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A County Council work session on the proposed fiscal year 2012 capital budget Thursday included a passionate plea for more efforts by the county to control speeding vehicles.

Ellicott City Democrat Courtney Watson interrupted a discussion on road improvement projects to discuss speeding, one of several transportation-related issues the county has not had the funding to address in recent years.

Watson said speeding in residential neighborhoods is the problem most often raised by her constituents.

“It’s the No. 1 complaint,” she said. “They are concerned about pedestrians being hit, kids being hurt, just safety, pulling out of their driveways.”

County Executive Kenneth Ulman and the police department are hoping legislation they have asked the council to pass, which would implement speed cameras in school zones, will help solve some of the county’s speeding problems.

But Watson, who has said she supports speed cameras as a way to slow speeding in residential communities in school zones, wanted to know what the county plans to do to control speeding elsewhere in the county.

That’s a policy issue the county is still debating, Department of Public Works Director James Irvin said.

“The decision was not to do anything until the speed camera program was decided upon,” he said.

Before the economic recession created budgeting challenges for Howard and most other jurisdictions, the county used speed humps to slow speeding vehicles in residential communities. But in the past four years, the county has not had the money for speed humps, Irvin said.

The one exception is a $30,000 project to put speed humps on Hunt Club Road in Elkridge. “There was a commitment to honor their (the community’s) request as the last one through the system,” Irvin said.

The humps, which are about 15 feet wide, are different than speed bumps, which are only a few feet wide and can cause damage to cars, Irvin explained.

Still, humps have faced some opposition from communities in the past.

“Some people love them and some people hate them because they think they’re an annoyance to their driving,” Irvin said. “The policy question is (whether) to resume the program or not.”

Watson said she didn’t think the speed hump program “was all that bad. They solved a lot of problems.”

But after the meeting, she added: “Speed humps are not the answer in every neighborhood, in every situation.”

When the speed hump program was in place, Watson said a part of the process included having neighbors vote on whether or not they wanted them in their community.

When Irvin called the speed humps controversial, council Chairman Calvin Ball, a Columbia Democrat, responded: “Some might say the speed camera issue is a little controversial.”

Regardless of what happens with the speed camera legislation, Watson believes the county needs to look for other solutions to speeding.

“We have so many complaints sometimes that you cannot get to them all in a reasonable time (frame),” she said. “There’s got to be something we can do.”

After the meeting, she added: “We need as many tools as we can to fight the problem of speeding.”

If the program is not resumed, the county’s only options are education and enforcement, Irvin said.

State law only allows speed cameras in school zones and construction zones. Ulman is currently only pursuing speed cameras in school zones.

Hoping the speed camera legislation will pass, Ulman allocated $150,000 — expected to come from speed camera fines — for traffic projects in the capital budget.

“If the council doesn’t approve speed cameras, then we don’t have that money, and we won’t spend it,” county budget Director Raymond Wacks said.

Other issues

The discussion on how to control speeding was a small part of the four-hour work session, during which the council made no decisions but reviewed every project in the capital budget (excluding education projects) to see if members had comments or concerns.

Among the highlights of the work session:

• Irvin announced that the county bought the Ascend One building in Columbia Wednesday for $26 million, a purchase the council approved earlier this year to help with the county’s plan to consolidate office space. The capital budget includes funding for renovations to various government buildings, which now is likely to include Ascend.

• Fire department officials said they have been meeting with the Elkridge community to discuss plans for a new, larger fire station and have received “very positive feedback.” The budget allocates $1.2 million to acquire land for the Elkridge station.

• Department of Recreation and Parks Director John Byrd reported that without any state bond money approved for Blandair and Troy Hill regional parks, in Columbia and Elkridge respectively, the county may have to scale back phases of the projects planned for the upcoming year. The proposed budget allocates $2.6 million for Blandair and $800,000 for Troy Hill, which included the requested bond funding from the state, in fiscal year 2012.

• In discussing projects involving county buildings and infrastructure, a few council members had complaints. Fulton Republican Gregory Fox said the network speed at the George Howard building has not improved, despite millions spent on upgrades. Council member Mary Kay Sigaty, a Columbia Democrat, agreed, and also said she and other county employees are frustrated by the parking spaces designated for hybrid vehicles that are often empty.
Irvin said the spaces are there to ensure the building gets its LEED certification, which has not yet been approved. “Once that’s done, I think we’re going to do a re-evaluation of the spaces to see what’s needed,” he said.

• Council members discussed two road projects near sites that are on a short list of possible locations for a CSX facility where large containers will be transferred from trucks to trains. One is a project to improve the intersection of Hanover and High Tech roads. The other is a project to realign Montevideo Road to prepare for increasing traffic. Officials said they have been in contact with state officials to stay abreast of how the projects might affect one another.

• Regarding renovations to Guilford Road, which a Jessup resident said were long overdue at a public hearing earlier this week, county officials said they plan to install a traffic signal at the intersection of Mary Lane and Guilford Road, but that requires some land acquisition and will take about a year.

The council, which is only authorized to cut the budget, not add money or reallocate funds, is scheduled to vote on the capital budget in late May.

Ulman’s proposed county operating budget is expected to be released next week.

This report has been updated.

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user comments (14)

user patdornan says...

