IF YOU'VE ever idled in an impromptu parking lot on U.S. 29 or wondered what the traffic engineers were thinking when they designed the Route 32/Broken Land Parkway junction, this is the column to turn to. Just one rule: No reading while driving.
This is the place to find useful news about roads in Howard County - what's happening, what's about to happen, and how long it's going to go on happening.
But this is also forum for your pet traffic peeves. What do you think about cell-phone chatterers who care more about their conversation than driving? Do you think Maryland should enact legislation banning cell phones while driving? And how about those drivers who think signaling is for sissies?
Whether it's about those red-light cameras or a horrible intersection, you probably have something to say. E-mail or snail me - I'll try to answer your questions or, at least, give you a chance to have your say.
Parking lot woes
Has this ever happened to you? You park at the shopping center, evenly between the lines in your parking space. You get back to your vehicle to find a large SUV or minivan parked on top of or over the white lines, inches from your car. Opening your car doors wide enough to slip in is almost impossible.
Or have you ever seen a slick-looking sports car parked diagonally across two or more spaces? - obviously to prevent someone from parking too close and nicking its well-waxed finish. But it's the holiday shopping season, and there aren't many spaces left.
And this has happened to me many times: You were waiting for a spot with your turn signal on - you're following "the rules." Another driver suddenly whips into the spot before you can claim the space you'd been waiting for patiently. What do you feel? What do you feel like doing? What do you do?
If you think the holiday spirit is missing from our county's shopping centers' parking lots, please let me know.
Snow removal and you
It seems crazy to be talking of snow with the unseasonably warm weather we've been enjoying and all those four-wheel-drive SUVs going to waste. But we know that eventually the snow will float down from the skies and ruin all our plans.
When it does, the Howard County Department of Public Works' Bureau of Highways is offering a new tool - its automated vehicle locating device (AVL) system - to help you check the status of the roads near you.
A mind-boggling 12,000 tons of salt stands ready to be dispersed by a fleet of 80 snow vehicles over Howard County's 950 miles of roads. During a typical snowstorm, it takes about 24 to 36 hours to completely service the county road system. All the snow vehicles are equipped with an AVL, which allows you to track their real-time progress through the Bureau of Highway's Web site: http://209. 251.35.137/snowplow/. The maps are updated every 15 minutes during a storm. You can also call 410-313-2900 for up-to-date storm and road-condition information.
Riding the rails
Whether you take the train to work or just daydream about trading in the clogged roadways for a cup of coffee and a nap on the rails, the Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) wants your opinion about its plan for new rail lines for the Baltimore region.
The MTA has posted an online survey that asks for your thoughts about where you want a new light rail, Metro subway or MARC train to serve.
"We want to know which direction people are heading - whether they're going to D.C. or Baltimore," says Jamie Kendrick, special assistant to the deputy administrator of the MTA. "We also want to know why they're going to Baltimore. Are they going to work or to the Walters Art Gallery or to Penn Station?"
The survey will be available until about Dec. 19, according to Kendrick. "Howard County is such an important part of the region," he says. "We want to see a lot of Howard ZIP codes represented so we know what their needs are." Log on to http://www.baltimore railplan.com to fill out the Life's Activities Survey. We'll keep you posted about the survey results.
What's your driving dilemma or parking lot woe? Contact Jody K. Vilschick at email@example.com. Technophobes can mail letters to Traffic Talk, The Sun in Howard County, 5570 Sterrett Place, Suite 300, Columbia 21044. Or, send a fax to 410-715-2816.