College Ave. driver safety put in focus

Plan would remove trees, add guardrails on `7 hills'

Ellicott City

January 31, 2003|By Liz F. Kay | Liz F. Kay,SUN STAFF

The Howard County Public Works Department believes it has found at least a partial solution to concerns about reckless driving on the perilous "seven hills" of College Avenue in Ellicott City.

Public Works Director James M. Irvin hopes that new guardrails and the removal of 26 trees along parts of the road between Taylor Manor and Bonnie Branch Road - a destination for drivers seeking stomach-dropping excitement by speeding up and down the hills - will reduce the severity of accidents that occur in the area.

"It would increase the possibility to save somebody's life instead of [drivers] running into a fixed object where fatalities could occur," Irvin said.

He plans to include the approximately $100,000 capital project - once formally defined - in budget proposals for the county Planning Board to evaluate.

Public Works promised to develop some solutions in August after two Anne Arundel County teen-agers died in an accident on the road "[Racing along that strip] was a rite of passage, if you grew up in Catonsville," said Mary Ashburn, who has lived near Bonnie Branch Road for more than a year.

Installing about 3,600 feet of guardrails on either side of the road - the area is about 7,000 feet long - would require the removal of 26 trees along the roadway or too close to the rail, William F. Malone Jr., chief of Howard County's traffic engineering division, said at a Wednesday meeting with about 20 neighborhood residents.

Malone explained that like the "crumple zone" of a car, the rail needs at least 4 feet to absorb the force of a vehicle's impact.

People who live along the road were less than enthusiastic about Irvin's plan.

They said they thought slowing down drivers on the road was more important than helping them land safely.

"All you're doing is protecting people who commit crimes" by installing guardrails said Stan Ashburn, who lives near Bonnie Branch Road east of what Malone described as the most accident-prone section of College Avenue.

At an earlier meeting, neighborhood residents were reluctant to change the grading of the seven hills, saying it would alter the character of the area, Irvin noted.

But the idea was more popular with those who attended the Wednesday meeting. "Hill reduction or shaving is always a possibility if we get some consensus," Irvin said.

Norm Powell, a resident of College Road, suggested construction of a traffic-slowing roundabout on College Avenue at Doncaster Drive. Irvin agreed to propose studying the possibility of roundabout along with the guardrail plan.

Capt. Nancy Yeager, the Northern District commander for the Howard County Police Department, also answered questions about speeding enforcement at the Wednesday meeting. Although Howard police conduct speeding enforcement Friday and Saturday nights along College Avenue, "there's no safe place to pull people over," Yeager said.

The road has a 25-mph speed limit, but "we typically will give people some flexibility with that," Yeager said. Still, "the vast majority we stop are residents of College Avenue."

Residents also asked about the possibility of camera technology, similar to red-light cameras. Irvin described the area as a "poster child for automated speed enforcement."

The Police Department, Public Works and County Executive James N. Robey all support speed cameras, Irvin said. "Maybe you'd be able to jump the roads, but at least you'd get a ticket out of it."

But automatic speed cameras have not been approved by the Maryland legislature and would be expensive to operate, the county officials said.

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