Monday, March 7, 2011

Your Postal Service (and Tax Dollars) at Work?

I know it has been a while -- please do NOT infer from this that traffic issues have gotten better in my area -- the opposite is closer to the truth. I have just been way too busy with my own life, and have become way too depressed that truly NOTHING short of an Egyptian style uprising is going to change anything here -- the issues are endemic, the corruption is now being documented, and innocent lives continue to be shattered, but no one seems to give a rat's...

So there I was this morning, beautiful Monday morning, dutifully driving my 8th grader to his Middle School. I was even smiling because my wife has been away all weekend, so I had to be up earlier than usual to get the kids out, and possibly, as a result, we were actually leaving early, and destined to be on time.

Why am I driving my middle schooler at 8 AM you may ask? Because in this third quarter, in the PGCPS' screwed up version of education, my kid needs to take a period zero class EVERY day to make his schedule work! Sure, we are eligible for bus service -- but they don't run buses for the additional, pre-school period zero classes. And so, every school morning during the third quarter (and every other morning the rest of the school year) I am obligated to risk my life and that of my child in the mile and a half trip up 197 north and across Old Church Road during rush hour with these idiots!

When I went to pull out into traffic on 197N at 7:50 AM, I realized that there was a truck cab blocking the right northbound lane just south of the intersection, forcing the rush hour volume into a single lane, stretching the flow of uninterrupted traffic far enough that the usual seams were now blurring together. At 7:53, I succeeded in getting half way across 197, leaving myself in the median opening, usually only used for left hand turns onto 197 N and illegal u-turns back to 197S to go west on 450 at that time of day -- and was happy to prevent any of the latter.

It was another THREE minutes before a hint of an opening came up, and I quickly jammed myself into it, and accelerated immediately in the left lane to the posted speed of 40 mph. Unfortunately for me, the clown who had led the left turn parade from 450 E, despite the obvious traffic snarl, was accelerating through the turn to a speed that would have reached well beyond 40 mph, and barely stopped before making me his hood ornament. He was driving a silver or gray Toyota Corolla, with MD tag 5AS W49.

He then proceeded to tailgate me, literally ON my bumper, until I could move to the right lane, even though I stubbornly had my speedometer jammed right on 40 mph. When I DID succeed in getting over, he sped past me immediately, and then feigned a cut-off move in front of me before steering back into his lane, and almost failed to notice the significant volume stopped in front of him in the left lane awaiting the turn of the traffic light at Old Church, creating his second near accident inside of 2 minutes.

It is noteworthy that the traffic was backed up beyond where the left turn lane begins for the post office and the strip mall, because, once he slammed on the brakes and recovered from his own arrogance, he then proceeded to pull LEFT out of his lane, at least for a distance across the double yellow and into oncoming traffic, before making the left hand turn into the post office, and pulling through the gate, presumably to park in back as an employee.

But the story had just begun! After dropping my son off, his usual few minutes late through no fault of his or mine (except for my refusal to speed to get him there on time -- the rest of you should try it the next time YOU are running late!), I drove home, and noted the truck cab still there, hazards still blinking, STILL creating traffic problems. I drove home, logged the other fool's tag number, and walked back to see if I could get info on the truck cab.

I first noted a lack of license plate. THEN I looked at the driver's side door, which was neatly labelled "United States Postal Service." Yep -- USPS caused the traffic -- USPS nearly caused an accident for me -- twice! Where I had been unsure whether to try the police non-emergency number or call WTOP first, my choice was now clear. After noting the serial number on the hood of the cab -- 6628015 -- I called the local post office branch, walking distance up the road.

I was pleasantly surprised to get a human voice within 6 rings. I believe she identified herself as Maria -- the thickness of her accent made it hard to be sure. But at least she identified herself. After I explained the situation to her briefly, she asked me to hold, and, I correctly guessed, went to find a supervisor.

At least I assume the second person I spoke to was a supervisor. She never identified herself in any way. No name, no title. I again described the scene, and provided the serial number when asked, only to be told, and I am quoting here, "That isn't one of our trucks."???!!! You cannot make this stuff up. Even if what she meant to say was "That is not a truck assigned to this branch," given the long history of lack of service from the Bowie Post Office to local residents, I wasn't optimistic for a quick resolution. Even though it was only 8:15 when I got off the phone -- 3 minutes after placing the call, and 25 from my first interaction with the event.

