Wednesday, Aug. 20, 2008

Could the Arcola Avenue slalom become an Olympic event?

County says changes are for pedestrian safety

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Slalom courses, jumps and racing down streets – driving in Montgomery County should be an Olympic sport.

Q: The drivers in my family are wondering what in the world is going on with Arcola Avenue [which runs south of Wheaton Regional Park and runs into University Boulevard]. I understand that it's a pedestrian safety issue stemming from a teenager's death a couple of years ago, but the changes are odd.

I feel like I'm on a slalom course as I weave my way between weirdly placed cement islands and new crosswalks placed away from corners (where one would expect them). Many drivers are still very confused about where the lanes narrow or expand as the lines are unclear and there are no warning signs. 

I have had several near-misses as people tried to use lanes that were suddenly blocked. It was even worse before they removed the original lines.

Can you clarify the logic behind all this? It just seems like a big mess at present.

— Amanda Vierling, Silver Spring

A: The Montgomery County Department of Transportation just completed a pedestrian safety improvement project.

The "slalom" course is a way to get people to drive slower without adding stop signs and to provide "pedestrian-refuge islands" for people crossing Arcola Avenue, according to the county Department of Transportation.

"With the new lane marking patterns, motorists will have only gentle shifts in lane alignment which were designed to provide a clear transition through the area if driven at the posted speed limit," spokesman Thomas W. Pogue said.

The speed limit is 30 mph on the road, but the county's study conducted before construction on the changes began, it was discovered that 85 percent of the drivers traveled the road between 42 to 44 mph, he said.

As part of the changes, the four lanes were cut down to two lanes with a two-way center left turn lane as well as curb extensions and the pedestrian islands.

The curb extensions and pedestrian islands are "proven traffic-calming measures" intended to make crossing the street safer for pedestrians, he said.

The county held three community meetings to hear the ideas and concerns of residents as well as a fourth meeting to brief them before construction began July 1, he said.