Correcting 'Hot Corners': One good left turn deserves another

THE INTREPID COMMUTER

October 17, 1994

What can we say? The wallpaper spoke to us.

It was probably the 2,034th paisley print we saw that really put us on track. Not that we would ever use this column to complain about being dragged around to 14 decorating centers by the Intrepid Commuter's Significant Other.

Honestly, Intrepid Commuter lives for such moments with the ICSO. We believe in domestic tranquillity and, after all, the throbbing headaches go away after a while.

But getting back to the wallpaper, it spoke a pattern. You couldn't always see it immediately. But if we stepped back, we could see the repetitions emerge and the overall picture became clear.

So it is with traffic safety. Unless you're so thick you missed that big map sitting on this page, you know it's time for our third annual "Hot Corners" list of the most dangerous intersections in the Baltimore area.

At our request, the State Highway Administration and the Baltimore Department of Public Works have provided a rundown of the three most accident-prone intersections in Baltimore and five counties.

The SHA data is drawn from 1993 accident reports. It is based on accident rates -- the total number of crashes compared with the total traffic volume.

The city's information is less elaborate, but the data are more up-to-date. The totals are based on the total numbers of crashes during the first eight months of 1994. Traffic volume is not factored in.

The top two winners -- or losers, if you prefer to look at it that way -- are in Anne Arundel County. The highest accident rate of any intersection was at Quarterfield Road (Route 174) and Old Stage Road in Glen Burnie. Coming in second was another Anne Arundel favorite, Ritchie Highway and Church Street in Brooklyn Park.

Combined, these two hot corners produced 40 accidents last year. Fortunately, none was fatal.

The good news is that something's been done about these troublesome intersections. That's where patterns fit in.

Police accident reports summarize the circumstances of each collision. Computers have the ability to synthesize that information to determine patterns. Of the 26 accidents at Church Street and Ritchie Highway, for instance, we know that 15 were caused by motorists who failed to yield the right of way while making left turns from Ritchie.

In mid-June, the SHA began rebuilding a one-mile section of Ritchie Highway, from Hammonds Lane to 11th Avenue, including the intersection with Church.

Guess what they're correcting? Left turns.

Ritchie is a six-lane road through that area, and the SHA is going to reduce it to two lanes so that southbound left-turning motorists will get exclusive turn lanes with left-turn arrows at four high-volume intersections.

Officials believe reducing the number of lanes from six to four won't necessarily make the highway more congested.

"What we had were narrow lanes, and none were left-turn lanes," says Larry Elliott, the SHA's assistant district engineer for traffic in Anne Arundel County. "If you stopped to make a left turn, you were stopping a lane of traffic."

A similar problem had developed at Quarterfield and Old Stage roads. In August, SHA work crews installed left-turn lanes and signals on Quarterfield, an increasingly popular east-west commuter route to Fort Meade.

"Left turns held up the through traffic," Mr. Elliott says. "We were getting rear-ends and a lot of side-swipes caused when people tried to get around them."

SHA officials hope that these improvements will take the two intersections off the Hot Corners list. Analyzing accident data is like shopping for wallpaper; it feels great when you don't have to look at the stuff anymore.

October is a big month for highway projects as contractors squeeze in work before winter. Several have wrapped up this month. Others are just starting.

Here's a rundown of some of the major State Highway Administration projects in transition:

* Reisterstown Road from Owings Mills Boulevard to Cherry Hill Road. Resurfacing has begun on this three-mile section. The $1.2 million project should be finished next spring.

* Perring Parkway in the area of Hillsway Avenue and McClean Boulevard. Resurfacing begins this week on this one-mile stretch. The $443,000 project is scheduled to be wrapped up next month.

* York Road from Thornton Hill Road to just south of Phoenix Road. The $344,000 effort should be completed next month.

* Beltway inner and outer loops from Providence Road to Perring Parkway. Resurfacing that started in late June should be completed by next month. The quarter-mile-long highway is costing $1.1 million.

* U.S. 1 from Route 43 to Joppa Road. Resurfacing on this $1.4 million, three-mile section wrapped up last month after a year's work.

* Route 7 at King Avenue. Installed left-turn lane and left-turn arrow from eastbound Route 7 to King. Started in July and finished this month. Cost: $228,000.

* Eastern Avenue bridge over Middle River. The new bridge was started in June of last year and just finished at a cost of $1.3 million.

* Beltway inner and outer loops from Westland Boulevard to U.S. 40. Resurfacing begun in September 1993 on this 1.5-mile section and should be finished by the end of this month. The cost: $2 million.

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