Being awake and energized, I decided to walk back out and watch the scene (not) unfold. Got back to the corner by about 8:18, and by 8:20 was actually talking to a human voice at PG County non-emergency police dispatch. I explained the scenario, shared the story about almost being run off the road, and was put on hold. While I was on hold, my cell phone died. Flat out quit -- white screen.

Despite that, at exactly 8:30, a police car made the right from 450 W to 197 N, and pulled up behind the truck. At that point, he got out of the car, saw me on the opposite corner, and motioned to me to ask if the truck was mine. I motioned back "no," and started walking towards him. He climbed into the cab to examine the situation -- at which point I realized that at no time in 35 plus minutes had I seen any trace of the driver. In that time, he could easily have walked to the Bowie Post Office and requested help in person.

The officer and I compared notes. He claimed to have gotten a call about the truck (!), although I believe I recognized him as my neighbor down the block, and therefore he COULD have been heading home and stumbled on it! As he was calling it in on his radio and waiting for the response, he clearly said something about "I saw it when I went out at 5:45 this morning (???!!!) I really figured it would have been taken care of by now!!!???

Now, almost THREE HOURS later, he was going to call the Postal Police, whose number he said he had in the car. I left him to do his work and came home to write this unbelievable story.

In nearly 3 hours, was i the ONLY person to phone in a report to ANYONE about this? Possible, but given the volume of people who drove past it, and were inconvenienced or endangered by it, even in the post Kitty Genovese world, highly unlikely. Because, among others, that would have had to have included the officer who saw it at 5:45 in the morning in the list of those who had not acted! Along with every other police officer, city or county worker, or other emergency respondent who happened to drive past it. NONE OF THEM reported it either?

And everyone driving north to report to work at the Bowie Post Office -- were they all, like my speed demon idiot friend in the silver/grey Corolla, too busy rushing to get to work to notice that it really WAS one of THEIR vehicles that was responsible?

And every other parent driving a child to school at that time of morning -- for we, as a group, truly ARE the most aware and civic minded cross-section of the populace (God help us all!)? None of THEM either???

And the driver?? Where had s/he disappeared to for close to 3 hours? And why had there been no response to any calls s/he had made for help??? Do we have to assume that none was made?

Because in less than 5 minutes from my call to PG police, there WAS a response! I will be curious to see in a moment, after I post this, whether that response has changed anything yet!

Addendum: I want to thank the courteous young man (NOT) that the Rabbi encountered driving home from services Friday night, and reported to me over the weekend -- the one who played speed up/slow down games, and cut him off at least once between Mitchellville Rd. and the turn for 450 West (how often are the aggressive drivers making THAT left hand turn!! Too often not to be noticed!!!). He was driving a car with the new 1812 license tag 3MD6949, a dark (gray, dk blue or black -- it was 11 PM)) Hyundai ...

Please be careful out there folks!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Ya Just Can't Make This Stuff Up

Two incidents in under 48 hours, BOTH individually worthy of comment, public ridicule, and scorn, but taken together, indicative of just how large the problem of law enforcement is in Prince George's County, just based on the examples these officers are providing on our roads...

On Tuesday, I was being driven around by my daughter (THAT alone deserves a blog of its own!) as my knee rehabbed. We were on our way to lunch at Wendy's off of Route 3 by Route 50, coming across Mitchellville Road. As we sat at the light waiting to cross, she looked over, and commented that the African American female officer driving the marked PG County squad car was clearly talking on her cell phone, without benefit of a hands-free device!

Embarrassing enough on its own, and it could and should have been the end of our notice. But, it so happened that this officer was on her way to Wendy's, and ended up in the drive-thru line in front of us, still talking on her cell phone. And she was still in front of us, still on the phone as she sat at the stop sign, waiting to turn left onto the side road that would take her to Route 3.

