Commuters encounter many problems with crowding, bus bunching and traffic when using Metrobuses on busy 16th Street NW. (Astrid Riecken/For The Washington Post)
Columnist

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Why not create dedicated bus-only lanes on the arterials into the District? Would not this be more attractive to commuters than driving, given that it is cheaper, faster, flexible and less harrowing?

Those who like the punishment of driving could continue doing so — although eventually it’s doomed by population growth — and book-reading is likely to rise.

Heath Pemberton, Reston

DG: This is what we want — in theory — but we’ve done a poor job executing the idea throughout the Washington region. Why? Because there is nothing more attractive to commuters than driving, preferably by themselves.

Yes, this is counterproductive and unsustainable, just as Pemberton says. But it’s hard to exchange what’s familiar for some unfamiliar option presented by traffic and transit planners.

Better bus service should be one of the easiest ways to improve transportation in urban areas. The vehicles are cheap compared with rail cars, tracks and new highways. The bus-only lanes are part of the existing infrastructure, which also cuts costs and limits disruption.

So it’s all good, until someone proposes putting a bus-only lane in a specific place. Then almost everyone who isn’t already riding a bus finds something to love about the way things are. Long-distance commuters don’t want to give up a lane. Local residents don’t want to give up street parking, or the ability to make a particular move — such as a left turn — into their neighborhood.

This became evident during the development of the Montgomery County bus lanes plan, and continues to show in the District’s plan for better bus service on 16th Street NW.

The latter seems particularly ripe for bus-only lanes. So it has been studied. And studied.

The District Transportation Department is scheduled to pick a preferred alternative early next year from a package of possibilities that includes nearly all-day bus lanes along the most-congested part of 16th Street in the District’s core, or creating a rush-hour bus lane in the peak direction only.

Should the District go for it?

Bad habits

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I drive in the suburbs almost daily. I am appalled at the bad driving habits I see. I am sure most drivers knew the traffic laws when they got their licenses, but I think they either have forgotten, or choose to ignore, those laws.

I think it would be a good idea for you to remind drivers to: Turn headlights (not parking lights) on when wipers are on; come to a full stop before turning right on red (that means the vehicle is not moving; many drivers don’t even slow down); use turn signals when making turns and this means well before making the turn, not as they are making it, and this applies even when in a turn lane (I have seen drivers turn right from left-turn lanes, and vice versa); have the courtesy to use signals before changing lanes; not cross a solid line in the road, and certainly not a double solid line; keep behind the white line when stopped for a light; stop for pedestrians in a crosswalk where there is no traffic signal; obey speed laws; not text or talk on hand-held phones while driving.

Gordon F. Brown, Bethesda

DG: Brown is a conscientious driver who has written to me before about the poor performances he sees on our roads. What struck me about this letter is that I’ve seen violations of each of his safety tips — every single one of them — just in the past week.

Better news

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I am writing to report an exceptional driver who saved my life and the lives of several others on the inner loop of the Capital Beltway.

It was a typical morning rush hour at the split for Interstate 270, a merge that is tricky at the best of times.

I was in the far right lane when a blue Honda minivan in the left lane signaled and moved over one lane, then another, then another, cutting very close in front of me and continuing to the breakdown lane. I had seen the van coming and so was ready to brake. Still, it was a close shave and dangerous enough to earn a tap of my horn and a few choice words.

That was until I checked my rear-view mirror and saw the minivan’s hood up, completely covering its smashed windshield. The driver was leaning way over to the right. I can only assume it was how she was able to see well enough to cross three lanes of traffic at 55 mph without hitting anyone or causing an accident.

I am in awe. It’s a little sickening to think about what could have happened. I wish we had an award for heroic driving. This woman deserves one!

Kelly Trippe, Bethesda

DG: I rarely hear drivers praising the skills of other motorists, so I wanted to share this one with you. Let me know if you have any good news to relate — or is it really just a jungle out there?