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Driving in circles

by Desi Sowers, REALTOR, ABR, GRI, SRS, CRS

Eight proposed roundabouts in the Roanoke and New River valleys may change the way you get around.

JUSTIN COOK The Roanoke Times

The roundabout on Virginia Tech's campus has helped traffic and hasn't seen any significant accidents, a spokesman for the school said.


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Some neighborhoods in Roanoke, Roanoke County and Blacksburg could soon become home to intersections governed not by stop signs or traffic lights but by concrete circles and yield signs.

That's because transportation engineers have proposed building at least eight traffic roundabouts in the region within the next five years.

Engineers and many residents hope this type of junction, where traffic flows in a circle around an island at about 15 to 25 miles per hour, will calm traffic and reduce vehicle collisions. Others fear they may create new problems.

"This is just a good way to handle traffic and provide a safe intersection," said Mark Jamison, Roanoke's traffic engineer.

Though a relative novelty in the Roanoke and New River valleys, roundabouts in recent years have become popular in other states -- including Maryland, Nevada and North Carolina -- and many European countries.

This month, when the Virginia Department of Transportation publishes a revision of its road design manual, roundabouts will become the department's preferred alternative to intersections, according to Walter Pribble, senior transportation manager for VDOT. Since 1997, more than 40 roundabouts have been constructed in the state.

The eight roundabouts proposed include one in Roanoke at Bennington Street and Riverland Road; two more are being considered for 13th Street's intersections with Tazewell and Wise avenues.

In Roanoke County, plans are in the works to place one at the intersection of Penn Forest Boulevard and Colonial Avenue and another at Merriman and Meadowlark roads.

The proposals in Blacksburg are for two roundabouts where Givens Lane intersects with Progress Street and with Aden Lane, and one at the intersection of Main Street and Prices Fork Road.

A roundabout usually costs between $400,000 and $1.2 million to build, Pribble said. The question of who picks up the tab depends on where it is built.

A roundabout on secondary routes is paid for by the locality with funds allocated by the Commonwealth Transportation Board, VDOT spokeswoman Heidi Coy said. If it's on a primary route or an interstate route, then the funding comes from VDOT's construction budget.

It can take years to get from planning to paving. Roundabout projects need enough funding to move through about a six-year planning process, according to VDOT spokesman Jason Bond.

The proposal for the 13th Street roundabouts, for example, was first introduced at a public information meeting in May 2006 -- and has a public hearing scheduled for late this year or early 2009. After that, VDOT will still have to buy the necessary land and start construction.

At a recent information meeting regarding the proposed roundabout at Bennington Street, neighbors were vocal about the need to curb traffic tie-ups that occur weekday mornings and late afternoons near the IGA grocery store.

"It's been a nightmare for years," said Janet Corcoran, who lives nearby. She thinks anything would be better than the current traffic situation, but she worried that closing one of the entrances to the IGA, as dictated by the plan, would cause drivers additional inconvenience.

In Roanoke County, Marcia Weis, who lives on Colonial Avenue, shares with two other homes a driveway that exits directly into the street's busy T-intersection with Penn Forest Boulevard.

"It's terrible," Weis said. "In the mornings, you just take your life into your own hands."

Safety is the benefit of roundabouts that proponents cite most often. A 2001 study of 23 intersections by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reported that converting from traffic signals or stop signs to roundabouts reduced injury crashes by 80 percent and overall crashes by 40 percent.

Opponents of roundabouts also cite safety. Alice Kemp a Roanoke solid waste truck driver, said she crosses the 13th Street-Tazewell Avenue intersection four times a day, and she doesn't expect a round junction to improve traffic flow.

"They're crazy," she said about the city's engineers and the proposal. "I think there are going to be a bunch of accidents because people drive really fast through here."

In 2002, Blacksburg's first experience with a circular intersection ended quickly. The town spent $500 to introduce a traffic circle, which is similar to a roundabout but larger and with a higher speed limit, to slow traffic at Draper Road and Clay Street. About 100 people complained to the administration and it was removed within two months.

