Tall trees and Victorian-era homes line the narrow streets of Old Takoma, a neighborhood just north of the District in Takoma Park. The streets have sylvan names: Maple, Cedar, Holly.
In the past few years, attracted by the neighborhood's relatively inexpensive housing and proximity to Metro, many young couples with pets and children have moved into the rambling houses and smaller bungalows.
What many didn't realize during their weekend house-hunting expeditions was that the streets with the lovely names are clogged with traffic tiwce a day.
"The peak hours are rush hours," said Dolores Raff, who lives with her husband and 3-year-old son on Willow Avenue. "Cars come through here to and from work to shave a few minutes off their commuting time. We try to teach our children about the danger, but I live in constant terror that my son will be run down."
The streets are designated "secondary residential" in the city's master plan. According to Montgomery County planners, that means that non-local traffic -- cars from outside the neighborhood -- should not exceed 200 vehicles an hour.
More than twice that number at times ues the streets, according to two studies prepared independently by a group of citizens and by a city-hired consultant. Maple is the busiest of the streets, but bumper-to-bumper traffic or speeding cars, depending on the traffic level, are common sights on Cedar and Willow as well.
The streets, which run south into Eastern Avenue, are used to avoid the heavier traffic and stop lights on Piney Branch Road to the west and Carroll Avenue to the east.
The community, the City Council and residents from other parts of Takoma Park all recognize the congestion. But they differ on what to do to solve the problem.
"It's a different interpretation," said Raff, who was part of a City Council appointed group called the Old Takoma Traffic Committee. "We say the streets are most important to the people who live on them. The City Council says that the streets are most important to the cars that drive through on them."
"The problem has been around a long time," said Alan Marsh, who has lived on Maple Avenue for 15 years. "My son almost lost his leg when he was hit many years ago, and we were accused of being negligent parents. But it's impossible not to have a kid step into the street at some time, no matter how hard you try to control him.
"We became resigned that people were forever going to try out their accelerators on our hill," he added. "There's a '50s mentality about cars in this town that says you shouldn't have to be inconvenienced by a minute by driving over to a state road."
Philadelphia and Carroll avenues and Piney Branch Road, which border the neighborhood, are all state routes. According to planning estimates, they are designed to accommodate more cars than the secondary streets.
In January 1979, the City Council appointed a committee including three Old Takoma citizens and council members Clayton Forshee, Vernon Ricks and Jennifer Saloma to make recommendations. The majority of the committee -- the three citizens and Saloma, who lives on Maple Avenue -- recommended a series of diverters that would create two loops in traffic circulation. Only emergency vehicles would be able to drive the length of the neighborhood.
Before Saloma was elected to the council, she had been active in the effort to stop traffic from passing through Old Takoma.
"Before I was elected, I just thought that the council was very conservative about the automobile," she said. "Now I realize it's more a question of where the traffic would go. But the streets here are classified as quiet streets and we want them to be quiet."
"If these people drive through other neighborhoods, they have to figure that people will drive through theirs," noted Forshee of the Old Takoma residents. "Sure there's a problem, but there is everywhere."
After receiving the committee's report, the city hired traffic engineer Stephen Peterson to study the problem. He presented his findings to the council on Jan. 14.
Peterson recommended shutting off a small portion of Maple Avenue, from the Washington Adventist Hospital to Maplewood Avenue, to discourage some of the traffic from driving the length of the street. This block is about one-half mile north of Old Takoma.
"These people have to accept reality," he said. "Maple Avenue, no matter that it's secondary residential, performs a primary-street function. There are high-rise apartments on Maple north of Philadelphia and these people need to get downtown. If you close off Old Takoma, you'll have cars in other people's front yards."
Peterson claims that his recommendation would strike a balance between the objections of the community and the needs of the commuters.
"Peterson was prevented (by the City Council) from talking to us as part of his contract," said Joe Ossi, a member of the traffic committee who lives with his wife and three children on Maple Avenue. "If he did, he would have known that sometimes it's impossible to carry on a conversation because of the noise of the traffic.We could have told him about the exhaust fumes coming into our homes."
Because Takoma Park is an incorporated city, the City Council -- not the county -- must decide whether to take action in Old Takoma.
The council does not seem to be in any particular hurry to make a decision. "The next step is to schedule a date for a public hearing," noted Mayor John Roth. "Other parts of the city would be affected by what we do in Old Takoma, and we have to make sure that we publicize the hearing in all the areas that would be affected. We also have other things that require a public hearing."
"I think if we were part of Montgomery County and not incorporated, this wouldn't be happening," said Raff. "The county has the guidelines about traffic levels, and I think they'd enforce them. But the City Council wants to maintain the status quo. Nothing is ever clear-cut in Takoma Park."