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Gridlock Alley still vexing drivers Narrow Smith Ave. bridge is inadequate to its task


WHAT IS IT ABOUT Gridlock Alley that keeps ticking people off?

That narrow thoroughfare -- also known as the Smith Avenue bridge in Mount Washington -- used to be like the backwoods in its slow traffic pace as visitors moseyed in and out of the post office, church, ice rink and swim club on a strip of land in the Jones Falls.

But since three upscale stores opened in an old mill there last year -- attracting health nuts, gardeners and caffeine addicts -- the place often resembles a parking lot as the trendy pilgrims wait to enter and exit.

Already, city Department of Public Works bureaucrats have corrected many traffic faux pas here that kept Volvos idling a tad too long. They created two exit lanes eastbound on the bridge, added a turning green for those heading off of Gridlock Alley onto northbound Falls Road and synchronized traffic lights with the nearby Kelly Avenue bridge.

But there's one bugaboo that still nags drivers, according to Leslie Starr, a frequent visitor to the alley. Why are right turns on red prohibited from the Smith Avenue bridge onto southbound Falls Road?

It would seem this could unclog some of the traffic waiting to exit Gridlock, Starr mused in a letter to Intrepid One, while the northbound Falls Road traffic has its turning green arrow.

But don't look for relief soon. Public works spokesman Kurt L. Kocher said the retaining wall of the bridge is so high it could block visibility for traffic heading south on Falls Road in the event of a right turn on red.

"We had to paint the stop bars for the traffic on the bridge back a ways to accommodate the narrowing of the road at Falls," Kocher said. "You can't get a view of the southbound traffic."

Kocher said he sympathizes with the drivers who must wait minutes to exit Gridlock.

"But it's safety first" with the department, he insisted last week.

And, it appears, frustration second.

Intersection confusion could result in 'crash!'

Another retail hot spot sits on Joppa Road, where Metro Foods, Home Depot and MJ Designs customers must leave Perring Plaza Shopping Center without signs telling them which lane to use for a left turn and which lane for a straight shot ahead onto Satyr Hill Road.

Randy Boyer of Towson added up the possibilities at this intersection and concluded: "Since lanes are unmarked, someone in the right lane could turn left while someone in the left lane goes straight. Crash!"

Alarmed county traffic engineers will visit the site and possibly add signs to end the confusion, said county traffic chief Darrell Wiles.

Until then, use those turn signals.

Keep in touch

You can mail, send by fax or call in questions or comments for the Intrepid Commuter. Here's how:

Mail letters -- The Sun, 1300 Bellona Ave., Lutherville 21093.

Fax line -- (410) 494-2916.

Call Sundial, The Baltimore Sun's telephone information service, at 783-1800, Ext. 4305. From Anne Arundel County, dial 268-7736.

Pub Date: 2/24/97

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