Stoplights on Light leave some drivers in the dark


June 12, 1995

Getting out of downtown for southbound traffic has never been easy. In recent months, with a new sequence for the traffic lights at Light and Conway streets, it's quite tricky.

If you exit via the four lanes on Light Street, you've surely noticed the new traffic light pattern at Conway Street. No longer do the lights permit two lanes to proceed straight while holding the right two lanes of turning traffic at Conway Street, and vice versa.

All lanes of traffic now get the green light at once. And that's when things can get hairy.

"It's great for emptying the block quickly, but where it becomes dangerous is some of the people in the turning lane don't turn," said an Intrepid Observer who travels the intersection daily from downtown to her Anne Arundel County home.

Originally, traffic turning right to get to Interstate 95 via Conway was given the green first, then traffic proceeding straight was allowed to go. With all four lanes now launching together, many motorists get in the right lanes (clearly marked turn lanes) and proceed straight.

We camped just outside the Light Street Pavilion at Harborplace, right next to the intersection, during a rush hour last week and noticed scores, yes, of cars in the right lanes that simply ignored the lane markings and went straight.

No accidents occurred, but we heard a slew of shouted obscenities and countless horns.

Vanessa C. Pyatt, city Department of Public Works spokeswoman, said the lights were changed in February to accommodate the high volume of traffic detoured from streets closed because of Convention Center construction nearby.

She said the lights might return to the old system once the Convention Center is complete in September 1996.

EYES ON THE ROAD: Speaking of that intersection, Elaine Hilton, who lives in Columbia and works an afternoon job downtown, thinks another potential risk for accidents rests at the nearby Hooters restaurant in Harborplace.

"With all the people who cross at that intersection, drivers need to keep their eyes on the road," Ms. Hilton said. "If they want to look at the girls, go buy dinner."

At issue: the white T-shirts and orange shorts waitresses wear on the eatery's patio, on the upper-level corner of the Light Street Pavilion. The patio is easily seen by drivers at Light and Conway streets.

"It's only in the summer when they have those tables outside, and that's when there's the most traffic down there," Ms. Hilton said. "That's more of a distraction than when the blimp flies over downtown."

Paul Koren, Hooters manager, said he has not heard complaints from motorists and has no intention of changing the restaurant's patio. A police spokesman said he was unaware of any accidents caused by orange shorts.

TALL GARDEN: We've all driven through an intersection where you can't quite see oncoming traffic, so you inch a little, take a peek, inch a bit more, take another peek, pray and hit the gas pedal.

Park Heights Avenue and the Beltway's outer loop, for example.

As northbound traffic on Park Heights turns left onto the Beltway's outer loop, a new garden in the median rises just high enough -- especially to those in low-sitting cars -- to obscure motorists' view of southbound traffic.

The garden -- including black-eyed Susans nearly 2 feet tall -- is attractive but a hazard.

"If a car is driving very fast [on southbound Park Heights], this presents a good place for an accident," said William Koch, who lives in the Rockdale section of Baltimore County and travels the intersection at least once a week.

Roger Willin, who lives in Pikesville, believes just grass would effectively beautify the area.

"There was no need to add plants. Plants just seem to clutter everything, and then you get weeds in them and they cause too much trouble," Mr. Willin said. "The main concern should have been safety. Some people exceed the posted speed limit there, causing many near collisions."

Linda Singer of the State Highway Administration said a traffic engineer saw the garden after we brought it to her attention and agreed the plants were too high.

"It's not as desirable as we would like it. It's a couple inches too high," Ms. Singer said, adding workers would trim the garden.

METRO UPDATE: The Mass Transit Administration reports that a lot of you commuters are using the Metro's two new stops at Johns Hopkins Hospital and Shot Tower/Marketplace.

During the two stops' first week in service, Metro ridership increased by more than 3,000, to more than 43,000 daily, MTA spokesman Anthony Brown said.

In addition to a high volume of riders during rush hours, Mr. Brown said, a large number use it at lunchtime.

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