Motorists who see red and don't stop pursued by land, air

THE INTREPID COMMUTER

March 27, 1995

Remember playing "Red Light, Green Light?" Go when the leader says "green light." Stop when the leader says "red light," or you're out.

For nearly a year, the State Highway Administration has teamed the state's police departments to play the same game with motorists, only it's more complicated and involves real red lights.

First (and this makes it 10 times funner), they use helicopters and airplanes. Second, they use unmarked patrol cars. Third, if you get caught shooting through a red light you should be stopping for, you can beg a judge to let you stay in the game.

Since last May, reports the SHA's Chuck Brown, police have stung from the ground about 2,000 drivers who shot red lights and ticketed another 600 from the air.

"An 'eye in the sky' perception is exactly what we want to perpetuate," said SHA Administrator Hal Kassoff, hoping to put fear into the hearts of red-light runners everywhere.

In 1993, police reported 3,190 accidents in Maryland involving motorists running red lights. What makes these especially bad, notes SHA safety maven Tom Hicks, is that they are often deadly broadside collisions that mean only a thin door protects a struck vehicle's occupants from serious injury.

With that in mind, front-line troops, and even reservists such as Baltimore County Police Officer Robert E. Deale, have made regular visits to high red-light runner intersections.

Officer Deale, who normally crunches numbers in the county Police Department's Traffic Analysis Section, recalled one stint with a partner on red-light duty, on Baltimore National Pike at Westview Mall. "In about two hours," he said, "I had like, 12 tickets, and the other [officer] had about 10 or 12."

At each targeted intersection, an unmarked patrol car sits in ambush, waiting for the next light-runner. When one is spotted, the lookout radios a description of the car to the ticket-writers, stationed down the road next to a convenient parking area for the accused.

When the patrol is assisted by aircraft, the lookouts are looking down with binoculars.

Imagine the excitement -- strapping yourself into a helicopter and whizzing into the wild blue yonder to watch the light change.

PEDAL RIGHT: Ah, spring: when a young commuter's fancy turns to thoughts of bicycling to work, or perhaps to the light rail, MARC or Metro station. It's kind of a paradox, risking your life and wheezing on fumes, all to improve your health and the environment. To cut your risk, John T. Overstreet Jr. of Severn offers this tip:

If you're out there pedaling with the motorized commuters, you could end up as a speed bump if you're not riding in the same direction as the motor vehicles are going.

An antiquated belief that bicyclists should behave like pedestrians seems the root of this problem. Pedestrians are prudent to walk against the flow of traffic so they can see cars coming and get out of the way.

Bicycles, on the other hand, are a lot faster than people.

If a bicyclist is traveling 15 mph, and an approaching car is going 45 mph in the opposite direction, the two vehicles are approaching each other at 60 mph. That doesn't give much time for motorist or bicyclist to respond, especially when sight distance is limited.

If bicyclist and the car are going in the same direction, the approach speed is only 30 mph -- half the speed of the wrong-way example.

Your Intrepid One always has found that argument compelling, but Mr. Overstreet, who promotes safety for the Baltimore Bicycling Club, has some others:

* Motorists tend to look to the right for other traffic, especially at intersections.

* It's the law. The state police said so, and we don't often argue with them.

LEFT ON RED STILL RIGHT: For Tom Crook of Bel Air who witnesses "a lot of confusion" about left turns from one-way streets unto one-way streets during red lights. . . .

We've mentioned this before, several times, in fact, so hear us: Making these left-hand turns has been legal in Maryland since the dawn of 1994. Followers of the Intrepid One, you enlightened multitude, are not confused. Go forth, spread the good news.

YOUR THOUGHTS, PLEASE? The check is in the mail for ColumBus, the Baltimore area's only public-private, strictly suburban transit system. A federal-state grant of $165,000 will buy a replacement bus for the Columbia bus system's eight-bus fleet.

It's part of a $9.7 million grant approved by the Federal Transit Administration for this fiscal year. The money is for replacements, repairs and wheelchair lifts for the huge Mass Transit Administration bus system and its tiny cousins in Annapolis, Hagerstown, Ocean City and Harford and Allegany counties.

What do you think, suburban readers? Is more bus service needed in your area? Intrepid Commuter has noticed, as have many demographers, that fewer and fewer people have the traditional suburb-to-city commute anymore. In Howard County, for instance, about a third of its employed residents work within the county.

If you have that kind of commute, and would like to keep your car in its port, let us know how you feel about using public transit to go to work. Nothing fancy; nothing scientific. We just want to hear your thoughts.

KEEP IN TOUCH

Write to the Intrepid Commuter, c/o The Baltimore Sun, P.O. Box 1377, Baltimore 21278. Please include your name and telephone number so we can reach you if we have any questions.

Or use your Touch-Tone phone to call Sundial, The Baltimore Sun's telephone information service, at 783-1800, and enter Ext. 4305. Call 268-7736 in Anne Arundel County.

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