THIS became a point of dangerous contention when she pulled out to make the left into traffic, completely oblivious to the car turning left INTO Wendy's cutting in front of her with the right of way! And even though her actions caused the other driver to hit the brakes loud enough that they audibly squealed, she continued to drive away, blissfully distracted!

In case anyone is actually reading this blog, and is in a position to care or do something about it, it was car # 4273, carrying special PG tag # 2397 at midday on November 2 -- election day! But I am NOT holding my breath....

But wait, today, 2 days later -- and I am now beginning to drive myself around. Driving to work just after 11 AM, in the rain. Concerned about conditions and my ability to brake quickly if necessary, so I was driving even more carefully and more aware than usual.

Approaching the speed trap on North View, I noted that I was doing under 35 mph, so I was was shocked, in the relative darkness, to see the flash of light as I passed through the trap zone. That is, until the dark blue Ford sedan went whizzing passt me, and I realized that HE had set off the camera.

It was only then I saw the concealed blue and red lights in his rear window, and started to wonder about the question I have always had -- if there are 2 cars in the trap, how does the camera and radar work to make sure the RIGHT one is ticketed?

And then I realized that if there ISN'T a good answer to my question, that even though HE set off the trap, I am likely the one who will draw the ticket! So, as he sped past, before having to stop at the light at Nottingham, where he turned right, I committed his plates to memory -- Maryland tag MXW 243.

While I can hope that he was on a call, responding silently, and therefore the whole thing will get wiped off the record, is there anyone else, given the track record in this county, who wouldn't be more than a little paranoid right now in my position? And again, given my repeated complaint about officers' freedom to use their cars on off-hours for personal usage, how can anyone be sure he was even on-duty?

And even more seriously, in respect to BOTH incidents, if vehicular homicide by an officer is only punishable by a traffic citation for excessive speed, as was the tragic case in our town not so long ago, can anyone expect this officer, even if the system works properly and correctly identifies the proper vehicle, to be fined in this case? Or the other officer to even be reprimanded?

Don't worry -- I will keep you posted -- and I will fight any citation I receive...

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Solution? Or the Problem?

One of the seminal events that led to the creation of this blog was a rather tragic and easily avoidable accident a couple of years back here in Bowie. A young man, in his 20s, was struck and killed by a car officially reported as driving at twice the posted 25 mph speed limit on lovely, bucolic Belair Drive. The wrinkle? This young man wanted to go into law enforcement. The car that struck him? A Prince George's County marked police car, driven by an off-duty officer! The galling result? Dead 20 something year old, at the hands of someone whom we count on not only to NOT drive this way, but to protect us from those who do, who has NEVER and will NEVER face trial for even accidentally taking this young man's life! All the officer got was a citation for speeding!

I mention this in the aftermath of the incident I reported in my last blog, because, sadly, it demonstrates that not only do we have no expectation of enforcement on our roads, but, in a jurisdiction in which one of the perks of being an officer -- and don't get me wrong, I am a HUGE supporter of the local police, especially now that Bowie has their own force! -- is to be able to use your police car, at taxpayer expense, when you are not on duty, we have little expectation that our county law enforcement agents (because Bowie's finest seem far less prone to these failings -- at least, to date) can even be appropriate role models!

When OVG was doing school traffic, I met several of our county's uniformed officers, as they would drive their kids to school -- almost always in the cruiser, very rarely in uniform. Most were exactly what you would want them to be -- kind, polite, patient role models of proper behavior for their own kids and all of us. There were a couple, however, who used that vehicle almost as a weapon -- thinking that it gave them privileges that others did not enjoy, such as being able to park where others could not in order to walk their children inside the school.

Even on the rare occasion that their presence was of value, there was a catch. I recall the morning that a 17 or 18 year old kid was driving his younger sibling to school, and was pulled over in the traffic flow on school property by one of these officer/parents, who had observed him excessively speeding on residential streets. This officer read this new driver the riot act -- to the point where I was shocked the kid neither broke into tears nor peed his pants! And then? LET HIM OFF WITH A WARNING!!

