Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Recently, signs were posted on Route 32 in Howard County between Routes 108 and 144 that say "Mandatory Headlight Use" and "Avoid the Fine -- Turn Lights On." Nowhere is there a sign stating the fine.

Could you find out what the fine is for not turning on your headlights? Also, I have traveled that road six or seven times since the signs went up, and I have noticed that about 25 percent of the drivers do not turn on their headlights. Are the police planning to enforce the signs?

Lynda Kinder

Cooksville

Those signs were put up to enhance safety in a section of Route 32 that has only one lane in each direction and a 55 mph speed limit, according to Maryland State Highway Administration spokesman Chuck Gischlar.

That Route 32 segment is one of only three such areas in Maryland where headlights must be on at all times. The others are on Route 90 in the Ocean City area and on Route 15 south of Frederick.

The fine for failing to burn headlights as required by law is $45, according to the Maryland State Police. A spokesman, Sgt. Rob Maroney, said police will enforce the law, but I gathered from the way he explained it that it is not a high priority.

Be sure to have your own headlights on, Ms. Kinder, and you might quickly flash them at oncoming motorists who are not in compliance with the law.

Where's the Kiss and Ride?

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

What are the plans to reopen a kiss-and-ride area at the College Park Metro station? I thought it was supposed to be there when the new garage opened, but I don't see any signs for it.

Meanwhile, during rush hour, cars line up along the curb of River Road all the way to the intersection with Paint Branch Parkway.

As I turn right from Paint Branch, I immediately have to get into the left lane on River Road. Further compounding the problem is the fact that people who are just doing a quick drop-off often don't even pull to the curb, thus blocking the remaining lane of traffic on River Road.

Ann Wass

Riverdale

Metro spokesman Steven Taubenkibel says the kiss-and-ride lot is on the ground floor, inside the garage. Clearly Metro could do a better job publicizing it, because you and other regulars can't find it. Look inside the garage, and tell me if that solves the problem.

Blue Lights Special?

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I live in Northern Virginia and drive into the District for work. On a number of occasions lately, I have seen individual Metropolitan Police Department cars running their blue lights without their sirens.

A few times, I have pulled over to let them by, but they are almost never driving faster than usual and in fact don't seem to be in any hurry at all (They wait in line at a red light like other cars, for example.).

What's up with that? Am I still required to pull over and make way for them when I see them? Or is there just some new policy that has them running their blue lights even when they're just tooling around town -- a policy that doesn't require me to get out of the way?

Rebecca Davis-Nord

Springfield

D.C. Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey noticed that Israeli police used their emergency lights just to let citizens know that police were around. So a couple of years ago, Ramsey directed cruisers on patrol to display flashing blue lights.

You don't have to pull over for them, according to police spokesman Quintin Peterson. You need to pull over only if you hear a siren.

That seems confusing to me. I can see why you'd be puzzled, Ms. Davis-Nord.

An Idle Question

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Does Montgomery County provide guidance to its school bus drivers regarding length of time to sit with the engine idling vs. turning the engine off and restarting?

I am out walking every morning and constantly see buses that apparently have arrived ahead of schedule to pick up students. They sit by the side of the road for 10, 15 or more minutes with their engines on.

That wastes expensive fuel and pollutes the atmosphere.

I know that in some situations, it's more economical to sit with the engine on rather than turn it off and restart it, but I would think that 10 or 15 minutes or more must be over that line.

Nancy Chapman

Frederick

It is. "We have a very strict policy that doesn't allow idling for more than five minutes," says Montgomery County schools spokesman Brian K. Edwards. "Drivers are regularly notified of this, and it is part of the code of conduct for drivers."

When spotting idling beyond five minutes, Edwards says, citizens should note the four-digit number on the side of the bus and report the situation to the county schools transportation department at 301-840-8130.

Let me know if this continues, and note the street, date and time of day.

Route 210 Ramp to Open

A new ramp from Route 210 (Indian Head Highway) northbound to the outer loop of the Beltway is scheduled to open today. This larger ramp should provide more holding room for vehicles trying to make the connection and relieve some of the gridlock on northbound Route 210.

But the core problem -- too many vehicles trying to squeeze onto too few Beltway lanes -- will not be alleviated. The problem will continue until 2008, when the new Route 210 interchange is completed and the Beltway is widened to five lanes in each direction, according to John Undeland, a spokesman for the Woodrow Wilson Bridge project.

