Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Does the Wilson Bridge attract incidents such as breakdowns, stalls or fires? I'm not asking about accidents; it makes sense that they're more likely to occur on the narrow, rickety bridge. There are typically several of these other incidents each week on the bridge. For example, there was a car fire on the bridge this morning, Nov. 21.

Obviously, traffic reports are more likely to focus on an incident at a chokepoint, where there will be greater impact, than on an incident where there is more room to maneuver. I don't hear nearly as many reports of incidents on the Capital Beltway near the bridge. So, does it seem as if there are more incidents on the bridge than on roadways?

I don't drive over the bridge much anymore.

Andy Feltman


The bridge attracts a lot of attention because there are no shoulders, and minor incidents can create long backups. What shoulder space there is, to the left and right, is just four feet wide -- not big enough to let a rescue vehicle or a wrecker get through, according to John Undeland, spokesman for the Wilson Bridge project.

The new bridge, which will be completed in 2008, will have 10-foot-wide shoulders on the right and left. Plus, it will have five lanes in each direction, instead of the three in each direction we have now.

Those improvements should reduce the number of serious incidents on the bridge, which was built to accommodate 75,000 vehicles a day and now carries more than 200,000.

Airport Arrivals

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

You were recently asked about getting one's guests from Dulles International Airport to Alexandria. I wanted to let you know about the 5A Metrobus. This bus leaves Dulles once an hour on the half-hour, from 6:28 a.m. until 11:40 p.m. daily.

The 5A Metrobus could take guests to the Rosslyn Metro station, and from there they could take the Blue Line to Alexandria. This Metrobus costs $3.

Can you pass this on? All of this information can also be found at

Sharon A. Affinito

Transportation Planner

Rideshare Program

Loudoun County Office of

Transportation Services

Thank you. And for information about ride-sharing in Loudoun, Ms. Affinito might be a good resource. Contact her at or 703-771-5251.

Improving Metro

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I enjoy your column very much. I have been retired now for seven years, but how well I remember my efforts to commute from Southern Maryland to the District. I have a very economical solution to the access/egress problem on Metro trains.

Each train has two doors, right? Why doesn't Metro advertise profusely for several weeks and then implement the following: Mark the doors boldly in large lettering, inside and out, with "Front Door - Enter Only" and "Back Door - Exit Only," and post large signs inside the cars reading "Exit Through Rear Door Only."

Thus, everyone will know they can enter only through the front door. Upon arriving at their destination, passengers can exit through the rear door, leaving the front entrance of the car open for boarding passengers.

Is that idea too simple or radical for today's commuters?

Jacqueline D. Marini

Helen, St. Mary's County

Controlling the flow of passengers works elsewhere. Of course, each side of a Metrorail car has three sets of doors: one at each end and one in the center.

On the BART subway system in the San Francisco Bay area, customers line up on marked areas on the platform and board the cars politely in single file, I'm told, in contrast to the mad rush here to get on and off.

For a long time, Metro officials told Dr. Gridlock that marked entry points couldn't be used here because the Metro trains did not have sufficiently precise braking to halt at a specific, marked place on the platform; hence, lining up wouldn't work.

Now, however, Metro has made braking adjustments and plans to test platform markers at three stations: Union Station, Metro Center and Gallery Place-Chinatown. Test results could be ready by spring. A new, more urgent "Doors Closing" announcement also will be tested.

This is an important concept. I'm hoping it works here.

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

So the latest idea from Metro is to remove seats so people will fill the gap in the middle of the train [Dr. Gridlock, Nov. 17]? Won't happen.

Anyone who has ridden the New York subway, the PATH trains between New Jersey and New York City or the Chicago subway at rush hour knows that regardless of the seating configuration, people stand by the doors. In fact, some people stand by the doors even when there are empty seats -- and even if they are traveling long distances.

New riders have to fight their way through the standees to get to empty seats in the middle of the train, much less to get to standing room in the middle of the train.

Metro does need to plan for more riders. It can do that immediately by (1) adding cars, so every train is eight cars long, and (2) reducing the times between trains during peak periods to three minutes (which is what the PATH system does).

On a long-term basis, Metro needs to figure out how to double track the system -- how to do that, I don't know, because the system was poorly planned with only a single track in each direction -- and to provide more parking spaces.

