Neighborhoods try to cut off fast lane

Bumps, steeper roads sought to curb traffic

August 19, 1999|By Dan Thanh Dang | Dan Thanh Dang,SUN STAFF

Life in Towson seems to go a whole lot faster these days.

Every morning and evening, cars zip through Ronald Schneider's neighborhood, racing down narrow, tree-lined streets. Some of the speeders are his neighbors, but far more are simply dodging busy York Road.

That's not happening just in Schneider's Stoneleigh community. Throughout the region, impatient drivers -- fed up with congested thoroughfares and looking for detours -- are a growing problem for otherwise quiet neighborhoods.

"The biggest issue in my district is not crime, not education, not taxes," said Baltimore County Councilman Wayne M. Skinner, a Towson Republican. "It's traffic. It is my No. 1 issue."

Residents are fighting back.

Following a national trend, Howard County planners and residents have urged developers to build narrower roads with steeper grades to help reduce speeding.

In Eldersburg, homeowners have demanded "traffic-calming devices" from speed bumps to stop signs to deal with speeding motorists who've caused an increase in accidents.

And Baltimore residents have sought one-way streets and barriers to block entire streets.

Stoneleigh residents have borrowed an electronic sign from the Baltimore County Police Department that flashes a car's speed to warn drivers. Many were traveling 10 to 20 mph above the posted 25-mph limit.

"The thing is, people are in a bigger hurry than they used to be," said Darrell Wiles, chief of the county Bureau of Traffic and Transportation. "All of this could fit under the bigger umbrella of aggressive driving -- you know, running red lights, speeding, cutting through neighborhoods."

In his five years on Hatherleigh Road in Towson, Schneider says he's seen his share of aggressive drivers.

"With all the resources the police have, they are doing a good job, but they can't be everywhere all the time," said Schneider, 40, president of the Stoneleigh Community Association.

"I happen to live right across from the Stoneleigh pool, and it's crowded all the time," he said. "It's just a matter of time before one of those kids gets hit."

Residents from Montgomery County to Portland, Ore., have sought more speed bumps -- one of the cheapest and easiest devices used to slow drivers.

But a Montgomery County group called Save Our Streets, concerned that speed bumps would delay responses to emergency calls, waged a battle against them. An attempt to put the issue on the countywide referendum was struck down as frivolous by a judge last fall.

Some areas, such as Baltimore County, do not allow speed bumps, prompting officials to look for alternatives.

"We're trying to find out what the incentive or the disincentive is for people taking shortcuts off the primary road," Wiles said. "For instance, maybe a traffic signal isn't working properly."

Options include building narrower streets and placing more stop signs on long, straight roads such as Regester Avenue on the edge of Stoneleigh.

Traffic engineers also are studying the possibility of making some roads one-way or limiting turns in neighborhoods during peak travel hours.

More police officers will aggressively enforce any new traffic patterns, Wiles said.

Residents hope the measures succeed.

"It's getting worse lately," said Jim Dobson, president of Anneslie Community Association Inc., who has lived in the Towson neighborhood for 28 years. "Some of it may be neighbors, but a lot of it is people speeding up and down York Road.

"No one's been injured yet and we haven't had any major accidents yet, but that's the fear," Dobson said. "We're trying to be proactive."

But Wiles warned that traffic-calming devices also produce inconveniences. One-way streets and limited turns onto some roads will affect community residents as well as motorists cutting through.

"We can put up all these things up and change things around to slow it down," Wiles said. "But a little courtesy could go a long way toward helping this problem."

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