Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I have been riding Metrorail since 1976, when the Red Line opened. In general I have been pleased, given that mechanical and personnel problems will always exist in this world of ours.

My pet peeve: that annoying voice at each stop telling us when the doors are opening and closing. The continual announcement is bad enough, but I think it is inaccurate. It says, “When boarding move to the center of the car.”

What about people who enter the front and rear doors? If everyone were to move to the center of the car, who would stand or sit in the front and rear sections? As I ride, I note that no one pays any attention to the announcement.

I would like Metro to do an experiment: Stop all these door announcements for two to three weeks. Let us then see whether people move about any differently within the rail cars. The respite from the annoying announcements might lend a measure of relaxation to us riders (customers).

Robert Linden, the District

DG: There was a method behind the voice that maddens many of my letter writers. Metro officials recognized that crowding of the rail cars was becoming a serious problem. There are only so many people who can jam into one of those things, although at cherry blossom time, we continue to test the limits of the sardine cans.

The transit staff, however, noticed that the passengers were rarely distributed evenly in a car. They tended to cluster around the front and rear doors. In the middle, there were gaps in the aisle, and even some empty seats.

Besides education — via the announcements — Metro also tried engineering. The newest cars have fewer floor-to-ceiling poles at the front and back. That was supposed to encourage people to move toward the middle, where they could get a grip on something besides a fellow passenger.

Did any of that work?

Next time you’re waiting for a Blue Line train, watch an Orange Line train go by. Or if you’re waiting for a Yellow Line train, watch as the Green Line train cars go by. Sometimes, you’ll see grim-faced riders distributed evenly. But I think that's because some of them got pushed into the middle by the overwhelming force of boarding passengers.

Many other times, you’ll still see tight clusters at the ends of the cars and gaps in the center. It doesn’t matter what the voice says or where the poles are.

These are my theories about passenger dynamics: People don’t like the confined space of the central aisle. Almost always, someone else is approaching from the front, back or side. But many riders don’t want to get caught in that spot in the first place, saying they fear getting trapped inside the car at their stop because the doors close too quickly at the crowded downtown stations.

I recently printed a letter from Dudley Schwartz of Rockville, a rider irked by the too-rapidly closing doors [Dr. Gridlock, March 18]. Schwartz urged Metro to concentrate on moving people rather than trains. Richard Layman, who writes an interesting blog called “Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space,” countered with a posting saying Metro could move both trains and people more efficiently.

Layman advocates increasing the number of doors per car, so that there are four outlets on each side rather than three. The next generation of Metro rail cars will change many things, but not the door configuration. More doors would mean fewer seats and, as Layman noted, Metro functions as both a commuter railroad and an urban subway. The transit authority has always tried to balance the needs of long-distance riders with those looking for an easy-on and easy-off a few stops later.

More patience needed

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I am going nuts wondering when the connection from the Interstate 95/395 HOV lanes to the Capital Beltway [at the Springfield Interchange] is going to go live.

This has the potential to dramatically change my commute for the better, so I’m eager for news. I can see that they must be getting close; the signage is almost complete. Any news on this?

Daniel Lindsey, Manassas

DG: The 495 Express Lanes project is completing what was once known as Phase 8 of the earlier Springfield Interchange project, which includes building reversible ramps and bridges to carry traffic from the I-95/395 HOV lanes to the Beltway and traffic from the Beltway to the I-95/395 HOV lanes.

But the new bridges and ramps are tied in with the rest of the Express Lanes work and won’t be ready to open till the end of this year, when the high-occupancy vehicle lanes start operating, the Virginia Department of Transportation says.

During 2012, drivers on the west side of the Beltway in Virginia will see progress in the construction zone and start looking for their reward. But the Express Lanes project is very complicated, especially around the interchanges. Some sections are advancing more rapidly than others, but they need to tie together.

missing the signals

Readers and I continue to exchange views on whether driver behavior is getting better or worse. This letter responds to an upbeat note I got from a Bethesda driver about use of turn signals [Dr. Gridlock, Feb. 9].

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I don’t know where Daniel Mann has been driving in Montgomery County, but my experience with drivers who fail to use turn signals is different from his.

I recently stopped at a red light at Old Georgetown Road and Tuckerman Lane. While waiting for the light to change, I counted 16 vehicles making right turns onto Tuckerman. Only six of those 16 drivers used their turn signals, and one of them didn’t use his signal until he started to make his turn. That driver and the 10 who didn’t use turn signals are not good drivers in my book.

Gordon F. Brown, Bethesda

DG: That’s a busy and wide intersection near several bus stops. Signaling would help pedestrians foresee drivers’ intentions.