Vol. 8, No. 6
February 10-16, 2000
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Stopping Traffic:
Can Sherwood’s Death Save a Life?

Were it not for morning traffic, Betty Sherwood would be alive.

It’s heart-wracking to pull from the million-thread pattern of daily life the one thread that made all the difference in the world.

The ifs stack up like a Tower of Babel. If it hadn’t snowed Jan. 24. If the snow hadn’t lingered. If the sun hadn’t shone.

But of one fact, Jack Sherwood is certain. Of all the factors that contributed to his wife’s death during Severna Park’s morning rush hour on Jan. 28, only one can be changed. That’s is the impassability of Benfield Road at Kensington Avenue during morning rush hour.

The main east-west artery of Severna Park, Benfield Road, used to be a two-lane country road. It’s now three lanes — one serves as a passing lane — but morning traffic is still a clog. Between the light at Jumpers Hole Road, a quarter mile to the west, and Kensington Avenue, “dozens and dozens of westerly traveling cars,” Sherwood says, “can be backed up at that time of the morning.”

Rather than be blocked in as Kensington was plowed, Betty left her car in an already plowed lot a short distance from her home. To reach her car that fatal morning, she had to thread her way across Benfield Road.

“It’s a nightmare we’ve been living with for years. We have one exit and entry for a community of hundreds of homes,” said Sherwood.

Retracing his wife’s last steps the day after her death, Sherwood imagined her negotiating that traffic, blinded by the morning sun, intensified into brilliance by windshields and snow. (The driver of the van that struck Betty Sherwood also claimed sun-blindness.)

To improve that intersection, Sherwood resolved to campaign for a blinking light and crosswalk. He began his campaign hours after Betty’s death with a weekend call to County Executive Janet Owens.

The next week, Owens met with the county’s director of public works, John Brusnighan. Both have committed to a traffic engineering study of the Benfield Road-Kensington Avenue intersection.

The study is waiting for the snow to melt and police investigation to be complete. When it happens, it will follow nationally accepted traffic control standards, including volume and conditions.

“The typical process is a weighing of safety factors, access factors and efficiency,” explained James Schroll, the county’s chief traffic engineer.

Whatever happens won’t be a perfect solution. Engineers know, for example, that a red-green-orange signal would likely increase rear-end accidents at the same time it decreased right-angle accidents of the sort that took Betty Sherwood’s life. Flashing lights, they say, don’t seem to slow drivers down. But, Schroll says, “we continue to try and try to make [measures] more effective.”

We wish that Betty’s death would bring not only Benfield Road but all Chesapeake Country better traffic markers and manners. We know engineering won’t bring her back or solve all of our region’s traffic problems. But like Jack Sherwood and Schroll, we believe it can make a difference. We’ll be following the study’s progress.

Meanwhile, at a personal level, we’re driving and walking with renewed caution — and we want you to do the same.

Copyright 2000
Bay Weekly