Learning curve awaits motorists in Towson Traffic roundabout to open in a week at prime intersection

January 26, 1998|By Suzanne Loudermilk | Suzanne Loudermilk,SUN STAFF

On the eve of the Towson roundabout's opening, some business and community members wonder if they're trading one traffic headache for another. Others are more optimistic that the $2 million project will relieve traffic congestion at one of Baltimore County's busiest crossroads.

The new traffic circle, set to open next week, will route drivers through the intersection at York, Dulaney Valley and Joppa roads and Allegheny Avenue without traffic lights or stop signs.

The key word in the process is "yield." Drivers must yield to pedestrians in the crosswalks and then to traffic already in the circle.

"I'll keep my fingers crossed that drivers ease up on the accelerators and horns and give those who look lost a chance," said LeRoy Y. Haile, a 68-year-old Towson native who remembers when the county seat was a country town. "I hope people are gentle and patient and considerate."

The Towson project is the state's sixth roundabout, but the first in an urban area. The other roundabouts -- in Howard, Washington, Cecil, Anne Arundel and Carroll counties -- are in rural settings.

To set up the Towson roundabout, the five-way intersection that sees about 28,000 motorists daily will be closed at 10 p.m. Friday, if the weather is suitable. It will reopen at 5 a.m. Feb. 2. Traffic will be detoured around the area, although entrances to local businesses will remain open.

The roundabout, which is oval-shaped, will be delineated with barrels and cones until concrete work is complete by early spring.

"I think it's going to be a headache for quite a while," said Jim Clifford, 84, who lives in nearby Ridgely Condominiums. "You have to learn how to use it."

He fears commuters might cut through Virginia Avenue in East Towson, which he says is heavily traveled, to avoid the roundabout. He also worries about crossing the circle on foot.

"Anybody who is disabled or not quick on their feet is not going to get across safely," he said. "Drivers are brutal today."

But State Highway Administration officials say that safety will be enhanced by concentrating pedestrian traffic in wide, well-defined areas.

Also, walkways will have islands in the center of each leg to allow walkers to pause before continuing to the other side.

Linda Singer, SHA community liaison, said disability issues have been addressed with the Baltimore County Commission on Disabilities. Ramps at the crosswalks allow for wheelchairs and canes. Textured pavements will alert those with visual disabilities to the crosswalks, she said.

County police will be available to assist pedestrians and keep traffic moving through the two-lane roundabout. They will begin informing people about the roundabout today by distributing "how-to" pamphlets at the intersection.

Learning curve

"There's going to be a learning curve," said Officer William F. Naff of the traffic resources management division. "I do foresee backups [in the beginning]. People will be tentative as they approach and go into the roundabout."

But slowing down is a necessary element of the roundabout, where speeds are expected to be 25 mph or below, SHA officials say.

"What will control speed is the shape of the roundabout," said Randall Scott, an SHA assistant district engineer. At most of SHA's other roundabouts, the number of accidents at the intersections has decreased, he said.

"The result is a significant reduction in accidents, and we expect that will happen at the Towson roundabout," Scott said.

According to recent figures, 22 accidents were reported at the intersection between January 1996 and Aug. 15, 1997, he said.

With the opening of the roundabout, Towson Republican Councilman Douglas B. Riley expects more drivers to use the Bosley Avenue bypass.

"Through traffic should go to the bypass," he said. "Part of the Towson plan objective is to slow down traffic on York Road and not to have it be such a big, major thoroughfare."

When the roundabout is complete, its central island, which is 190 feet long by 50 feet wide, will be landscaped with trees, shrubs and flowers. It will be off-limits to pedestrians.

Instant landmark

"We believe this will become a significant landmark for Towson," said Susan DiLonardo, executive director of Towson Business Association.

The roundabout is part of a $4.3 million county-state project to revitalize downtown Towson. Brick sidewalks, new lighting and trees are being added along York Road in the 300, 400 and 500 blocks and part of the 600 block.

"They've done a beautiful job," said Norman Bodarky, whose family has owned Towson Artists Supply Co. on York Road for 44 years.

He said he is looking forward to the opening of the roundabout.

"I see no reason why it shouldn't work. It's a matter of giving it a chance," Bodarky said. "I hope people will be curious about it."

Pub Date: 1/26/98

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