Call them Baltimore's hot corners.
They're the intersections you love to hate. The places where you risk a collision every time you cross them.
What's a typical hot corner? Take U.S. 40 at Normandy Woods Road in Howard County. Please.
Maybe you've seen it, or one like it. A congested, four-lane highway that slopes down into a busy entrance to a shopping center.
It's no big surprise that there are four insurance agencies in the shopping center. They could make a living off that intersection -- auto, health, life, you name it.
In 1990, it was the most dangerous intersection in the Baltimore area with 39 accidents, including one fatal collision. The State Highway Administration (SHA) has made improvements since then, but local residents claim that it's still pretty scary.
"I don't like to take chances. I always wait for a green arrow to cross," said Jackie McQuarrie, a service representative for one of those insurance agencies. "It's pretty bad -- a lot of fender benders."
It's not the only intersection with a high accident rate. We've compiled a hit list of the worst, outlined in the accompanying map. The findings are based on a recent SHA analysis, except in Baltimore where the statistics are based on a January to August 1991 report by the city's transportation department.
About highway safety
It might not always seem like it, but Maryland's roads are getting safer.
Fewer people died as a result of traffic accidents last year than in any year since 1984, although more cars and trucks were on the road driving more miles than ever before.
In 1991, 711 were killed in traffic accidents. That amounts to slightly below 1.7 deaths for every 100 million vehicle miles. Vehicle miles is a term used in a fancy way of factoring traffic -- it could be 100 cars each driving 1 million miles per year (obviously not) or 1 million cars driving 100 miles per year (somewhat closer).
The numbers gathered by the SHA show a gradual decline in Maryland's accident death rate since 1968.
Experts cite a variety of reasons for the trend: better roads; safer cars; seat belts and air bags; improved medical treatment, particularly emergency medicine; and -- surprise -- congestion. Crowded roads tend to cut down on the opportunities for serious accidents, which occur most often at higher rates of speed.
News from the streets
In the words of New York commuter Phil Rizzuto, "Holy Cow!"
The response to Intrepid Commuter's first column last Monday was tremendous: 43 telephone calls and a dozen letters in the first 72 hours, and we are still sorting through it all.
We sense that there are a lot of pent-up feelings out there on the subject of commuting. If nothing else, we hope that venting those frustrations in this weekly forum reduces the stress level a bit.
City resident Myron Bates wrote to complain that Beltway drivers don't seem to understand what "yield" means on those distinctive yellow signs since drivers all choose to accelerate full tilt regardless of traffic conditions.
"Does a Beltway yield have some special meaning?" Mr. Bates asks.
Alan Jackson of Bel Air is unhappy with the way roads get torn up during reconstruction, causing trucks and other heavy vehicles to "spit up volumes of gravel projectiles toward innocent four-wheelers."
He calls this phenomenon, "Your Tax Dollars at Work Gravel Storms."
Intrepid Commuter was amused by that one.
The outpouring means, of course, that we won't be able to answer all the calls and letters personally. But don't fret. We are taking a look at everything that comes our way. The quality of the responses so far is high.
Conclusion: Our fellow commuters are not only opinionated, they are thoughtful and articulate. Could we be related?
Keep in touch
Intrepid Commuter greatly appreciates all the calls and letters so far, and readers are encouraged to keep it up since that's what this column is all about.
We particularly like to read letters.
Our mailing address is: Intrepid Commuter, c/o The Baltimore Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore, MD 21278. Writers should include their names and telephone numbers.
If you don't have time to write, call us on SunDial, The Sun's telephone information service. Callers in the Baltimore area should dial 783-1800 and enter 4305 on their touch-tone phone. In Anne Arundel County, the number to call is 268-7736 with the same four-digit code.