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Councilman Marks raises possibility of a second traffic circle in Towson area

The intersection of Joppa Road and Loch Raven Boulevard. County Councilman David Marks is interested in the possibility of replacing the intersection with a traffic circle.
The intersection of Joppa Road and Loch Raven Boulevard. County Councilman David Marks is interested in the possibility of replacing the intersection with a traffic circle. (Cody Boteler/Cody Boteler)

In a mid-December letter to the State Highway Administration, County Councilman David Marks raised the possibility of a traffic circle to replace the busy intersection of Loch Raven Boulevard and Joppa Road.

Marks has been publicly working and strategizing on ways to revitalize the area around the intersection since mid-September, when he announced the formation of a committee to study the area. About 50 people gathered in mid-October for an initial community meeting about the project.

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In the letter to the state, Marks says the intersection has been “considered deficient for many years.” He said the Better Loch Raven group is interested in any changes that could improve the level of service at the intersection, “including whether a traffic circle is feasible in any way.”

Marks said while he personally thinks roundabouts work well in many locations, he was not explicitly endorsing one for the Loch Raven-Joppa intersection.

“We’re interested in seeing if it will work; we are at the beginning of this process,” Marks said.

In a Jan. 3 email, a traffic engineer from the State Highway Administration said the agency has initiated a traffic study at the intersection to consider the possibility of installing a circle or other measures to improve traffic flow and safety.

“This is the beginning of a long process. There will be community input,” Marks said. “Funding would have to be identified.”

The traffic circle in Towson, along York Road and intersecting with Joppa, Allegheny and Dulaney Valley roads, opened in 1998. It’s had a handful of tweaks and redesigns since then. When it first opened, the circle in downtown Towson was “bewildering” to drivers and pedestrians, but reduced major traffic accidents at the intersection, according to a Baltimore Sun archives.

Marks said he realized people might need to get used to a new traffic circle, if one is implemented, but he believes it would similarly improve traffic flow and safety at Joppa and Loch Raven. He also said creating a roundabout would provide an opportunity to develop green space in the middle of the circle, creating a miniature pocket park, much like the one in the Towson circle.

The intersection of Joppa Road and Loch Raven Boulevard was given a "D" level of service rating by Baltimore County in 2018 and 2017. A "D" rating means all cars get through the intersection in a given cycle just 31-70% of the time. Level of service measures congestion, but not safety.

The area that the Better Loch Raven group is looking at is within a Baltimore County-designated commercial revitalization district. That means businesses within the boundaries are eligible for certain tax credits if they invest in property and increase the assessed value by $100,000 or more. Businesses in commercial revitalization districts also can get interest-free loans for exterior building improvements.

Marks said installing a traffic circle or otherwise improving traffic flow at the intersection is “one of the bigger things” the group is looking at.

“I think it would be key to improving the area,” he said.

Jordan Levine, a property owner and Better Loch Raven group member, said replacing the intersection with a traffic circle would be a “major step” in making the whole area better for business owners and community members.

“Right now, it’s hard to cross Joppa or Loch Raven before the light changes. It’s almost five or six lanes to get across the road,” Levine said of pedestrians. Levine made clear that while he’s not a traffic engineer, he believes the circle “is a tremendous idea” from the perspective of community development, because it would not only make it easier for pedestrians but motorists would spend less time waiting at intersections, he said.

“It seems like it’s a big idea, but that’s what we need here,” Levine said.

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