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Warning signs are not being replaced

April 11, 2002|BY SCOTT BUTKI and Kim Yakowski

Despite concerns by some law enforcement officials and residents, Washington County officials don't plan to replace "Children at Play" and similar warning signs as they deteriorate.

The signs no longer are recognized by the state and may provide residents with a "false sense of security," Washington County Public Works Director Gary Rohrer said last week.

The county is not actively removing signs, Rohrer said. But over the past five years, as signs have become worn, the county has taken them down and not replaced them, he said.

Street signs are regulated by the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, a national document written into Maryland law, Rohrer said. The manual no longer recognizes the signs as legitimate, he said.

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Washington County Sheriff Charles Mades said he thinks the signs are a good idea.

"Every sign has a purpose, and they're an educational tool," Mades said.

"If the sign slows down one person, they're worthwhile," he said

County officials couldn't provide the cost of a new street sign.

Hagerstown's engineering designer, Tim Young, said having a few signs posted might slow some drivers. But he said if the city were to erect signs in each area with children, there would be so many signs that the warning would lose its effect.

Rohrer said he did not know how many of the signs remain in the county or how many have been removed.

The signs sometimes are left in areas no longer populated by children. If drivers know this, they are less likely to pay attention to any of the warning signs, County Engineer Terry McGee said.

"The signs give a false sense of security to those in the neighborhood that it's safe for our children to play in or near the streets and roads," he said.

Mades dismissed the idea that residents would think it was OK to let their children play in the street simply because a warning sign was posted.

The signs also can protect adult pedestrians, so they are beneficial even if there no longer are children in a specific area, he said.

In an age of cell phones and sophisticated car stereos, drivers easily can be distracted, making "Children at Play" signs a valuable reminder, said Hagerstown City Police Capt. Charles Summers.

"It protects the whole community," Summers said. "It might be luxury, but it doesn't hurt."

The issue arose at a meeting of the Boonsboro Town Council when Town Manager Jake Jones told the council that the county no longer was putting up the warning signs.

The Town Council wanted to put several "Children At Play" signs in three developments, Jones said.

Jones said he does not see any harm in posting signs because they serve as a warning to drivers.

Alarmed at the speed at which drivers were traveling on Railroad Lane in Smithsburg, residents appealed to the Town Council to have a "Children at Play" warning sign installed.

The town installed the sign a few months ago, and Amy Cottrill, who lives on Railroad Lane, said she feels safer.

"It's helped a lot. Before, they were tearing up the alley," Cottrill said.

Smithsburg has a similar warning sign on Maple Avenue.

The signs are yellow, which means caution, and drivers do seem to slow down, Smithsburg Police Chief Mike Potter said.

"I think having the signs up is a pretty good idea because it does give a warning to motorists that there are children there," Potter said. "Hopefully, it's not a false sense of security. It does help to advise motorists of potential children."

Rohrer said police and town officials are entitled to their opinions, but they are not traffic engineers.

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