Dear Dr. Gridlock:
I love your column, and for the most part, I agree with much of what you and your readers say. However, when I read Tom Wiedemer's letter titled "Slow Down, Save Gas" [Dr. Gridlock, October 20], I couldn't help but feel my blood pressure rising.
While it is sometimes true that driving 55 mph is more fuel-efficient than driving 70 mph, staying slightly below posted speed limits as an act of social consciousness is a ludicrous endeavor.
The faster and smoother the traffic flows, the less time we spend in gridlock, affect the environment and experience stress.
There is nothing worse than a self-righteous individual disrupting the flow of commuter traffic by driving below the posted speed limit to satisfy his own warped sense of social responsibility.
That depends on what your definition of the word "slow" is. Tom Wiedemer said in his letter that he is walking more, instead of driving, and motoring "at, or slightly below the posted speed limit" in order to save on fuel costs.
My view is that someone going 45 mph on one of our interstate highways is a traffic hazard (we've all seen them), because so many people are flying by at 70 mph-plus.
But shouldn't one be entitled to drive 52 to 55 mph in the right lane without joining the pack breaking the speed limit?
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?
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.
Turning at Gilberts Corner
Dear Dr. Gridlock:
What would it take to fix traffic obstructions at the intersection of Routes 50 and 15 at Gilberts Corner in Loudoun County?
I am wondering why the highway department can't make a turn lane for northbound Route 15 traffic trying to turn east onto Route 50.
As it is now, the through traffic on two-lane Route 15 backs up, and the right-turning traffic has to wait with it.
The same goes for the other three directions, although northbound Route 15 is the one most backed up in the mornings.
Are there any plans for improvements at Gilberts Corner?
P.S. Maybe we could get Sen. Warner to travel it about 7 or 8 in the morning. Then I bet something would get done.
Hume, Fauquier County
Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.) undoubtedly is familiar with Gilberts Corner. He lived just south of Route 50 in Fauquier County when he was married to actress Elizabeth Taylor, and he commuted to Capitol Hill.
And it's likely that not much has been done to improve that intersection since those long-ago days.
Readers tell me northbound Route 15 traffic backs up for a mile or two in the morning.
The Virginia Department of Transportation plans to convert the intersection into a large roundabout that would eliminate traffic signals and keep traffic moving in all directions. The roundabout would also serve as a right-turn-only lane from northbound Route 15.
Construction on the $8.9 million project would probably begin in the summer or fall of 2007, according to Ryan Hall, a VDOT spokesman. The project is funded.
I appreciate VDOT's trying to save money by not constructing a turn lane that might have to be destroyed when building the roundabout. However, since any relief appears about three years away, and since we have a crisis at that intersection, I wonder if VDOT could reconsider and install a right-turn lane from northbound Route 15 now. That would ease the burden for a lot of commuters.
Recycling License Plates
Dear Dr. Gridlock:
I have tried unsuccessfully for some time now to find out from the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles whether any license plate recycling programs exist in the area. If Northern Virginia does not have such a program, does the District or Maryland?
Thank you very much for your assistance, both in this matter and in all of the useful information you provide weekly. Your column is a must-read for me every Thursday!
I am inferring from your letter that you wish to recycle your own license plates. If so, that would not be a good idea. Virginia law requires that you return unneeded license plates to your DMV branch.
You don't want them floating around where they might be used by a car thief. I get sad letters about that problem from people who have donated vehicles to charity and have neglected to remove and turn in their license plates.
P.S. The Virginia DMV does recycle license plates, spokeswoman Pam Goheen said.
Attach That Tag
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?
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.
Coast to Save
Dear Dr. Gridlock:
Though gasoline prices are coming down, I have a suggestion that should increase auto mileage noticeably, especially in town: Coast whenever you can. Here are some procedures for coasting:
1) Prepare by making sure your tires are properly inflated. That will decrease rolling resistance and increase tire life. The recommended pressures are usually listed on a tag near the driver's door.
