Mall crossing seen as a hazard

Nearby residents drive rather than walk to get to The Mall in Columbia


Martin Kinsler lives so close to The Mall in Columbia that he can walk there. But, rather than cross one street, he gets into his car and drives.

The 64-year-old resident of the Evergreens apartments, a rental community for ages 55 and older, said crossing Ring Road, the roadway that circles the mall, is life-threatening.

"I was walking across to get to the mall, and it was difficult. ... Me and my wife were nearly hit," said Kinsler, who said several of his neighbors had similar experiences and now drive across the street.

Town Center officials and residents at the Evergreens and other dwellings in the Warfield Triangle, the residential area near the mall, held a meeting this year and drafted a letter to county officials and General Growth Properties Inc., the owner of the mall.

In the letter, residents detailed the lack of pedestrian safety on Ring Road, including speeding cars - the speed limit is 15 mph - and motorists that fail to yield to pedestrians.

Kinsler said driving his car several hundred feet sounds silly, but "it's a lot easier to get in the car and go across. ... Many people, especially the elderly, do that."

The three areas of concern on Ring Road are the area from the entrance to the mall off Governor Warfield Parkway next to the Evergreens to the Cheesecake Factory.

Karen Geary, manager of the mall, and public officials met with residents of the Warfield Triangle in February to address the pedestrian problems.

Geary said this week that the following actions are expected to be completed by the end of this month:

Rumble strips will be installed on Ring Road between the Evergreens apartments and the Cheesecake Factory.

A marked crosswalk will be added on Ring Road between the AMC Theatre and Cheesecake Factory.

Pedestrian signage will be increased in the area, and the yellow lights affixed to stop signs at the three-way intersection next to the AMC Theatre will be changed to red.

Geary said that about four years ago, a pedestrian crossing Ring Road was struck by a speeding motorist.

"That was a difficult situation because they were in the crosswalk and the person just kept going," Geary said, adding that management checked to make sure signs was present and the crosswalk was labeled.

Geary said mall security employees do not have the authority to write speeding tickets, but they can remind motorists to slow down. Howard County police assigned to the mall work with mall management to address such issues as disobeying traffic ordinances, Geary added.

"Not all of our customers remember our speed limit. ..." Geary said. "They have a tendency to go as fast as they want to."

Complaints about the pedestrian situation have been around for a while.

"This is an issue I have been paying attention to for a long time," said County Councilman Ken Ulman, a west Columbia Democrat whose law office is on Ring Road. "The citing of this and the lack of pedestrian crossings are the biggest examples for the need for a much better planning in Town Center."

Over the past several months, the county has been working on design guidelines for turning Town Center into a bustling urban environment with a pedestrian-friendly atmosphere.

Lee Richardson, chairman of the Town Center Village Board, has received dozens of complaints from residents of the Warfield Triangle, and he was compelled to investigate.

"I can see why you can't even try to cross unless you want to test your sneakers and run," Richardson said.

Last year, Reid Ewing, an associate professor at University of Maryland's National Center for Smart Growth Research and Education, conducted a study on the pedestrian situation in Town Center.

"There is a principle that the more pedestrians you have, the more drivers become aware of pedestrians and the safer it gets," Ewing said. "I don't think there is a road surrounding the mall that is easy to cross."

During his five-hour walk around downtown Columbia last year, Ewing encountered about 30 people - the same number of people he would meet in roughly five minutes walking around Bethesda.

Ewing warned that a crosswalk at a busy intersection does not mean it is safe.

"On a high-speed and high-volume area, you don't put in a crosswalk without other pedestrians counter-measures," he said. "Having a traffic signal is the key."

Geary said management has met with a traffic engineer to evaluate the pedestrian conditions around the mall and will make changes accordingly.

She added that other pedestrian areas around the mall are being evaluated.

For Jenna Allison, 24, a resident of the Warfield Triangle neighborhood, living close to the mall sounded like a great idea when she moved in.

"It has become increasingly difficult to enjoy all that the area has to offer. The lack of pedestrian-friendly access to the mall has made it extremely cumbersome to make the trip across the street," Allison

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