To get a clear understanding of the traffic problems on Route 30 and the havoc it is wreaking on Hampstead and Manchester, all you need to do is spend an afternoon sitting on the porch with Hampstead resident Betty Daniels.
She often spends her afternoons looking out on Main Street and watching the parade of more than 20,000 cars, trucks and motorcycles that daily passes by the porch of the house where she rents an apartment.
Last week, I met Mrs. Daniels while I was strolling down Main Street, trying to experience Hampstead's typical afternoon rush hour for myself. Even though I had parked my car about three blocks north of her house and had been on the street for 20 minutes, Mrs. Daniels was the first adult I encountered.
Outside the Pool and Spas store, I ran into Sherry, a dark-haired 4-year-old with an outgoing disposition, and her brother. Sherry was eating a snow cone and wasn't interested in talking about the traffic.
After bidding goodbye to Sherry, I headed south on Main Street. A tractor-trailer slammed on its air brakes. There was a piercing shriek, a groan and finally a clanging of metal as the motorized behemoth came to an abrupt stop. When the stoplight changed, the truck's engine roared, and the truck started up the slight hill, leaving behind a dark cloud of diesel exhaust and the sound of grinding gears.
I was beginning to understand why no one was on the street. Even though Hampstead's main drag is a pleasant, tree-shaded street, lined with shops and houses with porches, the volume of traffic going and coming on the two-lane road is so noisy, no one spends any more time on the street than he has to.
Hampstead has taken on the appearance of a town that has been hit by a neutron bomb -- the ingenious device that was intended to kill people but leave buildings standing. The town's residents have retreated into their houses and no longer seem to engage in the easy social interaction on the street that has been characteristic of small-town America.
As I passed the First National Bank branch on Gill Avenue, I noticed a young woman had pulled up in front of a house on the next block. She had to wait about one minute before the steady stream of traffic subsided and she could open the car door. Before I could reach her car, she had disappeared into her house.
I was beginning to despair. I was not going to find anyone to talk to about the traffic. That is, until I met Mrs. Daniels.
Her porch, open to the sidewalk, is about 25 feet from the southbound lane of traffic.
I started to introduce myself, but she indicated that the roar of the passing traffic was drowning out my voice. When the traffic stopped for the light at the corner, I started again. We chatted for a while, but the speed of the passing cars began to pick up. I had to raise my voice to be heard. Mrs. Daniels then asked if I wanted to sit in the chair next to her. I gladly took up her invitation.
For the next hour and a half, we had a very nice visit. Mrs. Daniels told me that she moved from Parkville to Hampstead in 1990 to be closer to her daughter, who moved to Carroll County about 14 years ago. Mrs. Daniel related how she had retired from Becton Dickinson, where she assembled electronic boards for the company's diagnostic equipment division in Cockeysville. Before that, she had worked for Bendix Corp. in Towson.
"It's never-ending," said Mrs. Daniels, describing the traffic. "It starts up about four in the morning with the Utz trucks and doesn't really slow down until after eight at night."
As we talked, the cars and trucks zipped by. Most of the cars had one person in them. About every fifth or sixth car had a Pennsylvania license plate. Mrs. Daniels noticed that I was turning my head to read the license plates on the cars.
"Sometimes you get dizzy watching those cars zoom by," she remarked.
Although Mrs. Daniels' porch was rather Spartan -- it contained three folding aluminum chairs -- it was clean of black road dust. Commissioner Julia W. Gouge, who used to live on Main Street, (( has complained that the dust was the worst part of living on the busy street. She said no matter how well she sealed up her windows, the dust would work its way into the house.
Mrs. Daniels has had similar experiences: "I scrub every week. When Andrew [a 17-month-old whom she baby-sits] plays on the porch, he gets filthy."
Two motorcycles roared by. "I think the trucks and the motorcycles are the worst," Mrs. Daniel remarked. "Andrew loves to watch the trucks and motorcycles. I find them too noisy."
In some inner-city neighborhoods in Baltimore, residents have retreated from the streets because of the violence and danger outside.
It's not much different in Hampstead and Manchester. Instead of hiding from gunfire and drug dealers, these Carroll residents are hiding from the fumes, noise and vibrations of traffic.
Most people complain about Route 30's traffic problems -- slow-moving vehicles during rush hours, the inability to turn left into the oncoming traffic, the difficulty in crossing the street -- but few people realize this heavy traffic is destroying Hampstead and Manchester. Route 30 may be the spine of these towns, but it has become cancerous.
Brian Sullam is The Baltimore Sun's editorial writer in Carroll County.