In the 1920s, long-time Howard County residents called a treacherous bend of Route 1 "Dead Man's Curve" for claiming pedestrians' lives.
Although the 11-mile strip was realigned and dozens of improvements have transformed the area where more than 32,000 vehicles and trucks roll through daily, some residents say Route 1 in Howard County maintains its reputation as a dangerous path for pedestrians and bicyclists, many of whom walk or ride bicycles to get to work in the industrial corridor.
"This isn't a choice. We keep creating these problems when we're putting people on the road," said Donna Thewes, who has watched several near-miss pedestrian accidents in her 29 years of living in the Route 1 area. "We're jeopardizing their lives because they're actually trying to make a living.
"You do things to protect yourself and your life. One of them is not walking on Route 1," she said. "You are literally taking your life in your own hands when you walk some parts of Route 1."
Last year was the deadliest year on record since at least 2009 for pedestrians along Route 1 in Howard County, according to state and county data. Five people were killed in pedestrian-related accidents.
Most of Route 1 in Howard County — roughly six miles of the meandering boulevard — has no sidewalks at all. Around 4.6 miles have sidewalks on one side of the street and just under 1 mile of the corridor has sidewalks on both sides, leaving a broken path that abruptly ends and starts up without explanation, according to county data.
In September last year, a corner of Washington Boulevard was a standstill for two hours around 2 a.m when Sandra Nimeth Avila Carrera, a 52-year-old Savage resident, was killed as she walked along Route 1, according to a police report. A similar crash killed a 22-year-old pedestrian crossing the road near Country Meadow Lane around 6:24 a.m.
The influx of new residential projects, part of burgeoning growth in the corridor over the last three years, will only make the problem worse, residents say. Roughly 5,101 additional units are under construction or being permitted and another 3,127 are estimated to join the more than 19,000 residential units already along the corridor.
As residential projects crop up, sidewalk improvements and more streamlined intersections with additional signalization and crosswalks are too far down the beaten path, residents say. Commuters often wait for buses along worn dirt paths or the edge of the roadway near a travel lane where no shoulders exist.
"People die and try to cross the road," said Cathy Hudson, an Elkridge resident of 58 years.
County and state officials hope to find respite by launching a safety audit for Route 1. The project, which has a scope that has not yet been defined, is funded with $80,000 from the Baltimore Regional Transportation Board and $20,000 from the county.
Clive Graham, the county's transportation director, said lack of pedestrian safety is a major concern. Looking at pedestrian deaths without factoring in minor accidents and near-misses does not offer a comprehensive picture of the problem, he said.
"We're very concerned about this issue,". Graham said. "It really makes your eyes widen. From a land use perspective, you have more people. There's more housing. There's going to be a high school built in a few years just north of Route 32. You put two and two together and we have to get a handle on this issue."
A spokesman from the State Highway Administration said the state plans to work closely with Howard County officials to complete the pedestrian safety audit as more residential and commercial growth hits Route 1.
In letters the county submits to the state's transportation office yearly to lay out transportation funding priorities, projects to improve Route 1 have made it to the county's wish list. But strapped with limited funding, all requested projects have not materialized.
Near Howard Square, a rowhouse-like development at the intersection of Route 1 and Route 175 with more than 1,000 units at full build-out, signs of improvements are on the horizon. The area between Port Capital Road and Montevideo Road is under construction as Montevideo Road is realigned and tied directly across from Port Capital Drive, according to Chris Eatough, the county's bicyclist and pedestrian coordinator. The intersection will include a new traffic signal, including sidewalks and a crosswalk by the end of the summer, he said.
But progress in other areas lags as more traffic in the heavily used trucking corridor soars through the corridor, which has speeds ranging from 35 to 50 miles per hour.
In 2008, a joint study between Howard County and state officials contemplated dozens of improvements.
A study for pedestrian improvements along Meadowridge Road and Whiskey Bottom Road is planned, but the county's budget does not yet include funding for construction. The county is also working with state officials to construct a sidewalk along the southbound section of Route 1 between North Laurel Road and the Prince George's County line.
A similar partnership is in the works to design a new traffic signal at the intersection of Route 1 and Kit Kat Road where turning trucks along the tight bend create a safety hazard, Eatough said.
Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman hopes to bring the issue of pedestrian fatalities front and center. He is keen on the county and state working together on the audit to identify areas for improvements.
"The consensus is, something has to be done," he said. "It's a very sad situation, no matter how you cut it."