Parkway charm wanes Jammed: Gridlock ruins the scenic setting of the Baltimore-Washington highway for commuters.

The Intrepid Commuter

July 08, 1996

WHEN IT OPENED in fall 1954, Baltimore-Washington Parkway was a road designer's -- and traveler's -- dream: a 29-mile stretch of two-lane highway made beautiful by trees, flowers and shrubs.

The parkway was built, according to a report by landscape architect T. C. Jeffers, to "attract much of the passenger vehicle traffic" from other north-south highways while offering a scenic route without trucks, similar to the Bronx River Parkway in Westchester County, N.Y., which was built in 1924.

But idyllic as it may have seemed four decades ago, the parkway today mirrors life in the fast lane.

The average daily traffic count is about 80,000 cars, said Officer Michael Brady of the Park Police. That's much more than planned for the "scenic route," he said. Suburban sprawl is to blame for the waves of commuters.

Alexander Wolfe has suffered through the change. Wolfe, a Catonsville resident and engineer for the Environmental Protection Agency in southwest Washington, has been driving on the parkway in a car pool with five others each day for nearly 15 years -- an experience he likens to having a second family.

"I have seen children come and go in this car pool," he says, adding that the group likes to travel on the parkway to avoid wacky truck drivers on parallel Interstate 95. Over the years, Wolfe has seen the parkway become saturated with a constant crush of commuters.

"Please, please help us out," he asked Intrepid.

In particular, two major backups during the morning and evening rush hours hamstring Wolfe and his co-workers daily.

If you travel the parkway northbound, you've seen these logjams -- at the Baltimore- Washington International Airport exit near Charm City and at the Route 197 exit in Laurel closer to Washington. Such slowdowns add about 20 minutes to the ride.

As a frustrated commuter, Wolfe wants to know whether any relief is planned for the overtaxed parkway. For instance, he asked Intrepid, could officials add lanes, install exit cloverleafs or even a high-occupancy-vehicle (HOV) lane?

To find out, Intrepid called the park police and the State Highway Administration, which oversee the parkway, and learned that happier trails may be ahead -- for the Laurel area at least.

Federal taxpayers will buy a new cloverleaf exit for Route 197, which is to be upgraded to a four-lane road with a median strip, Brady said. Construction is expected to begin early next year, so the traffic snag should ease by the year 2000 -- at the latest.

As for the other slow spot, in the area supervised by Maryland's SHA, no plans have been made to adjust the parkway's traffic flow, said spokeswoman Valerie Burnette Edgar.

The only construction planned is on a four-mile stretch at Nursery Road and Ridge Road late next month, when the road will be milled so that it may be resurfaced in the fall.

Intrepid invites others who travel the parkway to send stories of their commutes.

Commuters worry of safety at White Marsh parking lot

In White Marsh, home of a new 800-space, $4.1 million Park and Ride lot, some commuters complain that the location is too isolated and that they feel unsafe.

The lot is behind the gigantic Ikea store, hidden by small hills and landscaped lots. It offers a parking place for at least 400 commuters who catch the Mass Transit Administration's Bus 120 into Baltimore each day, and can be used by Orioles fans who want to park in the 'burbs and take a $6 bus ride to Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

The Park and Ride lot used to be near the Sears store on the mall's southern side, where MTA officials rented 400 parking JTC spaces from the mall's management.

But demand for more spaces prompted officials to seek a change last year. That move has distressed some riders, including Rose Snyder, who takes the 120 each day.

"It feels like you are dropped off in an isolated part of the mall each day," she said.

Intrepid investigated the situation last week and found only one phone on the entire lot -- and it is located at the bus stop far from many of the parking spaces. It could be difficult to get to the phone in an emergency.

Anthony Brown, MTA spokesman, defended the safety of the lot, saying it is patrolled by MTA police and at times, by mall security officers.

Shortcuts

Where were the police last week during a Sunday afternoon traffic snag on the Malkus Bridge in Cambridge, as 10 cars played highway one-upmanship, bobbing in and out of the gridlock. One driver used the shoulder of the bridge as a personal driving lane; another lobbed an empty liquor bottle out of his sunroof. Those stuck in traffic looked on in disgust.

Pub Date: 7/08/96

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