Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Pedestrian Zone - not without its hazards.

I happened to bring my camera with me to the downtown mall this week to download a few photos at the library for my last blog entry and decided to walk on Sixth Street NE from East Market Street to the mall. A welding contractor (for the city I suppose) removed the bollards so that he could drive onto the mall and work near the Discovery Museum. The bollards were placed on the only sidewalk on that block creating the first major pedestrian obstacle I encountered as I was just entering the mall next to City Hall. If this is our pedestrian zone this is not an acceptable practice for contractors to use. What are these contractors thinking? Maybe they need a reminder that pedestrian spaces need to be clear of obstacles. Perhaps some notice needs to be included in permits to work on the mall so pedestrians don't have to contend with lazy and dangerous behavior on the part of contractors.

As I walked just two blocks further down the mall I encountered the Fourth Street East mall crossing being used as a loading/unloading zone. There are such zones available on the side streets and when I took this photo there were open loading zones. Again, this delivery person decided that there is no problem blocking the entire length of the crossing with the truck, trailer and ramp making pedestrian traffic have to avoid this fifty foot or so obstacle on the pedestrian mall.

So, in about three minutes I encountered two major pedestrian obstacles as I walked from Sixth Street East to Fourth Street East. Is this a rare occasion? I think not. As a frequent pedestrian on the downtown mall I find obstacles like these on a regular basis. This is not the only truck that uses the mall crossing as a loading zone. I routinely encounter Brinks trucks making money deliveries at local banks, building supply trucks unloading construction materials, and JAUNT buses, taxicabs, even private vehicles idling in the crossing for extended periods. I find it is more likely than not that there will be unnecessary obstacles to pedestrian traffic on the mall and the number of obstacles seems to be increasing. Perhaps there are occasional interactions between the police and flagrant violators, but I haven't seen any. If contractors and delivery vehicle drivers believe this is a reasonable and risk free behavior I believe pedestrians will find obstacles at an increasing rate.

Council has been alerted to these sorts of behaviors, but I believe some identifiable action may be necessary to encourage better behavior from pedestrian area violators. Perhaps more interaction with violators (warnings or tickets) are needed to get the message to those who ignore the pedestrian area regulations. Without any action by city officials, I believe the downtown area being a safe pedestrian area is in jeopardy.

Next time you walk on the mall, count how many unsafe and unnecessary obstacles you encounter. Perhaps with the rebricking of the mall, the city can actively work to make the mall a better and safer pedestrian zone.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Charlottesville's "No Parking" signs and community eye test

My eyesight is 20-20 with my corrective lenses but the current signs that the city has placed in my neighborhood are truly a challenge for me and I am sure for lots of others. To add to the challenge for potential parkers on Hedge Street, Park Plaza, Parkway and Fourth Street NE the signs are only 1-2 feet off the ground. These signs are posted for one month in conjunction with hauling oversize concrete decking to the Juvenile and Domestic Court parking garage construction site on Fourth Street NE between East High St. and Hedge St. through the North Downtown neighborhood.

The "NO PARKING" text is about 3 inches tall; the "TOWING ENFORCED" text is about 2 inches tall; but the key information stating that this only applies "MON-FRI" and only between "7:00 am to 4:30 pm" is handwritten in letters roughly one-quarter inch in height. I think this information is written smaller than the large print books in the downtown library collection. [Click on the sign photo for a larger version so you won't get eyestrain from trying to read the upper-left corner of the sign in the photo.]

I suggested to the responsible city staff that providing information to motorists in a truly unreadable form (at least for the day/time information) is not in the realm of good customer service to which our city staff is committed. In fact, several of my friends from out of town drove independently to my house on Saturday and all of them commented on the lack of parking on my street (Hedge St.) and connecting streets. All parked a few blocks away - because they couldn't read other than "NO PARKING" and "TOWING ENFORCED" and likely couldn't even imagine that the fine print was additional key time and day-of-week information.


It seems that these spaces are effectively restricted at all times on all days because nobody (other than those who have walked up to the signs) can read the time/day limits from the driver's seat in an automobile while looking for a parking space.

