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 each day.
About what time does the parking lot there become full in the morning?
VRE doesn't keep that information, said 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 August.
Burke has 552 parking spaces and was at 91 percent capacity in August; Manassas Park to the west has 600 spaces and was at 105 percent capacity; and Rolling Road (Springfield) to the east has 368 spaces and was at 85 percent capacity. Keep in mind that 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 would more than double the capacity, to 1,400 vehicles. That should be ready in 2007.
Perhaps readers can tell us what time their VRE lot fills up, 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 at www.metroopensdoors.com, which will tell you about 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 refineries and oil drilling platforms along the Gulf Coast. We were told this had disrupted our fuel supply, causing shortages and huge lines at gas stations, not to mention the spike in prices.
In response, I went into my socially responsible mode and changed my driving habits. I'm walking, instead of driving, to a nearby shopping center, eliminating frivolous trips in the car and driving more slowly.
Why does it seem as if I'm the only one trying to conserve gas by driving at, or slightly below, the posted speed limit? Is it rocket science that the faster people drive, the more gasoline they'll burn?
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 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 in transportation. I've already had an 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 many people to reexamine how they get around. Some have started walking more for short trips.
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 as if 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 buy 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 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).
A Message for Commuters
Dear Dr. Gridlock:
Yesterday I noticed a handmade sign reading "Get the Hell Out of Clifton PWC [Prince William County]," followed by an expletive, nailed to a utility pole along Henderson Road.
Today, at the same location, I observed a much larger handmade sign reading "Get the Hell Out of Clifton Commuter," followed by an expletive.
As a commuter who has been using Henderson and Yates Ford roads to reach Route 123 for more than 20 years, I found the display remarkable and unprecedented. It's not clear what the sign maker wants commuters to do other than stay out of his neighborhood.
What it does point up, though probably unintentionally, is the need for a mid-county connector between the Prince William and Fairfax County parkways to take the pressure off local public roads, not to mention the Route 28 and Interstate 95 corridors.
Given the recent Supreme Court decision broadening the power of eminent domain, it may be time for the two counties to start condemnation proceedings, beginning with the property of the profane sign maker, to make way for the much-needed intercounty connector.
John T. Nichols
Clifton is a quaint town of 200. The surrounding roads are two lanes wide and wind through residential development. Thousands of commuters drive through this area every weekday.
You wouldn't want commuter traffic in your neighborhood, either.
The culprits here, I believe, are the Prince William and Fairfax County supervisors, who allow rampant development without the necessary road systems to accommodate the increased traffic.
So people like you are left to back roads and small towns.
I can't see the supervisors knocking down the homes of their constituents to build roads for commuters from another county.
Perhaps you can take another look at Prince William County's I-95, Route 123, Route 28 or Interstate 66, all roads designed to carry commuter traffic.
Or try county commuter buses, or rail (Virginia Railway Express from Manassas), or ride-sharing (call 800-745-RIDE for free matches).
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.
Must Bikers Use the Path?
Dear Dr. Gridlock:
I drive on Rock Creek Parkway most days, and on occasion I am frustrated to come across cyclists using the road instead of the adjacent bike path.
Their presence is dangerous in a number of ways, such as when drivers try to pass them on the winding, two-lane portions of the parkway.
Are cyclists required to use an adjacent bike path when one is provided?
No, not in any of our jurisdictions, according to Eric Gilliland, executive director of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association.
Many bicyclists eschew the Rock Creek bike path because it is cratered and cracked from tree roots and has too many puddles when it rains, Gilliland said. Can't blame them.
You might be interested to know that the Rock Creek bike path, from P Street NW to Broad Branch Road NW, is scheduled to be rebuilt. That project, involving the city and the National Park Service, is scheduled to start in January 2007 and take six to nine months to complete, according to the District government's bicycle coordinator, Jim Sebastian. That might take more bikes off the roadways.
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.