Quick left turns a hazard at Loch Raven intersection


Please raise your hand if you're one of the few people who still obeys traffic lights.

(Now, put that hand back on the newspaper. We can't have you littering, not to mention missing the rest of this column.)

Even with our jaded views, Intrepid Commuter is still amazed to see how often drivers defy traffic laws. Most distressing are the occasions when motorists completely ignore signals, taking big chances for trivial benefits.

Take, for instance, the intersection brought to our attention by Ramblewood resident Harvey Cohen, who lives in Baltimore near the city line.

Goucher Boulevard merges into Loch Raven Boulevard in Baltimore County. It's a busy place, surrounded by shopping centers, homes and apartment buildings.

Many motorists going south on Goucher onto Loch Raven have an unfortunate habit of merging without care for the cars already on Loch Raven, Mr. Cohen observes.

But far worse, he believes, is the behavior of drivers northbound on Loch Raven who are turning left onto Goucher.

These drivers face a flashing red signal warning them to stop and look out for oncoming traffic before turning left. Motorists southbound on Loch Raven are presented with flashing yellow lights.

Mr. Cohen estimates that 90 percent of the left-turners simply do not stop at the flashing red light. It "is a major accident waiting to happen," he says.

"I cannot tell you how many times I have nearly been rear-ended because I have stopped at this light and the driver behind me had figured I was going to ignore it just like they do," Mr. Cohen writes.

To find relief for commuters like Mr. Cohen, we turned to traffic guru Darrell Wiles. Loyal readers will recognize Mr. Wiles as the State Highway Administration's assistant district engineer for traffic in Baltimore and Harford counties.

He has good news for drivers on southbound Loch Raven. The state recently has realigned the road, making it two lanes north of Goucher and creating a 600-foot-long merge area where the two streets come together.

Workers even put up orange drums so motorists can't cheat and use the new shoulder lane -- the former third lane -- for passing.

But the northbound problem is a stumper.

"We share his [Mr. Cohen's] concerns," Mr. Wiles says. "There are alternatives, but all the alternatives have problems, too."

The problem is essentially this: Making a full stop before bearing left strikes many motorists as unusually restrictive.

One possibility is for Mr. Wiles to install "dummy" traffic lights that might cause motorists to take the intersection more seriously. Facing northbound traffic, the signals would always flash yellow.

Of course, the state could just yank out the traffic signal altogether, so motorists aren't disobeying any law when they hurry through the intersection. But that might cause traffic backups on Loch Raven when there are a lot of left-turners.

(Incidentally, we should note that when traffic is heavy, a sensor causes the signal pattern to change. Instead of seeing a flashing light, southbound drivers are stopped to allow the northbound traffic to flow left.)

Mr. Wiles can promise only that he will continue to study the situation and several like it elsewhere around the city.

In his letter, Mr. Cohen offers a solution that might help the county's finances. He suggests that a police officer sit at the intersection during rush hour.

"If each driver I have witnessed going through this light without a hint of stopping were to pay the fine for this, the county would have a great deal of extra money in the treasury," he notes.

Franklin Boulevard earns SHA's attention

Could the deaths of a 38-year-old Reisterstown woman and her 4-month-old son last month at the Franklin Boulevard exit of Interstate 795 have been prevented?

Intrepid Commuter has heard from several readers who say a lot of motorists take the exit from Northwest Expressway to eastbound Franklin far too fast, and they want something done about it.

Last month's deadly crash took place when the driver of a van coming down the exit ramp lost control, crossed the Franklin median strip and ran into a car. The mother and baby were passengers in the car.

A review of accident reports for the past three years turned up eight at the exit: one in 1992, four in 1991, and three in 1990.

A sign advises motorists approaching the ramp to slow to an exit speed of 30 mph.

The SHA's Mr. Wiles has decided to look at the situation in depth. "I don't know if speed is the sole problem or the primary problem at the ramp, but that's what's been called to our attention," he says.

One reader suggests a stop sign at the bottom of the ramp, but Mr. Wiles says that probably isn't a good idea. It might surprise drivers not used to such a configuration.

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