Finally, no one in Metro's management or its board of directors should be permitted to drive to work. It's easy to dream about making people stand when you're riding in your car. It's another thing entirely to dream about standing when you're the one doing the standing.

Joel Whitaker

Silver Spring

Here is the timetable for expanding Metrorail to eight-car trains:

* By the end of 2006, 20 percent of trains will have eight cars.

* By the end of 2007, 30 percent of trains will have eight cars.

* By the end of 2008, 50 percent of trains will have eight cars.

The question of which lines get the eight-car trains has yet to be determined.

That is all that is in the pipeline now. Eight cars is the longest train a Metrorail station can accommodate.

It would be nice to have an extra track to allow for express trains, as in New York, but the cost of installing a new track now would be prohibitive.

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

No other subway system in the world besides Metro has train entrances and exits that routinely are blocked by riders. This is not a new issue. The problem has existed since the system opened in 1976, but the system has always been run, and is still run, by people who don't use Metro.

Metro is proposing to respond to the problem of doorway crowding by removing some seats and the aisle poles, as if the two features are related. The stupid pole, which is in the way of foot traffic, has nothing whatsoever to do with the number of seats. We could get rid of the pole and have more, fewer or the same number of seats.

William Samuel

Silver Spring

New Metro trains, arriving now and over the next three years, will not have poles. I suspect the poles in existing cars will give way once the various car-reconfiguration plans are evaluated.

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Too many passengers congregating by the doors on Metro trains is not the problem.

That happens during rush hour in every city in every country that has an underground train system. The problem with our Metro is that so many of its train drivers close the doors far too quickly.

If you surveyed rush-hour passengers, I think you'd find that they would agree. When I have asked train drivers why they close the doors so quickly, I have been told to mind my own business.

So why on earth would we move to the center of the train and then possibly miss getting out at our stop?

Removing the seats would be a huge mistake, and such a proposal only proves that Metro is interested in more passengers and revenue, not in the welfare of its present passengers.

Val Holmes


That is an important question. Metro doors now open automatically and are closed manually by the train operator. When a train and a station are crowded, and access is every man for himself, some passengers are unable to board or get off the train.

So why would people step farther into the car, knowing they will have farther to go to reach the exit? Metro will have to address the issue of doors closing too quickly as part of its study on reconfiguring of cars.

Taxi Zones vs. Meters

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

The zoned fare system gives taxi drivers the incentive to take the fastest, most direct route to the destination; meters create a disincentive to do that.

I agree that the District's taxicab zone system is a bit complicated, but so is the Metro Farecard system for first-time users, and people figure it out pretty quickly. The solution is to better publicize the zone map, both in cabs and in tourist information.

District residents have no excuse for not learning the zones and their fares. And while you suggest that tourists will have a harder time with zones, I am pretty sure that they would be the ones paying the most for circuitous routes under the meter system.

Jeffrey S. Lubbers

Takoma Park

I'm still asking whether anyone knows of anywhere else in the world where there is a similar, zoned taxicab fare system. I haven't had a positive answer. Wonder why.

Virginia's Routes

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

One of the many things I ponder on my early-morning runs through suburban neighborhoods is that it seems every residential street in Virginia has a route number posted on a black-on-white sign at intersections.

Does anyone use those numbers? Why?

Steve Royster

Baileys Crossroads

They are state route numbers, posted by the Virginia Department of Transportation to keep track of every street in its inventory, according to Ryan Hall, a VDOT spokesman. Street names change, he said, but the route numbers stay the same.

Those numbers also indicate that the street has been accepted into the state system and is eligible for state snow-clearing, he said.

Try Standing on One Foot

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I am writing in regard to the police roadside sobriety test that requires a person to stand on one foot for a count of 30.

I participate in a thrice-weekly morning wellness program, and one of our challenges is to stand, unsupported, on each foot for 10 seconds. Many, if not most, of the 15 or so of us in the group are unable to fully meet this challenge. Doing so for a count of 30 -- even a rapid one -- is ridiculous!

And, at that hour of the morning, it's safe to say that none of us is "under the influence."

Please use your bully pulpit and access to law enforcement agencies to get this laughably unrealistic test eliminated.

John Henderson


I had trouble standing on one foot for 10 seconds. I'd like to hear from anyone who has been asked to use that test to demonstrate field sobriety. Seems ridiculous.

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.