Traffic calming in Columbia

Traffic calming in Columbia (August 7, 2012)

Thirty-six-year Wilde Lake resident Christopher Tsien doesn't hold back when you ask him about the type of traffic calming devices used on West Running Brook Road.

"It's stupid construction, brain dead initial engineering," Tsien said. "The disadvantages of the roundabouts far outweigh the advantages. It's a nice theory, but bad execution."

The well-traveled thoroughfare, which is about 1 mile long and connects Little Patuxent Parkway and Ten Mills Road, currently uses five pairs of mini-roundabouts at 10 T-shaped, three-way intersections, to deter speeding. The roundabouts, installed in 2000, are 3-inch high, circular, concrete islands, which slow traffic by forcing drivers to steer around them.

However, the roundabouts may not be around much longer.


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Tsien is one of seven members of his neighborhood's traffic action committee, a volunteer panel formed last week, that will consult with county traffic officials about the possibility of restructuring the street's traffic-calming mechanism before the road is resurfaced this fall.

According to Buck Bohmer of the county's Traffic Engineering division, county traffic officials will present the seven-person committee with alternative traffic-calming possibilities, such as speed humps, at the end of August.

The committee will make a recommendation to the approximately 208 residents who access the road on a regular basis, who then will vote on it. Bohmer said two-thirds of the possible voters must approve a change, meaning anyone who does not vote will be counted as a vote against the recommendation.

If a two-thirds majority is not reached, the roundabouts will remain when the road is resurfaced in the fall.

Bohmer, who will act as an adviser to the committee, said he recommends speed humps for T-shaped, three-way intersections like the ones on West Running Brook Road.

"The difference between (speed humps) and the circles is the humps deflect traffic up and down, while the circles deflect it horizontally," Bohmer said. "It's just a matter of taste. We have humps that work, and we have circles that work."

Bohmer stressed that the decision ultimately falls to the affected residents.

"It's completely driven by the community," he said. "The county doesn't really have a horse in this race."

Roundabouts roasted

Tsien cited many reasons why he is against the roundabouts, highlighting the difficulties they pose for school buses that shuttle students to and from Running Brook Elementary in the 5200 block of the street.

"The school buses can't get around them," Tsien said. "They have to go over the islands."

Tsien said one icy winter morning he saw a school bus lose control and slide into a pole as it tried to drive over the concrete island.

"It's just hard to imagine you would deliberately put something in that throws a large, top heavy vehicle off balance," Tsien said.

Tsien added that garbage trucks and other large vehicles face the same problems.

Edward Alexander, 85, said he is also against the roundabouts, largely because he finds them ineffective. Alexander, who's lived on the block for more than 40 years, said he constantly observes drivers exceeding the 25 mph speed limit by 10, sometimes 20, miles per hour.

"It's been a problem ever since I've been here," Alexander said.

"I'd much rather see speed bumps than roundabouts," Alexander added. "They should've never put (the roundabouts) in."

Speed humps on rise

West Running Brook Road is not the only neighborhood in Howard County looking at speed humps. On Monday, Aug. 6, the county announced that construction on a traffic calming project on Furrow Avenue in Ellicott City was scheduled to begin on Aug. 20.

Five flat-top speed humps, with pavement markings and signs, will be installed on Furrow Avenue, between Mount Hebron Drive and Duff Court.

The project will be the second county-funded traffic-calming project since a moratorium was placed on the program in 2008. The first was completed last year in the neighborhood of Hunt Club Road in Elkridge.

Bohmer said the potential project in Wilde Lake wouldn't be funded by the county residential traffic calming program and is only possible because of the planned road resurfacing.

"This is a good time to get in and do something," Bohmer said.

Tsien said that the issue is not a pressing concern to the community, but he said it would be wise to take advantage of the opportunity.

"You do have a situation here, if West Running Brook is going to be repaved, let's do it right," Tsien said. "Lets see what alternatives there are and do something that works."