"People were really, really confused," said Bill Brown, the town's police chief at the time.

Four years after Blacksburg's failed traffic circle, and just a few blocks southwest of that intersection, Virginia Tech installed a roundabout to connect West Campus Drive with Washington Street. That intersection had been regulated by a stop sign.

"Washington Street had continuous traffic, and traffic was being backed up on West Campus Drive all the way down to the Drillfield at peak traffic times, because drivers had to wait for a break in traffic," said Mark Owczarski, the school's director of news and information.

The roundabout got rid of the backup yet allowed traffic to continue to flow, he said.

Owczarski said he was not aware of any significant accidents that have occurred since the roundabout was added. Safety, he said, was a primary concern because there are many pedestrian-marked crosswalks near that intersection.

Citing a statistic from the U.S. Department of Transportation, Pribble said people are usually against roundabouts 2-to-1 before construction, but that they tend to favor them 3-to-1 after construction.

"I think people were worried about it before it happened, and then once it was there, they kind of realized how easy it was," Owczarski said. "People don't even give it a second thought anymore."

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Grill Burgers, Not Your Home

by Desi Sowers, REALTOR, ABR, GRI, SRS, CRS

For years, New York City has prohibited propane barbecue grilling on a balcony, terrace or roof. Residents can barbecue with charcoal on a balcony or terrace provided there's sufficient clearance and a source of water to douse any flare-ups.

Last year, Washington State began banning open-flame gas or charcoal barbecues on certain multifamily housing balconies where there's no overhead sprinkler.

And beginning this year, Silicon Valley placed a permanent ban on charcoal and gas fired grills on multi-family housing balconies made of wood or other combustible materials, if there is no sprinkler overhead. Propane tanks heavier than one pound are forbidden on such balconies -- sprinkler or not.

Residential barbecue bans amount to gustatory purgatory for a growing number of barbecue fans who have to wait get their thrill from a grill away from home.

Nearly 80 percent of households own an outdoor barbecue appliance and nearly 60 percent use them year round, according to the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association (HPBA).

But firing up a grill with an open flame presents a clear and present fire danger, especially in confined spaces.

The U.S. Fire Administration's National Fire Data Center estimates that barbecuing accounts for more than 6,000 fires, 170 injuries, a half dozen fatalities and some $35 million in property loss each year.

Grilling responds to our primal longing for fire-kissed feasts, but singeing sustenance into submission comes with another primal directive -- protecting life and property.

The HPBA offers these tips to get you safely through a barbecued meal.

Read the owners manual. As simple as it sounds, many fail to follow instructions in their rush to barbecue heaven. The manual contains specific assembly, use and safety procedures, as well as manufacturer contact information.

Never use a grill indoors. Barbecuing in your trailer, tent, house, garage, fireplace or any enclosed area can become a carbon monoxide accumulation hazard and kill you. Barbecue smoke can clog your fireplace flue.

Even outdoors, use a well ventilated area. Laws prohibit use on certain small balconies because they don't have sufficient clearance from the building, can produce a back draft into the home and provide limited safe maneuvering space. Set the grill away from buildings, overhead combustibles, dry leaves, brush and swimming pools and swimmers. Beware of wind-blown sparks.

Follow other codes. Electric grills or accessories (rotisseries, etc.) must be properly grounded in accordance with local codes. Place electrical cords out of traffic, walkways or where people can trip over them.

Keep the grill still. Be sure all parts of the grill are level and firmly in place so that it cannot be tipped over. Don't allow play or young children near the grill. Never attempt to move a hot grill. If you stumble and drop the grill, nasty burns are possible.

Use the proper equipment. Use long-handled utensils designed for barbecue work to avoid burns and splatters. Wear clothing that does not have hanging shirt tails, frills, or apron strings that can catch fire, and use flame-retardant mitts when adjusting hot vents.

Keep the fire controlled. To put out flare-ups, either raise the food grid, spread out the coals evenly, or adjust the controls to reduce oxygen and/or lower the temperature. If you must douse the flames with a light spritz of water, first remove the food from the grill. Never leave a grill unattended once lit.

