Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I have always been a fan of your articles. They are insightful and thought-provoking. But there is one subject that I do not remember reading about.

If I am dropping someone off at Dulles International Airport, I know that I can cruise all the way to the airport on the Dulles Access Road without thinking twice about getting a ticket.

My question: Am I allowed to use the Dulles Access Road after I drop someone off in order to get back to the Capital Beltway, or do I have to take the Dulles Toll Road and pay the tolls?

Bernard Bundy Jr.


You can use the Dulles Access Road going to or from the airport. It might help if you keep a copy of a flight itinerary or passenger receipt in case you are stopped, but police can usually tell whether you have been to the airport by the way you answer their questions.

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


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.

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 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


Your assertion is right: "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


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 action 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, to stop the dangerous behavior of running red lights from a side street?

Walter Lazear


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.

Sign Him Up

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

After reading Eric Anderson's complaint that the driver behind him in the HOV-2 lane didn't see his 13-month-old daughter and thought Anderson was violating the rules, my first thought was, "Perhaps he should put up one of those tacky 'Baby on Board' signs" [Dr. Gridlock, Nov. 17]. If ever there's an appropriate reason to have one, it's for that.

Chris Rogers


I agree. Now, does anyone know where to get one? And I assume we are talking about a rear bumper decal or trunk sign. Placing one in the rear window may obscure the driver's rearward sight line.

All Ages Qualify for HOV

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I just read the letter from Eric Anderson [Dr. Gridlock, Nov. 17] describing how he was driving with his 13-month-old daughter in the HOV-2 lane when the tailgating driver behind him held up two fingers. In your response, you commented that the driver probably thought he was a solo driver ignoring the HOV-2 rules.

I imagine such a situation could be avoided if passengers were required to be of driving age to qualify the vehicle for HOV use. I was under the impression that the HOV lanes were put in place to encourage carpooling, leading to fewer cars on the road. Am I mistaken?

Ursula Badertscher


There is no restriction on the age of a passenger in HOV lanes. A body is a body. I'm sure many parents are not taking their children in the HOV lanes for their pleasure or convenience. Instead, they're probably going to child-care facilities, schools, medical appointments or extracurricular activities.

I have heard the age limit argument before, and it generally gets roundly booed by readers of Dr. Gridlock. Besides, the most traffic congestion in Virginia's HOV lanes is caused by solo drivers violating the HOV rules, not by adults with children.

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

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.

Required to Keep Right?

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

If more people realized there is a "keep right except to pass" law, they would be more likely to move over. Currently, many people sit in the left lane with no regard for traffic flow.

Signs indicating such a regulation would encourage law-abiding, but slower, drivers to move over.

Mike Ahearn


It might, but there is no point, because Maryland, the District and Virginia do not have a law requiring slower traffic to stay right. (Virginia does have a law requiring motorists in the left lane to move right if an overtaking driver signals an intent to pass by flashing the vehicle's lights or sounding the horn.)

I understand that New Jersey and Connecticut have a law requiring slower traffic to stay to the right. I'd like to hear from motorists who drive in those states about how the law is working.

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