Narrow, twisting shortcut to U.S. 29 is 'worst road' choice


ALFRED ARSENAULT hates the street in front of his home.

Old Frederick Road, between Rogers Avenue and the bridge across the Patapsco River at the Baltimore County line, "is a narrow, twisting, hilly road with a well-deserved speed limit of 25 mph," he said.

However, drivers wishing to avoid the Baltimore Beltway often use it as a shortcut from Baltimore County to U.S. 29. Arsenault noted that traffic is heavy during rush hours, with drivers exceeding the speed limit.

"To this recipe for disaster, mix in school buses picking up the kids who live along the road. Fold in the typical trash and recycling collection trucks. And sprinkle liberally with inattentive drivers talking on cell phones and driving too fast," he said. "A souffle of traffic mess, served every day."

He noted that accidents occur regularly on the stretch of road. When an accident does occur, it usually blocks the road, he noted.

Emergency vehicles have difficulty getting to accidents. The only options a driver has when caught in a backup are to wait it out or turn around.

Arsenault has seen drivers take extraordinary steps when blocked by an accident site. "People have driven across my front yard to try to get around an accident," he said.

The combination of ingredients is what makes Old Frederick Road this month's worst place to drive in Howard County. But other roads in Howard are vying for the dubious honor.

The intersection of Trotter Road and Route 108 puts a kink in Colleen Steenberge's crankshaft. "Anyone trying to turn left [from Trotter Road] onto Route 108 has blind spots in both directions. Traffic coming from the River Hill High School and Village Center areas cannot be seen due to a very low spot in the road," she said.

She also noted that traffic usually exceeds the posted speed limit. "At this time of year, the late afternoon sun is so blinding in the western sky that seeing anything coming can be almost impossible," she said.

"While it is difficult to see cars coming from the west, it is equally difficult to see them coming from the east. There is a sharp blind curve that is also frequently blocked by vehicles parked in front of the east corner of the intersection," she said.

Steenberge said that three years ago, she and others tried to get something done about the intersection. With 300 signatures on a petition in hand and the approval of the River Hill Village Council, they approached the State Highway Administration, only to be told that the results of a traffic survey did not warrant changes.

Recently, she said, a three-car accident occurred there.

"Luckily, there were no serious injuries, but everyone who has to use that intersection to come out of the neighborhoods has to be holding their breath," she said.

Right-lane turns

Jim Johnson recently asked about the proper use of a right-turn-only lanes. He noticed that on westbound U.S. 40 from about Chatham Road to Greenway Drive, the right lane has been designated a right-turn-only lane.

"This makes good sense, as many entrances to small parking lots are along this stretch," he said. "But when should a driver enter the lane? Is it OK to drive it the whole length to Greenway or should I wait until just before [my] intended right turn?"

Here's what the experts say. "The safest usage of the lane would be to enter it with your turn signal on, enough in advance that any exiting cars can see that you are turning, but not more than one entrance before you want to turn," said Dave Buck, manager of the State Highway Administration's Office of Communications.

He warned against entering the right-turn-only lane too early. "While there may not be any visible traffic within the turn lane, you may confuse people attempting to exit if you have your turn signal on and do not turn," Buck said. "As my dad used to say, 'The only thing it means if somebody has their turn signal is on is that it works!'"

Winter driving tip

Jeff Gardner offers a tip for drivers during the winter months.

"Clean your headlights along with your windshield when you stop for gas," he said. "Headlights are just as dirty, if not more so, as the windshield." Having dirty headlights cuts down on your visibility, so keep them clean.

New Year's resolutions

Stephanie Ward recently e-mailed one of her New Year's resolutions: "I firmly resolve to always use my signals, instead of just when it's convenient to put down my cell phone," she said. Cheers to you, Ms. Ward. That's a great resolution!

And here's mine. I resolve to slow down and follow either the speed limit or the prevailing speed of traffic.

What are your New Year's driving resolutions?

What's your traffic trauma? Contact Jody K. Vilschick at, 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. Please include your full name and contact information or your comments will not be published or receive a response.

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