A NEW traffic light recently installed by SHA on Route 97 at the intersection with the off-ramp from Interstate 70 prompted James Walsh to complain.
"That particular signal is probably needed 6 hours per day, 5 days per week," he said in a recent e-mail. "Instead, that traffic signal operates 24-7. It's particularly vexing for traffic turning from northbound Route 97 onto the ramp to westbound I-70; those drivers have to wait for a left-turn arrow. At 8, 9 or 10 p.m., I will often see two or three cars waiting for the signal to permit them to make that left turn. At those times there is little if any oncoming traffic. This arrangement certainly seems to be overkill, and it seems that this traffic signal could be set to flash after about 8 p.m. until 6 a.m."
According to David Buck, manager of communications for the State Highway Administration, the agency's traffic engineers are familiar with the concerns with the signal Mr. Walsh mentioned.
"SHA's signal shop recently made some modifications to the timing so the signal is more responsive to secondary approaches, especially during off-peak times. Two recent visits to the signal indicate the signal is reacting quickly," Buck said. "There is a little more delay than there would be if the signal was flashing, but very minimal." He noted that the signal runs full color between 5 a.m. and 10 p.m. seven days a week, and flashes at other times.
But don't expect other changes to the signal. According to Buck, SHA engineers reviewed the signal in response to your complaint. "It was determined there is enough traffic volume to justify a signal for eight hours of an average day, therefore SHA is reluctant to flash the signal during daytime off-peak periods," he said.
Michael Ramos rides the MARC train from Howard County's Savage station to Washington every day, and he has some concerns. "Although we can relax on the train to work, the walk between our parked cars and the train platform can be inaccessible for those with disabilities," he said in a recent e-mail. He noted examples.
"On Tuesday, Nov. 18, a freight train blocked the southbound track, so we commuters walked across the train tracks in the morning fog to the opposite platform to wait for the train. As the train approached, late-arriving commuters ran across the tracks in front of the moving train -- fortunately, the train slowed to a crawl to let people by. Other mornings when this has happened, the trains didn't slow as noticeably. No one has tripped on the tracks yet, so no injuries," he said.
"Regarding accessibility, [several weeks ago] during the afternoon trip home a freight train was parked in front of Savage station. To get to our cars on the other side of the parked train -- including cars in the handicapped spaces -- we crossed an undeveloped patch of ground, crossed a street, walked up steep stairs to cross a bridge and walked down similarly steep stairs to the parking lot. The worst event I've seen happened last year in the afternoon when commuters disembarked as usual and crossed the train tracks to reach the parking lot. A freight train came at full speed, rounded the corner and passengers literally ran for their lives to clear the tracks," he said.
"There are no structures in place to help commuters: no elevators, no enclosed station, no telephone on the opposite track, nothing. Another issue is that freight trains and passenger trains share the same tracks, and freight trains have the right of way to block access for commuters to the platform. Maybe a separate track for freight and commuter trains and a modern station would help. Maybe a lawsuit would help," he said.
Perhaps more commitment from our state and federal government to supporting commuter railroads instead of endlessly pouring money into new roads would help, too, but I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for that to happen.
Perhaps a lawsuit might do some good, Mr. Ramos. About 10 years ago, I commuted into D.C. via MARC (also from the Savage station). Attention to customer concerns and needs was never a priority at MARC, in my experience, and the problems you see now existed then, as well -- a shame and an embarrassment to the region. I once had the temerity to complain to a MARC official about the train service. His response? "If you don't like it, don't ride it."
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