I observed this whole transaction from a position roughly 10 feet from the car, as I had repositioned myself to guide traffic around them. When it was over, I took the liberty of asking my fellow parent why he hadn't finished drumming the lesson in by hitting the kid in the only place that matters to most teens -- the wallet? Expecting a well-reasoned law enforcement angle I hadn't considered, instead, here is what I was told: there were two practical reasons. First, the officer was 2 weeks away from retirement, and didn't want to be dragged into court to testify after he was done. And second, he hadn't carried his citation book for about 10 years!

Let me be clear -- this was one of the "good" cop/parents! This was a guy who recognized the importance of what was going on enough to respect me and to act when he saw this kid driving dangerously. And, I have no idea what his exact responsibilities were that he had gotten away with not carrying a citation book for 10 years.

But I walked away shaking my head -- because I realized that even if he wasn't two weeks from retirement, and HAD his citation book, he probably STILL would have done the same thing, again to avoid having to spend a tedious half-day in court instead of on the streets! And, isn't THIS a huge part of the problem! That county officers are taught, probably by experience, to think and act this way, and that their superiors, either by benign or deliberate neglect, or worse, by existing procedure, condone and foster such behavior!

Between this reality, and the equally appalling truth that it is a regular occurence to see PG County marked cars being driven by drivers in civvies among those driving at excessive speeds and otherwise ignoring the laws and courtesies of the road, I am driven to make the following radical suggestion. WE CITIZENS OF THE COUNTY SHOULD DEMAND THAT OUR TAX DOLLARS NO LONGER BE WASTED BY ALLOWING OFFICERS THE USE OF THEIR CARS ON THEIR OWN TIME!!! Unless or until someone can credibly show me both that a) working this way IS cheaper for the county government than making them drive to and from work in their own cars, as the rest of us do, and as so many other jurisdictions do, and b) that there are rules for their usage outside of work hours that add value for us, the taxpaying citizens, I have no choice but to see this as a waste of our tax dollars, and a boondoggle that weakens police credibility in general.

I do NOT suggest this to be punitive -- I do so to be fiscally responsible, and out of a desire to improve the opinion of the average Joe like me that County police, in particular, actually do their jobs. When we see them not doing what we expect, because they are legitimately off duty, we cannot tell whether they are on or off duty, which will lower our opinion of the good job that most of them do. When they drive, without sirens or flashers, at excessive speed, our first reaction is to give them the benefit of the doubt that they are on duty -- even when they are in civvies. So, to see one of them get cut off by a reckless driver, and NOT respond at all, becomes not an act of kindness in recognizion that this older woman, who ended up driving to the Senior Center, probably is getting close to the point where she shouldn't even have a license anymore, but just another example of failure to protect us all!

Am I the only one who sees that the Emperor is both naked and oblivious to his state? I hope not! But sometimes I wonder!

Monday, October 4, 2010

The More Things Change....

So -- what has changed since my last post? Everything -- and nothing! You still take your life into your hands driving around here; the authorities continue to do little or nothing to enforce existing laws or make real changes for our protection.

The speed cameras in front of the Bel Air Annex and Northview Elementary continue to catch the unsuspecting -- somehow, they managed to catch my wife -- twice! (And why exactly were they working on July 5th?) However, Bowie's selfish continue to slow down for the very brief stretches, and then return to cavalierly endangering the rest of us with their stupidity.

The new state laws banning texting or use of cell phones without hands free devices are now in effect -- but only as a class 2 offense -- you cannot simply ticket someone for these offenses. Instead, they have to be so stupid as to be pulled over for another offense and be caught in the act of using their cell! Sure, that will protect us all, and prevent this dangerous behavior -- NOT! And, again, another chance to pass a meaningful law, which could actually acknowledge that some of us actually ARE capable of safely operating a vehicle under circumstances that others are not, passes by with neither the intelligence NOT to lump us all together as one class of sheep, nor the real ability to make us any safer.

I actually had the privilege just recently of watching one of Bowie's dumbest driving at excessive speed south on 197 over the highway, only to cross over 2 lanes at the last minute to make the right to enter the Town Center from Northview -- a fairly regular occurrence. Only this time, when she did cross 2 lanes, with no signal, cutting off a driver in the right lane, that driver was driving a marked county police car! And the officer did nothing! If not there, when?

