Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Should more cars mean more restrictions?

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Sometimes, readers of Bumper to Bumper do not have questions, but rather want to respond to questions and answers that have been printed. The following is a different viewpoint on an intersection that received attention in the June 13 column in the past couple of months.

Recently you have published information about turn restrictions from Pooks Hill Road onto Linden Avenue, suggesting residents can have the restrictions reassessed with a petition from homeowners in the area who are directly affected.

Please note that homeowners in the area who are directly affected are those who actually live on Linden and Beech avenues and who certainly do not want the restrictions eased or lifted.

As you point out, the restrictions date to 1974 and are designed to prevent the worst of cut-through traffic, which uses Linden and Beech avenues as a short-cut between Rockville Pike and Old Georgetown Road.

The restrictions are in complete conformity with the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Master Plan. They have worked for more than 30 years and there have been no changes in conditions that would warrant their removal.

If anything, increases in traffic along both Rockville Pike and Old Georgetown Road call for even tighter restrictions as more cars speed through the Maplewood neighborhood to save a minute or two on their daily commute.

For residents of Linden and Beech avenues, who endure increasingly fast and dense cut-through traffic 20 out of 24 hours each weekday and 24 hours a day on weekends, current restrictions on traffic for two hours in weekday mornings and late afternoons is a minor inconvenience that anyone can accommodate.

Roger Morier, Bethesda

Q: The traffic light sequence at the intersection of New Hampshire Avenue (Route 650) and Ednor Road near Ashton, needs to be reconsidered.

The heavily traveled New Hampshire Avenue has a significantly shorter green light than the less-traveled Ednor Road. This results in long lines and frustration to see no traffic in the other direction, particularly around rush hour.

Joaquin Hangen, Brookeville

A: Good thing you wrote in. Because of your inquiry officials with the county’s Department of Public Works and Transportation found after investigating the vehicle detectors at the intersection that the detector on Ednor Road was not operating.

That means the traffic signal at the intersection is stopping traffic on New Hampshire Avenue even when there is no traffic on Ednor Road.

The department is working on fixing the problem, so if it has not been fixed yet, it will be soon.

Q: I have a question about the intersection of East Gude Drive and Southlawn Lane in Rockville. I drive from Avery Road, turn left onto Southlawn Lane and end up at East Gude Drive where the shop, Joe’s Record Paradise, is located.

There is an island about 30 feet long and 4 or 5 feet wide in the center of Southlawn Lane that is on your left as you face south on Southlawn Lane at Gude Drive.

If you want to turn in to Gude Plaza, you have to drive against traffic, which is not only illegal but highly dangerous. I’ve seen people do it every day for years, many times a day — sometimes in large trucks.

The only other options are to attempt to make a U-turn, which is nearly impossible without stopping and backing up or to turn left on Gude Drive, go all the way down to Rothgeb Drive and make a U-turn, and then turn left into Gude Plaza. This causes a serious ‘‘pain in the rear” to say the least, while still creating a very dangerous situation for anyone who wishes to come into this shopping center.

I have been wondering for a long time how to approach this and this is where I decided to start. Thanks for any help.

Tim Shea, Damascus

A: This is confusing — for those who drive through the area and for those who may just be reading about it. But because of how confusing it can be — to drivers, that is — and because you brought it to the attention of county transportation folks, there is relief on the way.

The county Department of Public Works and Transportation will install a Do Not Enter sign back-to-back with the no U-turn sign that is already located on the east side of Southlawn Lane. The new sign will face traffic heading south. The sign should reinforce the message that traffic heading south is not allowed to drive in the lanes for traffic heading north (I know, seems silly we would need a sign reinforcing the prohibition of driving against traffic).

But just to explain the access to the Gude Plaza shopping center and how it can be confusing, you need to realize that motorists heading south on Southlawn Lane can enter the center at the entrance located off the service road before they ever reach the median in the center of Southlawn Lane. If a motorist does not use that service road, then he has to go down to Gude Drive, turn left, then left again to enter the center from its other entrance near Rothgeb Drive.

