After Fatal Crash, Charlottesville Residents Want Fifth Street Changes | local government

After several fatal car crashes on Fifth Street leading to Charlottesville, community members are pushing the city to do more to keep it safe.

Seven people have been killed in road accidents over the past six years. More recently, a woman from Richmond, whose name has not yet been released, was killed in a traffic accident on New Years Day.

Four people were killed in 2020 in crashes on Fifth Street. Rahmean Rose, 23, was killed in a motorcycle collision and Dustin Parr, 30, was killed in a reckless driving accident. Devin Stinnie, 28, and Rashod Walton, 23, were killed in a car crash later that year.

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Eric Betthauser, 43, a music teacher at Western Albemarle High and Henley Middle schools, was killed by a drunk driver in 2016. Quintus Brooks, 20, was killed in an accident in 2018.

“Fifth Street is a dangerous road, and it has been for decades and decades. And we want it to be safe. People have been asking for this road to be made safer for many, many years,” Matthew said. Gillikin of Livable Cville, a community organization that advocates for affordable housing, public transportation, and cycling/walking infrastructure in Charlottesville.

The group recently held a rally to demand safety improvements, including slower speed limits after the fatal New Year’s Day crash. He continues to pressure the city council and staff to make changes.

Gillikin said the rally was well attended by people living near the streets and supported by family members of people killed in street crashes.

“The changes we’re asking for are modest,” Gillikin said. “Will the city set aside money to actually slow down, make structural changes to traffic? I hate that this hasn’t been addressed for so long. But that’s what’s going to have to happen with the city.

Liveable Cville is asking the city to make three changes to Fifth Street: reduce the speed limit from 45 to 40 mph, install advanced intersection warning signs, and make signal improvements. These are all based on recommendations offered to City Council by City Traffic Engineer Brennen Duncan in November 2020.

Duncan said his recommendation to reduce the speed limit by five miles per hour was determined by reviewing speed and crash data for the corridor.

“The majority of drivers obey the speed limit, but there are a significant number of bumper and bumper type things and reducing the speed limit by five miles an hour can help [fix] that,” Duncan said. “Before this most recent death, everyone else who really had nothing to do with the posted speed limit or anything like that, they were all reckless drivers or under the influence. There is not much we can do as traffic engineers to completely eliminate this. »

This is where bigger changes need to come in, Duncan said, including the ability to create roundabouts at some intersections.

“You can drive recklessly on any street, but there are very few streets in the city that are as wide and straight and long as Fifth Street, and so it lends itself to if someone wants to drive recklessly, he can take it up to some pretty crazy reckless speeds,” Duncan said.

“On a normal city street, with parking on both sides, reckless driving can lead to 50 miles per hour. On Fifth Street, reckless driving occurs at the 90 to 100 mph threshold,” a he said. “That’s where this roundabout idea would come in and try to put something in the middle of that hallway to cut it off, so it’s not a mile long right away. “

According to Deputy City Manager Sam Sanders, the city is actively working to improve road safety.

At a recent city council meeting, Sanders said city staff were pursuing a reduction in the speed limit and planned to bring the issue to council at an upcoming meeting.

Sanders said the city also ordered flashing signs warning of upcoming traffic lights, but said supply chain issues delayed their arrival. He said the city is considering making additional improvements to the traffic light at the intersection of Cherry Avenue and Elliott Avenue.

“We recognize that these are small, really temporary fixes. They’re not necessarily big enough to prevent the various tragedies that have happened,” Sanders said. “But we know we know at this point that breaking the street is the most effective and expensive improvement, of course.”

Councilor Michael Payne said in an email to the Daily Progress that he supported adding roundabouts.

“Our biggest opportunity to do this is probably through VDOT’s Smart Scale process, which could provide us with significant public funds to make safety improvements,” Payne said. “I plan to ensure that Fifth Street is discussed as a priority during this process and encourage anyone in the community interested in this issue to get involved.”

Payne said the city has received more than $14 million from Smart Scale for safety and pedestrian improvements over the past few years in nearby corridors. He said there “could be a real opportunity to achieve our goals through this process.”

Councilor Juandiego Wade said he supports continued funding for these improvements.

“Some of them [changes] may have to allocate money for these improvements. I was a transport planner for many years for [Albemarle County] so I know there may be opportunities for some security funds. We need to look at all possible options to deal with it,” Wade said.

A major route change will take both money and time, as well as council support.

“[Safety on Fifth Street] has been an issue that Sanders has taken very seriously since his early days in the city,” Councilman Sena Magill said in an email. “The loss of life that has been suffered is tragic and the city does not turn a blind eye. However, the government, in general, does not act quickly.

Duncan said while some of the short-term projects like traffic signs are underway, some of the larger projects will need the city council’s blessing.

“These are in the council court, if they want to go ahead with this. We kind of need direction and funding,” Duncan said.

Duncan said he met Sanders following the latest crash. He said they plan to conduct further study over the next six months and gather public feedback as well.

“With any of the options that we want to do, there are going to be pretty significant pros and cons. And so, as a community, we have to figure out what level of traffic we might be willing to deal with,” said said Duncan.

Gillikin pointed out that several of those killed in crashes along Fifth Street were people of color.

“Traffic, cycling and pedestrian safety issues are a matter of fairness. They have a disproportionate impact on black and brown people. And I think we’ve seen both who were victims of the crashes that happened there, but also who lives next to the road,” Gillikin said, noting that a large subsidized apartment complex , Greenstone at 5th, is adjacent to the road.

“They are mostly African American, Hispanic and refugee families, and they are impacted by noise pollution, air pollution,” he said. “It’s a matter of fairness to make this road safer, not only for the people who drive it, but also for the people who live on it.”

The city recently launched a new application process for roadside memorials, sparked by the Brooks family’s request to place a “Drive Safely” memorial sign on Fifth Street. Sanders mentioned it during the city council meeting as motivation to solve the problem.

“I visited two other families who have lost loved ones over the years. And I heard their requests to intervene and I’ve been working on it since I’ve been here. These meetings were meant to commemorate their loved ones with markers. And that, to me, is the motivation that we need to continue to focus on getting the kinds of improvements along that corridor as soon as possible,” Sanders said.

“Fifth Street is a dangerous road, and it has been for decades and decades. And we want it to be safe. People have been asking for this road to be made safer for many, many years,” Matthew said. Gillikin of Liveable Cville.

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