Seeing Red: Fifth Street isn't the only place that needs to be safer.
Now, I can understand why a small section of Fifth Street is getting this kind of attention, and the cluster of fatal crashes that have occurred there is tragic, but if we're going to talk about traffic safety in our community, let's please include the county we live in, where the death toll is a lot worse. I mean, this isn't rocket science. It's about speed, not wearing seatbelts, and alcohol. Those are what cause most fatal crashes. What transportation officials call the “belt, booze and speed” categories. It's the reason why, as Albemarle County Police Chief Ron Lantz said last year, "Albemarle County roads are some of the most dangerous in the Commonwealth." Indeed, while there were 3 fatalities in Charlottesville in 2021, according to TREDS data, there were more than five times as many in Albemarle County (16), along with 15 more in Louisa, Nelson, Fluvanna, and Greene Counties. Of course, human error and a whole array of unusual driving mistakes account for crashes and fatalities as well, and in 2021 alcohol, distraction, speed, no-seatbelt, youth (15 to 20) driver, mature (65+) driver, pedestrian-involved, and teen drivers were all factors associated with fatalities across the City and County.
2021 All Crashes: Charlottesville - 469 crashes, 3 fatalities, 241 injuries / Albemarle County - 1,986 crashes, 16 fatalities, 1,474 injuries
Long stretches of uninterrupted country roads - and that mile-long straight stretch of Fifth Street -- allow people to speed, and many of the roads, including Fifth Street, are lined by nearby trees. "So, as you can imagine, if you lose control on a road like that and strike a tree and you're not wearing your seat belt, it could be catastrophic," said ACPD Officer Katherine Kane last year, talking about crash fatalities in the County, and pointing out that 11 of the 17 fatalities on Albemarle county roads in 2020 involved people not wearing seatbelts. Virginia transportation officials have said that about 56 percent of people who died in car crashes in 2020 weren't wearing seatbelts.
Another deadly location for crash fatalities - intersections. Deadly T-bone crashes. CPD Sergeant Lee Gibson, who oversees the department’s traffic unit, identified Fifth Street and the intersection of Hydraulic Road and Route 29 North as the two most deadly locations in town. Indeed, the dangerous bottleneck at Hydraulic Road/29 is possibly the worst in Charlottesville, in terms of congestion and driving risk, and a massive intersection improvement plan has been stalled for years.
Meanwhile, the City says it plans to hire an engineering firm to study Fifth Street for 3 to 6 months? And they are worried about stoplights and possible design changes causing unwanted traffic congestion? There is an 0.5 mile stretch on Preston Avenue, also four lanes with a tree-lined median, from McIntire Road to Grady Avenue that has four stoplights. This town is littered with stoplights. There are places where you drive less than a block between them. Take some of those out and put one on Fifth Street. Getting people to slow down and wear seatbelts on long country roads is difficult, as the ACPD has discovered, but getting people to slow down on a mile-long stretch of Fifth Street is a no-brainer - put in a stoplight. Worried about congestion? Time the light right during busy times. And for crying out loud, please finally do something about Hydraulic Road and Route 29 North. Oh, and buckle-up!