Commuters may be bullish about the new extension of Broken Land Parkway in Columbia, which allows quick access to and from Route 29. But Dana Boltersdorf is less than enthusiastic.
In fact, she'd downright scared.
The increased traffic and speeding motorists the new parkway has brought to her neighborhood since it opened last month could result in tragedy, she and other Hickory Ridge parents say.
"I'm really concerned someone's kid is going to get hit," said the mother of two who operates a day-care service in her home.
Mrs. Boltersdorf is among a group of village parents who've asked county school and traffic officials to consider moving at least one school bus stop and to look into adding a traffic light on Hickory Ridge Road to slow speeders.
Parents' complaints have spurred county police to increase patrols to snare speeders and violators of the state school bus law, which requires motorists approaching and following a school bus to stop when the bus is stopped or stopping with its red lights flashing. The only exception: approaching motorists on a divided highway.
"Hickory Ridge seems to be the worst place in the county right now for school bus law violations," said Sgt. Lee E. Goldman, county police supervisor of traffic enforcement. Sergeant Goldman did not have current statistics on the number of citations issued for school bus law violations on Hickory Ridge Road, but said his patrol officers have reported an increase.
"A lot of the violations seem to be intentional acts," he said. "It's not that they don't see the bus."
The increase in traffic and concerns about child safety are the result of new traffic using Hickory Ridge Road, a winding thoroughfare between Broken Land Parkway and the Little Patuxent Parkway loop around the Clary's Forest neighborhood. The route has become popular for commuters moving between Hickory Ridge neighborhoods and Broken Land Parkway, say police and area residents.
Before the opening of Broken Land Parkway, which provides high-speed connection to and from Routes 29 and 32, motorists had to use a more circuitous route along Cedar Lane, then along Owen Brown Road to Route 29.
Mrs. Boltersdorf is among Hickory Ridge residents whose children are picked up and dropped off by the buses at a stop at High Beam Court, where about 30 children congregate in the morning and as many as 60 are dropped off in the afternoon. Many are students at Bryant Woods Elementary.
"It's scary. People are just zipping down the road," she said. "They aren't paying attention to the speed limit and they aren't watching out for the school buses either."
The speed limit on the Hickory Ridge Road is 30 mph, but some area residents contend the average speed of new commuters is 40 to 50 mph.
Setting up speed patrols on the road is difficult, said Sergeant Goldman, because its winding design doesn't offer many safe points for cruisers to park, other than near Howard Community College.
Still, having a radar patrol there should help curb speeding and other traffic violations, he said.
A week ago Mrs. Boltersdorf and other mothers escorting their children at the bus stop were shocked as they watched two cars blaze past a stopped bus at the corner of High Beam Court and Hickory Ridge Road as children boarded. Mrs. Boltersdorf said parents were relieved when a county police patrol nearby spotted the violations and chased down the two cars.
Parents fears are heightened, said Jane Parrish, Hickory Ridge Village manager, because a child was killed Feb. 27 in the Clary's Forest neighborhood as she crossed Little Patuxent Parkway. A motorist had failed to stop as the girl got off a private school's bus.
While children waiting at High Beam Court don't have to cross Hickory Ridge Road for the bus, the danger of an accident is still present, said Mrs. Parrish.
"You have 30 kids waiting for that bus in the morning. Some of them have their moms with them, but a lot come up by themselves. You can't control all of them from jumping off the curb into the street."
Also of concern: the safety of children crossing Hickory Ridge Road to get to soccer and baseball fields.
Complaints to the county school board from parents and the village board prompted school officials to ask county traffic experts to analyze traffic on Hickory Ridge Road and recommend whether the bus stop at High Beam Court should be moved inside the court -- a change some parents are requesting.
Glenn Johnson, director of transportation for county schools, said the Hickory Ridge Road bus stops will be examined, along with about five others in the county.
Mrs. Boltersdorf said she plans to circulate a petition later this week asking that state and county traffic officials put a traffic light at High Beam Court or another nearby street, in the hope of slowing traffic.