Although I don't generally invite motorist to cut through on Hedge Street, I do invite you to cruise by and test your eyesight on the dozen or so signs currently posted. I also encourage you to contact the city to request that readable signs need to be put up as soon as possible. What good is a sign if it doesn't communicate the intended message? Sometimes bigger is truly better! And taller would be better, too!


Sunday, December 14, 2008

Planning Commission Votes to Remove Parkway Funds from Capital Improvement Program

I watched the December 9, 2008 Charlottesville Planning Commission Meeting rebroadcast on Charlottesville's Own TV-10 and watched the discussion and vote by the Planning Commission on the proposed Capital Improvement Program (CIP). I wanted to go to them meeting to comment on this very item, but could not be there. But, many of my thoughts were presented by several members of the public who were apparently as disappointed as I that the proposed CIP does not address several of the highest priority needs - including improved pedestrian infrastructure and acquisition of parkland both of which advance several elements of council's vision statement for the city. Commissioner Bill Emory pointed out that no parkland has been purchased through the CIP since 1980. And Mayor Norris questioned the decision not to have any funds in the CIP for pedestrian projects.

After several strong comments from members of the public asking for reprogramming of matching funds for construction of the controversial McIntire Road Extended and the Route 250 Interchange at McIntire Road project toward park preservation, acquisition of parkland, and pedestrian infrastructure construction, a lively discussion by planning commissioners I was pleased to see the commission recommend that the CIP be changed in pretty much that way. The vote on the CIP motion was 4-2 and sends a clear message that our planning commission supports a CIP that addresses the high priority investments in a sustainable future for Charlottesville and its residents.

I applaud commissioners Emory, Rosensweig, Keller and Pearson for supporting a CIP motion by commissioner Keller (with several amendments by other councilors) in line with our city's stated goals and vision. Well done commissioners. Commissioners Osteen and Lewis voted against the successful motion primarily because they don't wish to delay construction of McIntire Road Extended and the Route 250 Interchange at McIntire Road. Commissioner Keller clearly articulated her opposition to sacrificing McIntire Park by implementing a 1960's solution to our transportation needs. See the Charlottesville Tomorrow story on this issue and listen to the podcast if you want to hear the comments and discussions.

I am interested to see if at least three of the members of Charlottesville's City Council will agree with the recommendations of the planning commission. I hope so. Now is the time to stop spending so much of Charlottesville's capital on roadway projects whose time has passed. Directing capital funds toward these projects limit - not enhance - making Charlottesville the sustainable and pedestrian oriented community we are striving to become.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Coalition to Preserve McIntire Park seeks your help.

[Image: Fireworks in McIntire Park from www.caarblog.com]

If you are interested in Preserving McIntire Park, and in particular working toward a better transportation solution than is offered by building a road (McIntire Road Extended) through the eastern part of the park, consider the opportunity offered in the letter below.

Coalition to Preserve McIntire Park
Charlottesville, Virginia

Dear Friends of McIntire Park,

We are a group of concerned citizens who have joined together to protect east McIntire Park from the destruction that will occur if the Virginia Department of Transportation is allowed to construct the Meadow Creek Parkway. We are also concerned about increased auto traffic and the resulting air and noise pollution in the downtown neighborhoods. Now that the Charlottesville City Council has approved 22 acres of easements of city parkland to VDOT and bids are being solicited for construction of part of the road, it appears that our only recourse is to go to court to save the park.

We believe federal and state environmental laws can be used to halt construction:

- Section 4(f) of the 1966 Department of Transportation Act prohibits Federal highways through parks, wildlife refuges, and historic properties unless there are no "prudent and feasible" alternatives. Section 4(f) requires that agencies consider avoidance before mitigation of impacts.

- The construction of the 250 interchange and parts of the parkway (McIntire Road Extended) will adversely affect historic sites in the immediate area. These include McIntire Park itself, the Rock Hill Estate Gardens, the first in the nation Vietnam Veterans Memorial, historic houses on Park Hill, the McIntire (Covenant) School built by Paul Goodloe McIntire, and the 1930s McIntire Golf Course. Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act requires that impacts on properties eligible for the national register be avoided and when avoidance is impossible, all efforts to mitigate these effects be taken.

- Article VII, section 9 of the Virginia Constitution requires a three-fourths vote of a governing body to transfer any land rights. In Charlottesville, this amounts to four City Councilors. The votes to convey easements for city school and park land needed to construct the Parkway were 3-2 splits, and thus are not in accordance with this constitutional protection of public land.

