Safer path on bridge sought

Worried neighbors seek to widen walks to Meadowbrook Park

`It's too dangerous'

January 23, 2001|By Jamie Smith Hopkins | Jamie Smith Hopkins,SUN STAFF

Meadowbrook Park in Ellicott City won't open for 2 1/2 years, but neighbors are thinking ahead - picturing how people will walk there.

They don't like the picture.

Northeast of the park, pedestrians would have to cross the Long Gate Parkway bridge over Route 100. Residents think the sidewalk is narrow and drivers get too close, so they've asked for something that doesn't commonly go hand-in-hand with park development.

They want the sidewalk widened and protective barriers installed along one side of Long Gate Parkway, especially at the bridge.

"We don't mind being the precedent-setting case," said David Catania, treasurer of the Wheatfield Homeowners Association, which represents about 1,500 residents near the parkway. "If that's what's needed to protect pedestrians, why not?

"What good is a park if people ... fear walking over there?"

Howard County officials who walked the section with residents say the community has a valid point. But the State Highway Administration has to approve work on the bridge.

Highway engineers who reviewed the structure said last week that it meets their standards for pedestrian safety.

The sidewalk is 5 feet wide, the shoulder next to it is 4 feet wide and the curb is 10 inches high, all of which are typical or better than normal, said Lora Rakowski, an SHA spokeswoman. She said it's not common to have guardrails on bridges.

But the SHA would consider proposals to improve the bridge with county funds, she said.

"If the county really wanted to push this project, they could present it," Rakowski said.

County Councilman Christopher J. Merdon of Ellicott City, who walked across the bridge with residents last year, said he thinks that the community's request is reasonable.

He'd like to see the county pay for it, although he suspects that it would take a while because other projects, including new schools, are waiting for funding.

Merdon said he wouldn't think of pushing his 8-month-old daughter in a stroller across the bridge unless it were improved.

"It's too dangerous," he said. "It's just not something I would risk."

LaDonna Isibue, who moved into Wheatfield 4 1/2 years ago and has two young children, feels the same way. She has nervous visions of kids streaming to the park on foot, roller-skates and bikes - all over that bridge.

"There's going to be high foot traffic because it's so convenient," she said. "You're going to have kids walking in the street to pass each other. ... No matter how careful you are, the fact remains that there's nothing separating you from those cars."

Neighbors' input

Residents have had a good deal of input into the planning of Meadowbrook Park. After nearly 100 irate neighbors turned up to protest the initial proposal in 1999, county officials formed a neighborhood committee to work out a compromise.

Neighbors talked about what they didn't want to see, such as lighted ball fields. And they brought up the bridge issue.

Kenneth M. Alban, the administrator for capital projects and park planning with the Howard County Department of Recreation and Parks, isn't used to dealing with bridges, but he has tried to be accommodating.

County's response

"We told them we would do all that we can, recognizing that people will be walking to the park," he said. "It is a narrow sidewalk when you cross the bridge, no question, and cars move very quickly down it."

When the park opens, it will have three ball fields, none of which will be lighted; an informal open-space play area; two tennis courts; two basketball courts; a volleyball court; two picnic shelters; two playgrounds; and a 30,000-square-foot indoor facility.

Wheatfield residents hope the Long Gate bridge will get on the to-do list, too.

"We're trying to avoid a catastrophe," Isibue said.

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