A number of potential fixes could be made to improve pedestrian safety in downtown Bel Air, according to a study by the State Highway Administration presented by the town's planning director.
Results of the survey come a few weeks after town officials expressed dismay about drivers disregarding crosswalks when pedestrians are present. Police have promised an enforcement crackdown is coming next month against speeding on downtown streets and failing to stop for pedestrians in crosswalks.
Suggested pedestrian improvements include designing and building curbs that allow people with disabilities easier access to sidewalks, slowing down traffic at busy intersections on Main and Bond streets, maintaining visible crosswalks and restricting drivers' ability to turn right on a red light at certain intersections.
The study was done in 2014 after town officials discussed their concerns with SHA officials at the Maryland Municipal League conference, Bel Air Planning Director Kevin Small said.
"We talked to [SHA] about some of the concerns the planning department and police department had for pedestrian safety in downtown," Small told members of the Board of Town Commissioners during a work session Tuesday.
A portion of downtown has been designated as a pedestrian zone in the town's 2013 Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan, "and we wanted to make sure we were doing the utmost to keep pedestrians safe," Small said.
The study area was within Main Street and Bond Street on the east and west ends and Lee Street and Baltimore Pike on the north and south ends. Both Main and Bond are part of the state highway system.
The consultants paid extra attention to five intersections: Main Street and Baltimore Pike, Main and Churchville Road, Main and Courtland Street, Main and Pennsylvania Avenue and Bond Street and Churchville Road.
The intersections are surrounded by Harford County government buildings, the Harford County Courthouse and popular restaurants that generate a lot of foot traffic.
The consultants also noted that crosswalks are "in poor condition" at a number of intersections in the study area, such as at Bond Street and Office Street and Bond and Pennsylvania, plus several locations along Main, Small said.
Small said the consultants "sat out and watched how people behaved."
They discovered bad behavior by pedestrians, as well as drivers, such as walkers crossing the street against the traffic signal and drivers stopping for a light in the middle of a crosswalk.
They also observed drivers turning onto streets in the wrong direction, such as making a right turn onto Bond from a side street to get to a nearby parking lot, when they should only be turning turn left onto the one-way street.
Consultants spent Sept. 16, 2014, observing the volumes of pedestrians at Main and Courtland, right by the courthouse. They noted the point in time with the highest number of people was between 2 and 3:30 p.m. when schools let out.
Small said many young people are visiting downtown at that time to go to the Buontempo Brothers restaurant at Main and Pennsylvania, or they are seeing parents who work on Main Street.
Regarding the volume of vehicles, Small said the intersections studied "operate at acceptable levels" according to SHA guidelines, although some are graded at a D level in a rating system that runs from A at the top to F at the bottom. Those that fall in the E-F range are considered substandard.
"They're still acceptable, but they're getting close [to failing]," Small said.
He said the D-level intersections include Baltimore Pike and Main Street, specifically regarding northbound traffic in the evening; the eastbound morning and evening traffic at Main and Courtland and the westbound morning and evening traffic at Main and Pennsylvania.
"D-level is approaching an unsteady flow of traffic and is congested," SHA spokesperson Charlie Gischlar said Thursday.
The consultants observed drivers' speeds at Main and Pennsylvania near the Bel Air Reckord Armory on Sept. 30, 2014.
The speed limit on Main Street is 25 mph, and Small said the maximum speed observed was 38 mph. The average speed was 25 mph, and many drivers did 30 mph.
Interim Police Chief Jack Meckley noted that 25 to 30 mph would be considered slow when driving, but it is "cruising" when observed by a pedestrian, which gives the impression that cars are "flying" along the street.
"Just doing the speed limit, it's a lot faster when you're in a small, walkable area," Meckley said.
The consultants also reviewed, at Small's request, Lee Street and Main and Churchville at Maitland Street, which is near the Bel Air Volunteer Fire Company's main firehouse.
Small also highlighted the intersection of Lee Way and Hickory Avenue, which was not part of the study area, but it has heavy pedestrian traffic with parents and students walking to and from Bel Air Elementary School and St. Margaret School.
He said the SHA's Neighborhood Transportation Management Program is designed to address any issues or complaints with intersections such as Lee and Hickory.
The town commissioners also brought up concerns based on their observations. Mayor Robert Reier said he does not cross Main Street at Lee because the sight lines of the road, as well as vehicles parked on the west side of Main, can block a pedestrian's view of oncoming traffic. That intersection is also heavily used by students and parents coming back and forth to Bel Air Elementary.
Commissioner Susan Burdette said she has seen pedestrians, especially youths, sprint across Hickory at Moores Mill Road to the Del Plaza shopping center, which is home to a 7-Eleven store and various restaurants.
Burdette said the light does not stay red long enough for people to cross.
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"They try to cross in between traffic because if they cross at the light, there's no time to ever do it," she said.
Burdette said "there's always a close call" between drivers and pedestrians.
Meckley said police officers will be doing intense traffic enforcement during May, when many pedestrians are expected to be out for First Fridays and prom season.
He said officers will be going after "distracted drivers, distracted pedestrians who decide they are going to cross the road while on their phone, or not paying attention or crossing where they're not supposed to."
The police department will put out a news release with more details on the traffic offenses officers are looking for and the penalties.
Town Administrator Jesse Bane said the town does not get any revenue generated by traffic fines, and all the money goes to the state.
"It's state law, and it all goes right straight to the state of Maryland," Bane said.