Signal pattern changed in response to `resident concerns'

TRAFFIC TALK

December 21, 2004|By Jody K. Vilschick | Jody K. Vilschick,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

SOME OF you might have noticed a change recently in the signal pattern at Route 99 and Maplewood Drive. Dave Buck of the State Highway Administration's communications office said the signal, which was installed almost a year and a half ago at the request of a nearby elementary school, was switched about two weeks ago.

When installed, the signal was flashing most of the time, operating only at peak times in the morning and afternoon on weekdays. Now, it is a "fully actuated" signal from early Monday through the rush hour Friday. Throughout nights and weekends, the signal flashes.

One reader wondered why the sudden change. And why didn't the highway administration let anyone know about it beforehand?

"We were trying to be responsive to resident concerns about the signal," Buck said.

When a new signal goes up, there is a mandatory 72-hour flashing period to introduce drivers to the new signal, he said. After that, it is fully functioning.

"But when a traffic light varies its flashing-functioning patterns, we're hard-pressed to find a sign to explain the change," he said. "We hope that people adjust to the new pattern, because they're used to driving with traffic signals."

But what about the inevitable near miss? Buck said near-misses are because of driver laziness and inattentiveness. "If a signal is red, even if it's flashing, you should stop," he said. Rolling stops or pretend stops don't count.

Winterizing your car

We were surprised by yesterday's blast of wintry weather, but today is the official first day of winter. Are you and your vehicle ready for it?

"The best way to avoid most car trouble is to take a few simple steps to prevent it," said Chuck Jackson of AAA Mid-Atlantic's Maryland public and government affairs office. "Take a few minutes to make sure your vehicle is prepared for some of the worst driving conditions of the year."

So unless you want to be stranded somewhere, it is time to check your car and get ready for the snow my son is cheering for. Here is a checklist, courtesy of AAA Mid-Atlantic:

Check the motor oil, and change it if you haven't recently.

With the engine warm and running and your vehicle on level ground, check the transmission fluid level. Add fluid, if needed, but avoid overfilling.

Check your battery. Make sure the battery terminals and cables are securely attached and free of corrosion.

When the vehicle is cool, check the antifreeze/coolant level and top off with a 50/50 mix of antifreeze and water, if needed.

Check belts. Drive belts that are glazed or frayed should be replaced. Make sure belts have the correct tension - no more than a half-inch of slack when depressed between the pulleys.

Check for visibly damaged or bulging hoses. Check for leaks around clamps and the water pump.

Top off the windshield washer fluid reservoir with a windshield washer concentrate that will not freeze.

Check brake fluid. If fluid is needed, top off with the type approved for your car. If the brakes regularly need fluid, have the system inspected.

Check air pressure in the tires. Look for damage and excessive or uneven tread wear. Tire pressure normally falls a pound per 10-degree drop in temperature.

Make sure your wipers keep your windshield clean and streak-free. Replace wipers that do not clear the windshield with three swipes.

Check headlights, brake lights and turn signals. Keep lights clean of dirt and sludge, especially headlights.

Make certain the spare tire is in good condition and correctly inflated. Also be sure the jack works and has its parts (including the lug-nut wrench).

In addition to giving your car a thorough check, put together an emergency kit. Some important items to carry during the winter are a flashlight with extra batteries, reflective triangles, fire extinguisher, jumper cables, first-aid kit, a blanket, pocketknife, extra motor oil and windshield wiper fluid, kitty litter or sand, a small snow shovel, ice scraper, lock de-icer, snow brush, cellular telephone and copies of emergency numbers. On long trips, pack some nonperishable food and drinks.

Too many drivers don't know how to drive in wintry conditions, myself included (I prefer to stay home.) But Jackson urges motorists to practice driving in wintry weather. This tip is also recommended by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Maryland State Police. We shouldn't need to say it, but I know I'll receive angry e-mail if I don't - practice only on uncongested stretches of road, well away from pedestrians, snow-sledders and motorists.

During daylight, rehearse maneuvers slowly on the ice or snow in an empty lot. Try steering into a skid. Get to know your brakes and their capability: firmly apply antilock brakes; pump nonantilock brakes. Remember, stopping distances are longer on ice and water-and-ice combinations.

Cleaning up road litter

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