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Pedestrian safety a key concern in Bel Air [Editorial]

As the Bel Air town government and the Maryland State Highway Administration officials review what to do with the results of a recent pedestrian safety survey conducted for the county seat, serious consideration should be given to finding a way to deal with through traffic on Main Street.

The state's 2014 survey focused on the Main and Bond streets area of downtown and, predictably, found there is what could charitably be described as confusion regarding the relationship between pedestrians and drivers at the various busy crosswalks in the area.

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On Main Street especially, traffic is moving too quickly and not always stopping for pedestrians in crosswalks and pedestrians aren't always using crosswalks. Speeds of 38 mph were observed in the 25 mph Main Street zone, a zone where one traffic official observed 25 mph may well be too fast.

Main Street, after all, is narrow considering it is two lanes in one direction, and the sidewalks on either side of it are heavily used.

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Indeed, a portion of the downtown area was designated as being a pedestrian zone in a 2013 plan.

A range of fixes were discussed when public officials reviewed the findings of the traffic study and the most immediate result will be a crackdown by the Bel Air Police Department on the various kinds of potentially dangerous bad behavior on the part of drivers and pedestrians.

This, however, isn't likely to be a permanent fix for the problem. Rather, it promises to be more like when a speed trap is set in a particular neighborhood and drivers slow down until they're confident the speed trap has run its course.

Increased enforcement will not fix the key reason for the rush some drivers are in when they get on Main Street, namely that the street is a primary way for drivers to get from the south end of town to heavily populated areas to the north.

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There are two other major ways around the downtown area, namely Route 24 to the Bel Air Bypass on the west side and Hickory Avenue/Business Route 1 on the east side. Though traffic, however, tends to be funneled in the direction of the Main Street-Bond Street area, which results in a mixing of drivers looking to get through downtown with drivers who are looking for places to park so they can shop. Add in the large number of pedestrians shopping or doing business at the downtown court complex, and it's almost a miracle there's not more mayhem in the area.

Encouraging drivers who want to get through town to avoid the Main Street route is not going to be easy, but given the increasingly cosmopolitan nature of the downtown area, it's something traffic planners should consider.

In addition, another idea raised in a previous public discussion of similar issues needs to be added back into the back and forth, namely the potential of closing the narrow Courtland and Office streets on either side of the Courthouse to vehicle traffic.

No matter what ends up being done, however, pedestrian safety on Main Street in Bel Air needs to be a high priority, and the planned police crackdown is as good a place to start as any.

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