Watchdog: Balto. Co. road narrows, but drivers don't always obey

New traffic pattern on Green Summit 'hasn't worked real well'

February 18, 2011|By Liz F. Kay, The Baltimore Sun

The problem: Motorists fail to follow a new traffic pattern on a Baltimore County roadway.

The back story: You can take a lane away, but that doesn't mean that drivers will obey.

Eastbound Green Summit Road off Greenspring Avenue narrows from two lanes to one lane between Diana Road and Diamond Crest Court. It widens again to two lanes just east of Diamond Crest.

But the remains of the old, dashed white lane stripes are still visible, and two signs prior to the lane shift don't call enough attention to the new pattern, said Gail Zlotowitz, who drives on that street on her way home from work. It's also hard to see the solid white line that widens to create a shoulder one lane wide just before Diamond Crest.

As a result, "people just don't know it's been done," Zlotowitz said.

It's only for one block, but Zlotowitz worries the unexpected change will cause collisions. "I have seen drivers merge left at the last second and nearly sideswipe cars in the left lane," she wrote in her e-mail to Watchdog.

Darrell Wiles, the chief of traffic engineering and transportation planning in Baltimore County's Department of Public Works, also recognizes it's a problem.

"The violation rate is pretty good here," Wiles said. "We're in the process of re-evaluating whether we can do anything to make this work successfully. In our view, this hasn't worked real well."

The new pattern was introduced last summer at the request of residents along Diamond Crest who had difficulty pulling onto Green Summit because the road curves at that point. It meets minimum standards but presumes that traffic is traveling reasonably, according to Wiles.

"If someone is going too fast on Green Summit, you're a bit vulnerable on Diamond Crest because the visibility is not great," he said. "Speed exacerbates the sight-distance concerns."

By reducing Green Summit to just the left lane, DPW staff hoped that drivers leaving Diamond Crest would be able to pull out past the curb line to see if cars were coming. Narrowing the street also slows traffic by forcing vehicles to merge.

"If everyone is traveling in a single lane, people driving outrageous speeds are constrained by other people driving reasonably," Wiles said.

But drivers haven't been following the new pattern.

"They have an expectancy that it's a four-lane road," Wiles said. "Trying to teach them it's something different is challenging."

Normally, DPW would put out some temporary physical barrier such as barrels to reinforce the message, "but here we can't do that," according to Wiles, because barrels would also block visibility. As a result, most people just disregard the cordoned-off section of roadway and continue straight through the new curb lane, he said.

This was a problem even when the new white lines were fresher and stood out.

"This time of year, markings that were bright in the fall don't look so great," Wiles said. Taking old markings out without resurfacing is difficult, he added, because grinding too deeply into the road surface leaves ruts that are just as visible. DPW crews had actually ground down the lines twice, he said.

Public works staff had been discussing a longer-term solution with the area community association: reducing Green Summit from Greenspring Avenue to three lanes — one in each direction, with a center turn lane. But that would have to wait until the road is resurfaced. Wiles said his department wants to continue to talk to affected residents along Diamond Crest about what can be done.

In the meantime, Zlotowitz was relieved county officials were aware of the issue.

"Maybe they could paint arrows onto the road and flags on the signs," she suggested.

Who can fix this: Darrell Wiles, chief of traffic engineering and transportation planning, Baltimore County Department of Public Works, 410-887-3554.

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