Compelling topic or `wasted ink'?


December 14, 2004|By Jody K. Vilschick | Jody K. Vilschick,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

FOR SUCH a small item, cigarette butts certainly put your cars in overdrive. Most of your responses were e-mail high-fives for writing about the topic, although a few complained about the lack of ashtrays in cars.

Although no one wrote in support of cigarette litter, Mary Carol Hamilton demanded in an e-mail that I begin concentrating on "the things that really hurt people, animals and property."

Ms. Hamilton wondered what the big brouhaha over cigarette butts was.

"With countless trees with [plastic grocery bags] hanging from their limbs that catch, disable and hang tree creatures, potholes that damage over 5,000 cars in Howard County alone every year, hundreds of accidents caused by distracted cell-phone drivers and the fast-food detritus left along the road on a daily basis, you expect outrage about some cigarette butts?" she asked.

She maintained that the materials -- filters, ash and tobacco -- disintegrate and become absorbed into the environment. I disagree.

"Most smokers abide by the littering law; the few that don't aren't likely to change their habits because of articles like yours. I think it's awesome that you have wasted ink at least three times this year on this subject," Ms. Hamilton said.

And this column makes four. Who is to say someone won't think twice before deciding to throw a cigarette butt out the window?

Here is another reason tossing out cigarette butts is a bad idea: When I was in college, I worked one summer as a road crew laborer for the State Highway Administration in Frederick County.

It was grueling work and probably the best summer job I ever had. It was a dry summer, and several times we put out small wildfires started before our eyes by careless drivers throwing out their cigarette butts (and that was at a time when more cars had ash trays).

There is no excuse for that.

Most of the responses I received echoed J.D. Williamson's opinion: "Unfortunately, most folks and our government seem to care little about the issue. Only those of us who live on heavily traveled streets that are inundated with discarded cigarette filters seem to really get upset," he said.

He noted that filters on cigarettes came about because of the health issues related to smoking, and suggested, "We should outlaw cigarette filters and see how many folks quit smoking and eliminate the cigarette litter problem, too."

Rose Henry wrote about litter.

"I have noticed for quite a while the amount of litter along several roads in Howard County that I travel daily. It seems that it keeps getting worse, and no one is going to clean it up. It looks unsightly in such a picturesque county where home prices have recently soared," she said.

Ms. Henry notes Guilford Road, between Oakland Mills Road and Mission Road, and Snowden River Parkway, between Oakland Mills Road and Route 175, as examples of particularly bad places. I passed her concerns along to the County Department of Public Works.

Restricted view

The Mayfield Avenue-Route 103 intersection causes Norman Zundel's carburetor to hesitate.

"[Turning left off of Mayfield onto Route 103] has become a favorite way for the [homeowners] off of Mayfield Avenue to get to Route 100. It is also a favored way for much of Elkridge to reach the Food Lion on Route 108," he noted. "The problem is that looking left, bushes somewhat restrict the view up Route 103 -- and looking right, a hill completely restricts the view of oncoming traffic in that direction. The community has been told that when/if a new fire station is built on Route 103 (near Interstate 95), the county will reduce the height of the hill. However, the fire station was originally due to be built several years ago and still isn't in the county budget for the future. Perhaps we need a signal light at this intersection, which has seen many accidents over the years."

According to John M. Concannon, State Highway Administration assistant district engineer for traffic, SHA maintenance crews will review the foliage and trim the bushes if they are a safety concern.

That's the good news. However, he said, "The intersection doesn't meet [the requirements] for a signal, and there are no current plans to reduce the vertical curve."

Dave Buck of the SHA communications office investigated accident statistics for that intersection.

He discovered that in the past three years, five crashes at the intersection have been reported to the police. "None of the five crashes involved the movement [Norman Zundel] is questioning -- from Mayfield onto Route 103. The crash pattern does not indicate a sight-distance problem," he said.

However, Buck noted in a follow-up conversation that it is common for residents to believe the exit intersection for their neighborhood is one of the worst, simply because they have to deal with it daily in all weather and traffic conditions. What's your traffic trauma? Contact Jody K. Vilschick at, send faxes to 410-715-2816 or mail letters to Traffic Talk, The Sun in Howard County, 30 Corporate Center, 10440 Little Patuxent Parkway, Suite 820, Columbia, 21044. Include your full name and contact information or your comments will not be published or receive a response.

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