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City Abandons Idea for Red Light Cameras

“Red light cameras really don’t make sense for Roanoke,” said City Manager Chris Morrill at Tuesday’s city council meeting.

The cameras which are placed at vehicular intersections record drivers who fail to stop for red lights. The driver then receives a traffic ticket through the mail. Study results vary on the relatively expensive cameras. Some say they are prone to error. Drivers call them “revenue generators” for municipalities.

A Federal Highway Administration study concluded that, “even if modest, this economic benefit is important. In many instances today, the RLC systems pay for themselves through red-light-running fines generated.”

The FHWA study on the safety they provide was inconclusive. “Estimates of the safety effect of red-light-running programs vary considerably. The bulk of the results appear to support a conclusion that red light cameras reduce right-angle crashes and could increase rear end crashes; however, most of the studies are tainted by methodological difficulties that would render useless any conclusions from them.”

The rear end crashes are blamed on drivers who slam on brakes when spotting a RLC, resulting results in a rear end collision.

Morrill pointed out that they would make sense at high traffic and accident-prone intersections. Roanoke has none of these scenarios. Not even the Orange Avenue and Williamson Road intersection fits into that category. There have been only six accidents there in 2010. The extensive review included traffic and engineering staff, consultation with other localities and red light vendors.

“If there comes a point where red light cameras would improve safety then we would revisit that,” said Morrill. He concluded that most Roanokers were good drivers.

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Bus to Lynchburg:

The first step to passenger rail for Roanoke is coming into focus. City Manager Chris Morrill met with Valley Metro Tuesday morning. As a result of a state study Valley Metro agreed to provide an express bus from downtown Roanoke to the Amtrak station in Lynchburg. The bus will run seven days a week with Blacksburg service provided Friday through Sunday.

The cost is $324,000 but Morrill hopes to receive a state grant to cover 65 percent of the cost. Morrill is looking to regional partners to share in the city’s cost of $114,000. “It benefits more than the city of Roanoke,” said Morrill. The service is expected to begin in July of this year.

Other Council Notes:

With completion of the Valley View interchange 100 acres of undeveloped land will be open to development. The potential is for $100 million of development and tax base to the city. Mayor Bowers said, “it will be a ramp to nowhere unless we take it somewhere … We’ve got a lot of work to do.” Utilities, roads and greenways need to be planned. A full council work session on the interchange is scheduled for February 7.

In an effort to provide second chances for convicted felons Mayor David Bowers said that, “the city ought to be a model employment agency.” Morrill responded saying, “that having a felony does not necessarily preclude you from city employment.” It depends on whether it was a nonviolent offense. Morrill will report back to city council on the number of felons employed by the city.

Following the closed session regarding safety of facilities ,Mayor Bowers made the following statement. “The Council of the city of Roanoke has instructed the city manager to institute appropriate security measures including the attendance of plain clothes police officers.” This follows Roanoke County who also made the decision to have a police officer at Board of Supervisor meetings.

Council overturned the Architectural Review Board’s denial to issue a certificate of appropriateness to Charles George in Historical Old Southwest for replacement of 33 windows. With Mayor Bowers abstaining, the vote was 3-1. Council member Ray Ferris felt the applicant failed to make their best case to the ARB saving it for city council. Ferris said, “If that should become a pattern you will find this council member voting against overturning the ARB decisions and siding with the ARB.” Ferris still voted to overturn the ARB ruling. Council Member Bill Bestpitch, who lives in Old Southwest, was the sole vote to uphold the ARB’s ruling. Ferris is a trial attorney with Ferris, Eakin and Thomas, P.C. According to his website biography, he “balances aggressive advocacy and common sense tempered by civility.”

by Valerie Garner

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