What's wrong with this picture?

July 04, 2010

Editor's note: Each Monday, The Herald-Mail will highlight an infrastructure issue or other problem and will try to find out what is being done to fix or improve the situation.

We will not tackle situations involving neighborhood or domestic disputes or consumer problems.

The problem: Drivers turning left from U.S. 40 west onto Eastern Boulevard do not always pull forward far enough to trigger the sensor that activates the left-turn arrow.

As a result, the signal cycle skips the left-turn portion and traffic backs up, sometimes not moving until someone gets out and walks up to the first vehicle in line to tell the driver to pull up the rest of the way to the "stop here on red" sign, according to an e-mail from Jefferson, Md., resident Robert Hamrick, who called the turn "a nightmare."

"I have had so much trouble here and sat through two or more light changes that I no longer take this route," Hamrick wrote.


He said many others probably avoid the turn, clogging the rest of U.S. 40.

Hamrick said vehicles have to practically be on the stop bar to trigger the signal, and some drivers are probably afraid to pull up that far because it puts them so close to traffic turning left onto U.S. 40.

Hamrick suggested putting a sensor at the beginning of the turn lane or at least enhancing the sign to say "stop here on red to cue signal."

Who could fix it: Maryland State Highway Administration

What they say: SHA spokesman David Buck said the intersection is unusual because turning traffic queues on a bridge. The traffic signal's loop detector cannot be placed in the concrete bridge deck, so it had to be placed very close to the actual signal, where the road surface is asphalt, Buck said.

SHA traffic engineers are aware of the situation and added the "stop here on red sign" in an attempt to get drivers to pull all the way up to the sensor area, Buck said.

"You do have to pull up pretty tight under the stop bar, but it doesn't put you out in the intersection, so it doesn't put you in harm's way," Buck said.

One potential solution is to switch to a camera sensor, which could sense vehicles farther back, Buck said. He said SHA would look into that possibility, but there are drawbacks to camera sensors, such as false activations from sunlight.

He said the loop detector could not be placed on the other side of the bridge because the timing is designed for placement close to the light.

Including the left-turn movement automatically in every cycle is also out of the question, Buck said.

"That would enrage the people in every other direction who would then see that signal come up at two in the morning, and every other time there was nobody there," Buck said. "We don't ever want signals that come up when there's no traffic. What that eventually encourages is people to run the red light."

He said SHA can't make the "stop here on red" sign more specific because it is limited to regulation signs and cannot make up its own.

"This really should and does function well as long as motorists get all the way up to the stop bar, and we certainly hope the (stop here on red) sign will help," Buck said. "You don't want to overclutter and oversign, and you can't just add, 'Hey you, get closer.'"

--Compiled by Heather Keels

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