As it cuts through northern Anne Arundel County from the Baltimore City line to Annapolis, Ritchie Highway is many things to many people. It is a main thoroughfare to some, a local road to others. To assorted communities, it is their Main Street.
Nowhere is this more true than in Brooklyn Park, one of the oldest communities in the industrialized North County that includes such neighborhoods as Roland Terrace, Arundel Gardens, Arundel Village, Pumphrey and Brooklyn Heights. The area's main businesses front on Ritchie Highway, its library and police station are nearby.
As traffic volume and commuting patterns have changed in recent years, the once-compressed peak hours extended beyond morning and late afternoon. Consequently, many of the 20,000 people living in the Brooklyn Park area are finding it increasingly difficult to negotiate left turns from Ritchie Highway to local roads. Patrons visiting the many roadside shopping centers and businesses also are hampered.
Such intersections as 11th and 16th avenues, Church Street and Hammond's Lane have above-average rates of traffic accidents due to poor road design and heavy use, according to state highway officials. State Sen. Philip C. Jimeno, who represents the area, thinks those accident rates are among "the highest rates in the county, probably the state."
Improvement is finally in the offing. If no last-minute hitches develop, the State Highway Administration should begin a $1.4 million project next spring to reconfigure some of Brooklyn Park's worst intersections.
Under the re-design, protected left-hand lanes will be built at intersections so that cars can leave the oncoming stream of traffic when turning. Currently only a few intersections have left-turn lanes governed by traffic lanes. The improvements to the highway will be made without changing the overall 62-foot width of the roadway, officials say.
This is good news. It promises better vehicle access to the Brooklyn Park area's residential communities as well as to the numerous shopping facilities along Ritchie Highway. A number of those businesses are currently struggling. They have potential, as do the many underutilized shopping center sites. Improved traffic patterns could help.