Some Howard drivers find bumps a pain others take them in stride

May 26, 1991|By Michael J. Clark | Michael J. Clark,Howard County Bureau of The Sun

A week ago, 64-year-old Leonard Mertuta was driving to a nearby hospital for treatment of stomach pains when he came upon a series of speed bumps along the street in a quiet North Laurel neighborhood.

"I was stunned," recalled an irritated Mr. Mertuta. "I was trying to make it to the hospital as quickly as possible. The pain was unbearable, and I had to slow up for all the bumps."

But for Tom Flynn, who lives along the four-block stretch of Baltimore Avenue where Howard County is experimenting with the use of speed bumps, having to slow down is an inconvenience that has its rewards.

"The young punks in pickup trucks don't like them," said Mr. Flynn, vice president of the North Laurel Civic Association. "They can't ride at breakneck speed through here anymore. We had to twist a lot of arms at the county government to get them."

James M. Irvin, the county public works director, said he did not initially favor speed bumps, which have been introduced in several Northern Virginia neighborhoods but which are rare in the Baltimore area.

"The use of the humps [was] not a conventional practice, and I doubted if they would be effective," Mr. Irvin said. "We try to keep our highways as smooth as possible. But we decided to try it as an experiment."

Debbie O'Neil of the 9600 block of Baltimore Avenue said that she and a neighbor led a petition drive last spring in which more than three-fourths of the homeowners along her street as well as on Fulton and Haddaway streets endorsed the speed bumps.

"The speeding was getting very dangerous, and there are a lot of kids around," said Ms. O'Neil. "We used to have stop signs, but the traffic ignored them, and the police could not be here long enough to do much about it."

"It is a pain to go over them, but they have decreased the traffic," said Ms. O'Neil, noting that the residential street had been a popular shortcut between Route 216 and U.S. 1.

Mr. Irvin said he has also received complaints from a school bus driver that crossing the bumps would send children in the back of the bus bouncing in their seats, posing a potential safety concern.

Another problem is that the county has posted about 50 signs along the four-block stretch, warning motorists of the bumps, banning parking around them and designating the area a 25 mph zone for cars and a 15 mph zone for trucks and motorcycles.

"The signs are a little excessive, and the street is beginning to look like U.S. 1, but I can put up with it," said Ms. O'Neil. "I have seen too many near-misses."

The bumps can clearly affect the comfort of motorists.

"If you go below the posted speed limit, you don't feel any discomfort," said Mr. Irvin. "But the faster you go, the more discomfort you feel."

Mr. Flynn, however, said that what a driver feels depends on the size of the vehicle's wheel base.

He said he can drive his Nissan Sentra over the bumps at 30 miles per hour and feel next to nothing, but when he motors his van over them at 20 to 25 mph, "there is a fair amount of discomfort."

The use of speed bumps on Baltimore Avenue may be the start of a trend. Discussions are under way to install a series of bumps along Dogwood Road between U.S. 40 and Frederick Road in Ellicott City, Mr. Irvin said.

While the bumps "might be effective in this instance, my concern that every residential street in Howard County might want it," ,, said Mr. Irvin. "Frankly, the humps are applicable on some neighborhood streets and not on others."

And such amenities don't come cheaply. The seven bumps on Baltimore Avenue, along with the warning signs, cost $15,000.

Mr. Mertuta, for one, hopes it is a trend that doesn't catch on.

"It is crazy that the county would do this to a residential street, and I am worried about somebody who has an emergency like I did who has to run this gantlet," he said.

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