Personally, there has been one huge change -- my daughter is now a licensed driver with access to a vehicle. And yes, 5 weeks into her career, she had her first accident -- a minor miscalculation of space on her part that did just enough damage to the other car to require a claim on our insurance. Which meant that there was no reason NOT to file on our damage as well. The adjuster handed me a check for $1500. We replaced the front light and side mirror, but did not get the minor body damage repaired professionally. Total cost of repairs -- under $300. That's right, her first accident was income producing for us -- at least in the short term! Maybe THIS is what is wrong with the insurance industry!

Friday, June 11, 2010

Another Week, More Examples

So, in the week that saw the trotting out of the SECOND speed camera on Bowie streets, and the shortening of the range of the first trap, it is time to talk about the insanity connected to getting these safety devices up and protecting us.

The reason for the selection of the two sites is remarkably simple -- they are easily justified, as both are areas right in front of public schools KNOWN for excessively speedy traffic.

However, they also have one other common factor, which in this case is key -- they are the only such schools within the city limits of Bowie of which all of the above are true AND the street is a city street -- not a county or state road!

And there is the rub -- the most dangerous sites, more worthy of these speed traps, are all on roads that the City of Bowie needs to NEGOTIATE to patrol with this technology. And once again, apparently we here in Bowie place a higher value on our own lives and limbs than do those in Upper Marlboro and Annapolis who view our fair city merely as a cash cow -- wondering how to get more FROM us, while doing nothing of value FOR us.

Something to think about with the upcoming elections on the horizon!

Another item -- I understand that we are supposedly setting these photo traps to protect the schools and their families. I also understand that the mechanics of these devices need to be checked and certified daily. But I wasn't aware that crime was such a factor in Bowie Land that there was a significant value in taking the guts of these sensors in for safe keeping each night. And I can't think of any other reason why they are removed nightly.

Those of us who drive North View at all hours of the day and night know that a) the driving behavior doesn't get better after 8 PM (when the machinery is removed), and b) we are laughing at how quickly the driving behavior HAS changed -- but in the least safe way possible. Now, cars race up to the first installment, jam on the breaks to get under 42 mph (because remember, the speed LIMIT is 30!), and, as soon as they clear the other side, speed up even more significantly to make up for the lost time of having to slow down for those darned cameras. Is this excessive speed on this road any less dangerous at 6 AM or 9 PM? Clearly not -- if anything, the darkness and fatigue factor in other drivers make these times MORE dangerous. Yet, at these times, we citizens lack the protection of these saftey devices!

Another example of static analysis making a dangerous situation WORSE and not better! So, of course, under these circumstances, the length between the two installationss has been REDUCED! I guess people complained that they had to slow down for too long!! Oh for the bygone days when there was regularly a marked car hiding behind the fence at the intersection before Allen Pond to stop and punish speeders. A hint to Bowie's finest -- it is needed even more now -- and one heading the other way past the trap zone would be equally lucrative and useful!

And finally for this week, I expect to be blown past on Mitchellville Road by guys like the one driving the Black Chevy Tahoe, MD Tag 88993 did to me on my way back to work at about 2:15 today after a late lunch with my wife -- after all, NO ONE does 35 on that stretch of this COUNTY road -- which is why it IS one of the few places you will still find speed enforcement in marked cars (this guy had to be going over 50 mph as he zipped past).

But my "driving example" of the week for just how bad the situation is in Bowie occurred not 5 minutes earlier, as I drove across Kenhill and turned south on 197. I was tailgated almost the entire length of Kenhill by 2 vehicles. As we turned at the traffic light, the first vehicle went to the right lane, and flew onto the ramp to 50 before I could record his identification. But the SECOND vehicle, having already pulled into the left turn lane next to me, first flew past me to the red light before the flyover of 50, only to fall behind me for having to break fully and then start from a dead stop when the light changed, only to fly past me a SECOND time at excessive speed. Imagine my surprise when I looked over at the driver of this vehicle, a White Toyota Corolla, MD Tag KCE065 and she turned out to be a white haired dowager -- boy, I sure hope that wasn't Aunt Agatha flying around like that!

