Towson's roundabout answer

May 24, 1994

To anyone who does much driving in the Towson area, the phrase "intersection from hell" can mean only one thing -- the crazy crossing of York, Joppa and Dulaney Valley roads and Allegheny Avenue, a confluence of streets that has bedeviled motorists for decades.

Various solutions have been offered over the years. Some stayed, mercifully, on the drawing board (then-Baltimore County Executive Spiro Agnew's underground tunnel linking York and Dulaney Valley roads, for instance); others were tried and found lacking (Councilman Doug Riley's Jersey barrier blocking southbound traffic on York).

The newest proposal is an old-fashioned concept that the State Highway Administration increasingly has been turning to as a remedy for troublesome intersections throughout Maryland. It's the roundabout, or traffic circle, and it sounds like the best idea anyone has had for dealing with the notorious Towson crossing.

The SHA's first modern roundabout was installed last spring in the western Howard County community of Lisbon, at a former four-way intersection once rated among the most dangerous in the state. Five years prior to the roundabout's opening, 40 accidents occurred at the site, resulting in 49 injuries. But in the 10 months after it began operating, the Lisbon roundabout saw only one minor sideswiping. Local residents had fought the change, but they were immediately won over by the circle. Noting the Lisbon success -- and the efficient State and Church circles in Annapolis -- SHA officials have planned other roundabouts for Anne Arundel, Carroll and Washington counties.

The Towson circle, though, will prove a special challenge. It would have heavier traffic volume and more entry and exit points than the standard four-way intersection. In addition, its construction at this busy spot, which is estimated to cost about $1 million, would likely create more hassles than did the building of the roundabout in rural Lisbon.

These and other concerns aside, the Towson circle could be a good permanent solution to the crossing's traffic troubles, while also providing easier pedestrian movement and a landscaped island that can only improve the area's appearance. And if the state is able to follow through on its proposal to ban night and weekend parking on the west side of York Road south of the intersection, county and state officials can finally stop going 'round and 'round in their quest for saner traffic flow in the Baltimore County seat.

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