We have had preliminary discussions with a nationally respected attorney with expert knowledge and experience on legal disputes between highway builders and public constituencies with environmental and historic preservation concerns. She has agreed to represent us at public interest rates. We hope that a law suit can still be averted, but we need to anticipate a sustained relationship with this attorney.

Litigation is expensive and it will cost thousands of dollars to take our case to court. We are asking local residents who want to save McIntire Park to contribute to our legal fund. This money will be used to pay attorney fees and court costs. To make a tax-deductable contribution please write your check to The Sierra Club Foundation and write on the memo line "Preserve McIntire Park Litigation."

Donations should be mailed to:

Sierra Club, Piedmont Group
P.O. Box 5531
Charlottesville, VA 22905

Thank you so much for your support,

John Cruickshank, Piedmont Group of the Sierra Club
Richard Collins, STAMP (Sensible Alternatives to the Meadow Creek Parkway)
Peter Kleeman, STAMP
Stratton Salidis, Priority for Community Transportation
Daniel Bluestone, Preservation Virginia
Neighborhood Association for North Downtown

Apparently permanent easements are required for McIntire Road Extended utility work after all.


For many months VDOT has claimed that there wouldn't be any permanent easements required in McIntire Park and the construction of McIntire Road Extended through the park could be completed using only temporary easements. But, a request for a permanent easement of a bit more than one acre was submitted to the City of Charlottesville by the Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority (RWSA) to carry out their utility work associated with the road construction. This is another change request associated with this project. Here is a copy of the RWSA request with the graphic showing what land is requested to be deeded to RWSA as a "perpetual right of way and easement". City Council may need a super-majority (4-1) vote to grant this easement. With previous McIntire Road Extended votes by council only being passed by a 3-2 vote it will be interesting to see what happens if in fact council is requested to consider granting a permanent easement in McIntire Park.


This document was prepared by:
Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority
695 Moores Creek Lane
Charlottesville, Virginia 22902

City of Charlottesville Tax Map and Parcel Numbers 450001000, 460001200, 460003000
Albemarle County Tax Map and Parcel Number 06100-00-00-193A0



This DEED OF EASEMENT, made this 3rd day of November, 2008, by and between the CITY OF CHARLOTTESVILLE, VIRGINIA, a municipal corporation, Grantor ("Property Owner"), and RIVANNA WATER AND SEWER AUTHORITY, a body politic and corporate created pursuant to the Virginia Water and Waste Authorities Act, whose address is 695 Moores Creek Lane, Charlottesville, Virginia 22902, Grantee (the "Authority").

WITNESSETH:

WHEREAS, the Property Owner has agreed to grant the Authority the easement shown anddescribed on the plans for State Highway Project U000-104-l02, RW-20l, Parcels 001 and004, Sheets 4 and 5, attached hereto and recorded herewith (the "Plat"); and

WHEREAS, as shown on the Plat, the proposed easement crosses a portion of the property conveyed to Property Owner by deeds recorded in the Clerk's Office of the Circuit Court of the City of Charlottesville in Deed Book 162, page 296, and Deed Book 338, page 530, and by deeds recorded in the Clerk's Office of the Circuit Court of Albemarle County in Deed Book 192, pages 15 and 18, and Deed Book 526, page 238, and Property Owner is the fee simple owner of the said property as of the date hereof.

NOW, THEREFORE, for and in consideration of the sum of ONE DOLLAR ($1.00) and other good and valuable consideration, the receipt of which is hereby acknowledged, Property Owner does hereby GRANT and CONVEY with GENERAL WARRANTY of TITLE unto the Authority a perpetual right of way and easement to construct, install, operate, maintain, repair, replace, relocate and extend a sewer line consisting of pipes, equipment, and appurtenances to such pipes and equipment, over, under and across the real property of Property Owner located in the City of Charlottesville, Virginia, and the County of Albemarle, Virginia, and to access any other adjacent easement held by the Authority, the location and width of the easement hereby granted and the boundaries of the property being more particularly described and shown on the Plat as Sanitary Sewer Easement (the "Sewer Easement"). Reference is made to the Plat for the exact location and dimension of the Sewer Easement hereby granted and the property over which the same crosses.