Now I am no ageist, but when that kind of overly aggressive driving behavior is exhibited by the types that usually make you wonder why their children haven't taken away her car keys because she is so afraid to be on the road, then we REALLY have a problem!

Friday, June 4, 2010

The First (of many) Scofflaws Report

Shockingly, it actually took a couple of days of this blog's existence before we have the first set of scofflaw reports -- of course, when the dam DID break, it broke multiply.

The first set of three incidents, all interrelated, occurred on the trip home from work -- Thursday night, approximately 8:30 pm.

The issues began coming across North View, and waiting to turn left onto 197 north. An obviously ditracted cell phone using driver was driving without awareness of speed or lane. After I passed, legally, heading north on 197, the car sped up to go around and pass me back, cutting in front of me for good measure at the Kenhill light. This was a White GT, MD Tag 2FTV42. Adding to the fun, apparently STILL on the cell phone, as we approached the red light at 450, this vehicle was still directly in front of me in the left northbound lane, then swerved into the left turn lanes, and then swerved back into my lane, almost clipping me. It appeared that there might have been a change in travel plans to continue chasing after the minivan flyer, as all THREE of these knuckleheads exploded away from the 450 light as it changed.

Meanwhile, as we waited at the traffic light after the Rt 50 flyover, where the unnecessary extra left lane becomes the left turn lane into Collington, just as the light went green, one of these flyers came roaring through the intersection in that left lane, at excessive speed, and quickly cut off the lead driver in the left lane, and THEN cut over again because there were fewer cars in the right lane at the red light at Kenhill, ending up directly ahead of our cell-phone talking distraction case. This minivan, MD Tag 331M738clearly was the most aggressive driver of the bunch, although all three deserved to be cited.

As if having those two in front of me wasn't bad enough, thankfully the single car ahead of both of them was quick on the draw, but not excessive, forcing speed demon to stay behind her. However, the clown in the left hand lane next to the cell-phone bandit in the GT refused to yield on the merge, but also refused to go past, until after we were down to a single lane. His failure to yield was every bit as dangerous as the GT's. He was driving a Mitsubishi Gallant, MD tag 6BFG45.

Then, around 12:40 today, driving from picking up my car after an oil change and some minor repairs, I had just made the turn from Stonybrook onto Belair to go across Kenhill and head over to 197 and the office. As I did, coming out of that next right hand side street, without even slowing down at the stop sign before turning, a white Chevy conversion van, MD Tag 765M104, forced me to slow down to avoid running into him. He then, of course, proceeded to turn left, without benefit of signal, onto Kenhill. As I followed behind him at 25 mph, he pulled steadily away from me the entire length of the street, so I was amused to pull in behind him with his "Real Men Love Jesus" bumper sticker, and laugh to myself that a) he STILL wasn't getting there any quicker than I was, and b) WWJS to someone parading his name around and behaving this selfishly and poorly?

But the most bizarre incident of the week, by far, came shortly after that, as my wife and I drove into the Town Center for lunch at Panera's. In the fire lane behind Pizzeria Uno, and significantly blocking the crosswalk, pathway, AND fire lane, was an oversized refrigerated 18 wheeler, engine running. When we came out after eating, 30 minutes later, it was still there. I couldn't help but notice that it would have been almost impossible for the driver to have gotten out of his cab, so close was his door to the crosswalk sign. As I recorded his information (Northstar US Food Services, PA Tag AF-45069), I noticed standing by his marked car directly in front of us a Prince George's uniformed officer, name tag Benson. When I first asked him if this was legal, he said he thought the guy was making a delivery. When I countered that he had been there for 30 minutes, he acknowledged that he was aware of it, and went through all the motions of preparing to write up what he described as a "$500 ticket."

I thanked him and walked away towards our car. As we got to our car, I noticed someone come out and open up the back of the truck, and almost simultaneously, saw Office Benson return to his lady friend at his car. As we left the parking lot, we pulled around, so I could let him know there was now someone at the truck.

