BICYCLISTS DON'T have an easy time of it on Howard County roads, usually because of impatient motorists. And now, as Joe Amato pointed out, the roads themselves are becoming problematic.
"It is distressing to see the county ... putting down a tar and chip surface on many of the roads popular with bicycle riders. This creates terrible conditions for riders," he said, noting that among the roads affected are Linthicum, Greenbridge and Dorsey Mill roads. "For the weeks it takes for the loose stones to wear off, it is very dangerous. Then you have to ride out [toward the middle] to stay away from the loose stones that have accumulated on the edges, which aggravate motorists. When the loose stone is finally gone the surface makes for a most unpleasant, teeth-rattling ride."
He wondered why the county is so inconsiderate of bicyclists. "I ride out to Carroll and Frederick counties when I have time for longer rides," he said. "There the roads are in much better shape and are nice smooth asphalt. Why is a wealthy county like Howard so cheap? We deserve better!"
According to JoAnn Maxfield, who works in customer service for Howard County's Department of Public Works, "the Bureau of Highways strives to maintain Howard County roads in the most cost effective and efficient way possible." With more than 900 miles of county roads, that's a challenge indeed. "Each road has its own characteristics and unique maintenance challenges. After careful examination and evaluation by our experienced professional engineers, the type of repair most appropriate to extending the useful life of a particular road surface is decided," Maxfield said.
"Blacktop" or bituminous concrete overlay, is a significantly more expensive, time-intensive process and is used on highways and county roads with either severe surface deterioration or structural base failure. This type of resurfacing is two-thirds more expensive than the cost of surface treatments. When a surface treatment is applied to a road in good condition, it can add many years to the life of the pavement. Where there is deterioration to roads not ready for complete blacktop resurfacing, surface treatment effectively seals surface cracks and improves skid resistance. "The types of surface treatment we use are tar and chip, slurry seal and micro-surfacing," Maxfield said. "It is used as a maintenance procedure to extend the useful life of the pavement. The roughness of the pavement is to increase skid resistance and reduce maintenance cost."
Maxfield also noted that many jurisdictions in Maryland and across the nation use surface treatments to preserve roads. "Tar and chip seal is a preventive and has been used in Howard County for years," she said.
Last week's column discussed sidewalks. While the benefits of sidewalks are many, there are downsides to having them on your property, which Carolyn Drye noted in an e-mail last week. "The sidewalk controversies are very familiar to me. We, of course, are very much against them," she said. "The reason people do not want them - which the county never advises people of - is that homeowners whose property abuts the sidewalk are responsible for repairs and maintenance. It is an injustice to have a homeowner maintaining a public convenience with the possibility of fines for not doing so."
Maxfield sent me the text of the county policy on sidewalks, and the bad news is that Ms. Drye is correct: Homeowners are indeed responsible for maintaining "the abutting sidewalk, driveway apron and sod or grass within the public right-of-way in such condition as to be safe for public use." However, homeowners are off the hook if the sidewalk was damaged by the roots of trees in the county right-of-way or by a county water or sewer construction project. In those situations, the county must either replace or repair the damaged sidewalk.
Despite the disadvantage to property owners, the advantages - not the least of which is pedestrian safety - of having sidewalks far outweighs the disadvantages. And that comes from a property owner whose home is on a corner lined with what feels like a gazillion miles of sidewalk (especially when the snow is falling).
It is always fun to get feedback about how this column has helped you, so I was thrilled to hear from Karen Zimmerman recently. "I had e-mailed you in July [regarding] a pothole on Warren Road in Cockeysville which caused damage to my automobile. I was requesting contact information; you gave me [the name of] Lisa Peffers for the Baltimore County Insurance Department. I wanted to update you on my progress. I filled out a report and sent in pictures," she said.
And the results are? "I have received payment in full for all damages. Thank you so much for your assistance," she said.
See? Miracles do happen.
What's your traffic trauma? Contact Jody K. Vilschick at firstname.lastname@example.org, send faxes to 410-715-2816 or mail letters to Traffic Talk, The Sun in Howard County, 30 Corporate Center, 10440 Little Patuxent Parkway, Suite 820, Columbia, 21044.