What already exists at that intersection to help mitigate any confusion is a Keep Right sign that is posted in the median for traffic heading south on Southlawn Lane. There are also two No U-Turn signs — one posted in the median that is back-to-back with the Keep Right sign and one on the east side of the road — posted for traffic heading north on Southlawn Lane just north of Gude Drive. The signs are supposed to prohibit people from making a U-turn around the median.

Q: I go through the intersection of Shady Grove Road and Darnestown Road in Rockville frequently. Long ago it seemed clear to me that traffic heading north on Shady Grove Road should be able to go straight through both in the center lane and the left-turn lane.

Because traffic heading north is the only direction moving when it does, a pair of arrows in the third lane would indicate traffic could go either straight or turn left. This would give those going straight an alternative lane and would most likely clear the intersection.

Inasmuch as there are three lanes on Shady Grove Road north of Darnestown Road, this would not create any problem. In fact it could alleviate the problem of lane changing noted by another writer to Bumper to Bumper, and would make construction of another northbound lane unnecessary.

This would be a far better solution than restricting the right-turn lane. Numerous people use that dedicated lane to head east on Darnestown Road and often to turn onto Wootton Parkway⁄Glen Mill Road.

I do not understand why that first block is still called Glen Mill Road; it makes giving directions to communities off Wootton Parkway far more complicated.

Lois Stoner, Rockville

A: Good news: Improvement and change are in the works. Bad news: Just not in the foreseeable future.

Officials with the county’s Department of Public Works and Transportation said they have re-evaluated the layout at this intersection on several occasions and always find that the existing traffic volumes indicate that the current lane use is most appropriate. Basically there is enough traffic making a left turn to warrant a dedicated lane.

However, officials also recognize that traffic at this intersection is expected to grow. Therefore, the department has started developing long-term plans for an additional northbound lane on Shady Grove Road where it intersects with Darnestown Road.

The project will provide an additional through lane while maintaining the far right lane as a right-turn only lane.

But at this point, there is no schedule for construction of this improvement.

The next question is a follow-up to one the State Highway Administration originally answered last October, indicating it would perform a traffic study. Below is the original question and the results of a study done at the intersection.

Q: With school back in session, the closure of Muncaster Road to replace the bridge has caused gridlock for morning commuters traveling on Bowie Mill Road from Olney to Rockville⁄Gaithersburg.

The lack of a traffic light at Bowie Mill Road and Route 108 exacerbates the problem; traffic backs up beyond the left-turn lane and blocks one of the westbound travel lanes on Route 108 towards Laytonsville.

Two years ago the State Highway Administration determined that a traffic light was not necessary at this intersection. However there are now traffic lights at all the major intersections along Route 108 between Laytonsville and Olney, except at Bowie Mill Road. If the traffic is bad enough for Queen Elizabeth Drive and Olney Mill Road to have traffic lights installed, why doesn’t Bowie Mill Road qualify for a traffic light? Bowie Mill is only a block away from these residential intersections and is a major artery across the county.

Pete Carlson, Olney

A: The State Highway Administration performed a traffic study to determine whether a traffic signal is needed at the Route 108 (Olney⁄Laytonsville Road) and Bowie Mill Road intersection (T-intersection), and it found traffic volumes do warrant a signal.

A signal will be installed sometime in the next two years. The signal will include a protected left turn (green arrow) for motorists heading west on Route 108 to turn left onto Bowie Mill Road.

The administration used national criteria in its determination. That criteria includes looking at traffic volumes, delays in turning side street traffic, sight distance and numerous other criteria.

Bumper to Bumper, a biweekly column dedicated to answering your questions related to transportation issues, is compiled and written by Staff Writer JoAnn Grbach. For past columns, log on to www.gazette.net.