At this point, he explained to me that he had been told, presumably by the manager at Uno's, that the driver of the truck had fallen off the back earlier, and had to be taken to the hospital, that police had responded earlier to that incident, and everyone was aware of the circumstances. He also mentioned that the cab was locked with the engine running to keep the refrigeration going.

As we drove away, I pondered to myself, still, how that cab door could have been so close to the sign. But then I started thinking about the story. On the assumption that the driver would NOT routinely, in the Bowie Town Center, lock the cab with the keys in the ignition while making a simple delivery. someone had gotten his keys, or at least locked the cab for him after the accident. WHY THEN, if they knew they had a truck there for the long term, and they had both the keys and access to the cab, was no effort made to pull it forward the hundred or so feet, into the livery area next to Panera's, clearing both the fire lane and the crosswalk, instead of leaving this dual threat in place?

On the one hand, I hope the story is NOT accurate, and that there were no injuries to anyone, and that this is merely another case of excuse making substituting for law-enforcement. More likely, this is EXACTLY how things went down, and I hope the driver's injuries are not serious. However, in EITHER case, the handling of this matter leaves questions about the efficacy and concern for pedestrians and drivers in the Town Center. I realize that technically, that is private property. However....

Thursday, June 3, 2010

The Route 197 Corridor

According to Mapquest, the trip from my home in the Grady's Walk subdivision to my office is 4.43 miles (although they do not send me the way I always go), and should take 8 minutes. Almost all of it is spent on Rte 197, North View Drive, and Mitchellville Road -- main roads in our fair town.

There are two things I know for sure from the experience of making that trip a dozen times a week or so -- first, it rarely if ever takes 8 minutes anymore. Second, a day in which I do not witness at least one egregious act of dangerous willful or negligent driving behavior is a rarity.

Rt. 197 -- Collington Road -- is a unique duck. From its southern starting point at Rte. 301, it winds north in two, and then three lanes, passing two major shopping areas, before crossing Rt. 50, and dropping back to two lanes. Through that area, the posted speed limit is 45, which is virtually never enforced, and rarely observed.

At Tasker Middle School, the speed limit drops to 40 mph, and the road merges to a single lane in each direction (although plans are in the works to widen this stretch!?). At the top of the hill, after the Tulip Grove traffic light, the second lane returns, as the road passes the old Rt. 450 and another commercial strip on the left, before reaching the major intersection with the new 450. The speed limit, however, remains 40 mph through here, and indeed, until after passing Rockledge Elementary School, almost on the northern edge of town, when it rises again to 45 -- although one would never know this from observing traffic flow.

Grady's Walk sits just north of this intersection of 197 and 450, on the left as you head north -- with its only 2 entrances on the western side of 197. Between those 2 entrance roads to the subdivision, the road, now moving from north to south, completes a mild ascent, and then begins downward just before the second entrance, as it approaches 450, creating a slight visual impairment in some circumstances.

When 450 was moved to its new location, the traffic pattern for Grady's Walk changed dramatically. We are now much closer to the major intersection -- close enough that in heavier traffic, the southbound back-up from the traffic light routinely passes the southernmost entrance. In a bad circumstance, like the all too frequent accidents along that stretch, the southbound traffic can easily stretch back beyond the northern entrance to Old Church Road. In a serious emergency, as recently occurred, causing a closing of the road, our neighborhood can, in fact, be cut-off.

With the concrete median extending north from the intersection to the southernmost entrance to the community, that entrance becomes the first turning opportunity heading north on 197 after 450. In addition, heading southbound towards the 450 intersection, the approach lane to the ramp to head west on 450 begins immediately south of the southern entrance to the subdivision, at that same intersection where the median ends for northbound travelers on 197.

With the physical description complete, I move now to some of the "normative" driving behaviors exhibited through this area.