Easement Obstructions

Property owner, its successors or assigns, agree that trees, shrubs, fences, buildings, overhangs or other improvements or obstructions shall not be located within the Sewer Easement. The Sewer Easement shall include the right of the Authority to cut any trees, brush and shrubbery, remove obstructions and take other similar action reasonably necessary to provide economical and safe sewer line installation, operation and maintenance. The Authority shall have no responsibility to Property Owner, its successors or assigns, to replace or reimburse the cost of trees, brush, shrubbery, or other obstructions located in the Sewer Easement if cut or removed or otherwise damaged.

Easement Access and Maintenance

As part of the Sewer Easement the Authority shall have the right to enter upon the above-described property within the Sewer Easement for the purpose of installing, constructing, operating, maintaining, repairing, replacing, relocating and extending the above-described sewer line and appurtenances thereto, within the Sewer Easement; and in addition, the Authority shall have the right of ingress and egress thereto as reasonably necessary to construct, install, operate, maintain, repair, replace, relocate and extend such sewer lines. If the Authority is unable to reasonably exercise the right of ingress and egress over the right-of-way, the Authority shall have the right of ingress and egress over the property of Property Owner adjacent to the right-of-way, and shall restore surface conditions of such property adjacent to the right-of-way as nearly as practical to the same condition as prior to the Authority's exercise of such right.

Excavation

Whenever it is necessary to excavate earth within the Sewer Easement, the Authority agrees to backfill such excavation in a proper and workmanlike manner so as to restore surface conditions as nearly as practical to the same condition as prior to excavation, including restoration of such paved surfaces as maybe damaged or disturbed as part of such excavation.

Ownership of Facilities

The facilities constructed within the Sewer Easement shall be the property of the Authority, its successors and assigns, which shall have the right to inspect, rebuild, remove, repair, improve and make such changes, alterations and connections to or extensions of its facilities within the boundaries of the Sewer Easement as are consistent with the purposes expressed herein.

SIGNATURE PAGE OMITTED


NOTE: The graphic display shows the attached Sheets 4 and 5 combined for easier reading. The area marked in yellow is the proposed permanent easement area requested by RWSA. The area requested appears to be greater than one acre.

Monday, December 1, 2008

City Council need to "walk the walk" and keep pedestrian projects in CIP

As Charlottesville City Council ponders its Capital Improvement Program (CIP) spending, it appears that our pedestrian friendly city - committed to a balanced transportation system - is opting again for cars over pedestrians. Councilors need to literally "walk the walk" of making Charlottesville a truly walkable city and not eliminate the pedestrian oriented elements from the CIP as appears to be the current plan. Rachana Dixit wrote in the Nov. 26 article "Work that will have to wait?" that protecting funds for the Meadow Creek Parkway (actually the McIntire Road Extended and Route 250 Interchange at McIntire Road) will remain but:

"in 2010, $350,000 in West Main Street improvements, $250,000 for Forest Hills Park, $120,000 in neighborhood projects and $300,000 for new sidewalks are some items that are proposed to have their 2010 funding completely removed."

With over $1.5 million of city transportation funds spent on planning for the proposed interchange, and many thousands more spent and yet to be spent on building the controversial road and interchange through McIntire Park - Charlottesville's most significant parkland and land eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places.

I will encourage city council tonight to "walk the walk" and not just "talk the talk" of making Charlottesville truly pedestrian, bicycle and transit friendly. If you care to weigh in on this matter, tonight - December 1, 2008 - is your next opportunity. You can comment during the Matters from the Public item that starts about 7:00 pm at council chambers in city hall.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Federal Highway Administration Responds to My Inquiry about the No-Action Alternative

Here is the letter I got back from Federal Highway Administration in response to my October 10, 2008 inquiry about what constitutes an appropriate no-action alternative for the Route 250 Bypass Interchange at McIntire Road project. I don't believe this response addresses how the rather broad assumptions about what are "predictable actions" that VDOT or local jurisdictions might take in constructing roads or other transportation projects in the vicinity of the interchange project. These assumptions appear to eliminate consideration of inappropriate project segmentation under NEPA. The proposed McIntire Road Extended project as currently proposed doesn't connect to the Route 250 Bypass but ends 775 feet away - and can only connect if the interchange is built. Is it reasonable to consider these projects independent? I think not. Also, when the McIntire Road Extended project was shortened by 775 feet, the project cost was reduced by about $2 Million increasing its financial feasibility - while now the FHWA will cover the cost of construction of the connecting roadway. Is it a predictable action for VDOT to build the proposed McIntire Road Extended if no interchange is constructed? City Council does not approve of any at-grade connection at Route 250, so VDOT would have to construct an interchange if the FHWA doesn't. But, where will the $30 Million plus come from.

