Better signs, fewer signs and why we stop and go


October 05, 1992

The 17-billion-year history of the universe is marked by a handful of great moments: the big bang, the formation of planets and stars, the evolution of life.

Man's relatively tiny sliver of time on Earth has also witnessed some memorable achievements: consider the internal combustion engine, automobiles, mechanical paving equipment, the parking meter.

In an attempt to improve on our impressive commuter legacy -- from gaseous clouds to reinforced concrete -- Intrepid Commuter today entertains criticisms of our highways, the triumph of the eons.

Surprise Exit 33

We begin with a letter from Bob Cantales of Northeast Baltimore who wants to know why there is not more warning given to motorists who are on the inner loop of the Baltimore Beltway and want to get onto northbound Interstate 95 headed toward White Marsh.

"Many motorists who are unfamiliar with this exit can be seen changing several lanes at the last second in order to get onto the left lane exit ramp which is on a curve in the road," Mr. Cantales writes. "I am sure this is the cause for many near misses and a few accidents."

The exit is, to use a technical, engineering term, a doozie. Commuters who drive it regularly are not the problem; they have grown accustomed to exiting from the left lane. It's the newcomer who is caught off-guard.

The inner loop has eight signs warning of the exit, which is plenty. But the first one that reveals that the exit is on the left is the fifth one, and it comes just one mile prior to the I-95 interchange.

A one-mile warning to motorists to get in the right lane for an upcoming exit is fairly standard along the Beltway.

But we agree with Mr. Cantales that in the case of a left-hand exit, there should be a little more notice.

With a little prodding from the Intrepid One, the State Highway Administration has agreed to investigate the situation.

"Motorists aren't used to left-hand exits," says SHA spokesman Chuck Brown. "We'll look to see if we can attach something to the signs already in place."

One suggestion Mr. Cantales makes is to use a variable message sign already in place. The electronic sign is generally used to warn motorists about traffic to Camden Yards and occasionally to "Buckle Up."

The SHA nixes that idea, however. If the sign flashed a standard message, too many would ignore it.

A capital idea

Speaking of signs, one of our readers think she's spotted two too many.

They are the recently erected "Capital Corridor" signs, deluxe 12-by-6-foot signs along U.S. 50 that promote the fact that the highway links Washington with Annapolis. One sign is just east of the Severn River Bridge near Annapolis on westbound U.S. 50. The other is just east of Route 704 in Prince George's County on the eastbound side.

The State Highway Administration says Gov. William Donald Schaefer endorsed the designation last May to "promote tourism and enhance the state's image." The two signs cost a combined $2,500 in state funds.

"Maryland is unique in the country in having a gateway between two capitals," says Liz Ziemski of the SHA. "It's part of the flavor of the area."

Ironically, the agency has been trying to reduce the number of signs posted along the roads, for aesthetic and safety reasons. Taking down two more might be a capital idea.

Waiting in Woodlawn

How often have you been stuck in traffic and wondered: Everybody's going the same direction so why are we moving so slowly?

The thought occurs to Blaine Brooks of Woodlawn whenever he's driving along the southwest quadrant of the Beltway during rush hour. Traffic backs up on the outer loop every morning, and on the inner loop every evening, yet everybody would like to go 55 mph if they could.

"Traffic moves like a hiccup, stop and go," says Mr. Brooks, a state government worker. "There's some law of physics involved I don't understand."

We forwarded the question to our favorite Mr. Wizard of traffic, Barry R. King of the State Highway Administration, (Intrepid got a bulk deal on SHA officials this week) who tells us that the problem comes down to too many cars and too little road.

That particular stretch of the Beltway includes many busy exits: Security Boulevard, Liberty Road, Edmondson Avenue, Interstate 70. All that merging forces traffic to slow down or stop. Like a rock thrown in a pond, there is a ripple effect. Mr. King says there are two solutions, widen the highway or manage the traffic better. Since the state doesn't plan to widen the road any time soon, engineers are looking into how they can improve the flow.

Keep in touch

Write to the Intrepid Commuter, c/o the Baltimore Sun, P.O. Box 1377, Baltimore 21278. Please include your name and telephone number so we can reach you if we have any questions.

Or use your Touch-Tone phone to call Sundial, The Baltimore Sun's telephone information service, at 783-1800, and enter Ext. 4305. Call 268-7736 in Anne Arundel County.

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