SOME OF you might have noticed a change recently in the signal pattern at Route 99 and Maplewood Drive. Dave Buck of the State Highway Administration's communications office said the signal, which was installed almost a year and a half ago at the request of a nearby elementary school, was switched about two weeks ago.
When installed, the signal was flashing most of the time, operating only at peak times in the morning and afternoon on weekdays. Now, it is a "fully actuated" signal from early Monday through the rush hour Friday. Throughout nights and weekends, the signal flashes.
One reader wondered why the sudden change. And why didn't the highway administration let anyone know about it beforehand?
"We were trying to be responsive to resident concerns about the signal," Buck said.
When a new signal goes up, there is a mandatory 72-hour flashing period to introduce drivers to the new signal, he said. After that, it is fully functioning.
"But when a traffic light varies its flashing-functioning patterns, we're hard-pressed to find a sign to explain the change," he said. "We hope that people adjust to the new pattern, because they're used to driving with traffic signals."
But what about the inevitable near miss? Buck said near-misses are because of driver laziness and inattentiveness. "If a signal is red, even if it's flashing, you should stop," he said. Rolling stops or pretend stops don't count.
Winterizing your car
We were surprised by yesterday's blast of wintry weather, but today is the official first day of winter. Are you and your vehicle ready for it?
"The best way to avoid most car trouble is to take a few simple steps to prevent it," said Chuck Jackson of AAA Mid-Atlantic's Maryland public and government affairs office. "Take a few minutes to make sure your vehicle is prepared for some of the worst driving conditions of the year."
So unless you want to be stranded somewhere, it is time to check your car and get ready for the snow my son is cheering for. Here is a checklist, courtesy of AAA Mid-Atlantic:
Check the motor oil, and change it if you haven't recently.
With the engine warm and running and your vehicle on level ground, check the transmission fluid level. Add fluid, if needed, but avoid overfilling.
Check your battery. Make sure the battery terminals and cables are securely attached and free of corrosion.
When the vehicle is cool, check the antifreeze/coolant level and top off with a 50/50 mix of antifreeze and water, if needed.
Check belts. Drive belts that are glazed or frayed should be replaced. Make sure belts have the correct tension - no more than a half-inch of slack when depressed between the pulleys.
Check for visibly damaged or bulging hoses. Check for leaks around clamps and the water pump.
Top off the windshield washer fluid reservoir with a windshield washer concentrate that will not freeze.
Check brake fluid. If fluid is needed, top off with the type approved for your car. If the brakes regularly need fluid, have the system inspected.
Check air pressure in the tires. Look for damage and excessive or uneven tread wear. Tire pressure normally falls a pound per 10-degree drop in temperature.
Make sure your wipers keep your windshield clean and streak-free. Replace wipers that do not clear the windshield with three swipes.
Check headlights, brake lights and turn signals. Keep lights clean of dirt and sludge, especially headlights.
Make certain the spare tire is in good condition and correctly inflated. Also be sure the jack works and has its parts (including the lug-nut wrench).
In addition to giving your car a thorough check, put together an emergency kit. Some important items to carry during the winter are a flashlight with extra batteries, reflective triangles, fire extinguisher, jumper cables, first-aid kit, a blanket, pocketknife, extra motor oil and windshield wiper fluid, kitty litter or sand, a small snow shovel, ice scraper, lock de-icer, snow brush, cellular telephone and copies of emergency numbers. On long trips, pack some nonperishable food and drinks.
Too many drivers don't know how to drive in wintry conditions, myself included (I prefer to stay home.) But Jackson urges motorists to practice driving in wintry weather. This tip is also recommended by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Maryland State Police. We shouldn't need to say it, but I know I'll receive angry e-mail if I don't - practice only on uncongested stretches of road, well away from pedestrians, snow-sledders and motorists.
During daylight, rehearse maneuvers slowly on the ice or snow in an empty lot. Try steering into a skid. Get to know your brakes and their capability: firmly apply antilock brakes; pump nonantilock brakes. Remember, stopping distances are longer on ice and water-and-ice combinations.
Cleaning up road litter
JoAnn Maxfield, customer service representative for the county Department of Public Works, informed me that the department is sending a crew to clean roads that Ruth Henry complained about in last week's column.
"Litter on our roadways is a big problem," Maxfield said. But she applauded the efforts of hundreds of residents who have "adopted" county roads to help keep them litter free. Street-sweeping is performed on most county roads four times a year, and Bureau of Highways road crews clean up debris.
But Maxfield urges people to help by joining the Adopt-A-Road Program to pick up litter and other debris thrown onto roadways.
"By volunteering to pick up litter on a selected road," she said, "they can make a tremendous impact on their neighborhood, community and Howard County."
The program is open to any person, family, civic, business or religious group in Howard County.
"Citizens can request a road or section of road for adoption, or we can suggest one for them," Maxfield said.
She noted that for safety reasons, some roads are ineligible for adoption.
Information: Larry Wiley, Adopt-A-Road Program coordinator, 410-313- 7472.
What's your traffic trauma? Contact Jody K. Vilschick at TrafficTalk@comcast.net, 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. Include your full name and contact information or your comments will not be published or receive a response.