This all seems like procedural manipulation of the highest order. I have been suggesting the issues of connectivity, environmental impact assessment, and financial planning be addressed in one effort to identify the best solutions to our transportation challenges. Assuming away the key elements of the problem appears to be inviting disaster. Check out my letter of inquiry of Oct. 10, 2008 and read the response below. And, let me know if you think FHWA is on the right track here.

Virginia Division
P.O. Box 10249
400 N. 8th Street Rm. 750
Richmond, Virginia 23240
(804) 775-3320

U.S. Department of Transportation
Federal Highway Administration

November 4, 2008

IN REPLY REFER TO:
Route 250 Bypass/McIntire Road Interchange
Charlottesville, Virginia

Mr. Peter Kleeman
407 Hedge Street
Charlottesville, Virginia 22902

Dear Mr. Kleeman:

We received your letter dated October 10, 2008 regarding the Route 250/McIntire Road interchange project. We appreciate your comments and your interest in the project. Public comment is an important component of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process for FHWA actions.

Your letter requests information regarding FHWA's definition of the no-build alternative in light of the subject project and past correspondence from our agency. The no-build alternative for this project is simply that the interchange would not be constructed. FHWA is not proposing any other improvements or short-term minor restoration types of activities to be implemented as part of our action should we select the no-build alternative. However, an underlying assumption of the no-build alternative, consistent with the metropolitan planning process for the region and for purposes of conducting the traffic, air, and noise analyses as well as designing the project, is that other projects with funding commitments will be implemented. In urbanized areas, projects that are programmed by the Metropolitan Planning Organization in the fiscally constrained long range plan for the region as part of the metropolitan planning process are considered by FHWA to be committed projects. It is a reasonable approach to assume that those types of projects will continue to be developed and implemented considering that funding for them has already been identified and, importantly for this project, actions have been taken by the sponsors of those projects to develop them and move them forward. Furthermore, it is prudent for FHWA to consider projects being developed by others to ensure that federal-aid projects are designed appropriately and are compatible with other committed projects.

This approach is consistent with the concepts in the Council on Environmental Quality's (CEQ) guidance on the "no action" alternative included in their Questions and Answers About the NEPA Regulations. The CEQ guidance states, "Where a choice of "no action" by the agency would result in predictable actions by others, this consequence of the "no action" alternative should be included in the analysis." As stated above, it is reasonable to assume that if FHWA selects the no-build alternative, the committed projects in the vicinity of the proposed interchange being developed by others will continue to proceed toward implementation. Accordingly, these predictable actions have been included in the analysis. Please keep in mind that FHWA has no control over committed projects being developed by others for which FHWA has no involvement. Therefore, while we are assuming that these committed projects by others will proceed to implementation should FHWA select the no-build alternative for the interchange project, they are not part of the no-build alternative such that FHWA will assume responsibility for implementing them nor will FHWA's decision represent any sort of approval over those projects.

We hope that this information provides some clarity on the no-build alternative for this project and its role in FHWA's decisionmaking as part of the NEPA process.

Sincerely,

Roberto Fonseca-Martinez
Division Administrator

[signature: John Simkins]

By: John Simkins
Senior Environmental Specialist

Cc:
Ms. Angela Tucker, City of Charlottesville
Mr. Leo Rutledge, VDOT

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Significant decreases in automobile traffic reported by FHWA

A recent U.S. Department of Transportation press release indicates that the number of vehicle-miles traveled is decreasing at record pace while transit ridership is increasing at near record pace.

