NEWS- Flash in the pan: Red lights now permanent
And on the seventh day, the city said, "Let there be lights." Traffic lights, that is, and last Sunday, October 15, that decree was enacted as downtown signals on Market and Water streets became fully operational for the first time in two decades.
"It's a no-brainer," says pedestrian activist Kevin Cox, who cites an increase in downtown traffic over the past several years that makes the flashing signals impractical and even dangerous.
Cox wrote a letter to the city's new traffic engineer, Jeanie Alexander, in early October, requesting the change in signals, but he says he didn't expect to see quick action.
"Even when it's really obvious there needs to be a change, they're resistant," says Cox of the city.
He underestimated the response.
Alexander, who started working for the city three weeks ago, says she and Lonnie Randall in the traffic department observed traffic patterns on Sunday October 8, and determined Cox had a point. "I think he's correct that things have changed, and it's time to reexamine," she says.
But not everyone agrees.
"That's bad news," says longtime Park Street resident Bill Walton, who thinks the lights that used to flash from 10pm Saturday until 6am Monday were appropriate. He wonders what prompted the change.
"Probably one person complained," he says. "It's typical of Charlottesville.
"Look what they've done to Park Street with the traffic calming," he says, referring to the "bump-outs" the city installed in 2001. "That hasn't changed a thing," he says.
Alexander says she observed the operating signals on Market Street at Second Street NW, Fourth, Fifth and Seventh streets and on Water Street at Second and Third streets, and says she believes the change is for the better.
"There were quite a few pedestrians who I think benefitted from the signals," she says, acknowledging that there were "a few cases where some vehicles were stopped when they probaby wouldn't have liked to be."
While mid- to late-morning, when churches are letting out, is the busiest time on Sunday, Alexander says other times traffic is lighter. The decision on when signals should operate, she says, may be open to some "tweaking."
Cox doesn't argue with that.
"I'm not asking them to make the lights work all the time; late at night they should be flashing," he says. "My point is that the traffic during the day on Sunday is so heavy that flashing signals are no longer appropriate."
The city has cracked down on flashing... traffic lights.
PHOTO BY COURTENEY STUART