Drive to Survive

Automobile traffic in Southern Maryland is dangerous. Recent fatalities include a man burned to death after being rear-ended at a traffic light in Charlotte Hall; another died after leaving the roadway on Route 5 in Hughesville; a lady was killed in a head-on on Route 488; a Hughesville fellow was hit and driven into the path of oncoming traffic while stopped to make a left turn; an apparently inexperienced and overconfident teenager was killed on St. Peter's Church Road; a collision on Dr. Samuel Mudd Road sent seven children and two adults to the hospital, killing the father of four; and another teenager has died in Brandywine.

On rural roads, you can anticipate being passed on a double yellow line or tailgated--even when you're exceeding the speed limit. A month or so ago, while I was sitting at a red light on Route 301, a car skidded past me on the right shoulder and rolled down an embankment. The driver had a mile of dry, unobstructed roadway approaching the intersection. I believe this person's driving privileges should be revoked or relinquished. But because there were no fatalities and the driver is probably remorseful, it's almost certain they'll get back behind the wheel.

Work animals, following the path of least resistance, originally laid out the rural roads we're driving on. When a horse pulling a wagon came to a steep hill or other obstacle, the farmer would simply lead him around it. This accounts for a lot of blind, sharp curves and poor grading. Quite often, the beer cans supplied by our more thoughtful citizens are all that marks the parameters of these roads. By contrast, the more modern highways are designed for flat-out speed. Limited only by an occasional traffic patrol, gasoline prices and our own nerve, we can go for a pizza or a haircut at speeds of 80 mph or more. Dual lanes allow us to weave through slower, less adventuresome drivers and arrive at our TV sets earlier than ever. Hey, they're building a Hughesville bypass, promising us another five to eight minutes of well-deserved leisure time.

How about the cars we're driving? For only $20,000 or $30,000 we can drive a climate-controlled, impact-absorbing vehicle so well insulated that, with our eyes closed, we might think we're home in the Lazy Boy. State-of-the-art sound systems, contoured seating, anti-lock brakes, anti-roll suspension, tinted windows and (God help us all) telephones and televisions to help us ignore the annoying world around us. In colors, shapes and sizes to suit even the most peculiar personalities, these fantasy machines are specifically designed to keep us as far from reality as possible (maybe the monthly payments account for this). Except for an unobtrusive speedometer, we're barely aware that we're traveling at high speed in a metal box and connected to Earth by four little rubber pads (about 8-by-10 inches each when all the wheels are on the ground). Isn't modern technology and marketing marvelous?

My long-term life goals include eventually becoming a very old person after attending a minimum number of funerals. If you have any similar plans or interests, I hope you'll consider the following suggestions:

Select a few roads that you travel often and look for potential accident sites. Hidden entrances, trees too close to the shoulder, sandy pavement, blind curves and roadside memorials are good indicators.

Never enter an intersection unless you can see all oncoming traffic! Forget the color of the light, which cars have the right of way or the fact you're late. This can very easily become a life or death decision.

The laws of physics grant 18-wheelers, trains, dump trucks and bank robbers the right of way over your Geo Metro. The best you can hope for is an epitaph that reads "Died With the Right of Way."

When waiting to make a left turn, keep your front wheels straight. If you're hit from the rear you'll be driven forward rather than into oncoming traffic. It's amusement park bumper cars with none of the fun.

Sit so you have the best view of traffic. If your backbone hasn't developed or you're so cool you just can't sit straight, use the seat belt to strap yourself up. We're going to need you later to help rule the world.

Give the animals a break. Dogs, cats, squirrels, deer, rabbits, etc., are called "dumb animals" for good reason. We, on the other hand, must qualify for the title. Animals are often where they shouldn't be.

For one week, drive at the posted speed limits. It will seem strange at first, but you'll get the hang of it. Ignore the stares and unpleasant gestures from fellow drivers. They'll think you're having car trouble.

When waiting for a light at a busy intersection, count the number of reckless mistakes other drivers make. Be careful. If the guy behind you doesn't have a horn, you could get so busy you miss the next cycle.

Occasionally, drive with your windows down and the AC and radio off. Listen to the noises and get a feel for what's happening. It's like having a flat on the Beltway and wondering if your car will be blown over.

Remember we're all just trying to get from here to there. Make excuses for the other guys' mistakes. Maybe his dog just puked in his lap; he's having Richard Petty fantasies; he's suffering from the burritos and beer or hallucinating from those little green pine tree fumes, etc. Be creative.

Someone will always figure out how an accident could have been avoided. But it's after the fact and of little consolation to the dead, the injured or their families. Until the government can fulfill its promise of a perfect world for us to speed around in, we need to be a lot more courteous and observant when we're out there.



Correcting the Record

I'd like to respond to the letter to the editor with the headline "Landowners Have Been Hit Hard" [Extra, Oct. 3], which questioned my support to reduce the remaining residential buildout in Calvert County by 50 percent.

It's difficult to determine the exact financial impact that our residential buildout reduction program will have on Calvert County landowners. But one thing is certain, some of the information contained in that letter was not accurate and I'd like the opportunity to report the correct information. For instance, the letter says: "Mr. Parran led the charge and made the motion to cut the number of development rights on rural property in half, thus cutting the net worth of many farmers and landowners in half."