Here are the data presented in the press release dated Oct. 24, 2008:

"In August 2008, Americans drove 15 billion fewer miles, or 5.6 percent less, than they did in August 2007 – the largest ever year-to-year decline recorded in a single month, Secretary Peters said. She added that over the past 10 months, Americans have driven 78 billion fewer miles than they did in the same 10 months the previous year. Texans alone drove 1.3 million fewer miles, the Secretary added.

"Transit ridership, meanwhile, saw an increase of 6.2 percent this summer compared to last, said Secretary Peters. In Texas, the DART rail system saw an increase of 15 percent this summer, one of the largest in its 12-year history, she noted. "


The August 2008 Traffic Volume Trends report from the Federal Highway Administration includes data by month in 2008 indicating a continuous decrease in vehicle miles traveled in tabular and graphical form. It is interesting to note that vehicle miles traveled have decreased 5.6 percent nationwide but that in the Southeastern states the decrease was 7.4 percent.

Clearly, it is time to consider where our transportation dollars will best be spent. Spending the many millions of dollars programmed for highway projects in light of rapidly decreasing vehicle use doesn't seem to be the best investment right now. Instead of spending most of our transportation dollars in the City of Charlottesville and Albemarle County on projects like the Route 250 Bypass Interchange at McIntire Road, the McIntire Road Extended, the Meadow Creek Parkway and other road projects, reprogramming much of that money to transit, bicycle and pedestrian projects seems like a better choice. Our region's transportation goal for many years has been to reduce reliance on automobiles in our urbanized area. Now that this is the trend we as a region need to provide that alternative infrastructure to provide needed mobility by means other than automobiles.

Encourage your transportation planners to meet our future transportation needs by other than more and bigger roads. People are shifting to transit and with better transit options I am sure this trend will continue.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

When planning Federal-aid Highways, What Constitutes the No-action Alternative?

Here is another letter I sent to the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) regarding what constitutes the no-action alternative that is required to be considered among the set of alternatives considered for any Federal-aid Highway project. The Route 250 Bypass Interchange at McIntire Road is just such a project and I have been questioning how the proposed no-action alternative complies with requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Assumptions about what is considered to be already built for this project (all projects with full funding for construction included in what is called the Constrained Long-Range Plan (CLRP) as FHWA sees it) appear to be inconsistent with FHWA's own guidance. I consider this a serious issue and continue to seek clarification for FHWA as to how the current no-action alternative complies with NEPA. No word back from FHWA yet, but I will post the response when I get it. It is my belief that the no-action alternative assumed for this project leads to dramatically limiting the range of alternatives appropriate for consideration in meeting our local transportation needs and results in illegal segmentation of the interchange from the yet finalized McIntire Road Extended project.

If our community is going to approved spending many millions of our available Federal, State and local transportation dollars on this combination of projects, it is essential that we plan in a comprehensive way and consider adequately the impacts these projects have on our natural, historic, and recreational resources. I believe the current effort falls short of the minimum levels of planning and environmental consideration.

Here is the letter of October 10, 2008.

Peter T. Kleeman
407 Hedge Street, Charlottesville VA 22902
(434) 296-6208
peter.kleeman@gmail.com

October 10, 2008

Roberto Fonseca-Martinez, Division Administrator
FHWA Virginia Division
400 North 8th Street, Suite 750
Richmond, Virginia 23219-4825

Dear Roberto Fonseca-Martinez:

Thank you for your letter in response to my August 18, 2008 letter concerning the Route 250 Bypass Interchange at McIntire Road project. In your response you define the no-build alternative (often referred to as the "no action" alternative) to be quite different from how it is defined in FHWA's own guidance. I have searched Council on Environmental Quality, FHWA, and other NEPA related websites online in an attempt to clarify what constitutes an appropriate no-action alternative for this interchange project.

In your letter to me dated September 4, 2008 you state the following: "When FHWA prepares a NEPA document, the no-build alternative is defined as all committed projects from the CLRP (i.e. those projects funded for construction) minus the project being subjected to NEPA." You then state that "it is the CLRP that is the controlling document for determining whether or not a project is considered committed."

I searched FHWA online material, FHWA guidance documents, United States Code, Title 23 and FHWA regulations and find no definition of committed project in terms of the CLRP or justification for the CLRP to be the "controlling document for determining whether or not a project is considered committed." FHWA guidance appears to be silent on any connection between a committed project (no matter how defined) and what projects are assumed to be part of a no-action alternative.

