FRANKLIN HIGH School students found belated holiday gifts on Reisterstown Road when they returned to class last week: a new crosswalk and oh-so-fashionable lime-green "pedestrian crossing" signs.
They were delivered -- sans sleigh -- by the State Highway Administration, which had been working with parents, school officials and the community to try to make the busy road safer for students to cross in the morning and afternoon.
First, a bit of history.
Franklin is in the midst of a 600-student addition that has eliminated nearly all student parking at the Reisterstown campus. Students were directed to park at Reisterstown Shopping Center across Reisterstown Road near the school.
Perils soon developed. Many students chose to cut across traffic on the busy street rather than walk to the shopping center's stoplight to cross the road.
At a December meeting of the Baltimore County school board, member Sanford Teplitzky described the hundreds of students dodging cars in the mornings and afternoons as nothing short of "frightening."
Enter the SHA. Workers painted the new crosswalk and installed signs -- in a fluorescent color -- to solve the problem.
A county crossing guard has also been posted at the scene.
"On the first morning, 98 percent of the kids went right to the crosswalk, and three-quarters of the kids thanked the crossing guard for being there," Bloom says. "It's incredible how much safer things are now."
Look for an entrance to Franklin, complete with a stoplight, to be added when school construction is completed.
Wider highways no solution to commuter buildup
When Interstate 270 was widened less than eight years ago, Montgomery County transportation officials believed the improved highway would meet the needs of the future.
Alas, they were wrong.
The interstate again has been reduced to what one official called "a rolling parking lot" at rush hour, despite $200 million in additions that widened the highway for 12 miles, at places increasing it to 12 lanes.
Traffic counts hit up to 210,000 vehicles a day, SHA figures from 1997 show, which well exceeds the capacity of 190,000 initially estimated.
Such supply and demand is haunting many a commuter, politician and traffic engineer these days.
Expensive plans to further widen Interstate 695 are expected to move through the General Assembly this session.
Farther south, the Washington region is debating expansions of other highways and interchanges, such as the Capital Beltway, Interstate 66 and the utterly horrid Interstate 95 interchange at Springfield, Va.
National transportation analysts say widened highways generate their own traffic in a phenomenon known as "induced travel." That's where motorists often decide to make more trips than before and also switch from other routes, expecting to save time. And they abandon mass transit in favor of their cars.
Then there's the increased development that is sure to follow the improved highway.
In other words, if you build it, they will come.
'New Age' sport utility, computers for commuters
This just in from Detroit: the "New Age" sport utility vehicle, a strange hybrid between a sport ute, pickup truck, sedan and minivan; cars with in-dash computers to allow Web surfing at the wheel; and vehicles with computerized air bags that adjust the devices to full or partial inflation depending on the severity of a crash.
The North American International Auto Show also previewed BMW's foray into the SUV market with a luxury model that no doubt costs more than the average Baltimore rowhouse. And look for a futuristic, boxy "Mad Max" vehicle from Mitsubishi that could rival the ever-so-cute Humvee.
Note to all who want to check out Port Discovery: A Metro stop happens to be at Shot Tower Market Place next door to the children's museum. Of course, don't expect service on Sundays when Metro is closed. But Saturdays, travelers can ride between 6 a.m. and midnight, and on weekdays, it's open from 5 a.m. until midnight Seen on Charles Street, a bumper sticker that declared: "On the eighth day, God created Dachshunds."
Pub Date: 1/11/99