But in fact, we haven't reduced the land values in half, nor have we reduced the number of development rights that agricultural preservation landowners have for land entered into the preservation program in Calvert County. In fact, this Board raised the price of the Transfer Development Rights (TDRs) so owners of the rights would get more for them when they're sold. Our growth management program will require the developer to purchase more Transfer Development Rights to achieve the same residential density that they would have had before we signed the growth management resolution. This will create more demand for TDRs to be bought from the farmers who are participating in the agricultural preservation program. As demand for TDRs increases, especially with the county government also buying TDRs to retire them, landowners with TDRs should receive more money. The program should also encourage other landowners to join the land preservation program in the future.

This reduces the buildout and also directs the residential growth to more desirable locations while preserving farm land throughout the county. A great benefit from our growth management program will be the county government's purchase and retiring of TDRs. The majority of the members of the Board of Commissioners are committed to increased funding for the Purchase and Retire (PAR) Fund. The PAR Fund buys TDRs from landowners and then retires the rights so that no development can come from them. This is where we get most of the reduced residential buildout. It's not cheap, but in the long run we will not have to build as many new schools, hire as many new teachers, police officers and county workers. Traffic congestion and traffic accidents will be reduced, and there will be less crime and we will retain much of the quality of life that so many of us want.

But residential building will continue. "Grandfathered" lots, and the incorporated municipalities of Chesapeake Beach and North Beach do not fall under our authority with the growth management program. But with our plan in place, overall county residential buildout will be reduced.

History shows that land values remain relatively stable, and usually continue to rise, after a zoning change that reduces density. Anyone who is interested in getting more information on this subject can contact the Calvert County Planning and Zoning Department.

If we can preserve the quality of life we have in Calvert County, then we will help preserve land values. Higher taxes caused by excessive growth, overcrowded roads and schools, more crime, and the loss of the rural character would hurt land values faster than anything. The growth management resolution that I signed into law earlier this year, along with two other county commissioners who supported it, will help maintain property values and help preserve what's left of rural Calvert County. That's what the overwhelming majority of citizens want, that that's why they elected me, and that's why I'm doing what I was elected to do.


Calvert County commissioner

Prince Frederick

Consider Growth Changes

I have read the study done by the Federation of Southern Calvert Communities about the growth in Calvert County.

I agree with the findings and recommendations. I urge the Board of County Commissioners to discuss these matters with the Federation and to find ways to help our communities. Too often I see efforts like this met with all the reasons why the proposals cannot be done, rather than finding ways to help accomplish something to help the thousands of citizens in these communities.

It appears to me that most of the recommendations do not require large sums of county funds. Some novel legislative actions by the state and changes to the county ordinances can bring about substantial improvements in the lives of our residents. Those recommendations that can cost tax dollars to correct years of neglect can be spread out over several years.

[County commissioners should] give the citizens of the 1st District an opportunity to discuss these recommendations and find a will so that there is a way to help us.



Help Clean Nicolet Park

On Saturday, Oct. 23, beginning at 12:30 p.m., the Interfaith Environmental Group of St. Mary's County is sponsoring a cleanup of one of St. Mary's County's most beautiful parks, Nicolet Park. All the citizens of St. Mary's County are invited to join the IEG in walking the 20 acres of deep woods to pick up many years' accumulation of trash.

Participants will meet in the parking lot next to the Lexington Park Post Office and form teams to work in the woods. After the pickup, there will be food for participants. Those who come are asked to bring sturdy shoes, work gloves, water and a covered dish for the dinner which follows. Here's an opportunity to become familiar with the trails through the park in the company of a group of friendly people.

Every one of every faith is welcome to join the activity, so y'all come!



A Bypass by Any Name

I must agree with Joan Dunn ("Growing Pains"--Letters to the Editor, Sept. 26), but it needs to be stressed that such a roadway [as the Route 301 bypass] would have to be built with no exits to truly make it a bypass (entrances may be allowed, but probably should be limited). I would also like to counter the arguments I have heard against an elevated roadway through Waldorf.

Here are the arguments I have heard, with my counter-arguments:

Such a roadway would make Waldorf ugly. On the contrary, I think it would make Waldorf look unique, and people may even come just to see it.

The county has already bought much of the land for the western bypass. This land could be sold to developers, although some of it should be kept for new schools.

It will cost too much to keep it maintained. The sale of the land, and the new taxes from the people who will move into the new houses should help--and consider . . . what may happen, like it did in Orlando, if we build a bypass around Waldorf.


Bel Alton

A Handle on Growth

I read the Oct. 3 Southern Maryland Extra article entitled "Committee Focuses on Vision for Waldorf's Rapid Growth." As a former Waldorf resident for 15 years, I have watched Charles County and Waldorf grow and grow. [They have grown] as far as homes and infrastructure are concerned, but I am not sure that Charles County is growing in the right direction, like all our tri-county area.

I live in St. Mary's County where we still do not have a Comprehensive Plan. This is a sad shame. The planning commissions have worked hard in Charles County and St. Mary's County trying to adopt plans that work for controlled growth. I would very much like to be a part of the committee that focuses on a vision for Charles County.

St. Mary's County can benefit from Charles County's mistakes, as well as Calvert County. When I speak of mistakes, I am talking about controlling rapid growth at a controlled level. I also believe Waldorf should be incorporated in the plan; [it] has no formal boundaries because it is not incorporated as a town or city. . . .

I will be at the Nov. 6 meeting with the Waldorf committee. I feel as a former resident we need to control growth now--before the growth controls the area's residents.