Dear Dr. Gridlock:

While I understand that slugging increases carpooling, a major slug pickup point in the District on 19th Street NW between F and E streets is causing traffic problems.

The pickup point is in a no standing/no parking lane. It really disrupts rush-hour traffic on 19th Street and creates a hazard as cars with slugs merge back into the flow.

Many of those vehicles also ignore the right-turn-only rule for their lane and proceed straight ahead.

I do not know if the slug pickup point is legal or illegal. This one seems to have appeared recently, and it is popular.

What can be done to have this practice stopped or moved to a better and safer area?

Pamela Bigart

McLean

I've checked with city officials about a similar situation of slug pickup points tying up evening rush hours on outbound 14th Street between Pennsylvania Avenue and the 14th Street Bridge.

Here is the city's position.

1) District officials would be happiest if everyone commuted into the city via mass transit or carpools, reducing gridlock and wear on the city road system.

2) Slugging, or the impromptu formation of carpools at designated pickup points, is recognized as an efficient way to get people in and out of the city.

3) Therefore, the city is reluctant to do anything to affect slugging pickup points, even if they appear to be in violation of posted signs.

4) Not only that, but city officials suggest that solo commuters bothered by the pickup points should join one of the carpools that are slowing their commute.

I have other suggestions for you to consider:

Bypass the 19th Street bottleneck by heading west on K Street NW onto the Whitehurst Freeway, exiting at Key Bridge and then entering the George Washington Memorial Parkway on the Virginia side of the bridge. You can exit the outbound parkway at Route 123 into the heart of McLean. Or take Canal Road NW outbound to a left onto Chain Bridge and from there onto Route 123 in McLean.

Or, check out 21st or 23rd streets NW southbound, although I keep hearing those are difficult because of illegally parked vehicles.

Other than that, ask your supervisor if you can work at home, or check out the alternate transportation options on www.commuterconnections.com. Good luck, and keep me posted.

No Traffic Enforcement

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I've called the police about drivers weaving in traffic and not using turn signals. I've been told that unless the police witness it or I sign a warrant, there is nothing to be done. It almost makes me want to attach a camcorder to my car.

My solution to the problem would be to create a special traffic enforcement division. This division would only enforce traffic laws, so its officers would not have to be trained in law enforcement, just traffic law enforcement.

This new division would also create new jobs. It seems the current number of law enforcement personnel in the field is insufficient.

The funding for this division would come from an increase in traffic fines. If traffic fines were a big enough financial burden for most people, maybe they would be taken more seriously.

I think that by making drivers respect traffic laws, or at least obey them, we would have fewer accidents, and traffic would run more smoothly.

Jay Rubin

Falls Church

The city clearly doesn't want to do that; in fact, it has dissolved the former traffic division at police headquarters and dispersed those officers to district stations.

There is no department-wide, coordinated effort to issue moving citations to drivers. That -- along with a lack of voluntary compliance with traffic laws -- is why we seem to be heading more and more into downtown traffic anarchy.

I am with you on raising the fines. They were increased to $100 for illegal parking during rush hour, but that problem persists. Perhaps $250 is the next step.

VRE Burke Centre Parking

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Regarding the reader's question about when the Virginia Railway Express parking lot fills at the Burke Centre station [Dr. Gridlock, Oct. 20], it is best to arrive by 7:35 a.m. to catch the 7:45 train into the District. After that, parking can be difficult.

The train is a great way to commute!

Jennifer Komnenous

Burke

Thanks for the suggestion. VRE doesn't keep records of when its lots fill, so we depend on readers to tell us.

I should also note that VRE is building a second story to the existing lot that will more than double capacity, to 1,400. That should be ready in 2007.

Put On That Plate

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

My 2005 Ford Escape Hybrid does not have any way to attach a front plate. What am I to expect from the traffic police?

Lauren Merritt

Reston

A fine of $250 per citation. Plus, if you park in the District, the city's parking control aides will write you up in a heartbeat for failure to display a front tag if you live in a state that requires one.

Virginia, Maryland and the District require license plates front and rear. It's the law. And it's your responsibility to see that plates are mounted in front. They don't have to be positioned dead center, but they have to be in front. There is no license plate fairy to mount front plates or grant exemptions for some vehicles.

I wouldn't accept a new or used vehicle that didn't have mounted license plate frames, front and rear, and at least temporary license plates in them. I'd write that into the sales contract and make the local dealer install them. It's illegal to drive off their lot without front tags.

If you already have a car without front plates, take the problem to your mechanic, pronto.

Taxi Fares: Meter or Zone?

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I am writing in response to the Dr. Gridlock Live Online discussion on meter or zone fares for District taxis [www.washingtonpost.com, Oct. 24].

I ride cabs from Van Ness Street to the Watergate complex a couple of times a month. I realize it is up to me to know my fare, so I went to the city Web site www.dctaxi.dc.gov. On the home page, under "Information," there's a "Taxicab Zone Maps" link, which takes you to a map, a chart of zone charges and a fare calculator.

The zone system charges you according to the number of zones you travel through, from pickup point to drop off.

It does not charge you for time spent in traffic. I ride from the exact same zone to the exact same zone every time I take this ride, and there can be only one fare.

When I got hassled by a cabbie, I pulled out the fare calculator printouts, and there was my fare in black and white from the D.C. Taxicab Commission. Argument over.

However, this Web site and its fare calculator are not well known. It's like Metro putting the location of its system maps in tiny type on its home page. Why are these important public services not promoted and displayed prominently?

I believe the zone system was designed to keep trips around downtown relatively inexpensive. If distances traveled were among the fare determinants, riders would be at the mercy of traffic and the cabbie's chosen route.

As a taxpayer, because I'm paying the fares of federal government officials (through their expense accounts) when they catch a cab for lunch or to head over to the State Department, I want the fares as low as possible. I know how much it costs to get from my house to work. I don't want it to change depending on traffic or what route is chosen.

I want the zone system to stay. I'm not convinced that it's so broken it needs fixing.

Sharon Buck

Washington

Thanks for the information. I suspect you have made yourself among the most knowledgeable of D.C. taxi customers. For visitors or suburbanites, however, the zone system can be perplexing because the customer often doesn't know what the fare should be.

I'm glad the zone system works for you. I prefer a meter. We then know the exact fare. No argument there, either.

What do you folks think: meters or zones for D.C. taxi fares?

Dulles and HOV

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

What is the afternoon HOV rule for westbound Interstate 66? I use it coming from the District, where the signs say that from 4 to 6:30 p.m., HOV-2 for Dulles International Airport traffic is allowed.

One might assume from those signs that I could drive solo on Interstate 66 during HOV hours as long as I am going to Dulles.

One might also assume that saying one is going to Dulles would be a valid defense to an HOV violation ticket. But I don't think that's the case, because every day I see cars pulled over by the police on the entrance ramps in Arlington and farther west, presumably for HOV violations.

Ted Steele

Vienna

It helps to have a document -- an airline ticket, passenger receipt or itinerary -- as proof of your Dulles destination. For those who don't, Virginia State Police have developed a set of questions that help them determine whether the solo motorist is actually going to Dulles. Police are understandably reluctant to share those questions.

P.S. Even if you stop at Dulles just for a cup of coffee or to buy a newspaper, you qualify for a Dulles exemption from HOV rules in the morning rush.

Transportation researcher Diane Mattingly contributed to this column.

Dr. Gridlock appears Thursday in The Extra and Sunday 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.