Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Driving in our recent heavy rains with near whiteout conditions prompted this letter. As I shook my head at the drivers seemingly ignoring the law that requires lights on when wipers are on, I came to realize that many of those drivers must not be aware that, in most cases, turning on driving lights does not automatically turn on one's rear lights.

Approaching from the rear in the spray, even very cautiously, I was unable to see many of these cars until I was virtually upon them, because they had no visible rear red lights. A public awareness campaign and enforcement from the authorities would help, don't you think?

Speaking of which, can you explain why this country does not have a general public awareness program for driving?

I've driven in a dozen other countries in the past few years, and many have impressive signs reminding drivers to stay right except to pass, use turn signals when changing lanes, turn lights on at dusk, etc.

These are not little signs that everyone ignores, but colorful, well-designed messages that get people's attention.

Thanks for the opportunity to vent!

Bob Shields

Haymarket

Virginia transportation officials could do a better job helping motorists by installing improved signing. But first they have to want to.

Living Where You Work

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

You frequently suggest that people live close to their work. That is the biggest laugh I have heard in a long time. I just saw a report where the average home in Arlington costs over $600,000, and in Fairfax it was $500,000.

I was out in Gainesville recently, and the building boom there is just incredible. I am guessing the traffic there is not bad enough that people are not willing to live there. Plus they have several neighborhoods where new homes cost in excess of $700,000, and there does not seem to be a problem selling them. So why would the prices get any better closer to the city?

The city has more jobs than there are homes surrounding the area. Just because the job is located in the city does not mean you get paid enough to live near the city.

Wyatt Miedema

Fairfax

You are correct. The more affordable homes are farther out from the District. New subdivisions are booming in places like Loudoun and Prince William counties, where buyers may find themselves in for a hellish commute due to too much demand on an inadequate transportation system. Gainesville to Washington is one of those awful commutes.

Supervisors who approve new residential developments without necessary road improvements are some of the congestion culprits. The Virginia General Assembly members, who could give local governments more power to regulate growth, are others. The buyers of these new homes are also contributors to commuting gridlock.

Some commuting alternatives are working at home; four-day work weeks; staggered work hours; regional office centers; slugging to use HOV lanes (www.slug-lines.com); carpooling (call 800-745-RIDE for matches); Metro (try www.metroopensdoors.com and click on "Trip Planner"); local commuter buses; or Virginia Railway Express (703-684-1001).

VDOT, Give Us a Sign

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

My biggest pet peeve is road signs and the highway departments responsible for them. Signs are too often missing or inadequate (how many years did it take for them to put up signs from Interstate 395 north to the southbound George Washington Parkway?), just plain wrong or impossible to read at night.

Errol Waits

Arlington

You strike a chord with me. I've lobbied for years for a G.W. Parkway sign on I-395. You would think that would be a no-brainer, but the Virginia Department of Transportation said that there were too many letters in the George Washington Memorial Parkway name to fit on an overhead sign, and that a ground-mounted sign would add to sign clutter in that area. In recent months, VDOT somehow managed to put one up as part of a sign redesign of Pentagon area roadways.

VDOT could be a lot more helpful to motorists with efficient, consistent signs. For instance, overhead signs should be lit at night and should note cross streets, so approaching motorists can get into the correct turn lane.

The existing little signs at the corners are often too small and too poorly lit to be seen at night. For instance, try going inbound on Route 29 (Lee Highway) to its intersection with Gallows Road in Merrifield. That is a major intersection, but there is no overhead sign, and it is hard to see the small Gallows Road sign at the corner at night.

Other states provide overhead signs that can be seen from a distance. Maryland does. VDOT says the overhead signs are too heavy to be mounted on the traffic light wires that span some intersections. But Maryland manages that quite nicely.

Anyone care at VDOT? I don't think so.

Heartbreak of Bum Meters

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Challenging broken parking meters in Arlington is not a hassle at all [Dr. Gridlock, Oct. 9]. I've done it twice, and all I had to do was call the Arlington County telephone number listed on the parking meter to first report the malfunctioning meter and later check on the result of my report. In both cases, the tickets were voided.

In the first case, the meter was eating the quarters faster than normal; in the second case, the meter was not working and the dome displayed a FAIL sign.

Antonio Russo

Arlington

I'm glad your situations worked out. But I don't advise parking at broken meters. You can become hostage to a bureaucracy. That can be a problem, especially in the District, which issues some 2 million parking tickets a year.