You can follow the changing traffic patterns by logging on to www.wilsonbridge.com.

Considering all the congestion in the area, why not ask your supervisor if you can work at home, at least until the construction is finished? Let me know if he/she says yes. Or, ask whether you can work at one of the telework satellite offices in Southern Maryland. Call 800-695-6105 for more information.

Ditch the Zone System

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

While the taxicab zone system may work for well-informed, well-prepared regular riders like Sharon Buck [Dr. Gridlock, Nov. 10], it does not work for occasional riders like me, nor does it work for the friends and family members who have visited us. I imagine it doesn't work well for tourists, either.

Because I don't always know when I'm going to want to take a cab, I can't be prepared with a printout. I've lived here 15 years, and I still find the zone maps in the cabs difficult to interpret.

Even on routes I regularly take, I have been charged a variety of different prices. The fare from my house to Reagan National Airport ranges from $14 to $25. Even with the handout that riders receive while waiting in the cab line at the airport, I've never won an argument about that fare.

I hate having to prepare myself for an argument every time I get into a cab.

When out-of-town visitors take cabs to our house, I regularly find that they have been overcharged, even if we've told them beforehand what the fare should be.

When you get ripped off by a cabdriver the moment you step off the plane, it doesn't make you feel good about the city. Tourism is an important business in this city; we need a meter system that is fair and understandable to visitors and residents.

I've also had cabdrivers refuse to drive me somewhere because it's a long drive for a lower fare. They're not supposed to do that, but they do. I've sent complaints, with the driver's name and license number, to the D.C. Taxicab Commission, but have never received a response.

While I believe that most cabdrivers are honest and not trying to take advantage, the zone system is too confusing and prone to abuse. It needs to go.

Anne-Marie Bairstow

Washington

Your assertion is right on: "I hate having to prepare myself for an argument every time I get into a cab."

You shouldn't have to live that way -- and get overcharged to boot.

I appeared at a Ward Circle AARP meeting in upper Northwest last week and found few defenders of the zone system. Several in the audience theorized that metered cabs would charge them less than zoned-fare cabs because the trips cross so many zone lines.

I ask this question: Do any of you know of anywhere else in the world that has a zoned-fare taxicab system like the one used in the District?

A Meter Matter

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Your warning about parking at broken meters in the District was right on [Dr. Gridlock, Nov. 17]. I had the same situation as letter writer Paige Conner -- a broken meter -- and reported it, but I got a ticket. I mailed it in with the explanation of the broken meter, submitted the report number and fully expected the fine to be dismissed.

Much to my amazement, I received a long letter back detailing how the Department of Public Works had checked the meter before, during and after the time of my infraction and determined the meter to be fully operational. This after I lost several quarters in the meter.

To read the letter, it sounded as if they dismantled the meter, checked the software and found it to be just fine. I think it's a racket.

Mary Cavanaugh

Washington

It could be incompetence, or an oversight. I wouldn't park at a broken meter. Once you get into the ticket adjudication system, it can be hard to get out.

The Right Way to Turn

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

One dangerous behavior I see more and more is the right turn on red without any stop.

I have to take evasive maneuvers every week because someone comes zooming from a side street and thinks "right on red" is all there is to the rule.

Signs don't reinforce the "after a complete stop" part of the rule, so that little detail has disappeared from the way people drive.

How can we get the "right after red after a complete stop" rule back in front of people?

Walter Lazear

Reston

Right now, the only right turn on red signs I see are ones where there are limits to such turns. Most intersections in our metropolitan area have no signs at all about right on red. So to notify the public that "Right Turn on Red -- AFTER STOP" is permitted would involve posting new signs at thousands of intersections.

And even then, would people stop any more than they do now for red lights, or for four-way stop signs, or for pedestrians in crosswalks? It's traffic anarchy around here, and I don't know how to change the culture.

District Road Work

The District Department of Transportation announced two road projects that will affect traffic:

* Good Hope Road SE, from Martin Luther King Avenue to Naylor Road, will close from 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. weekdays in early December.

* Southbound Reno Road NW traffic between Nebraska Avenue and Military Road will be detoured until spring 2007. That stretch of Reno Road will be one-way northbound only; southbound traffic will be detoured to Connecticut Avenue, either via Military Road or down 41st Street to Huntington Street.

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 e-mails, at drgridlock@washpost.com, or faxes, at 703-352-3908. Include your full name, town, county and day and evening telephone numbers. Dr. Gridlock cannot take phone calls.