So what is the greater "problem" - speeding or rain water? What is more important to Ken Ulman - his chances of being elected governor (which requires catering to environmental special interests who are going to vote for him anyway) OR spending a small amount of the $15 million dollars (the paltry $5M for road projects + the $10M for environmental "initiatives") on speed humps? Yes, it is all about revenue. Speed humps don't bring in money. Environmental "initiatives" bring Ulman campaign cash. Always, always follow the money.

user longreachdavid says...

He doesn't want speed bumps, he wants speed camera. They bring in money, BUT they DON'T even cut down real speeding as much as speed bumps do!

user sylviestress says...

This is a dog and pony show. They discussed this beforehand, decided to "frame" it as a speeding "problem" but it's really a way to raise revenue. They should try cutting some of their bloated staff.

user thefarside says...

Strategically placed speed humps are way more effective than speed cameras in a residential community. Once you clear the one stationary speed camera and its pads, one can resume his/her speeding. Also, people get used to the fixed position and it is no longer effective. Here's a crazy thought: how about having the HCPD do residential enforcement once in a while on a rotating basis? Whatever the county does, it should not include those ridiculous traffic circles with the often-ignored yield signs! I see more near-misses in those circles than I care to witness.

user asdfgh says...

farside, the same can be said for speed humps. Once you clear the stationary speed hump, one can resume his/her speeding until the next one. Also, the current camera proposal does not call for fixed pole-mounted cameras, so there will be no permanent camera locations for people to get used to. Which doesn't even make sense, because if people know the camera is there, it would be arguably MORE effective since peope won't speed unless they want a fine. I think traffic circles are great, they have been proven to reduce collisions at intersections significantly.

user longreachdavid says...

asdfgh. Speed bumps/humps are usually placed fairly reasonably close to each other so that it is more difficult, but not impossible, to reach HIGH speeds before arriving at the next one. Additionally there are miniature semi-traffic circles on some streets, usually in parts of Columbia, that force people to slow down, but these are only at intersections without stop signs. I do agree with you concerning major traffic circles. They can be confusing at times, but they have been proven all over the world to be safer than triffic-signaled intersections, depending on where they are placed.

user patdornan says...

Ulman had $750,000 for speed cameras in the budget a couple of years ago. Sensing this was politically risky, he has since backed off and decided to pursue the mobile version. Rest assured, this is planned incrementalism, a tactic of liberal government for decades. The first two will be called a roaring success, and then he will demand more units. ANY traffic control device will be useful for a short period, then the driver will resume his/her speed, which is normally what the flow of traffic allows - we are not all scofflaws ignoring the speed limit on a continuous basis. EVERYONE exceeds the limit at some time. EVERYONE. Cops are the only individuals who think the speed limit does not apply to them - have you ever seen a cop who does not tailgate until a driver moves over (after that driver slows down to keep from getting a ticket)? How many times does a cop roar by without his lights/siren on? Finally, traffic circles can be as dangerous as speeding - NJ even eliminated a large number because of this, just as HoCo was going nuts with installing them.

user photoradarscam says...

Speeding is evidently only 'perceived' as a problem. Are there a lot of crashes? Where is the data? Let's not find solutions for problems that don't exist. And there are other solutions like speed feedback signs. Has anyone evaluated any other alternatives or just the money-making ones?

user longreachdavid says...

There is a speed feedback sign on Gray Rock Dr. where there are no schools. I always check my speedometer against the sign whenever I drive by itand slow down if I need to. I'll bet, but I'm not positive, that most drivers do the same. It is a very visual reminder and much more effective than just the flashing sign at schools at startup and ending of the school day.

user columbia20something says...

Along with traffic circles, narrowing roads has also been shown to decrease speeds. If the roads were narrowed to allow for protected bike lanes, there would be slower traffic and safe spaces for cyclists. For example: traffic lane, then on-street parking next to it, then a bike lane on the other side of the cars (preferably out of the "door zone"). It would be a win-win, and all it would cost is some paint.

user longreachdavid says...

It would also cause the widening of some roads because some roads are so narrow that that can't accommodate all that you say you want accommodated. Just the door zone on the curbside before the bicycle lane would take up three to four feet, depending on the car. Its far from just the cost of the paint.

user columbia20something says...

Yes, I didn't mean to imply that this particular solution would work for absolutely all streets in HoCo. Different solutions would apply to different streets.

user longreachdavid says...


user seancolin says...

Please explain to me how two cameras, that are rarely in the same location day to day, snapping a picture of a vehicle going at least 12mph over the posted limit, with the owner (maybe not the driver) of the vehicle being sent a bill for $40 two weeks later will make school zones safer? I do not for the life of me understand why speed bumps and/or rumble strips have not been installed way before the ability to use speed cameras was an option, since speeding must have been the number one complaint for quite some time now. Speed calming devices work 24/7, do not require 1.23 million to install and surely don't have people questioning your motivation for putting them in place. I do not understand how you can take that amount of tax payer money and not put it towards real ticket writing officers who actually stop someone from speeding and provide a visual deterrent to others driving by to slow down as well as speed control devices like speed bumps do. I am not one of those Orwellian types who despises cameras for paranoid reasons, I am a 43 year old father of three who does care about slowing vehicles down. I am sure that you have heard it all from every angle, but this is a plea to all of you to think rationally-not emotionally- about speed control, to make a decision that actually slows cars down, not to implement one which is essentially a sin tax that lets you continue to speed as long as you can afford it and to make the children safe instead generating fines that have the appearance of doing so-thank you.

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