Police presence gets mixed response on Battleground

by David Pferdekamper

Many commuters said that the meet-up of Battleground Avenue and Lawndale Drive is a particularly dangerous area of the road.

Those flashing blue lights are the last things anyone wants to see in their rearview mirror. In just a few seconds, the sight of those lights can turn the thoughts of a happy and carefree driver from joy to anxiety.

For drivers on Battleground Avenue, those blue lights are becoming more of a reality.

Following the traffic enforcement campaign that took place on Wendover Avenue this fall, the Greensboro Police Department has implemented a similar campaign on Battleground. Police officers will be patrolling the busy road through the end of February.

“We took a lot of the lessons learned from Wendover and applied them to Battleground,” said GPD Public Information Officer Susan Danielsen. “We hope to have similar or better results on Battleground as we did on Wendover.

“We expect to have similar results because we selected these roadways based upon conditions we wanted to change. For example, both areas have high crash volumes.”

In 2012 and 2013, police responded to 811 motor vehicle crashes on Wendover. During the same period, police responded to 372 crashes on Battleground.

Many commuters agree that Battleground can be a dangerous place for the average driver.

“It gets pretty bad during rush hour,” said Daniel Vasiles, who drives on Battleground during his daily commute. “Especially in my case — I have to turn left across traffic every morning. Every now and then I see people doing something blatantly unsafe.”

“People definitely speed,” said Brass Taps manager Kristen McMasters. “We used to have people going over 50, 55 miles an hour. (The police are) definitely helping, as far making things safer.”

During 2012 and 2013, collisions on Battleground caused $1.5 million in property damages. Twenty-one percent of the wrecks caused personal injuries.

Still, some think that the problem is not as severe, and that perhaps there are other areas the police should focus on.

“I do see people speeding sometimes, and there is often confusion and quick lane changing at the Battleground- Lawndale split, but for the most part I haven’t experienced bad traffic,” said Jay Ewing, who works at Acme Comics. “I do think speeding is a bigger problem on Lawndale between Pisgah Church and Cone. People fly through there, but there isn’t as much volume.”

Joe Scott, owner of Geeksboro Coffeehouse Cinema, agrees that areas like Lawndale Drive and Cone Bou-levard are perhaps more deserving of attention.

POLICE: ‘It gets pretty bad during rush hour’

“My business is located at the convergence of Lawndale and Battleground, which is kind of like the final level in the Atari game Frogger,” said Scott. “They’re very challenging, creative roads, and people have a hard time navigating them. I’ve seen people driving fast down the wrong side of both roads.”

Scott said that the high number of traffic lights on Battleground make it harder to go too fast on much of the road. He said that Cone presented more of a challenge in this regard.

“A lot of intersections on Cone don’t have stoplights,” Scott said. “They’re basically just death traps. Meanwhile if you go to Battleground, there’s a traffic light about every 50 to 100 yards. What are police going to do that stoplights won’t accomplish on their own, besides making people use a different route every day?” Danielsen said that the GPD is hoping that doing this campaign and similar campaigns with “some degree of frequency” will result in long-term behavioral change among commuters.

“We always see an immediate response,” Danielsen said. “When people know there’s increased police presence, they’re going to modify their behavior. We hope this will really resonate with some of these drivers so they will change their driving practices to do safe things, like wearing seatbelts, and not unsafe things, like texting and driving.”

Rocco Scarfone, owner of the Buckhead Saloon, said that such a campaign could be successful.

“I think it’s a good campaign,” Scarfone said. “It worked well on Wendover.

If you don’t speed, you won’t have anything to worry about. It doesn’t hinder our business…. I think it’s responsible and a great program.”

Police will focus periodically for another 10 months after the initial Battleground campaign ends. After the Wendover campaign, the GPD saw positive results.

POLICE: ‘We hope this will really resonate’

There was a slight increase in the number of crashes, but a 21 percent decrease in injuries from crashes. Property damage from these collisions dropped by nine percent. Traffic control device violations and improper passing or turning also decreased by 72 percent and 68 percent, respectively.

However, some doubt the campaign’s potential efficacy, especially when it comes to making long-term effects.

“On Wendover, people drive just as fast on it now as they did before the crackdown,” said Scott. “When it comes to making a meaningful impact, I would say it was a failure.”

“Ultimately things will return to normal when the police leave,” Ewing said. “It wouldn’t surprise me one bit if traffic patterns returned to normal after (the campaign ended),” Vasiles said. “That just seems to be the way people are about it. I remember one of my coworkers coming in and saying that I might want to avoid Battleground.”

Even Scarfone, who expressed his support for the campaign and said that it should not deter anyone from using Battleground, was unsure about longterm success.

“It depends on the individual behind the wheel of the car,” Scarfone said. “Luckily for everybody, the campaign has been well-advertised and given fair warning, but no one can control the habits of anybody getting behind the wheel of a car.”

Scott said that this is a case of man versus machine, and that he thinks, in this case, machine is a better response.

Even with his doubts of the efficacy of the campaign, Vasiles said that there might not be better options.

“I think that’s really the only tool you have when you’re trying to crack down on that stuff,” Vasiles said. “Whether it has helped or not, I don’t know. Traffic seems about the same to me as it always has.”

Danielsen said that this type of campaign ultimately helps to educate drivers, and that experiencing such a campaign will stick with drivers and help them change their practices.

“(We want to) educate people about unsafe driving practices,” Danielsen said. “(We want to) get people to voluntarily change. We also recognize the value of enforcement. Enforcement and education are great ways to change behaviors.”

Eventually, drivers in other areas might see more flashing blue lights in their rearview mirror. After the Battleground campaign has concluded, the GPD will be looking at other problem areas for its next enforcement campaign. !

Scott had deeper criticism. “What would help would be to build new roads that made sense to people,” Scott said. “I’m always having to apologize to people (for how the roads work). I don’t see the police presence as helping. If you’re going to address problems in our city, I hope that rather than temporarily patrolling one street, they would invest in more stoplights, especially in areas like Cone, where I see wrecks all the time.”