Speeding vehicles a problem along Bellona Avenue in Towson, residents say

In the four years that Sam Sessa has lived in his Bellona Avenue home, in Towson, speeding near the road’s intersection with Stevenson Lane has gotten progressively worse, he said.

To provide peace of mind, he and others who live along the stretch of Bellona between Stevenson Lane and North Charles Street have asked county officials through online surveys for traffic calming measures, such as speed humps. But officials say the stretch of road is too busy to warrant such additional measures.

Over the course of slightly more than one week in late August, three vehicle accidents occurred within a half-mile of the intersection of Bellona Avenue and Stevenson Lane, including an Aug. 24 incident that resulted in the death of the driver after he crossed the double solid yellow line on Bellona Avenue northbound near Blenheim Road and collided head-on with a Chrysler 300 headed southbound, according to Baltimore County police.

“That's not counting an accident in June, right outside my house— a head-on collision,” Sessa said. “I walked out of my house just in time to watch one of the cars erupt in a plume of fire and smoke.”

Baltimore County police said that an accident occurred just before 3 p.m. June 21, when the driver of a Mazda 6 fell asleep at the wheel and crossed into oncoming traffic on Bellona Avenue, just north of Stevenson Lane. The Mazda collided with a Buick Enclave, causing minor injuries to the driver, and sustaining front-end damage, including an engine compartment that caught fire and had to be extinguished by fire department personnel, according to police.

Another accident occurred Aug. 31 at around 10:15 a.m. when a driver entered the intersection of Bellona Avenue and Stevenson Lane while driving northbound after running a red light, county police said.

In addition, on Sept. 1 at around 6 p.m. the driver of a Subaru Forester was turning right from Tyrone Road onto Bellona Avenue when the driver lost control of the vehicle and struck a parked Chevrolet Camero, just north of Bellona Avenue and Stevenson Lane, according to police

The accidents appear to be cases of driver error, said Baltimore County police spokeswoman Officer Jennifer Peach.

“Each crash has its own set of factors, mostly associated with problems with the driver, not the intersection,” Peach said in an Oct. 5 email.

But Sessna and other residents maintain that such accidents could be avoided with the introduction of traffic calming measures and efforts aimed at reducing speeding along the stretch of county-maintained road between Stevenson Lane and North Charles Street. He and about a dozen neighbors coordinated an effort to fill out traffic-calming surveys on the neighborhood social networking site, Nextdoor.

“When moving to Bellona, I knew we weren’t moving to a cul-de-sac,” said Katey Blauvelt, a three-year-resident. “I knew we were going to have to be careful with our kids and pets. Maybe it was just a weird string of accidents but they continue to happen. We notice people going quicker, and we’re trying to see what we can do.”

Drivers routinely travel faster than the posted 30-mile-per-hour speed limit, she said.

“Half the reason we moved here is because we love the walkability,” Blauvelt added. “We love walking to Starbucks and the Rodgers Forge Tot Lot and Pure Raw Juice, but I have to second guess it with people going this fast.”

Holly Naff, of Bellona Avenue, would like to see digital speed signs along the street to discourage drivers she said treat the road as if it were a highway.

“It’s just not safe for anyone,” Naff said. “For drivers or pedestrians.”

In July, the county installed a left turn signal and lane on southbound Bellona Avenue at Stevenson Lane following repeated complaints by residents that drivers used unpainted parking lanes to get around drivers who stopped to make left-hand turns.

County officials determined it was time to mark the lane following an analysis prompted by citizen complaints in 2016, said Baltimore County Department of Public Works spokeswoman Lauren Watley.

However, the most recent requests by about a dozen residents of Bellona Avenue to the county’s Traffic Engineering department to paint a parking lane on Bellona Avenue north of Stevenson Lane has been denied due to concerns that risky driving behavior may be worse with the lanes painted, Watley said.

Baltimore County experimented with using single solid white lines to denote parking lanes in residential communities “a number of years ago,” Watley said, but the problem of drivers passing on the shoulder was made worse and the practice was discontinued.

“When there were no vehicles parked in these lanes motorists were using them as through driving lanes, even more than when it was unmarked,” Watley said.

With about 1,500 vehicles passing through the intersection of Bellona Avenue and Stevenson Lane per hour, the volume is above the threshold to allow for speed humps there, Watley said, adding that such devices are no longer considered for a road once its traffic volume exceeds 350 vehicles an hour.

Sessa said he appreciates the left turn signal but wants more.

Last year, Sessa and his family were turning right into their driveway from Bellona when they were hit by a driver attempting to squeeze by on the right-hand side of the road. The accident and the others this year have made him reconsider walks with his family along the road, he said.

“I know I sound like a grumpy old man, but how many people have to be injured or die near this intersection before the county decides to do something?” Sessa said.

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