cost of filling their vehicles or the horrendous lines they had to endure, or those people who are constantly bemoaning the precarious state of the earth's environment?
Answer: They're all speeding past me in their armored personnel carriers and, in quite a few instances, doing so in a reckless and dangerous manner.
Perhaps $5-a-gallon gasoline will change driving habits and force a switch to alternative transportation. I've already had one inquiry on the legality of using a golf cart to run short errands on Northern Virginia roads. The carts are permitted on roads posted at 25 mph or less. Registration is not required, just a driver's license.
Based on my mail, $3-a-gallon gas is forcing a lot of people to reexamine how they get around. Some have started walking more for short trips.
Reporting Reckless Drivers
Dear Dr. Gridlock:
I was recently driving my motorcycle on Route 193 (Georgetown Pike) on my way to Great Falls between the Capital Beltway and the Madeira School. I was traveling about 5 mph above the speed limit when the driver of a huge SUV pulled right up behind me and honked his horn incessantly.
Because the road is so hilly and winding, it took a minute before I could find a place to pull over, at which point the SUV had already begun to pass me, with the driver gesturing wildly and almost running me off the road.
He then got stuck behind a construction vehicle, so I caught up with him and noted the license plate.
Is there anyone with whom I can lodge a formal complaint? His behavior was exceedingly rude and dangerous. By the way, when he came to his turn, he did not bother to use a turn signal!
Paula J. Pettavino
Police generally won't respond to complaints about traffic violations unless they see them. Two exceptions are drunken-driving or reckless-driving complaints. In those cases, they will be on the lookout for certain vehicles if they have time.
It sounds like your experience is in the latter category, reckless driving. If you have a cell phone, dial #77 to report the offender. If you have to wait to get to a phone, it might be too late, but you can give it a try.
'Our Driving Culture'
Dear Dr. Gridlock:
I recently turned 18 and already see that there are serious problems with our driving culture.
Parents continue to purchase high-riding SUVs, but they are stunned when their inexperienced children flip them over.
Bestowing a car upon a new licensee cannot be solely about privilege; it must also be about safety. Thus, my question: If children are our most valuable assets, why do we let them drive around in the oldest, most unsafe cars?
Additionally, the poor quality of many local driving programs contributes to teenagers' accidents. How many accidents could be avoided if kids knew how to safely overcome a skid, avoid a deer or stay away from unsafe vehicles?
If public driving programs continue to be inadequate, I hope that parents will send their children to private driving schools. The investment is worth it.
Such insight for an 18-year-old. Good for you for being so socially conscious, Alexander.
I, too, believe parents should not put their new drivers in SUVs. The larger vehicles require more skill to drive than smaller cars.
As for older vehicles, there is a thought that the big ones offer more protection in a collision. On the other hand, many of them do not have air bags and are more unreliable.
The "safe driving" schools that I'm familiar with are one-day affairs, at Car Guys in Rockville (800-800-GUYS) and BSR Inc. in Summit Point, W.Va. (304-725-6512).
More Lanes for Merrifield
Good news and bad news for those of you experiencing gridlock in the Merrifield area, between Falls Church and Fairfax.
The good news is that, with recent funding, the state is going to widen Route 29 to six lanes, divided, between Merrilee Drive and the Beltway, and Gallows Road to six lanes, divided, between Route 50 and Providence Forest Drive.
The bad news is that construction is not scheduled to begin until 2010. There is no timetable for completion, but such projects usually take two to three years.
Transportation researcher Diane Mattingly contributed to this column.
Dr. Gridlock appears Thursdays in the Extra and Sundays in the Metro section. You can write to Dr. Gridlock at 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071. He prefers to receive e-mail, at email@example.com, or faxes, at 703-352-3908. Include your full name, town, county and day and evening telephone numbers.