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Roanoke police gave drivers time to learn the new pattern. Now they're insisting.
JOEL HAWKSLEY | The Roanoke Times
Roanoke police officer R.S. Mason instructs a motorist to pull over at the intersection of Elm Avenue and Fourth Street Southeast in Roanoke on Tuesday. The officers were trying to get drivers to obey the signs and not block intersections.
JOEL HAWKSLEY | The Roanoke Times
Roanoke police officer Daniel Olichwier speaks to a motorist who was pulled over Tuesday near the Elm Avenue bridge. Officials said the crackdown was intended to keep traffic moving.
Wednesday, September 18, 2013
Approaching the bridge over U.S. 220 on Elm Avenue, it is easy to see the bright orange splashes of construction.
In lurching rush hour traffic, it’s easy to see the light turn green and then all too quickly bounce back to yellow and then red. With the clock ticking and tempers rising, the white sign with black lettering that reads “Do not block intersection” often goes unnoticed or unheeded.
Drivers inch forward and obstruct the space between the curbs, leaving cars trying to turn left from the opposite lanes stranded in place, turning a backup on one side of the street into gridlock.
“As cars block the cross street, it’s very difficult for cars coming from the other side to get across,” said Capt. Sam Roman of Roanoke police. “That’s where accidents occur. They try to navigate through the cars in the middle of the intersection.”
After giving drivers months to adjust to the new traffic pattern in the highly trafficked area, Roanoke police and Virginia State Police cracked down on drivers blocking intersections near the Elm Avenue construction project Tuesday morning.
The extra enforcement led to dozens of tickets, mostly for blocking an intersection and failure to obey signs. The violations are punishable by a $30 fine but may also draw court fees of about $65.
During the morning rush, officers staked out positions in the area, most prominently at the corner of Elm and Fourth Street Southeast, and flagged down drivers who came to a halt in no-man’s land.
Without any blue lights, or even vehicles, the officers meandered through standstill traffic on foot and directed violators into a sort of timeout area marked off by cones on the side of Fourth Street, next to Bud’s Suds.
Roman said they wanted to avoid adding the distraction of traditional traffic stops to the already chaotic landscape outside drivers’ windshields.
The goal, according to Roman, was to encourage drivers to be aware of the road in front of them and how they can make things move more smoothly.
“If you can look a little bit ahead and see where traffic is progressing, or not progressing, you can figure out where you need to stop so you’re not in the middle of the intersection,” he said.
The signs also designate where to stop using arrows. Officer Chuck Davis, of the Roanoke police traffic unit, said the traditional definition of an intersection is from curb to curb of the road parallel to the driver’s direction. But despite redrawn road lines in the area designed to give a little bit of leeway, many cars stopped in the path where turning traffic should cross.
Roman said the area has long been prone to congestion, even before construction altered the traffic pattern in the spring.
VDOT spokeswoman Jamie Smith said the number of lanes available during the day has not been reduced during this phase, which is just halfway through its scheduled duration.
Still, the construction puts more people and problems in play, Smith said. She said VDOT workers will be installing crosswalks this week to help pedestrians traverse the area, adding another reason for drivers to stop at the prescribed point.
Drivers will need to learn how to deal with the area, Roman said, because the construction will stretch into the spring of 2015. The $20 million project is going smoothly, Smith said, but will continue to have workers and equipment in the area. Eventually, it will result in a wider Elm Avenue bridge and additional lanes on the ramps from the highway onto the city street, measures aimed at reducing congestion.
Efforts to educate drivers on the laws of the road will continue, Roman said, in hopes of alleviating some frustration around the Elm Avenue interchange. But each driver has to play a role.
“It will make the traffic flow much, much easier,” he said, “if we all do our small part.”
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