It is the best of times and it is the worst of times to be a commuter.
It is a time of six-lane highways. It is a time of seven lanes worth of traffic.
It is a time of computerized traffic signals. It is a time of motorists who tend to ignore red lights.
But mostly, it's time to write sophomoric literary allusions.
In a column destined to be a miniclassic, Intrepid Commuter today presents, "A Tale of Two Intersections."
Told against a backdrop of the French Revolution, a busy guillotine, and an elaborately knitted scarf, it's the story of how a couple of guys, one living in the city and the other in the county, have had to deal with problem intersections.
Our story begins with retired engineer Charles "Buzz" Marsheck, who lives in an apartment complex near Mount Pleasant Golf Course in Northeast Baltimore. His is a bizarre tale involving right turns on red.
Specifically, Mr. Marsheck can turn right on red from Fenwick Avenue to westbound Northern Parkway, but he can't turn right on red from westbound Northern Parkway to Fenwick. If you think about it, that's pretty silly.
There are a lot of cars traveling Northern Parkway, but not Fenwick, Mr. Marsheck writes. Could it be that pedestrian traffic is preventing the right? That seems unlikely since drivers are crossing the same crosswalk on the permitted right as on the prohibited right.
For an answer we turned to Frank Murphy, the city's head of traffic engineering. After a week spent carefully sorting through documents, consulting fellow experts and studying the tTC intersection himself, he found the answer.
Hey, there's a sign missing.
For at least three years, the "No Turn On Right" sign that should be facing motorists on Fenwick hasn't been there. It either fell off or was stolen. All turns on red are prohibited at Northern Parkway and Fenwick Avenue.
"There are a lot of pedestrians, particularly elderly, who walk to the post office, a professional center, and a shopping center in the neighborhood," Mr. Murphy says.
Scott Flaherty's plight is not so easily addressed. The Mount Airy resident and teacher commutes to a second job at an office near the intersection of Charles Street and Bellona Avenue.
Charles and Bellona? You're not writing about Charles and Bellona again, I can hear our faithful readers imploring at this moment.
No, this is not the Charles and Bellona near Greater Baltimore Medical Center that we've discussed twice before. We're talking about the most northern of the three places where meandering Bellona and Charles intersect, the one just north of the Beltway.
It's a complicated three-way stop. Drivers going north on Charles face a stop sign, but can turn right without stopping. Cars headed south on Charles Street have a stop sign, as do cars headed east on Bellona. Westbound Bellona traffic faces no stop sign at all.
Mr. Flaherty frequently finds himself stuck at one of these stop signs, waiting for westbound Bellona traffic. He wants a four-way stop to even things out a bit.
"You need to give a chance to those eastbound on Bellona to cut through there," he says. "You get stuck forever and a day."
Well, Scott, the folks at the State Highway Administration are sympathetic, but don't see much they can do to correct the situation. The largest stream of traffic is from westbound Bellona, so they say adding a stop sign is out of the question.
The problem is most severe when commuters are leaving the office buildings on Bellona. Things aren't too bad at other times of the day.
Steve McHenry, an SHA planner, says it's a "reasonable" traffic movement under the circumstances. Part of the problem, he says, is that motorists bound for Interstate-83 like to go west on Bellona, rather than turn at the earlier Interstate 695 ramp on Charles Street. Because Bellona leads onto the I-83 exit ramp, motorists are spared a merge from I-695 to the I-83 exit lanes.
Ideally, he says, you wouldn't have development along an interstate ramp as you do on Bellona, but there's not much to be done about that now.
Train offers a second story
The 85-foot-long passenger car that visited Camden Station may represent the future for rail commuters.
On loan from the Chicago Metropolitan Rail (Metra), the coach is a double-decker "gallery" car with circular stairways leading to second-level seating.
Walk down the aisle, and you can see the passengers sitting on the second level -- a single row of them lined up against the windows on either side. Conductors can simply reach up and take tickets in a single pass.
The seats aren't much different from those on a typical Maryland Rail Commuter (MARC) coach, with one exception: The backs can be flipped so passengers can always be facing forward. It's a nice trick.
But the major advantage of the coach is that it can hold up to 140 passengers, 40 to 60 more than a standard MARC car. The cars cost about $2 million apiece compared to the $1.2 million MARC paid for each car in its last shipment.
The extra capacity could be an important way to eliminate overcrowding on MARC trains.
"We need to find a car that's comfortable to our riders," says John A. Agro Jr., head of the Mass Transit Administration. "We are very much interested in a multilevel car."
Mr. Agro says he plans to decide by next month whether or not to buy gallery cars. So far, reaction has been mostly positive -- the car spent was displayed in Washington before it visited Camden.
KEEP IN TOUCH
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