Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I travel the Capital Beltway five days a week. I tried to go to the Boulevard at the Capital Centre shopping complex in Largo, in Prince George's County.

What a surprise when I could not find my way there. The complex won't attract impulse buyers if people can't get there from the Beltway.

Why are there no signs for the exit that will take you there? How do you get there from the Beltway?

L. Victoria Small

Clinton

The state doesn't post signs for commercial centers. It will provide signs if there is a mixed-use area that includes residential, office and government buildings, according to Chuck Gischlar, a spokesman for the Maryland State Highway Administration. For that reason, the shopping center is not noted in any signs, but the surrounding Largo Town Center has one sign in each direction on the nearby Beltway.

The most direct way to the shopping complex, at Arena Drive and Lottsford Road, is to take the Arena Drive exit from the Beltway, but that exit is open only during FedEx Field events. Plans are to open the exit to all traffic by 2009.

Meanwhile, here are suggestions for how to get there via the Beltway:

* From the Beltway heading south, take Exit 17 (Landover Road/Route 202) heading southeast and turn right onto Arena Drive.

* From the Beltway heading north, take Exit 15 (Central Avenue/Route 214) heading east and turn left onto Route 202, then left onto Arena Drive.

Nothing like having a regional shopping center that you can see and can't get to, but that's a problem in Virginia as well as Maryland.

Improving Metro

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I've written to you before with this idea. In order to stop the crowding at the doors of Metro trains, make the doors on each train one way, such as reserving the end doors for entering and the middle doors for exiting.

Why won't that work?

Nick James

Potomac

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 with 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 didn't have precise enough braking systems 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:

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 doorway crowding problem 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?

Val Holmes

Washington

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 car reconfiguration study.

Bridge Is Incident-Prone

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

Arlington

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 both 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.

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.