Deadly residential raceways

July 13, 1993

If you want to know what's wrong with the way roads are approved and designed for residential subdivisions in suburbs such as Anne Arundel County, try driving the 25-mph speed limit along Pasadena's Mansion House Crossing.

It's possible -- but only at the risk of being mowed over by impatient drivers who will inevitably queue up behind you. Nobody observes the speed limit; the road is so wide and straight that clipping along at 40 mph-plus is almost irresistible.

The Department of Public Works has tried to deter speeders by installing traffic islands and painting edge lines to make the road feel narrower, all for naught. Some would-be stunt drivers actually ride over the traffic islands. Police radar traps haven't helped, either.

Speeding poses a serious danger in suburban developments. The folks who move to these subdivisions do so with the idea that their children will be able to play catch in the yard or ride bikes down the sidewalk.

Yet broad, busy boulevards such as Mansion House Crossing aren't safe for adults to cross, much less for children to play near. It's sheer luck that no accidents have occurred lately; two years ago, four Pasadena children were struck by cars on roads similar to Mansion House Crossing.

They are too wide, too straight and too flat -- features necessary for an interstate, but not for a densely-populated development. In many older towns and in city neighborhoods, children can actually play in or near the streets because their narrowness prevents cars from speeding.

Besides being safer, narrow streets make a neighborhood feel more tightly-knit and look more quaint. Just think of the prettiest streets in downtown Annapolis.

But county engineers and developers apparently view narrow streets like some scourge. Mansion House Crossing is 40 feet wide -- the standard for collector roads.

Fire officials endorse this wholeheartedly; the wider the road, the quicker they can reach emergencies, they say. But you have to wonder if cars flying down streets in neighborhoods full of children don't constitute a worse risk.

If the county won't reduce road widths, at least it ought to require roads designed with enough curves to force people to slow down. Otherwise, it's only a matter of time before a speeder drives over something -- or someone -- more important than a traffic island.

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