New road rules proposed

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By JASON STARR

That time you were speeding, got caught by Colchester police and paid a fine? If you thought that money stayed in town to fund local policing, you are mistaken.

Traffic violations in Colchester are written under state statute, and the state receives the fines. Town officials plan to change that.

The police department reworked the local traffic ordinance to align it with state regulations so local tickets help fund local law enforcement. A public hearing on the ordinance change is scheduled for August 9.

“I don’t know if people will be happier when they get stopped if they know the [money] is going to be staying in town. Maybe they will be less unhappy,” Colchester Selectboard member Herb Downing said before the board unanimously approved a first reading of the ordinance change July 12.

The state will still take an “administration fee” for each local violation, according to police Chief Jennifer Morrison. She will present an estimate of annual town revenue resulting from the change at the hearing.

“It is revenue we could be capturing, because we’re writing these tickets anyway,” she said.

In making the change, police and public works personnel looked over the entire ordinance governing local traffic and made some updates. Some are considered “housekeeping” — noting new street names and locations of undocumented stop signs and traffic lights, for example. Other changes would give the department new authority.

The new ordinance would authorize police to set up temporary parking bans in the event of an emergency. It also authorizes an increase in parking fines from $5 to $25 for the first violation and from $15 to $50 for subsequent violations.

Police and public works personnel inventoried all speed limits on town roads and noted where new speed limit studies are warranted. Rathe Road and Mayo Road, for example, are up for a new speed limit review, Morrison said.

The ordinance sets a 25 mph standard for all of the town’s gravel roads. That means some gravel roads currently signed 35 mph, such as Pine Island Road, would be posted with 25 mph signs if the change passes.

Additionally, there are new sections for pedestrian and bicycle regulations in the rewrite. Pedestrians will be required to cross at crosswalks when available and only at a right angle in the absence of crosswalks. Cars will be required to yield to pedestrians in crosswalks.

New bicycle regulations would require bicyclists on a sidewalk or rec path to give an audible signal before passing a pedestrian and must come to a complete stop before crossing a road.

Bicyclists riding on roads would be prohibited from riding side by side. Bicycling at night would require a headlight and red tail light, and people who sell or rent bikes must inform the new user of local and state bike laws, the proposal reads.

Morrison said the bicycle and pedestrian rules lay the groundwork for when there is more dense development in Colchester.

“It’s not a huge problem for us currently, but many communities struggle with it, and we need the infrastructure in place to control the movement of pedestrians and cyclists on roadways,” she said. “I don’t anticipate these [rules] will get much use until we have a more robust downtown center.”