Although residents were divided on solutions, one thing was clear at a public hearing in Havre de Grace Wednesday night, something needs to be done to address traffic problems in the Grace Manor community.
Concerns expressed included narrow streets, speeding drivers and trash littering their roads from motorists cutting through neighborhoods. Although several residents did not offer suggestions and others were divided on what would work best, many were against having any streets in Grace Manor become one-way.
Changing streets to one-way also appeared to find disfavor with the city elected officials who attended the hearing. There was, however, little consensus for finding permanent solutions to the growing traffic problems through residential areas along Chapel Road, although the city seems to be committed to at least making improvements at the congested and dangerous Ohio - Ontario Street intersection.
City Councilman Bill Martin scheduled Wednesday's public hearing concerning the proposed closure of Lewis Lane, saying he wanted an opportunity to hear comments, concerns and suggestions from residents about the growing traffic problems west of Route 40.
Initially, the city planned to close Lewis Lane for two months for a reconstruction project around the railroad crossing, proposing a temporary traffic change to make Grace Manor Drive a one-way from Chapel Road to Joe Hill Drive and Joe Hill Drive a one-way to Chapel Road.
Fearing that the temporary change would become permanent, residents of Grace Manor e-mailed and called the city with their opposition.
Residents filled all the seats in the council chamber Wednesday, spilling out into the hallway, and in a three-hour meeting, told a myriad of "horror stories," including one by David Klein, of Grace Manor Drive, who said school bus routes had to be diverted because his son was almost hit by a car.
Through the years, Klein continued, their quality of life has been diminishing because of the high traffic and speeding through the area. He acknowledged that people were parking on the street, making the road narrower, but said that was the community's defense against speeding.
Scott Hurst, chief of the Susquehanna Hose Company, challenged that view of parking, as one of the only people who against the proposed idea of closing off Lewis Lane and creating a cul-de-sac. Hurst admitted that people cut through the residential area, himself included, but said residents of Grace Manor and neighboring Havre de Hills cut through other developments.
Hurst said there definitely is a problem with traffic in Grace Manor, but he warned double parking on the street adds to the danger for children, who may run into the road from behind cars. Closing Lewis Lane, he argued, would create more problems at the busy Chapel Road and Ohio Street intersection.
Closing Lewis Lane permanently was only one of several solutions residents offered, including the possibility of installing speed cameras to deter speeding through Grace Manor. Speed cameras are not possible, Mayor Wayne Dougherty said, because state law only allows them within a school or construction zone.
Although Grace Manor is a mile from a school, it is still too far to be considered part of a school zone, Dougherty added later.
Robert Frank, who lives on Spinnaker Way, said that there are ways to get around such regulations.
Other suggestions included creating new access points for several of the neighborhoods west of the CSX tracks and better solutions to solve the overall traffic problem in the Chapel Road area, not just those at Grace Manor, which Michael Clark, of Lockhart Court, pointed out.
The four-way stop at Ontario Street and Ohio Street is already dangerous, Clark said, and closing Lewis Lane would make the situation worse.
For what he said was his fifth time speaking to city council members, Stuart Hutchinson, of Grace Manor Drive, spoke against the proposed hospital at Bulle Rock, which he said will add to the traffic problems.
"I know that somebody is going to get hurt or killed on our street and it lies within your hands to prevent that," Hutchinson said.
Thomas Ullo, who also lives on Grace Manor Drive, suggested that the homeowners associations have an attorney file a notice to the city of Havre de Grace about the dangers in the community. With that in mind, he said it would cost the city more to deal with a lawsuit if something unfortunate happens than if city officials actually deal with the traffic problems.
Brad Gladfelter, of Lewis Lane, was one of the few speakers to endorse one-way streets, suggesting that making the roads as "convoluted" as possible may slow down traffic through the residential areas.
Changes at Ohio - Ontario
Prior to the close of the meeting, city spokesperson John Van Gilder gave a short presentation with two possible solutions for the traffic issues.
The first, he said, would be to widen Ohio Street, from Ontario Street to Route 40, to a two-lane road on the right side, in an effort to address traffic back ups. This would include moving the double yellow line and taking up the bike lane.
The second possible solution, if approved, would be to extend Camilla Street to Ontario Street, allowing people to use that as an access road as well.
City Attorney Paul Ishak also spoke briefly about using a bridge that connects to Greenway Farm and getting rid of an emergency vehicle only lane to create another access for Bulle Rock residents. This solution, however, is dependent on the developer starting phases two and three of Greenway Farm, which Ishak said are stalled.
All council members agreed that one-way streets were not the way to go, and Dougherty assured residents he would work on getting crosswalks and double yellow lines installed, as well as the possibility of reducing the speed limit after a traffic survey is completed.
As for the proposals for widening Ohio and extending Camilla, Dougherty said they would come up for consideration and approval at the second council meeting in June.