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Archive for March 2011

City Council Plans Church Street Comeback

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        -New hope for historic Orlando block   

        “Reintroducing locals to downtown.” That’s the new theme after the Orlando City Council announced its plans to revive Church Street. Bob Snow purchased the block of historic downtown back in the early 1970’s. He went on to build the region into a grouping of themed bars and restaurants that mirrored the historic Church Street Station. Tourism in the area peaked in the 1980’s as millions of people visited the block to experience Orlando nightlife. However, the construction of similar ventures at Universal Studios CityWalk  and Disney World led to a downturn. Visitors suddenly had less of a reason to make the trip from the parks to downtown. Now nearly two decades later, The Orlando City Council has a plan they hope is going to change that trend. In an agreement with a local merchants group the city council is planning a strong comeback for Church Street, one that looks to attract bigger crowds to a place already known for its parties.

        Business in the area is improving ever since the creation of the state of the art Amway Center. Local entrepreneurs responded with a number of new locations opening for service nearby. Undoubtedly, the local economy has improved with consistent gameday crowds for Orlando Magic home games. But city officials want more. Currently there are close to 60 businesses operating in the Church Street area.  The city’s new goal is not only to keep business flowing during and after Magic games, but also to find ways to keep people in town even when the team is on the road. The city is looking to attract young people looking for nightly events and give families a reason to come downtown as well.   

The New Amway Center has helped business on Church Street

            The city’s new plan centers around a schedule that will shut down Church Street roads from traffic on a nightly basis. The regular  street closings will take place from 6:30 pm to 3 am on weeknights and 5 pm to 3 am on weekends. The hopeful result is a shift in the way bars and restaurants are able to conduct business. Restaurants will now have the ability to expand capacity and allow outside dining on a much wider scale. The increased capacity may be lead to increased business for these local venues.  The new plan will also include an increase in the number of vendors and merchants on Church Street. The agreement between the city council and local merchants will allow for up to ten carts at one time to be on a block of downtown.  While the area is known mainly for its places to drink and eat, officials say the addition of new merchants may fill a retail gap in the area as well. The hope is that visitors will have another opportunity to pour money into the local area by purchasing  souvenirs and art on the street while simultaneously experiencing what district representatives call a “festival atmosphere.”           

            The city will be using its resources by advertising the downtown area in Central Florida hotels, tours, trade shows, and conventions. New ideas are being developed for monthly events that should attract a more diverse crowd. There is the potential for downtown auto shows, and wine and art festivals. While locals are noticing an increase in traffic downtown, conditions are far from perfect. Homeless people still wander the streets looking for handouts amongst those kind enough to give them. While business is getting better, the area still needs a cleanup and security.

Church Street roads are closed to traffic.

       The question remains just how much should the city invest into a reclamation project when district officials admit its not likely that Church Street will return to its best years of the 1980’s? The city is looking to apply a minimal amount of funds by using what they already have. Local bars and restaurants will sell themselves and young audiences continue to come downtown for these venues. The next step is giving families and busy professionals looking for more than a drink a reason to stay. The plan is still in its infancy, but the future looks bright for an area once past its prime.

– Arthur Volpe

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Written by ArthurVolpe

March 27, 2011 at 11:31 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Protesters Hope to Remove Red Light Cameras

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          – Cameras said to be unsafe, unfair.

       All across the state of Florida, protesters took their complaints to the streets this weekend. In cities such as Tampa, Orlando, Lakeland, Palm Beach, Miami, and even Tallahassee people carried signs and demanded change. What was all the noise and commotion about? The answer: Red Light Cameras. Perhaps not the answer one would expect. However suddenly these small devices are creating quite the controversy. The Florida Civil Rights Association, National Motorists Association, and banthecams.org all teamed up to organize rallies this past weekend in an effort to repeal a law that allows police to ticket those caught on camera running a red light.     

Red Light Camera on Corner of Alafaya and University Dr.

             State legislation was passed last year which authorized the use of red light cameras to deter people from speeding through red lights and intersections. This upcoming Monday in Central Florida will be the first day that people caught on camera will be fined for their actions. This isn’t sitting well with many protesters who say the cameras are unsafe, unconstitutional, and actually do more harm than good.  Critics argue the cameras force many drivers to stop abruptly for fear of being photographed and this is causing an increase in rear-end collisions.  Others have successfully appealed red light camera violations by arguing the cameras are unreliable and don’t clearly show a car’s license plate.

       Senate Bill 672 has been introduced into the Florida Legislature by a Republican from Hialeah named Rene Garcia. Representative Garcia hopes the bill removes red light cameras from Florida intersections. President of the Florida Civil Rights Association J. Willie David III says “the red light camera law should never have seen the light of day.” He explains that many local governments are using red light cameras to their advantage by unfairly taxing citizens while using the excuse of public safety to do so.

          That argument may in fact be legitimate. As early as 2001 the National Motorists Association posted on their website concerning red light camera revenues. The group states Lockheed Martin, one of the largest manufacturers of red light cameras in the country, has clauses in its contracts that prohibit intersections where its cameras are installed to increase yellow light times. Increasing yellow light times has been proven to dramatically reduce traffic accidents.

Central Florida drivers will soon face tickets from red light cameras

The question remains are red light cameras keeping people safer on the roads? The Insurance Institute for Highway safety says yes. Their recent study looks at the time period between 2004 and 2008. During that time the study looked at 14 different American cities. Their conclusion was that red light cameras saved 159 lives during that time and reduced fatal crashes from running red lights by 24 percent.

           For now the debate between traffic safety and camera revenue will continue. While legislation is in play to remove red light cameras, removing them from local intersections will take some time. Starting Monday drivers will have to fight tickets after red light cameras snap them running through intersections. Who knows what will eventually become of those violations?

– Arthur Volpe

Written by ArthurVolpe

March 2, 2011 at 2:40 am

Posted in Uncategorized