Ramsey to Find New Sites for
By Jacqueline L. Salmon
and Cheryl W. Thompson
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, July 23, 1998; Page D01
District Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey yesterday
vowed to come up with new sites where Northern Virginia
commuters can meet to form afternoon car pools without
clogging the city's already congested southbound routes, but
he quickly learned that it won't be easy.
Ramsey, under fire from Virginia lawmakers and commuters
who say his officers repeatedly harass drivers who stop near
14th Street and Constitution Avenue NW and several other
downtown spots to pick up car-poolers, yesterday offered a
list of alternative pickup spots on supposedly less-congested
But Ramsey quickly discarded the list after Rep. James P.
Moran Jr. (D-Va.) said that putting car-pool stops at the new
sites would only inconvenience car-poolers and create new
traffic tie-ups on Pennsylvania Avenue NW and E Street NW and
in the L'Enfant Plaza area.
Ramsey "needs to show that he can find [sites that
are] more reasonable and convenient," said Moran, adding
that Ramsey's plan would undermine an informal car-pooling
system that moves an estimated 1,000 Northern Virginians into
and out of the city each weekday.
Moran, a member of the House Appropriations subcommittee on
the District, threatened to insert language into the city's
budget bill that would formally recognize 14th Street as a
pickup site unless Ramsey comes up with a solution -- and
orders his officers to stop hindering car pools by ticketing
or waving off drivers trying to pick up riders.
The existing pickup sites include 14th Street NW just south
of Constitution; 19th Street NW between E and F streets; and
Seventh and D streets SW, near L'Enfant Plaza.
"I think the burden of proof should be on him,"
Moran said, "because the current sites work perfectly
But Ramsey said his department has received complaints from
other afternoon rush-hour motorists who say that car-pool
drivers tie up traffic when they pull over to pick up
passengers in no-parking and no-standing zones.
"Some of them stopped and would stand and wait for
people to come out of buildings, and you get a tremendous
traffic jam," Ramsey said. "All we're trying to do
is get people in and out of the city as quickly as
The chief, who discussed the problem with Moran yesterday,
added that "we're looking for suitable [pickup]
locations" that would not hinder southbound traffic.
"We believe in car-pooling, but let's do it without
restricting traffic." Moran, Ramsey said, is
"concerned about it, and we're going to work together to
find a solution."
Ramsey's conciliatory remarks came after a tense couple of
days in which a years-long conflict resurfaced between D.C.
police and suburban commuters who form impromptu car pools in
a system that transportation analysts have praised as a
It began Monday, when D.C. officers prevented southbound
motorists from picking up riders along 14th Street just south
Moran said he received several calls from Springfield area
constituents who complained that D.C. police frequently ticket
or wave away drivers trying to pick up enough riders to head
home in Shirley Highway's less-congested car-pool lanes. Cars
using the lanes during the morning and evening rush hours must
carry at least three people.
Under an informal car-pool system that has been in place in
Northern Virginia for about two decades, commuters stand in
what are known as "slug lines" to hitch rides from
several points in the suburbs each morning. They return home
by lining up to catch rides at several downtown locations, as
well as at the Pentagon.
As Moran and several commuters interviewed yesterday
proudly pointed out, it's a system that, without government
regulation or funding, has become a significant mover of
people on the Washington area's increasingly congested
Yesterday, some commuters in the 14th Street slug line
turned thumbs-down on the idea of D.C. police designating new
pickup sites, saying that the District is meddling
unnecessarily with a system that has worked well for years.
"This is the beginning of the end of the slug
line," said Scott Cook, 41, of Burke, who said he has
been hitching rides from slug lines for two years. "Once
they start to regulate and control it, it dies."
David A. Rutherford, a Republican member of the Prince
William Board of County Supervisors who said he occasionally
used slug lines during the 20 years he worked downtown at the
Labor Department, said that "there is something about the
idea of slugging that grates on bureaucracy. It works
marvelously. . . . It's wonderful."
For his part, Moran acknowledged that he appears to be
trying to micromanage the District's affairs.
"On the other hand," he said, "why did the
police try to interfere with a system that's been working
successfully for 20 years, and has carried 1,000 commuters
successfully out of the city in an efficient way?"
Moran added that he thinks Ramsey, who has been the
District's chief only a few months, is "trying to do the
right thing," but that he should focus on trying to
designate pickup sites close to the current ones.
Sam Snyder, 51, of Burke, who has been slugging to his job
at the U.S. Customs Office for eight years, said he would
reluctantly move to a pickup site farther from his office,
"but if it meant the difference of the system surviving
or going by the wayside, I would accept" it.
Veteran slug-liners say they've been down this road before.
In 1987, the District proposed moving the 14th Street slug
line and began issuing tickets to drivers who stopped there to
pick up riders. Slug-liners say the ticketing has continued,
off and on, since then.
"They've tried [to move the slug line] every year; it
always comes back," said Steve Thatcher, 44, of Burke,
who said he has been hitching rides for eight years.
"Unless they enforce it for days at a time, it won't go
Staff writer Erica Beshears contributed to this report.
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