Going Loopy

June 28, 1992

Perhaps State Highway Administration officials thought that posting signs to distinguish between the inner and outer loops of Interstate 695 would so confuse and frustrate beltway drivers that they would stay off the highway altogether.

Short of that explanation, the signs, which began popping up two months ago, would appear to have little value.

One exception may be for traffic-report junkies who happen to tune in just in time to hear about "congestion on the inner loop." Even then, such a road warrior probably knows what side of the highway he's on.

The Capitol Beltway around Washington has had inner and outer loop signs for years. Judging by the persistent gridlock there, however, one should not expect the new Baltimore Beltway signs to change much.

Admittedly, there is a problem inherent in directing beltway traffic. Traditional signs that indicate whether a person is traveling north, south, east or west get a little confusing around the edges -- precisely because there are no edges. When exiting the highway at Dulaney Valley Road in Towson, for example, are drivers really choosing between north and south, or northwest and southeast?

The highway administration also plans to install only about a dozen of the inner-loop, outer-loop signs on each side of the beltway. Pity the commuter who's about to exit the highway and is wondering whether Baltimore is to the right or left. An inner-loop, outer-loop sign might help, but it's 14 miles up the road.

Traffic reporters bear some responsibility for causing motorists to talk in circles. They've been using the inner-outer loop descriptions in their broadcasts for years. If commuters had the advantage of riding in helicopters as they do, they would see how easy it is to tell the difference between the inner and outer loops. Of course, if commuters used helicopters, they wouldn't need the beltway.

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