Ritchie Highway crossings being made safer

As deadly year on county roads continues, SHA pushes ahead on sidewalk, traffic signal projects
By TIM PRATT Staff Writer - Hometown Annapolis

As the State Highway Administration looks for ways to improve the part of Ritchie Highway where a Pasadena teenager was killed last month, work has begun to make more than a dozen other intersections safer for pedestrians.

The work will upgrade pedestrian crossings, traffic signals and access to bus stops along Ritchie Highway between the Baltimore City line and Route 50 near Annapolis.

Charlie Gischlar, an SHA spokesman, said design work for the improvements started about nine months ago and construction began in late June. He said that while no specific incident prompted the improvements, the SHA is aware of the high number of pedestrian accidents along Ritchie Highway in recent years.

"There have been some real tragedies over there lately and we're trying to do everything in our power to prevent those things from happening again," Gischlar said.

This year, at least three pedestrians have been killed on Ritchie Highway.

In July, 25-year-old Alex Canales Hernandez of Baltimore was struck while on his bike near Bon Air Avenue in Brooklyn Park. Also last month, two teenagers were struck while trying to cross near Earleigh Heights Road. One of those teens, 17-year-old Kara Micciche of Pasadena, died.

In January, 50-year-old James Howard Minnix of Severna Park was killed while attempting to cross near Robinson Road.

Eight pedestrians and one cyclist have died in the county since Jan. 1, which is already more than the seven pedestrians killed last year. Ten pedestrians and one cyclist were killed in the county in 2009.

In the 101/2-mile stretch of Ritchie Highway between the Baltimore City line and Earleigh Heights Road, there were 374 vehicle crashes last year, six involving pedestrians. No statistics were available for this year.

In 2009, that same stretch of highway had 363 crashes with four fatalities. Twelve pedestrians were struck on Ritchie Highway that year.

"The overall number of crashes may seem high, but there needs to be some perspective," SHA spokesman Dave Buck said. "This is a congested 10-mile section of road with numerous signals, access points and other high-traffic-generating areas."

The SHA is using countdown pedestrian signals, coordinated signal timing and signal detection systems to enhance pedestrian safety along Ritchie Highway, Buck said.

One intersection being improved is at Ordnance Road in Glen Burnie. The SHA upgraded sidewalks, ramps and crosswalks at the intersection, and plans to add sidewalks between Ordnance and Dover roads.

One goal of the project is to connect bus stops with nearby crosswalks.

Sidewalks and ramps also were installed along portions of East Ordnance Road.

The $300,000 project is almost complete, said SHA engineer Kim Tran, though some striping and sidewalk construction still needs to be finished.

Thirteen other locations along Ritchie Highway between Baltimore and the Annapolis area also are being upgraded to give pedestrians safer highway crossings and access to bus stops.

Four of the 13 locations are in Brooklyn Park at 11th Avenue, 16th Avenue, Church Street and Hammonds Lane / Walton Avenue.

The Brooklyn Park sidewalk improvements are scheduled to begin next spring and conclude next fall. Some of the signal improvements may take a few years, Tran said.

Other intersections under construction or slated for $1.3 million in upgrades include:

Arundel Corporation Road, Glen Burnie.

The Motor Vehicle Administration entrance, Glen Burnie.

Centre at Glen Burnie.

Wellham Avenue, Glen Burnie.

Baltimore Annapolis Boulevard, Glen Burnie.

Aquahart Road, Glen Burnie.

Guildford-Farmington Road, Glen Burnie.

Jumpers Hole Road, Pasadena.

The area around the intersection at Earleigh Heights Road is on the state's list to receive new sidewalks. That project will give pedestrians easier access to bus stops on both sides of the highway.

The SHA is studying the intersection to see if a crosswalk is needed, Tran said.

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They're studying the intersection (at Earliegh Heights) to see if a (marked) crosswalk is needed? Um, let's see... bus stops on both sides, convenience retail on 3 out of 4 corners, ~1000 feet from the B&A trail... Nope, no need to do anything for pedestrians there! Aside from that, despite the disastrous design of the intersection, there already IS a crosswalk according to MD law, where drivers are required to stop for pedestrians: "§ 21-101. Definitions. Crosswalk “means that part of a roadway that is: (1) Within the prolongation or connection of the lateral lines of sidewalks at any place where 2 or more roadways of any type meet or join, measured from the curbs or, in the absence of curbs, from the edges of the roadway; or (2) Distinctly indicated for pedestrian crossing by lines or other markings.”" While Maryland's law should be updated to make clear that pedestrians have priority at intersections whether or not there are sidewalks present, the south side of this intersection has sidewalks on both sides of it, so there is no question that there IS an unmarked crosswalk there. Unfortunately, Maryland does nowhere near enough to educate drivers about their responsibilities toward pedestrians, particularly when it comes to unmarked crosswalks. And, of course, the invisible (and seldom enforced) legal protection of an unmarked crosswalk is not sufficient here.