There has to be a better way and there is Driver from I-395 can avoid Convention Center diversion


Kelsie Sigmon has a contention with the Convention Center.

The Edgewood resident drives down Interstate 95 each day, through the Fort McHenry tunnel and along Interstate 395 into downtown.

Going north on I-395, which turns into Howard Street, she makes a left onto Camden Street, turns right on Paca Street and then eases into the Marriott Hotel.

But since construction on the $150 million Convention Center expansion began last month, her path has been blocked. The left onto Camden is prohibited.

Instead, she goes another two blocks to Lombard, turns left there, and backtracks to the hotel. It's added as much as 15 minutes to her morning commute because the left-turn arrow at Lombard only allows "three or four" cars to pass each cycle.

"My question is, why was the left turn onto Camden Street eliminated?" Ms. Sigmon writes. "I don't see how it became any less necessary because of the construction on the right."

Intrepid Commuter can sympathize with Ms. Sigmon's plight. After all, the Convention Center construction is east of Howard Street, and she wants to go west.

But we have to agree with the city's decision on this one. Otherwise, we fear Ms. Sigmon might find herself in the center of the Central Light Rail Line.

Why was the left turn eliminated? Construction demanded that the three lanes of I-395 be reduced to two between Conway and Camden streets. Naturally, the city took out the left turn lane.

If the city had kept the left-turn arrow at Camden, traffic would have backed up. They could have eliminated the arrow and allowed the turn. But cars turning left would have risked colliding with light rail cars running up and down Howard Street.

After all, the reason you had the arrow at Camden was to halt light rail cars. Without it, I-395 travelers would have to look for north- and southbound trains, a near impossibility.

Nevertheless, we have good news for Ms. Sigmon. A faster alternative is available.

Vanessa Pyatt, spokeswoman for the city's public works department, recommends Ms. Sigmon leave I-395 at Martin Luther King Boulevard and take the Russell Street exit. At the bottom of the exit, she can make a left on Lee Street, across the Camden Yards parking lot, and then turn right at Russell Street. Northbound Russell becomes Paca.

Martin Luther King directly to Pratt Street to Eutaw Street to Camden is also a good bet for those who need to get to Camden Street from I-395.

Incidentally, several other changes have been made in the downtown traffic pattern because of the convention center work:

* The right lane of westbound Conway Street, between Sharp Street and I-395 has been closed. Additional lane closures at Conway and Sharp streets take place at night and on weekends.

* The right lane of southbound Sharp Street has been closed from its beginning north of Pratt Street to Camden Street.

* Sidewalks have been closed on the east side of I-395 between Conway and Camden streets, and on the north side of Conway Street between Sharp Street and I-395. Pedestrians are detoured to Sharp and Camden streets.

The changes are expected to last for another two months.

It's the merge to the merrier

Just the other day, Intrepid Commuter heard a message from ZTC an anonymous Howard County traveler who called Sundial two months ago.

(Thus we simultaneously demonstrate our tremendous backlog of calls and prove the existence of intelligent life in Howard County.)

The voice on the line sound puzzled and slightly upset. He wanted to know about a new traffic sign along the St. John's Lane exit from U.S. Route 29 in Ellicott City that says, "Form Single Lane."

Is this some kind of effort to sort out married drivers?

Perhaps more seriously, "Does that mean yield?" the caller wanted to know. "Who yields? It's very confusing."

Ever vigilant to new trends in highway signage, we contacted officials at the State Highway Administration, which has jurisdiction over the state road. They yielded the following response.

Actually, two signs are spaced 200 feet apart on the ramp from southbound U.S. 29. The first says, "Single Lane Ahead," and the second, "Form Single Lane." They appeared in May where the ramp is reduced from two lanes to one.

The reason it's confusing is because most of us are used to a four-message setup. A sign saying "Right [or Left] Lane Ends," with the distance ahead, followed by "Lane Ends/Merge Left," then a sign with a picture of two lanes turning to one, and, lastly, a "Lane Ends" sign with an arrow pointing to the lane.

But for the past 10 years, the SHA has used the two-sign system in a few areas around the state where there isn't enough room to post four signs, says Chuck Brown, an SHA spokesman.

That doesn't answer the question of who yields to whom. If a lane is ending, then obviously the motorists in the disappearing lane must merge to the other and bear most of the burden.

When the signs are less explicit, then the situation is comparable to a busy toll plaza where many lanes merge into a few.

"You expect the two lanes to sort of alternate," said Tom Hicks, the SHA's director of traffic and safety. "It's not a matter of one lane yielding to another. The responsibility is not assigned to either lane."

You might even consider letting people get in front of you, too.

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