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Traffic Woes in Tysons

Dr. Gridlock answers traffic questions at the McLean Citizens Association general membership meeting.

When it comes to driving in the Tysons Corner area, Ron Shaffer, quite simply, would rather not.

"Remember Sam & Harry's steakhouse?" said Shaffer at last Thursday's McLean Citizens Association (MCA) general membership meeting. "My daughter invited me to dinner there. I asked her where it was and she says, 'oh it's in Tysons,' and already I'm shaking."

Ron Shaffer, also known as "Dr. Gridlock," has been writing a column for the Washington Post since 1986. In it, he responds to reader's questions about traffic congestion and the rules of the road. As a guest speaker at the Feb. 23 MCA general membership meeting, Shaffer fielded questions from citizens about their traffic concerns.

Comments ran the gamut from basic complaints about the poor driving habits of other people on the road, to questions about impending development.

Several citizens voiced concerns about the powerful influence of developers over local government officials.

"It's very troubling," said Shaffer. "It's as if they [local government officials] were just obsessed with development."

Questions were also raised about the various mass transit projects proposed for the Tysons Corner area. Residents are concerned about the increased density and subsequent traffic problems that will be brought with the introduction of Metrorail to the area. MCA member Germaine Broussard said she does not understand why developers are permitted to continue to build, despite the fact that the roads cannot handle anymore traffic.

"You've got a developer who says, 'we can't make this intersection any worse, you can't give it any grade less than an F,'" said Broussard. "They have not been held back from developing."

MCA member Darren Ewing expressed his doubts about proposed improvements such as the widening of the Beltway and the construction of the Dulles Corridor rail.

"A lot of these solutions seem to be putting a bandaid on a bleeding artery," said Ewing.

MCA member Desmond O'Rourke asked whether there is any sort of "driving philosophy" behind traffic and development plans for this area. Shaffer's answer was rather grim.

"We are facing chaos," said Shaffer.

With such a bleak outlook, citizens wanted to know what could be done to improve the situation. Shaffer suggests 4-day workweeks, and two work-day shifts that would result in four rush hour periods instead of two large ones.

But these are all just ways to chip away at it," said Shaffer. "The big one I think is telecommuting. We have to get the cars off the roads."

GRIPES ABOUT POOR DRIVING were another hot topic at last week's meeting.

"You have a 20-year perspective on driving issues in this area," said MCA member Merrily Pierce. "What issue has generated the most mail for you?"

Shaffer said that he hears quite a few complaints about people who drive 55 miles per hour in the left lane.

"It is Virginia law that you have to move out of the way of the overtaking vehicle, even if they are speeding," said Shaffer. "I don't think a lot of people know that."

Darren Ewing had his own question about driver's courtesy.

"Why is that I see very few folks at all using turn signals anymore?" asked Ewing.

Shaffer said he gets reports "almost every week" about drivers who fail to use their blinkers when making lane changes.

"Of course if you put your blinker on because you want to get over, you run the risk of that driver speeding up to avoid letting you in," joked Shaffer.

MCA member Adrienne Whyte added that people are too busy talking on their cellular phones.

"They say 'I don't have a hand because I'm on the phone,'" said Whyte.

Cellular phone use while driving was another popular topic. Shaffer said that in his opinion, driving while talking on the phone is definitely a dangerous move.

"I know from doing it myself once or twice, that I'm looking at the phone to dial the number and then I look up and I'm in another lane," said Shaffer.

Shaffer also criticized the current driver's education program requirements in Virginia.

"They are horrible," said Shaffer. "You only need half a dozen hours behind the wheel. I'm a big proponent of parents doing it themselves."

Shaffer noted that commercial driver's education courses are lacking in that they do not teach teenagers how to drive at night and in poor weather conditions.

"I would have them go off the road very slowly, to teach them not to over-correct and flip their vehicles," said Shaffer. "I would have them drive in the snow, on ice and at night."