Relief is coming for those who see red in Mount Washington


August 15, 1994

Intrepid Commuter brings peace and love to Mount Washington.

Fresh from our weekend in Saugerties, N.Y. -- we intended to stay for the music, but really just went to watch the traffic (and can faithfully report it was real heavy) -- we shall attempt to extend that atmosphere of brotherly love to Northwest Baltimore.

We must thank Michelle Loftus of Columbia for this opportunity. Man, the sister wrote us about some bad vibes going down around Smith and Greely avenues (mercifully, this is the extent of our '60s-speak).

Ms. Loftus travels this intersection each morning from the driveway of the Shrine of the Sacred Heart School on Smith Avenue. The school's exit is near the intersection with Greely, and that's where her problem begins.

Drivers headed east on Smith are instructed to stop at a mark just before the driveway. This is meant to give traffic leaving the school a chance to enter Smith Avenue. However, right turns on red after a stop are permitted at Greely. Because most traffic on Smith is headed that way, motorists will dutifully stop at the designated spot and then inch forward to the intersection.

"When the school is letting out and the light is red, who has the right of way?" Ms. Loftus asks.

We posed the question to the city of Baltimore.

The short answer is that the traffic on Smith Avenue has the right of way, but that doesn't resolve the issue.

Vanessa Pyatt, spokeswoman for the city Public Works Department, agrees that "motorists find little reason to stop" at the stop mark because virtually all the traffic is turning right on Greely.

So to make the situation better, the department is going to ban rights on red at Smith and Greely. The necessary sign is scheduled to be installed within a week.

Of course, this raises another issue. If right on red is banned, traffic leaving the school when the signal is red will get stacked up at the traffic light also -- all's fair, after all.

Still, "We don't anticipate there will be a bottleneck," Ms. Pyatt insists. "We're going to monitor it and if we find a 'no turn on red' is not effective, we won't keep it."

Give her Liberty and a stop sign

Patricia McCauley wants to put a stop to Exit 18.

She doesn't want to shut the exit down, just to slow traffic a bit. Specifically, she'd like a stop sign so that traffic from the Beltway's inner loop would be warned to look before leaping into eastbound Liberty Road.

"Unfortunately, there is no merge area, as one would normally expect, and there are no warning signs and a driver can't tell there's no merge area because the sight lines are so poor," Ms. McCauley writes.

"There is an area of frequent fender-benders -- I saw two there this weekend alone. At the very least, a warning sign of 'no merge area' is in order."

Ms. McCauley notes that a stop sign at the end of an exit ramp is not unprecedented. There is one from southbound Route 29 to eastbound U.S. 40 in Howard County.

We forwarded her request to the grand wazir of traffic, Darrell Wiles of the State Highway Administration's Baltimore County office. He looked into the situation, studied Ms. McCauley's proposals, and came up with a possible solution.

First, Mr. Wiles says, the stop sign is not a good idea. Most cars don't have to make a complete stop to merge.

Thus, the stop sign is more restrictive than necessary. The result would be that most motorists would ignore it. That might teach drivers that it's safe to ignore stop signs at more troublesome exits -- not a good idea.

Secondly, motorists should understand that when entering a road like Liberty Road, they shouldn't expect a merge lane. It's not what Mr. Wiles calls a "high design" road like, say, Interstate 70.

SHA reserves warnings of "no merge area" for situations where a merge area should be expected. Again, Mr. Wiles fears that if you put such a sign at Exit 18 you might dilute the sign's impact at other locations.

A check of accident records shows that the ramp and merge area have had their share of accidents -- about six a year, only two of which tend to involve merging. "That's not an alarming number," Mr. Wiles says.

Consider, too, that the ramp averages 750 vehicles at its busiest hour. That makes the merge relatively accident-free.

Nevertheless, Mr. Wiles did observe a problem with the Exit 18 ramp. The yield sign was not visible. It was partially blocked by a noise wall and some tree branches. Mr. Wiles assures us that a work crew has been dispatched to trim the branches, and they're also going to install a second yield sign -- one on the right to complement the one on the left.

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