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City Pages

Concerned about state laws that cripple speed-limit enforcement on local streets, Athens-Clarke commissioners will ask state legislators next month to to revise the laws. 

Historical concerns about speed traps have led to laws that bar local police from using radar in many places. For example, officers must be visible from 500 feet away.  Yet many subdivisions have no sidewalks, Commissioner Andy Herod pointed out at last week’s work session, and speeding cars are a frequent complaint. 

“We need to ask our legislators to help us stop speeding in our subdivisions,” Commissioner Mike Hamby said. 

Municipal Court Judge Leslie S. Jones told commissioners that the legislature will look at streamlining Georgia’s traffic laws during its next session.  Some traffic misdemeanors might be reduced to less serious civil offenses, provided ways can be found to enforce them.  State prosecutors oppose such changes, Jones said, while a defense attorney’s group favors them. 

Even civil laws can be very effective in reducing traffic violations, she said, citing the dramatic reduction in red-light running where cameras have been installed in Athens.  Although legislators “have not been very much in favor of red-light cameras,” challenges to their use have failed in the courts, Jones said.   Commissioner Andy Herod asked about using cameras to enforce speed limits, as well. They are widely used in Britain, he said.

Traffic offenses are a serious matter, Jones said. “People speed all the time,” and accidents are the biggest killer of people between the ages of 18 and 25.  As for pedestrian crosswalks, “you’re playing dodging cars when you try to go across the street,” said Mayor Nancy Denson.  Cars are supposed to stop when a pedestrian approaches a marked crosswalk, Jones said, but “people just disregard it.”

Commissioners also will ask the legislators what’s next to fund transportation, since area voters rejected a local sales-tax increase.  “What’s Plan B?” asked commissioner Mike Hamby, perhaps a 0.25 percent Athens-only sales tax that could fund just the transportation projects that locals really want? 

“I know that many of us had reservations about a lot of the big-ticket projects,” Commissioner Kelly Girtz said.   

And commissioners offered no objections to allowing the planned Hyatt Place hotel to connect internally with the county-owned Classic Center convention hall next door.  “You get a lot more interest from the meeting planners” who book conventions, said Rosser International architect John Wyle, if a hotel entrance connects the center directly. And although he denied that conventioneers fear walking Athens streets, Classic Center Director Paul Cramer said bookings could “increase dramatically” if the adjacent hotel had an internal entrance to the Classic Center. 

The commission meets with area legislators twice yearly.  Next month, they will also ask state lawmakers to give the county back its former commission districts (which include two “superdistricts,” each covering half the county) and to return commission elections to their earlier November date. State Rep. Doug McKillip, who blocked the locally approved commission district map last spring, lost his re-election bid in July, so the door could be open to return to the old map.