Left-turn arrow too short for traffic

May 29, 2010|By Liz F. Kay, The Baltimore Sun

The problem: A turn arrow near Johns Hopkins Hospital doesn't last long enough to allow traffic to pass.

The back story: There has been only one bottleneck on John Baxter's regular trips to Johns Hopkins Hospital.

The Catonsville resident has been traveling there every weekday morning for radiation treatments, and he usually has no problems until he tries to turn left from eastbound Orleans Street onto northbound Broadway.

"It's almost impossible to get through that intersection, unless you wait two or three cycles of the light," he said.

One car would barely make it through the intersection before the signal changed, he said, and that driver has to be paying attention — not talking on a cell phone or daydreaming.

Baxter timed it and said the arrow stays green for about three seconds.

"You really have to go through the light to get around the corner," he said. "That's a very unreasonable amount of time."

Construction on Orleans Street compounds the problem, he said; westbound drivers are already impatient because of congestion caused by lane closures.

The Baltimore Department of Transportation looked into Baxter's complaint, and it turns out that the signal's three-second length was wrong.

"There was a detector that was inoperative," said department spokeswoman Adrienne Barnes.

Detectors control traffic signals at some intersections, so the turn signal goes off only when the sensor notes that traffic is waiting to turn.

That way, traffic can continue moving east and west without unnecessary interruption on Orleans Street, a major city road.

The detector has been fixed and the light has now been set at its maximum time, which is 15 seconds, she said.

Turn arrows are usually installed at intersections at the request of motorists or residents who call 311, Barnes said. When an intersection is reported, traffic engineering will go out to investigate, counting the number of vehicles turning from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m., she said. The workers feed that data into a computer program that determines whether a signal is necessary and, if so, how long the turn arrow should be lit.

In a perfect world, every intersection would be controlled by detectors, Barnes said, but that's not possible. There are about 1,300 intersections citywide that have signals.

Who can fix this: Randall Scott, chief of traffic division, Baltimore Department of Transportation, 443-984-2150. City residents should call 311 to report problems.

— Liz F. Kay

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