Driving through Pikesville has become an experience many try to avoid these days -- because, inevitably, you have to travel through "The Intersection."
That would be the snarled mess also known as Interstate 695 and Reisterstown Road, a half-mile of road-crawl punctuated by traffic signals that never seem to be in sync.
Intrepid braved the intersection last week only to add 10 minutes onto a mission to check out another point of angst, Hooks Lane. There, drivers play a constant game of chicken trying to enter and leave housing developments, restaurants and shops on tiny Hooks, a side street converted to a main commercial drag.
The Pikesville problem has attracted the eye of State Highway Administration engineers, who have embarked on a traffic study in the area. With estimates of 203,225 vehicles passing through the Beltway-Reisterstown Road intersection daily, the spot long ago outgrew its capacity to conveniently move traffic, acknowledges SHA spokeswoman Fran Counihan.
"We're running to keep up," Counihan says.
But don't look for changes in the near future. The wheel of bureaucracy is just starting to turn in Pikesville -- meaning any changes at the intersection are at least two years away. There's even talk about rehabbing the Reisterstown Road bridge that spans I-695 -- a true migraine in the making for daily commuters.
Other possible changes include moving guardrails, widening road shoulders, adding curbs and turn lanes and readjusting traffic signals.
As for Hooks Lane, brief relief might be in store. A traffic signal installed at Hooks and Green Tree Road is expected to be activated this week.
All other traffic woes, though, remain in full force.
Behind-the-wheel distractions on the rise
Some commuters have been labeled part-time drivers because of the number of distractions in cars these days.
You've seen them whizzing by: eating, reading, talking on the phone, logging onto a computer and fiddling with the radio while coping with highway traffic.
"As cars more and more become an extension of the home and office, we are creating a whole new array of potentially hazardous distractions," said Dr. Ricardo Martinez, a former emergency room doctor who heads the the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Martinez last week released a study about the dangers of talking on cell phones while driving, but he also noted perils created when laptops, fax machines, on-board navigation systems and other high-tech equipment are bolted to dashboards, causing competition with good common sense. One company has created the hardware needed to attach a laptop to the steering wheel.
Intrepid One believes all this nonsense flies in the face of standard driving etiquette -- not to mention reckless endangerment. It's a '90s take on that old question about one's ability to walk and chew gum at the same time.
"Some of the best minds in restaurant chains are working on food you can eat while driving," Martinez revealed. "Over the holidays, I saw a guy with drink in the crook of his arm, fries in his right hand, a burger in his left and steering with one finger."
Culinary acrobatics like that seem common at the wheel -- and it only gets worse.
Back to cell phones.
One year ago, the New England Journal of Medicine reported the first measure of how dangerous it can be to use a phone while driving.
A Canadian study found that talking on the phone while operating a car quadrupled the risk of an accident and was about as dangerous as being nearly drunk behind the wheel. That report found the risk dropped back to normal as soon as the call ended and the driver's attention returned to the road.
With 50 million cell phones in use today -- a number expected to double by the turn of the century -- it seems we all need a wake-up call on this issue.
Baltimore County traffic pooh-bahs last week pledged to immediately restore road markings to Putty Hill Avenue east of Loch Raven Boulevard. This four-lane stretch near Immaculate Heart of Mary Roman Catholic Church and many residences has been without a yellow center line for years, often creating havoc for drivers unfamiliar with the road.
Pub Date: 1/12/98