Speeding, safety are issues in residential communities


February 26, 2002|By Jody K. Vilschick | Jody K. Vilschick,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

WE BLAME others - express delivery drivers, teen-agers, even school bus drivers - for speeding through our neighborhood streets.

And it happens all the time, according to Sgt. Frederick Von Briesen of the Traffic Enforcement Section of the Howard County Police Department. "Speeding is the No. 1 complaint the police receive," he says. "Every residential community in Howard County has complained about speeds in their neighborhood at one time or another. Every one."

Sometimes, the speeding catches new residents, who looked for quiet streets on which to raise their kids, by surprise. Such is the case with Chris Rice of Montgomery Meadows in Ellicott City. "Last spring, my wife and I began looking for a place to live. Montgomery Meadows has everything we were looking for: beautiful houses, nice-sized yards, a desirable school district and convenient to Baltimore, Washington, BWI, and Old Town Ellicott City," he says.

After he moved in, he realized that his kids were not safe playing in their front yard because of the traffic speeding along his street. "As an architect who works for some of the largest universities in the country, we often propose narrowing streets - streets like Glenmar Road kill college students every year. The width of both Rising Sun Lane and Glenmar Road encourages people - some without realizing - to drive faster than the posted 25-mph speed limit," Rice says.

Because of his concerns, Rice joined the homeowners association's safety committee. It worked with Bill Malone, traffic engineer from Howard County's Department of Public Works, to develop solutions that bridge the gap between what the neighborhood needs and what the county's traffic-calming budget allows. The neighborhood is pursuing the possibility of installing temporary street "chokers" that visually and physically narrow the road and force drivers to maneuver their vehicles between them, effectively slowing them.

During the plump years, Howard County would construct permanent traffic calming "devices" - curbed chokers, roundabouts at intersections, or the hated speed bumps - along neighborhood streets if two requirements were met:

A minimum of 1,200 cars must travel on the road in 24 hours.

85 percent of the vehicles must travel 10 mph or more over the posted speed limit.

This year is not a good year to be talking about spending county money on traffic calming, according to Malone. But that does not mean that no other options exist. "I also recommend that neighborhood residents join Howard County's SMART Program," said Malone during a safety committee meeting last month. SMART stands for Speed Monitoring and Awareness Radar Team, and it should be a neighborhood's first step in fighting speeding, according to Von Briesen.

Meeting the enemy - us

Because the Montgomery Meadows safety committee members thought people were cutting through the neighborhood to get from Route 103 to Route 100, they counted cars entering and leaving the neighborhood. The committee tracked license plates so they could determine how many cut-throughs there were.

They were astonished by what they learned: "More than 90 percent of the people who are endangering the lives of our children live in our own neighborhood," Rice says.

This agrees with Von Briesen's view. "People tend to drive faster in other people's neighborhoods," he says. "But neighborhood residents who are used to speeding along main roads, such as Routes 104 or 103 near Montgomery Meadows, will transfer that habit to their own streets. If they can retrain themselves to slow down on all roads, they'll break their habit of speeding overall."

According to Von Briesen, SMART can help drivers discover how fast they're going. "Some people are really surprised when they see their speed on the monitor," he says. "It also helps people become aware that their own neighbors know they speed. You don't want your neighbors to think you don't care about the safety of their kids."

SMART encourages residents to take an active role solving the problem of speeding in their neighborhoods. After a brief training session, volunteers can borrow a radar unit to clock the speed of cars traveling through their neighborhoods. If the situation merits, the police will send letters - not tickets - to the owners of the cars found to be exceeding the posted speed limit. Ten Howard County neighborhoods participate in SMART.

Upon residents' request, the police also will put streets on their "enforcement" list, which means officers periodically will monitor those streets for speeding, and issue tickets when necessary. If you travel through or in Montgomery Meadows, you're on notice: The main streets through that neighborhood are on that list. So slow down, if only to avoid getting a speeding ticket that can neatly transfer up to $145 from your pocket to the county's. Is going 20 mph faster worth it?

What's your driving dilemma? Contact Jody K. Vilschick at elison @us.net. Technophobes can mail letters to Traffic Talk, The Sun in Howard County, 5570 Sterrett Place, Suite 300, Columbia 21044, or send them via fax, 410-715- 2816.

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