I get e-mails from despairing souls who parked at a broken meter in the District, got ticketed, reported the broken meter promptly, took time off to appeal the ticket and still had the fine upheld, and in some cases doubled for failure to pay in time.

Beware the broken meter.

D.C. Traffic Enforcement

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Having read recently about the ineffectiveness of the District's red light cameras, I am wondering how long it will take the city to realize it is speeding that is the problem.

It seems that the police have completely given up on controlling speed in this city. Traveling 20 mph or more over speed limits in the city appears to be common practice and is the real danger on our streets.

Is policing speeders just an impossible task?

Bill London

Washington

Apparently it is an impossible task, considering the extent of the city's traffic enforcement. Do you know how many officers the Metropolitan Police Department assigns to traffic patrol in the downtown commercial center? Zero. They could be methodically enforcing traffic laws, such as speeding and intersection blocking, but they are not.

The Department of Public Works handles the parking control aides who write most of the parking tickets but do not issue tickets for moving violations. The two dozen traffic control aides who are posted at downtown intersections also work for the Department of Public Works and also do not write tickets for moving violations.

District police do have a dozen or so fixed speed cameras and mobile cameras in cruisers to cite violators. Those cameras record license plate numbers, and police issue citations by mail. And, the city has about 50 cameras at various intersections to catch red light runners.

Is that effort enough? If you drive in the city, you know the answer.

Blocking the Box

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Concerning Robert Van Epps's pet peeve about drivers who do not move into the intersection to make a turn when the light turns green [Dr. Gridlock, Oct. 6]:

As the father of a sheriff's deputy and a volunteer firefighter, I can tell you that one of their pet peeves is people who move into the box, or the center of the intersection, when a light turns green, but a turn is not possible because of oncoming traffic.

I have been taught to stay out of the box until it is clear for me to complete my turn.

Thomas H. Brown

Sterling

It is proper and accepted practice around here that the lead vehicle waiting to make a left turn can creep into the intersection and wait for a gap in oncoming traffic, even if the turn has to be made at the end of the green light cycle (on amber or red).

However, a second motorist should not creep into the intersection until after the first one has made the turn and the light is still green. Vehicles bunching up in the intersection can lead to the blocking that you describe, Mr. Brown.

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Does Robert Van Epps [Dr. Gridlock, Oct. 6] understand that the law states you are not supposed to enter the intersection until it is safe to clear the intersection? People who block the intersection to cross traffic because they can't complete a safe and legal turn are among my pet peeves.

Brian Rugen

Sterling

It is legal -- and the custom here -- for the lead vehicle to creep into an intersection and wait for a gap to make a left turn, so long as you enter the intersection on a green light.

Since many traffic lights have a second or two when red is displayed in all directions before the light changes, that interval should allow the turning motorist to complete the left turn as oncoming traffic is halted.

On the other hand, there is no law that requires a driver to creep into the intersection to make a turn if they don't feel that is safe.

Synchronizing Saves Fuel

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

In these times of higher fuel prices, I know of a sure-fire way to reduce fuel consumption by 10 to 20 percent or more for all drivers. And drivers need not modify their vehicles or the number of miles they drive.

My savings method is traffic light synchronization. There are too few instances of traffic lights being coordinated for the load of traffic being directed.

What would it take for our local jurisdictions to implement this simple and cost-effective method to reduce fuel costs and ease ever-increasing gridlock? Isn't this the age of computers?

Tim Scott

Glenn Dale

This is a popular subject. When I ask officials about it, they uniformly say that lights are synchronized, or are about to become more coordinated.

Two of the obstructions to a free field of green lights are (a) saturation gridlock, where such timing is meaningless because of the creep-and-crawl, and (b) an equal demand on the signal from cross streets, such as at many intersections in the District, where it would not be practical to designate which street should have green light priority.

Traffic lights are usually synchronized to a certain speed. If that speed cannot be maintained because of congestion at the moment, the benefit of synchronization disappears.

One reader told me about a system in Amsterdam where overhead electronic signs tell motorists what speed to travel to make all the green lights. The Dutch may be on to something.

In Virginia, a federal grant allowed the Department of Transportation to put video cameras at major intersections along Route 7, between Tysons Corner and Leesburg, to observe and adjust lights according to traffic demands. I haven't heard that it has made much difference. That corridor is overwhelmed with vehicles.

We simply have too much traffic in the area, with more on the way.

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 drgridlock@washpost.com, or faxes, at 703-352-3908. Include your full name, town, county and day and evening telephone numbers.