To turn or not to turn? That is the question

WATCHDOG

November 06, 2007

THE PROBLEM -- Baltimore transportation officials changed the traffic pattern on a major downtown road but left old street markings in place.

THE BACKSTORY -- Drivers are creatures of habit and get so used to roads and the way traffic moves that they often make strategic lane changes without even thinking.

So James T. Kelley III, who works at a Johns Hopkins medical office at the downtown Charles Center, was shocked when he was pulled over by a traffic enforcement officer and warned for turning left from the center lane of Lombard Street onto Light Street.

It turns out that the Baltimore Department of Transportation changed the rules. The two leftmost lanes on Lombard remain left-turn-only onto Light. But the middle lane, which in the past had given motorists a choice of turning left or going straight, now only allows drivers to go straight.

City officials posted signs with arrows hanging next to the overhead traffic lights indicating the new pattern the week of Oct. 21. But they didn't change the arrow markings on the pavement of Lombard Street.

"It is there THREE times telling motorists that they can turn left or go straight, although that is not actually the case," Kelley wrote in an Oct. 30 e-mail. "It is nice to see that Baltimore City's finest are there to ticket anyone who has been driving this route for many, many, many years and don't notice the signs."

On Wednesday, the day after Watchdog called the Transportation Department, city workers were on Lombard Street covering up the left-turn arrows. Spokeswoman Adrienne Barnes said the new pattern was established for safety reasons, "but due to the rain we were unable to change the pavement markings."

Watchdog is pleased the markings now reflect the new pattern. But it seems authorities should try to find a day on which the signs and the marking can be changed at the same time. That would be safer and less confusing, and would help prevent disputes between motorists abiding by signs that allow a turn and police pointing to signs that forbid it.

WHO CAN FIX THIS -- Felicia Oliver, chief of the Baltimore Department of Transportation Traffic Division, 410-396-6905. City residents also can call 311 to report problems.

UPDATE

Back in March, readers asked Watchdog about a broken clock at the Curran Memorial Bell Tower off York Road in Govans. The plan was to move the carillon bells to a prayer garden at Stadium Place on East 33rd Street and repair the clock, which to this day remains stuck at 3 p.m.

City Councilman Robert W. Curran says the bells have been moved and will be dedicated Nov. 19 at Stadium Place.

They honor his father, the late councilman J. Joseph Curran Sr., who suffered a heart attack during a 1976 shooting at a temporary City Hall headquarters that killed one councilman and wounded another and a mayoral aide. Curran died less than a year later.

The younger Curran said money is still being raised through a foundation to finish the clock, which will remain near York Road and Woodbourne Avenue. "There will be a clock - a functional clock that will tell time more than twice a day," Curran said.

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