Be ready to extinguish flames. Use baking soda to control a grease fire and have a fire extinguisher handy. Keep a bucket of sand or a garden hose near if you don’t have a commercial extinguisher.

Buy a grill pad or splatter mat. Heat resistant pads placed beneath the grill are usually made of lightweight composite cement or plastic and will protect your deck or patio from any grease that misses the drip pan.

Written by Broderick Perkins

Paint the Perfect Sale

by Desi Sowers, REALTOR, ABR, GRI, SRS, CRS

Every seller is looking for the perfect sale and every buyer is looking for the perfect opportunity to seize a new home or investment property. Getting your home ready to close the deal for the most money, starts with knowing where to begin and, often, that means, quite literally, you need to paint the perfect sale.

"Often times people are selling a home that they've lived in for 30 or 40 years and they're madly in love with the wallpaper but it is extremely dated," says John Peek, President and Owner of Peek Brothers Painting Contractors.

Things like wallpaper and color on the interior and exterior walls of your home can significantly influence buyers. So it is worth carefully looking over your home before you put it on the market to see what areas need touching up or an entire re-do. If you find the wallpaper has to go, then knowing how to make the change is equally important so that you don't end up with an even bigger mess.

"To strip wallpaper can be very time-consuming, expensive, and damaging to the underlying surface making it difficult to paint," says Peek. He adds, "You can paint over wallpaper if you prime it first with an oil-based primer such as Kilz. If you do that, it seals the surface well and then you can go over it with water-based paint. But if you go directly over wallpaper with water-based paint, without priming it with an oil-based undercoat, it will peel up at the edges. So the critical first step is to prime it with an oil-based undercoat," explains Peek.

To paint the perfect sale, Peek suggests carefully looking around your home for the holes that frequently don't get filled after you've taken down family photos and artwork. "I'll often times go into homes and homeowners have put spackle up and they've just smeared a big chunk on the wall and then let it dry," says Peek.

He offers this little trick to get a better outcome. "Take the spackle and put it in the hole and then take a wet sponge and lightly wipe the surface. It removes all excess spackle from around the hole and it just fills the hole itself. Often times you can get by without having to touch it up," says Peek.

Another area of concern is the door -- in particular, doors that belong to teenagers. Picture this. Your teenager has turned her door into a collage board of photos, memorabilia, stickers, award ribbons, cards -- you name it -- all are stuck on her door, permanently securing her identity to the home you're now trying to sell. Pulling off the memories before listing the home for sale is important, otherwise buyers get caught up in all of your personal stuff and then can't see the home as theirs. Buyers also don't want the headache of having to pull down and repaint the door. And chances are you don't want to have to do that either.

Here's what Peek says sellers with this issue can do. "There are products on the market that will help you to get all that sticky stuff off the door and it's worth a try. There's a product called Lift Off that you can get at the paint or hardware store; it works wonders," says Peek.

Many sellers wonder how to get rid of a stain in the ceiling. Peek says you don't always have to re-paint the entire ceiling. "Say you've had all the leaks fixed in the roof and you still have some stains, sometimes you can by without painting by putting half bleach and half water in a little squirt bottle and lightly spritzing the surface until it's wet," says Peek. He says that you can spray the mixture on the surface of an acoustic or painted drywall ceiling. A second spray of the area will often diminish or completely remove the stain and you might not even need to paint!

If you do need to paint the interior or exterior of your home, Mike Chism, President and Owner of Chism Brothers Painting, says you can avoid painting the whole house by touching up critical areas such as the front door, trim, and fascia board.

"With exterior painting, usually the house doesn't go bad all at once," says Chism. He adds, "Sometimes windowsills or thresholds can get a lot of sun and can be prepared and touched up extending the life of the entire paint job for several years."

Chism also recommends cleaning and pressure washing your home to give it a new and brighter look.

A little tender loving care for your home before you list it is a warm welcoming sign for potential buyers.

Written by Phoebe Chongchua

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