Some road signs seem to leave too much to interpretation


January 10, 1994

In Monday's editions of The Sun, the Intrepid Commuter column reported incorrectly the price for Mass Transit Administration tokens. They are 10 for $12.

The Sun regrets the errors.

Traffic control is not the most exact of sciences.

Stop signs mean you stop. Green lights mean go. Yield signs mean nothing to 75 percent of the driving public.

(Actually we invented that last statistic, but we swear it's true.)

Simply put, a good engineer must factor in human behavior when designing roads or intersections. While you can rely on asphalt to behave a certain way, people are far less predictable.


Take the intersection of Keswick Road and Wyman Park Drive in Hampden. It was recently brought to our attention by a loyal reader. The woman, who asked that her name not be published, said she believes it's difficult for drivers to decide who has the right of way.

"I and many of my co-workers feel that the signs and the street markings are not appropriate and pose a safety hazard," she writes. "Please make a study of this [situation] and make the necessary changes before it is too late for a confused motorist."

Here's the situation. When driving east on Wyman Park, you have a choice of two lanes. The left lane is marked for cars going straight or turning left. The right lane is marked right turn only.

An arc is even painted on the surface of the road to guide left-turning drivers from Wyman Park to Keswick.

On paper, that sounds good. But the reality is somewhat different.

The right lane is actually two lanes wide (parked cars take up half the lane until you approach the intersection). As a result, some motorists may think the right-turn-only sign refers only to the right half of the right lane. Under that interpretation, cars in the other half -- or center lane -- have no place to go.

After some initial reluctance, the city's Public Works Department has agreed to make changes. Within two weeks they will reverse things: The left lane will be left turn only, and the right lane will be straight or right.

That probably makes more sense -- as long as you don't get two lanes turning right from that wide right lane.

Vanessa Pyatt, the department's spokeswoman, promised that in addition to new signs, the pavement will be marked to clearly indicate the new directions.

"We felt the old designation was clear, but we want to eliminate the possibility that other motorists might be confused as well," Mrs. Pyatt says.

Need a ride? Take a token

Irvin M. Levin's been having a problem. The Mount Washington-area resident rides the bus and Metro to work, but only occasionally. That has caused the problem.

Because it doesn't make financial sense to buy a pass -- too costly for the number of rides he's likely to take in a week or month -- he purchases old-fashioned tokens, the dime-size coins that count as one fare each.

A pack of 12 tokens costs $12, a modest 50-cent savings from the $1.25 fare, but quite convenient because it means he doesn't have to search for exact change.

But here's the crux of the problem. He can't find anybody to sell him the tokens.

"I usually have to travel to Mondawmin Mall Metro Shop, which is out of my way, every few weeks in order to buy the tokens," writes Mr. Levin, who takes the M-10 bus from Pikesville to the Reisterstown Road Metro station.

"I have called the Mass Transit Administration but I was only given a 'token' response that this form of payment was not being promoted due to lack of demand."

We believe Mr. Levin is quite correct in his observation that the MTA does not promote tokens. Like a retail store, the MTA discounts fares to keep customer coming back.

The agency wants you to become a regular rider. Note that the deepest discounts are always reserved for monthly passes.

But MTA spokeswoman Dianna Rosborough says the agency is not ready to abandon tokens. There are about two dozen places where they can be purchased.

Unfortunately, most of the locations are downtown. The most convenient to Mr. Levin is probably the Hilltop Food Stamp Center, 5423 Reisterstown Road, which is within walking distance of the Reisterstown Road Metro station.

For a list of MTA token sales locations, you can call the agency at 539-5000. But we make this caution. The list mentions that Maryland National Bank branches sell tokens. During several phone calls to the bank, we were told that zero, one, nine, or 46 branches sold tokens.

While this was little help, it did give us an idea for buying our next Lotto ticket.

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