The accidents occur with dreadful regularity on Forest Drive in Annapolis.

A longtime Naval Academy employee died in January while crossing an intersection near her home. Weeks later, a bicyclist was killed just after turning at a busy intersection. This month, a kid running across to the McDonald’s was hit by a car and critically injured.

Between each death or serious injury, rear-end collisions, fender-benders and crashes involving motorists who get smacked while turning in front of oncoming traffic continue. They happen at rates much higher than the statewide average. There was another one Monday.

Now, Anne Arundel County is about to release findings from its first major safety study in decades of Forest Drive, the most dangerous roadway in Maryland’s small-town state capital. After six months of research and community meetings, the authors say several steps should make it safer.

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A draft of the study recommends lowering the speed limit from the current 40 mph. Suggestions include better traffic signals and road markings, more pedestrian crossings and improvement of those that exist. The final draft is also likely to include recommendations to extend combined sidewalks/bike paths, divide opposing lanes of traffic and reconfigure the most accident-prone intersections.

All of these ideas, if adopted, will compete for money with other county road projects. A state project focused on improving where Aris T. Allen Boulevard meets Forest Drive is in the planning stages. Even if construction begins on the easiest fixes soon, it will only represent the start of decades of work to make Forest Drive safer.

“Even if we can do little things now, there’s going to be a bigger picture and a need to do more,” said Adam Greenstein, the project manager at the Department of Public Works leading the study.

That’s because Forest Drive is more than just a road, it is the edge of Annapolis — a place outside of the Instagrammable areas where you’re more likely to find poverty, affordable housing and congestion.

It is a place of great peril, but also of promise.

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“If I had like a magic wand, ideally … I’d try to put in little traffic circles instead of stoplights, slow the cars down,” Alderman Brooks Schandelmeier shouted over the thunderous roar of traffic during a recent walk. “I would widen the sidewalk and make these outer lanes for biking or transit with a cute little trolley bus like in downtown Annapolis.”

“I would make a place to linger.”

When people think of Annapolis, Forest Drive is not what comes to mind. It isn’t filled with historic homes and offers no views of sailboats on the water. But for many of the 60,000 or so people who live within the city limits or just outside of them on the Annapolis Neck, the county road that courses through the city south of downtown is part of daily life.

Forest Drive is a “stroad,” in urban planning parlance, a cross between a street where people live and a road where they get from point A to B as efficiently as possible. The hybrid does neither job well.

For those who drive it daily, the dream is to hit as few red lights as possible. For people who walk to school or a bus stop, it can be a nightmare.

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“You have the cars going incredibly fast on it. There’s not much of a barrier on the sidewalk protecting people,” Schandelmeier shouted, saying the noise was painful. “So it just kind of feels a little nerve-racking and unsafe.”

Forest Drive is not particularly long, as major traffic arteries go.

It stretches 2.8 miles from Bywater and Chinquapin Round roads in the west to Arundel on the Bay Road in the east, where it becomes Bay Ridge Road for the last few blocks An old section of Forest Drive veers off at the start, heading into the historic Black neighborhood of Parole.

There are 19 intersections down the peninsula, controlled by 11 traffic signals. An estimated 58,000 vehicles pass through the first intersection every day, dropping to 30,000 at the last one.

County Councilwoman Lisa Rodvien, who represents the Annapolis area, is an advocate for affordable housing. She sees the corridor as a corridor that could be a better place to live.

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But when she hears from constituents about Forest Drive, she mostly hears concerns about traffic and the additional congestion that additional development would bring. When there is an accident, particularly one involving a pedestrian, there’s a fair amount of victim-blaming.

“That’s irksome to me,” Rodvien said.

A fair amount of development is already proposed along the corridor. Providence Point, an assisted-living center in the works for more than a decade, faces a court challenge but is making progress. The Willows, a workforce housing complex, is in limbo along with other major projects amid a fight over the adequate public facilities law.

Today, Forest Drive is dotted with older, small shopping and office centers, gas stations and comparably affordable single-family homes. There’s a stand that sells green mangos in front of a tienda and laundry, with signs advertising overseas cash transfers in Spanish.

Mateus cuts up green mangos for sale outside a small tienda and laundry on Forest Drive, where some neighborhoods are home to the city's Hispanic population.
Mateus cuts up green mangos for sale outside a small tienda and laundry on Forest Drive, where some neighborhoods are home to the city's Hispanic population. (Rick Hutzell)

The most dangerous intersections serve public housing and townhouse communities, where families living below the poverty line are the ones most likely to use the sidewalks or bus stops. Many of those sidewalks are, simply put, bad. Narrow in some places, clogged with piles of fallen leaves, sweet-gum balls and broken branches in others, it is not a great place to walk.

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Stopping at Tyler Avenue, Schandlemeier said he could see the intersection — occupied now by an old seafood market, an auto shop, a liquor store and a gas station — someday reborn as a mix of shops, offices and homes.

“It can bring buildings closer up to the street, which helps make walkability a little more favorable because you don’t have to walk across an asphalt strip where cars are zipping in and out,” he said. “If you kind of do away with things designed around the car, it helps cut down on some of those potential pedestrian points of conflict.”

Mixed-use development would provide space for denser, less expensive housing than the single-family houses filling city neighborhoods today. Schandelmeier said the idea is being considered during the comprehensive plan update, a once-a-decade refresh of the map for growth underway now.

The concept has been defeated in the past. Six years ago, the city came up with a plan to reimagine Forest Drive as more of a boulevard, with businesses and medium-density housing encouraging people to walk, bike and spend time outside. It would have spread the character that makes Annapolis so desirable to the city’s edge. Some area residents, worried about more traffic, convinced the City Council to send the plan back for further study.

Schandelmeier just lost another attempt. His plan to encourage “missing middle” housing that young people can afford died in a lopsided council vote.

“Do I keep wasting my time?” he said. “Do I sacrifice my early 30s with a bunch of people who don’t seem to prioritize issues that young families or working-class families?”

Some of these same ideas emerged from community meetings during the county traffic safety study, with participants saying they want Forest Drive to be more friendly for walking and biking, with mass transit that serves people who live there now.

Greenstein, the project manager, said the city and county have a good partnership right now, but there has to be consensus and commitment to that kind of future that goes beyond his study. It would take decades to accomplish.

“That takes bigger thinking, and tens to hundreds of millions of dollars to make it more like a street than a road,” he said.

“This is just one piece of the puzzle, and what the community needs in the future is more than that.”

Alderman Brooks Schandelmeier watches a lull in traffic on Forest Drive from a sidewalk obstructed by a fallen branch.
Alderman Brooks Schandelmeier watches a lull in traffic on Forest Drive from a sidewalk obstructed by a fallen branch. (Rick Hutzell)

rick.hutzell@thebaltimorebanner.com