Senior drivers, alley shortcut and blooming colors on the median

THE BALTIMORE SUN

The motorist is easy to spot. He drives a battered, blue Ford with handicapped tags. But what makes him most noticeable is his erratic driving.

He's an older man who weaves in and out of the two lanes on Joppa Road in Towson, oblivious to traffic and never using a turn signal. His speeds vary from very slow to very fast, and other motorists give him plenty of distance, never knowing what he's going to do.

"It is scary to be behind this gentleman, because you're really afraid he's going to hit you or something," said a Towson woman who sees him regularly during the afternoon rush hour.

She declined to give her name, fearing co-workers would laugh. But it's no laughing matter.

People age 65 and older constitute about 13 percent of the country's population and were involved in about 15 percent of the accidents in 1993, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reported.

Last year in Maryland, of the more than 140,000 drivers who had an accident, 10,527 -- or 13 percent -- were seniors.

Jim Lang of the Motor Vehicle Administration said that seniors 70 and older follow the same renewal procedures for their driver licenses as other motorists. However, when first-time drivers over 70 apply for a license, they must have a doctor's certification to show they are suitable to drive.

Michael McKelvin of the Maryland State Police said one of the biggest worries for seniors is when they undergo an eye exam to have their licenses renewed every five years.

During our travels, the Intrepid One has noticed that senior drivers tend to be more alert, less likely to take chances on the road and more than willing to give the right of way to pedestrians and motorists.

ALLEY DODGE:

From the rear bedroom window of his house in the 3800 block of Greenmount Ave., William Burse watches each morning as a steady stream of cars moves down the narrow, uneven alley.

It's a daily routine for the cars that travel west on East 39thStreet: legally outwitting a "No Left Turn" sign at Greenmount Avenue.

It's a simple routine that undoubtedly is played on side streets and alleys throughout the city.

Here's how it's played in this northeast Baltimore neighborhood: Westbound cars on Argonne Drive (which becomes 39th Street at Greenmount Avenue) proceed through the light and "No Left Turn" signal at Greenmount Avenue, duck into an alley behind Greenmount Avenue, cruise the alley for a block and exit soon after onto Greenmount Avenue.

Most of the traffic is headed downtown and normally would take St. Paul Street, but Greenmount Avenue seems to move more quickly.

"But the alley is not wide at all, and the cars come through there as though they're still on Greenmount," Mr. Burse said. "You've got [drivers] backing out of their yards, and they're scared to death of the cars flying through the alley."

Lt. Kenneth Street of the city Police Department's traffic division said the routine is legal because the alley is open to the public.

"But it does create a problem. People there tend to not be as careful coming out of their yards," He said.

He compared cutting through the alley with going through a service station to avoid waiting for a traffic signal at an intersection -- both legal.

WILD THINGS

It's not often the Intrepid One hears from readers about a pleasant road experience, but last week we spoke to a woman who raved about a bed of wild flowers she noticed while doing the "83 shuffle."

Daily, Mike and Mary Linkous, who live in Fawn Grove, Pa., and work at the Downtown Athletic Club and the Merritt Athletic Club in Woodlawn, travel Interstate 83 for their hour commutes to work.

About two weeks ago, the flowers were in full bloom in the median on the stretch of I-83 between Hunt Valley and Hereford, Mrs. Linkous said. "So, we decided to take a road trip and do the '83 shuffle' and see for ourselves -- and were pleasantly surprised at the black-eyed Susans, purple coneflower and evening primrose.

"The colors are spectacular and really spice up the daily drive," Mrs. Linkous said. "It was great and a way to make things more beautiful."

Chuck Brown, of the State Highway Administration, said the flowers are part of an aggressive campaign to beautify state roads with wildflowers. Seeds were planted in 24 locations across the state and, in most cases, bordered by "Do not mow" signs. For motorists in the White Marsh area of Baltimore County -- the State Highway Administration has completed a ramp from eastbound U.S. 40 (Pulaski Highway) to northbound Route 43 (White Marsh Boulevard).

The project began last spring and was completed about two weeks ago. It means that eastbound motorists don't have to make a U-turn at U.S. 40 and Ebenezer Road to get onto White Marsh Boulevard.

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