Ralph Jaffe first heard about the traffic jams at the entrance to Bais Yaakov School For Girls on Smith Avenue seven years ago from a concerned parent. Twice a day, before school and after school, parents and student drivers would wait for minutes to make a left turn, watching carefully for cars speeding down the hill.
Seven years and a traffic study later, Jaffe is still focused on the subject.
“It’s a bottleneck,” Jaffe, who lives off of Smith Avenue, said.
He, parents and neighbors have been rallying to get a traffic light at the intersection since then, and Jaffe said thousands have voiced their concerns to public officials; earlier this year, Jaffe reported 4,000 phone calls to county officials. The campus houses the school’s high and middle schools, and the Smith Avenue driveway in the only entrance and exit.
“I don’t want to see somebody getting killed before they decide to be smart and put the traffic light up,” he said.
Although some neighbors agree, and at least one school official said, a traffic light would be “nice,” Baltimore County studied the intersection and found that the numbers didn’t stack up.
“This particular intersection has traffic volumes on the side street that are extremely far from meeting standards that would require a traffic signal,” Baltimore County spokeswoman Ellen Kobler wrote in an email. “The reported accident history also shows a much safer-than-normal accident history at the intersection and the surrounding portion of Smith Avenue.”
A speed camera was installed at the intersection to try to calm traffic approximately one year ago, but Jaffe and others still think the intersection needs a light.
Shoshana Guttman, who lived near the intersection from 1997 until 2000, said the situation can be further complicated when there is an event at John Hopkins University’s Center for Talented Youth across the street with no one directing traffic.
“People are under a lot of stress, and they react because they go through this thing on a daily basis two times a day,” Guttman said. “Somebody needs to do something about it.”
According to a letter written by Baltimore County Department of Public Works Director Ed Adams to Jaffe, the county reviewed “traffic-turning movement volumes, delays, backups, measurements of speed data on Smith Avenue and a review of the last several years of reported accident information from the police department.”
“It is very clear from all this information that traffic signalization is not an appropriate treatment for this location,” the letter stated.
It also said that the delays are minor and not unusual for a school and that a review of accident history didn’t show anything unusual in frequency or pattern.
“In comparing this intersection to others throughout the county, we have literally hundreds of them that have higher traffic demands than this intersection,” Kobler said in her email. “The problems observed here are not unlike a large number of other public and private school driveways throughout the county (where there are likewise no traffic signals).”
In similar letters to James Callahan, senior director of Johns Hopkins Real Estate, and Sandy Nissel, chief operating officer at Bais Yaakov, Adams said sight-distance improvements and notifications to drivers have been implemented, and public works will continue to work with police to cut down on dangerous driving.
Nissel said the school prioritizes the safety of its students, parents, faculty and neighbors but respects the county’s decision.
“We give proper level of gratitude and respect to the county for all they’ve done for us, and we understand the county’s position,” he said. “They did a take a step and put in a speed camera, which is a positive step.”
While he said a traffic light would be “nice,” he accepts that the traffic study didn’t call for it.
“We’re concerned about the [community’s] concern, but there’s not much more we can do other than keep an open dialogue with the county,” he said.
Marc Shapiro is a JT staff reporter — firstname.lastname@example.org