East, west ... maybe the twain shall meet


EVERY suburbanite expects to be able to drive freely about his community without running into jams. He also expects that his streets will be tranquil oases free of car and truck traffic like you find in the cities.

Those expectations were realistic two decades ago. Increasingly, they aren't. There are far too many people and far too many cars in the suburbs for the existing road network.

Building roads doesn't placate the populace, either. Rather than welcoming new or widened existing roads, residents in large numbers oppose these projects.

In the meantime, automobile travel is increasingly aggravating experience.

Suburban conundrum

The controversy swirling around Anne Arundel County's proposed construction of East-West Boulevard is a good example of the suburban transportation conundrum.

Planned since 1968, the 3-mile road would connect Veterans Highway to Ritchie Highway.

Severna Park residents want it built. It would relieve much traffic, noise and pollution from Benfield Road, the main east-west thoroughfare through their community.

People in Pasadena, particularly those living on Catherine Avenue, don't want it completed.

They envision streams of cars moving between Route 100 and Veterans Highway using their neighborhood road, which they believe is already burdened with too much traffic.

The first section of the boulevard, between Veterans Highway and Governor Stone Parkway, was built between 1980 and 1994 by a developer and the county.

The second increment -- connecting Governor Stone Parkway and Jumpers Hole Road -- began earlier this month.

In the county's capital improvement budget, the East-West Boulevard project is scheduled to receive $3 million for construction.

L This will pay for the third and final increment of the road.

It would link Jumpers Hole Road and Ritchie Highway near Mission Street. If the county council, which has approved appropriations for the road in the past, approves the proposed budget, construction on this last increment would begin this fall.

Tale of two councils

The Greater Severna Park Council, which has been fighting for three decades to build the boulevard, is overjoyed.

Its counterpart association in Pasadena, meanwhile, is hunkering down for a bruising fight.

The debate will focus on projected traffic counts, failing intersections (defined as those that require more than one cycle of traffic signals for a car to pass through) and other engineering arcana.

Every resident wants to move effortlessly throughout the county, but they don't want to live with the consequences of those desires, particularly if it means widening roads in their neighborhoods.

It's all perfectly understandable.

Most suburbanites are conflicted about the place of cars in their lives.

Not much mass transit

Without much public transportation, suburbanites profoundly depend on their cars for mobility.

But car traffic and pollution also degrade the quality of life that suburbanites moved out to find in the first place.

The dilemma over East-West Boulevard is an indication of future inter-community conflicts. As the population grows and auto dependence continues, traffic will increase. That means more congestion for existing roads.

Alleviating the problem will pit community against community. The fundamental suburban problem is that most newer subdivisions were designed for the needs of cars, not people.

Suburban networks are made up of neighborhood streets and cul de sacs that feed collector streets. Cars move quickly along these streets, which usually have few traffic signs or signals.

As a result, much of the worst congestion in the metropolitan area isn't in the city, but in the suburbs.

Baltimore has a multitude of streets drivers can use. If Charles Street is backed up downtown, for example, motorists can head north on Calvert Street, Eutaw Place, Park Avenue, even Greenmount Avenue.

Stuck on Ritchie?

However, if you're stuck in Anne Arundel County on Ritchie Highway headed south, there aren't any good alternatives.

The wide streets and spacious suburban intersections also encourage drivers to speed.

Even worse, suburban street layouts give drivers the impression they are hardly moving when they are actually traveling at a good, sometimes dangerous, clip.

People living on collector streets such as Catherine Avenue or Benfield Road feel besieged by speeding cars.

Of course, these same residents are part of the problem when they take their cars out on the road.

And so it goes.

Brian Sullam is The Sun's editorial writer in Anne Arundel County.

Pub Date: 5/24/98

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