2) Start out sensibly. Don't accelerate quickly to the appropriate speed -- especially away from stoplights. Just push the pedal to where it needs to be for the speed limit and let the car pick up at its own pace. If anyone honks, wave cheerfully at them, secure in the knowledge that you are saving money.
3) As soon as you sight a red stoplight, coast into it so little braking is needed to come to a full stop.
4) When you come to a downgrade, don't motor down the slope. Let up on the gas and let gravity do the work.
You will be surprised by how far you can coast down even mild grades. Cars made in the last several years do much, much better than those of previous automotive eras.
Practice these techniques until they become instinctive. Remember that a 10 percent increase in your mileage -- say from 20 to 22 mpg -- drops the effective price of a $3 gallon to $2.70. And I can achieve that increment -- not on every tank, but the majority of them -- with my 3,400-pound convertible.
Thanks for the tips. We could use them in this time of high gasoline prices.
However, I don't know about you, but if I try to drive at or under the speed limit on most any street, it's just a matter of seconds before someone is tailgating me. That leaves me with three bad choices: (a) put up with that dangerous practice, (b) speed up or (3) pull over and let the tailgater pass.
I wonder how one employs your tips and deals with tailgaters.
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 cabby, 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 cabby'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.
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 and keeps the fares down. 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?
Dear Dr. Gridlock:
What is the name of the driving school you have recommended for teenagers? It was a school that taught defensive driving skills: skids, driving in bad weather, etc.
Readers recommend Car Guys Inc. of Rockville (800-800 GUYS) or BSR Inc. of Summit Point, W.Va., just over the Loudoun County line (304-725-6512). Also Driver's Edge (702-896-6482) of Las Vegas has drawn many favorable reviews, but it comes to our area only once a year or so. It holds clinics at the FedEx Field parking lots.
All three schools offer one-day courses. The first two cost between $200 and $300; Driver's Edge is free.
I commend you for looking into these courses. They can only help our young drivers.
Getting to Dulles Road
Dear Dr. Gridlock:
Help! How do you get onto the toll-free Dulles Access Road when leaving Dulles International Airport's economy long-term parking lots?
I am an occasional user of Dulles Airport and always have the same problem when leaving the economy long-term parking lots. I can't find a sign for Washington, the Capital Beltway, the Dulles Toll Road or even Vienna. All the signs are for Virginia towns, such as Centreville. I'm not familiar enough with Northern Virginia to know where those towns are. I therefore have no idea which road to take to get on the toll-free Dulles Access Road heading toward Washington.
Last time, I managed to get onto the Dulles Toll Road -- I can no longer remember which sign I followed -- but it cost me $1.50 to get back to the Capital Beltway. It was very frustrating since I should have been on the toll-free Dulles Access Road.
One time before that, returning late at night, I ended up on an unknown road, completely lost. I finally found a gas station and got directions.
Tara Hamilton, spokeswoman for the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, wrote this response:
"We apologize for your reader's difficulty in finding the Dulles [Access Road] after she leaves the Economy Parking Lots at Washington Dulles International Airport.
"Part of the difficulty may have been caused by some work we are doing on Rudder Road, the roadway onto which all vehicles departing the Economy Parking Lots' Central Exit Plaza must use to exit the Airport. The project will improve the roadways in the areas that affect the Economy Parking Lots and rental car facilities. An additional traffic lane has been added to Rudder Road, and a new traffic signal has been installed at the Economy Parking Lots exit onto Rudder Road.
"Here is our recommended exit strategy for leaving the Economy Parking Lots at Dulles:
"All Economy Lots share the Central Exit Plaza. After leaving the plaza, take a left onto Rudder Road at the new traffic light. There is a sign that reads 'Airport Exit,' with an arrow pointing to the left.
"Once on Rudder Road, stay to the left and follow the signs for 'Airport Exit.' The road will merge onto the Dulles [Access Road], eastbound toward Washington, D.C., and all points in-between. Drivers traveling to Washington should merge left to the through lanes of the Dulles [Access Road]."
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 firstname.lastname@example.org, or faxes, at 703-352-3908. Include your full name, town, county and day and evening telephone numbers.