Within the expected and legal, with the double stream of northbound traffic -- one continuing north on 197 from south of the intersection on their green light, the other turning northbound from eastbound 450 on their light -- there is an extended period of accelerating traffic northbound which, by itself, severely limits the ability to make a left turn (northbound) out of the southern entrance to Grady's Walk. This window is further reduced by those turning right on red or green from westbound 450, and by the steady stream of southbound traffic, unslowed since the traffic light at Old Church Road, which as a result, varies wildly in speed. It is not uncommon in the morning rush to have to wait upwards of 2 minutes to turn left out of the subdivision at this location, and I am told that at the northern end, the situation is similar, only the wildly divergent speeds are working in BOTH direction of 197 there. In addition, there is the "x-factors" in the southbound lanes of vehicles entering into or exiting from the several driveways of the churches just north of the northern entrance, and the fact that the northern entrance is, in fact, an unregulated 4 way intersection -- with only stop signs on the cross streets (but nothing on 197) controlling traffic flow or speed.

The back-up of southbound traffic to the southern entrance often leaves the "box" blocked -- sometimes in one lane, sometimes in both. However, even when traffic in the left southbound lane stops north of the intersection, and allows entrance and exit to the subdivision, traffic in the right lane often continues -- and is blocked by the courteous drivers in the left lane! Worse, when the right lane's traffic does NOT extend across the intersection, which is the only thing which slows late arriving southbound vehicles, there is still the likelihood of someone flying down the extreme right into the turning ramp to 450! As difficult as getting out of Grady's Walk can be in the morning, getting back in during the evening rush can be downright dangerous!!

And we haven't even factored into this mix yet the very dangerous "sharking" behavior of those wishing to go westbound on 450 coming from the south on 197, when the left turn arrows have already recycled red. Rather than waiting the 60 - 90 seconds in the left turn lanes, as expected by law, these clowns continue north through the intersection, then use the southern Grady's Walk entrance as a u-turn, to go back and get on the southbound ramp to 450. Their selfish, and (so I am told) illegal behavior saves them seconds, but endangers and inconveniences countless others!

While larger solutions exist to this set of dangerous challenges (cheif among them a deliberate traffic quieting scheme through this stretch), it appears that most of these interconnected problems can be solved by a series of what seem to be simple and reasonable fixes. Yet, as noted in the comments to the first post of this blog, this area continues to be a major danger zone.

First -- the speed limits MUST be enforced in this stretch. When traffic can vary from 30 mph - 60 mph in a 40 mph zone, the differential speed, especially for those judging to come into or out of the side streets, represents a significant danger. I don't care about issues of jurisdiction -- get SOMEONE out there regularly, and make these speed demons slow down!

Second -- it would be incredibly helpful to have a coordinated pattern on the southbound lights at Old Church, the new 450 and the old 450, to move traffic through this stretch, and to slow down speeders by training them that they won't get through this stretch any quicker at 50 or 60 than they will at 40.

Third -- it would be incredibly valuable to add traffic lights at BOTH entrances to Grady's Walk. I realize there are complicated formulae for traffic volume that must be met to justify these, and am very skeptical of the fact finding that fails to acknowledge this need. I am very willing to have the northern light be a flashing yellow north and south and flashing red east-west for most of the day, only going operational during morning and evening rush hours (during which, this light, too, would be part of the southbound timing co-ordination).

I also believe that the southern light needs to be perfectly synchronized with the 450 light -- effectly stopping ALL approaching southbound traffic north of the Grady's Walk entrance when the 450 light goes red north and south. Failing the ability to convince and justify here, at the very least we need

Fourth -- clearly painted and marked intersection boxes at both entrances to Grady's Walk, heavily signed for increased fines for blocking the box, and regularly enforced (this enforcement can actually be accomplished with a single officer on foot patrol!) -- to make discourteous drivers more aware that there is a live intersection there!

and Fifth -- greater signage prohibitting the u-turn at the end of the concrete divider at the southern entrance to Grady's Walk, again with increased enforcement.

Despite the obvious logic of and need for these changes, no elected official at any level has yet been convinced to advocate strongly on their, and our, behalf; no DOT plan has yet embraced ANY of this; no amount of agreement from the Bowie Police in theory has led to any increase in patroling and enforcement in fact. And if the plans for expanding the 2 lane stretch of 197 to 4 lanes go through, removing the ONLY place along this stretch at which speeds currently occasionally decrease to close to the speed limit, these problems will only get worse!

How many more deaths and injuries have to occur before this is fixed?!