2 Long Reach residents work to slow traffic on Saddle Drive


April 20, 1999|By John J. Snyder | John J. Snyder,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

SPEEDING CARS ON residential streets are a problem in many east Columbia neighborhoods.

Rick Schonbachler and Roy Williams -- neighbors on Saddle Drive in Long Reach -- have decided to do something about it.

Saddle Drive is often used as a cut-through from Route 108 to Tamar Drive.

Last April, Schonbachler called the office of County Councilman C. Vernon Gray to find out what could be done to protect youngsters and family pets from careless drivers on the street.

He learned that the County Council had received so many complaints about speeding automobiles from residents in every area of the county that funding for the construction of traffic-calming devices had been set aside in each council district.

In addition, county police would be willing to provide radar enforcement and the Department of Public Works would meet with residents to design a traffic-calming plan.

But concerned residents such as Schonbachler and Williams would have to find enough households to approve the installation of traffic-calming devices before anything could be done.

Gray agreed to help. At his request, police set up radar teams on Saddle Drive. Public Works conducted a speed study of the street.

The first speed trap ran for 3 1/2-hours -- netting one violator every 12 minutes.

Results from the speed study confirmed residents' suspicions: more than 85 percent of the motorists on Saddle Drive drove at least 10 mph above the posted 25 mph speed limit.

On Friday, Sgt. A. J. Bellido de Luna, supervisor of the Traffic Enforcement Section, and Pfc. Michael Thorn were on Saddle Drive near Distant Rock Path checking speeds and seat-belt compliance.

The unmistakable sound of engines speeding up on the other side of the hill where Saddle meets Roan Stallion Lane alerted the police officers.

Using a highly accurate laser speed-measuring device, the pair can catch cars traveling too fast. Sixty-five cars were counted over the hill and nine ticketed.

Bellido de Luna said he typically doesn't issue warnings. Speeders received tickets that could result in substantial fines and points on their licenses.

Saddle Drive neighbors had little sympathy for the ticketed drivers.

"Sometimes I see them fly through here," said Eileen Schurter, admiring the speed trap as she walked past on her predinner walk.

Last year, Schurter complained to police about speeders after a frightening incident.

"I heard a neighbor hollering, `Slow down! Slow down!' to a car along here," she recalled. "I called the police, and they showed up the next day. They were here for three days in a row."

Bellido de Luna said: "We are responsive, and the lines of sight make this a good neighborhood for speed enforcement." The hills provide cover for police waiting for speeders.

Neat houses line the streets around Saddle Drive. Friday began with rain but soon became a sunny spring day. The cul-de-sacs and sidewalks bustled with children.

The sight of uniformed policemen in bright orange vests stopping cars brought cheers from delighted children.

Youngsters walking past the speed trap shouted thanks to the officers.

Among the strollers were Allison Gardner, Sharon Seiler, Jordan Long, Corinne Frank, Osman Ashai, all 12, and Sara Emden, 13.

"The drivers need to think about the children more and not about where they're going," Sharon said. Added Allison, "Since the road isn't flat, you can't see the cars coming."

"Kids have to be alert or they can't play outside," Sara said.

Bike riders Justin Walk, 14, and Lucas High, 12, who attend Mayfield Woods Middle school, rode past.

"People speed through here all the time," Lucas said.

Justin lives in Mayfield Woods, where traffic-calming devices have been put in place as a result of a tragic accident two years ago. "The chokers in my neighborhood work," he said. "People know they are there and don't go that fast."

Chokers -- concrete curbs that narrow the travel lane -- and raised-grade crosswalks are part of the Department of Public Works' traffic-calming plan for Saddle Drive.

Raised-grade crossings are arched elevations in the asphalt paving, sometimes done in an eye-catching, red-brick pattern.

Schonbachler and Williams have the hardest job ahead of them: They and their families need to knock on as many as 145 doors on Saddle Drive and its adjacent cul-de-sacs to tell neighbors about the traffic-calming plan.

To be successful, 75 percent of affected households must vote "yes" on a ballot distributed by Long Reach Community Association.

Ballots not returned will count as "no" votes.

Schonbachler and Williams share concern for their neighbors.

"This is an example of how we can work with county government to improve the quality of life in our neighborhoods for the safety of our children," said Schonbachler, who is father to Brooke, 2 1/2.

"He gets so mad at these speeders," Schonbachler's wife, Julie, said of her husband.

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