Missing turn sign may be a danger signal

September 25, 2007

THE PROBLEM -- Missing "left turn only" sign at a Baltimore County intersection.

THE BACKSTORY -- Watchdog received a complaint from a motorist who frequently takes Ingleside Avenue and turns left onto Security Boulevard. She is afraid the busy crossroad is an accident waiting to happen. "Turn left, going straight will get you killed," the motorist wrote in her attention-grabbing e-mail to Watchdog.

That sounds like an overstatement, but the motorist might be right.

Drivers heading west on Ingleside have two options when they reach Security: go straight or right from the right-hand lane or turn left from the left lane. The traffic light illuminates red, yellow and green and a green left-turn arrow, and there is a left-turn arrow painted on the road.

But there is no overhead "left turn only" sign. The motorist said the omission "implies you can proceed either straight or left" from the left lane. Going straight puts drivers into oncoming traffic from Forest Park Avenue. "One of these days someone is going to try to go straight and careen into cars on Forest Park," she said.

Because Security Boulevard is Route 122, the intersection is owned by the state. David Buck, spokesman for the State Highway Administration, said when first contacted that traffic engineers did not believe another warning sign is needed.

"The assumption is if you have created a left turn lane for the exclusive purpose of turning left, it is not necessary to have something up above," Buck said.

But Buck went above and beyond the call of a spokesman. On his way home from work one day last week, he drove through the intersection to see it for himself. Turns out he agrees with the woman who complained to Watchdog.

The lane in question, he said, is a through lane that suddenly becomes a turn lane, with no warning that drivers who might want to head straight through the intersection suddenly find themselves in a lane that allows only a left-hand turn. They might not realize until it is too late that they have to move to the right lane to go straight.

Buck said he will recommend that a traffic engineer take another look at the intersection in the next two weeks.

"I suspect that as soon as they get out there they will get a sign up," Buck said.

WHO CAN FIX THIS -- Dave Malkowski, chief engineer of District 4, State Highway Administration, 410-321-2800.

UPDATE

It took a while - nearly 60 days since Watchdog first reported the problem - but finally the billboard hanging on the side of a building on St. Paul Street in Mid-Town Belvedere has been removed. The billboard, which advertises apartments, lacked a city permit.

Darrell Bishop of Mount Vernon had been trying to get it down long before that. He had complained to Baltimore's Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation, and the commission notified an attorney in the city housing department. But the attorney, Julie Day, said at the time that the department never received the request.

Then, after weeks of further delay and with the city threatening legal action, the owners agreed to take action but had to wait again to get permits to close the sidewalk for a crane. Watchdog drove by Saturday and discovered that the billboard was gone.

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