Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Until yesterday, I always merged out of a lane that was ending as soon as I saw a notice that the lane was about to end.

Of course, traffic in the adjoining lane is often slowed because of the merging. Yesterday I could not merge until the end of the lane, and I found that not only could I merge more easily, but also I had moved quickly to the head of the line.

I felt guilty because I passed so many cars in the slowed lane into which I was merging. On the other hand, it seemed like I was helping traffic flow by moving quickly to the end of the lane and merging.

What is the courteous, safe way to merge when a lane ends? Thank you!

Steven Snodgrass


I tend to slow and move over when there is a gap in the traffic flow. I don't like running to the front of the line and butting in. But my method is not the most efficient way to handle the situation.

More efficient is for traffic to stay in the disappearing lane until the last second, then take turns merging into the through lane. This is called the "zipper" method and is used in Europe and some states here. The method won't work now in our area because we do not have signs explaining it. So it's often everyone for him- or herself at the merge point.

2 Plates Ease Identification

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I truly cannot understand why some drivers are getting all heated up about missing front license plates on Maryland vehicles.

What purpose, specifically, does a front plate serve? If a car is speeding toward you, perhaps fleeing a crime scene, how would one be able to memorize the front plate? All I would be able to tell is that, yes, that car definitely had a rectangular piece of metal affixed to its front bumper, and it was white in color, with some numbers, or maybe some letters, or perhaps both!

It is far easier to memorize the rear plate of a car as it is traveling away from you.

John M.B. Essex

University Park

Law enforcement officials in Maryland argue that they want a front plate to more easily identify vehicles. Most states require two plates for that reason.

A Window on Crime

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

May I add a word to the comments you have received regarding the bigoted, ignorant remarks made by the Silver Spring man regarding the safety -- or lack thereof -- of living in Prince George's County [Dr. Gridlock, Sept. 29]?

It occurs to me he might want to move from Silver Spring as well, because he actually lives a lot closer than I do to areas where most of the crimes occur.

Given what has gone on in Silver Spring of late, I wonder if he has put bars on his windows yet?

Jean Winters

Fort Washington

Taxi Meters vs. Zones

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I am writing in response to the Dr. Gridlock Live Online discussion on meter or zone fares for District taxis [, 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 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.

Sharon Buck


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?

Interstate 595?

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

How about putting some heat on the Maryland State Highway Administration to properly sign the stretch of U.S. Route 50 from the Capital Beltway to Annapolis?

This highway was raised to interstate standards in 1995 and is officially designated Interstate 595 but has never been signed as such.

The official explanation is that people are so used to calling it Route 50 or the John Hanson Highway that it would be too confusing to post it as an interstate.

Most places boast of being accessible by interstate highway; here we are believed too stupid to accept it. Or is something else going on?

Robert D. Hershey

Chevy Chase

U.S. Route 50 is a continuous road from Ocean City, Md., to Sacramento, Calif. It cuts right across our metropolitan area. Yes, a 20-mile segment from the Capital Beltway to Annapolis was upgraded to interstate highway standards and was to be known as Interstate 595. But the Maryland State Highway Administration convinced the feds that the interstate designation would be more confusing than simply leaving it as Route 50. I agree with the state.

Otherwise, you might come up with the same kind of crazy interstate sign designations as those on the inner (clockwise) loop of the Beltway, approaching the Springfield interchange. There, signs say that in order to get onto the Beltway (which you are already on) you have to exit the Beltway, when, in fact, all you have to do is continue straight ahead.

If you like interstate designations, try Virginia's Tidewater area, which has multiple interstate signs on its road system, including roads that morph into various other interstate routes with little warning. It's enough to bring back horse travel.

Parents Are Responsible

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Concerning juvenile delinquency, on or off Metro, I have observed and read of many incidents and am always disappointed in the suggested corrections.

The problem is caused by poor -- or no -- parental control.

Once that fact is acknowledged, there is some hope for changing behavior; otherwise, you're wasting your time.

Steve Angst

Upper Marlboro

Driving Schools

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.

Caroline Enterline

Great Falls

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, and Driver's Edge is free.

I commend you for looking into these courses. They can only help our young drivers.

Getting to the 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.

Jennifer Brasher


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]."

Thank you, Ms. Hamilton. Hope that is helpful.

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