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Bumps in the road: County to start funding speed humps again

Speeding is so bad on Furrow Avenue that resident Tom Albert said cars have veered off the road, knocking down mailboxes and clipping hedges, and forcing joggers to jump out of the way.

"Safety is huge; the neighborhood understands that we're at high risk," he said. "People walk in the street. Kids ride their bikes. Parents jog with their kids, pushing strollers down the street."

Albert is head of a committee of Furrow Avenue residents who have been working with the county to get speed humps installed on their 25 mph residential road, north of Old Frederick Road in Ellicott City.

Furrow Avenue is just one of a dozen neighborhoods in the pipeline to get speed humps through the county's residential traffic calming program, which hasn't been funded for the past four years.

But County Executive Ken Ulman's fiscal 2013 capital budget proposal only includes $50,000 for the program — not nearly enough to fund all the projects.

In 2008, the county put a moratorium on speed humps, as it was waiting to get its speed camera program up and running.

Last year, the County Council passed a bill authorizing the speed camera program and passed a capital budget that allocated $100,000 for the traffic calming program, slated to come from speed camera revenues. But that money never materialized.

"Because the speed camera program was slow to get started, we told them that money was not available," county Budget Administrator Ray Wacks said.

Roads in school zones, where speed cameras can be used, no longer qualify for speed humps, said Diane Schwarzman, the county's Traffic Engineering Division chief.

"That took quite a few roads off the list," she said.

This year, the $50,000 for speed humps, if approved by the council, is being funded from previous years' surplus. In future years, the county is hoping to have revenue from the speed camera program to use for the program.

More money sought

Some council members feel not enough is budgeted this year, given the number of neighborhoods seeking speed humps.

"We just have to work with the county executive to see if we can provide additional funding," Ellicott City Democrat Courtney Watson said. "We have some catching up to do."

Of the 12 communities on the list of neighborhoods in the pipeline for speed humps, seven are in Watson's council District 1.

"Many of our neighborhoods do not have sidewalks," she said. "Many of the neighborhoods have wide streets that make speeding very easy. …There's a lot of straightaways."

That's the case in the Font Hill neighborhood of Ellicott City, where speed humps were installed on most roads about a decade ago. Michael Dennison is leading the neighborhood effort to get two humps put within the one to one-and-a-half mile stretch of Font Hill Drive that is still bare.

"Where I live is a pretty flat spot of Font Hill," Dennison said, noting that speeding is aided by the fact cars approach the hump-less stretch coming down a hill.

Dennison, 26, has lived in Font Hill his entire life and said traffic and speeding have only increased with development over the years.

"What hurts us, too, is we're kind of smack dab in the middle of Old Annapolis Road and Old Frederick Road," he said. "I think people use Font Hill as a cut through."

As long as there is a list of neighborhoods that want them, Watson said she would like to see the county fund speed humps for at least three to five communities each year.

County estimates show speed humps cost about $5,000 per hump, and most communities are seeking multiple humps. Depending which projects are chosen, the $50,000 could pay for speed humps in just one neighborhood or up to four neighborhoods.

Furrow Avenue, the neighborhood furthest along in the process, is seeking five humps, which would cost a total of $25,000.

Criteria must be met

To qualify for speed humps, a road must have a minimum of 1,200 vehicles traveling on it per day and 85 percent of the traffic must be traveling 10 mph or more over the speed limit.

Furrow Avenue, according to a traffic study of the area conducted in December, has a daily load of more than 1,500 vehicles. The traffic study found the average speed of those vehicles was more than 12 mph over the speed limit, Albert said.

"Some of these speeds are over 50 mph," he said.

The county conducts the traffic study, Schwarzman said, noting that all 12 roads in the county's pipeline qualify for speed humps. Roads that do not qualify, she said, often get put on the list to receive the county's "Keep kids alive, drive 25" signs, which are moved to different neighborhoods every six months.

When a neighborhood qualifies for speed humps, a handful of residents form a Traffic Action Committee to work with the county to design the layout, which is presented to the community at a public meeting. Then, the community takes a vote, in which two-thirds have to vote in favor of the humps before they are installed.

Furrow Avenue is the only community of the 12 in the pipeline that has already voted. The 65 homes on Furrow Avenue between Carrie Way and Mt. Hebron Drive voted 85 percent in favor of speed humps — only 3 percent voted no; the other 12 percent abstained or did not return ballots, Albert said.

The community, he said, is hoping the humps will help slow down vehicles and reduce accidents. Late last year, Albert said, there were two accidents, just two months apart, in the same location. In one, he said, an adult driver driving too fast to navigate a turn and his car flipped on its side.

"It took Howard County Fire and Rescue 45 minutes to extricate him from the vehicle," Albert recalled.

Font Hill's Traffic Action Committee is scheduled to meet with county traffic engineer Buck Bohmer this week, Dennison said. He said he hopes a public meeting will be scheduled soon and the community can vote within the next month.

'A little better'

In one neighborhood where speed humps were installed a few years ago to slow speeding drivers near a school, the humps, while they appear to have helped, have not cured the problem entirely, said one of the residents who sought them.

In 2006, Elkridge residents who live near Mayfield Woods Middle School approached the county about installing speed humps following a string of incidents in which children were hit by cars while walking to or from school.

"After the second or third kid (who was hit), that was the last straw," Red Barn Way resident Karen Carter, who was among those who lobbied for speed humps, said in a recent interview.

Since the speed humps were installed five years ago — five speed humps along Mayfield Avenue and one on Red Barn Way, which leads to the middle school — Carter said there have not been any more incidents of children being hit.

However, she said, the humps have not stopped all drivers from speeding.

"I think it's a little better than it was," Carter said. "But sometimes, they just fly over them."

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