FHWA's current guidance document entitled "GUIDANCE FOR PREPARING AND PROCESSING ENVIRONMENTAL AND SECTION 4(F) DOCUMENTS" (FHWA TECHNICAL ADVISORY T 6640.8A available online at "http://environment.fhwa.dot.gov/projdev/impTA6640.asp" describes the no-action case as follows:

"No-action" alternative: The 'no-action' alternative normally includes short-term minor restoration types of activities (safety and maintenance improvements, etc.) that maintain continuing operation of the existing roadway."

Although this is not a formal definition, it is the only definition I could locate that suggests what would normally be included in a no-action alternative for a Federal-aid Highway project. There is not even a hint in this FHWA guidance material that funding for construction being included in a CLRP for a particular project would support including that project as part of the no-action alternative network description.

In fact, projects described as examples of efforts toward streamlining the environmental review process on the FHWA website list a variety of different assumptions for the no-action network, but without any indication of a basis for appropriateness of those assumptions regarding use of committed projects in the no action network other than several projects that adopt the definition from Technical Advisory T6640.8A provided above.

In addition to not finding any Federal statute, regulation, or guidance indicating a connection between financially committed projects – no matter how defined – and what should be included in specifying the no-action alternative it appears that inclusion of all projects included for construction in the CLRP aside from the project for which the environmental document is being prepared in the no-action alternative eliminates the possibility of exploring the issue of project segmentation. If all projects included for construction in the CLRP are assumed to be in the no action alternative, the only project in the entire network not assumed in place would be the project (or segment) under study. Other projects that are closely integrated with the project under study and that influence traffic assumptions, range of feasible project alternatives, opportunities for avoidance of Section 4(f) or Section 106 properties, and other impact analysis results are rendered fixed in design and stifles any opportunity to identify new alternatives that better meet regional transportation goals with fewer environmental impacts. This appears inconsistent with the NEPA requirement that projects not be segmented and eliminates the opportunity for project designers to identify new alternatives that could meet transportation purpose and need without unnecessary impact on natural, cultural, and historic resources.

I request that you provide me current guidance, regulations, or statutes that constitute the basis for no-action alternative specification beyond the guidance provided in TECHNICAL ADVISORY T 6640.8A.

Sincerely,

Peter T. Kleeman

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Matters from the Public - Can your voice be heard?

Yesterday - October 22, 2008 - I attended two transportation related meetings in Charlottesville. One as a consulting party in the Route 250 Bypass Interchange at McIntire Road Section 106 (historic preservation issues) and the other as a member of the public at the Charlottesville-Albemarle Metropolitan Planning Organization Policy Board meeting. The message sent loudly and clearly at both meetings is that acquiring and considering input from the public is not a really much of a priority in local transportation planning.

At the Section 106 consulting parties meeting, Charlottesville's project consultants (RK&K) indicated clearly that their meeting agenda was final and that continuing discussion of issues not resolved in previous meetings to the satisfaction of consulting parties (all citizen representatives of local interest groups) would not be discussed. In fact, the consultant chairing the meeting indicated that if the citizen consulting parties wouldn't follow the agenda and insisted on continuing previous discussions, we would not have any more opportunities to participate in the (federally required) Section 106 review process. Given that the consulting parties were appointed to the committee by the Federal Highway Administration, the ability of the city's consultants to end our consulting role may be overstated - but I question seriously if input from the public is being taken seriously. This is my first opportunity to participate in a Section 106 review of possible effects of a project on historical resources listed or eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places. But, I don't feel that the process is being carried out in compliance with the federal guidelines. Clearly this process should have occurred much earlier in the project development process (as stated explicitly in federal regulations), and much of the public's concerns stem from alternatives that could limit effects on historic properties having been eliminated from consideration before the public (through the Section 106 process) were able to provide input on historic preservation. This is a case of too little pubic access to the process way too late in the process.

At the MPO meeting, members of the policy board defended their unilateral decision to schedule future public hearings earlier in the day than has been the tradition (public hearings have started at or later than 5:00 pm for many years). This action was brought up, discussed and voted on by the policy board at their September meeting without ever notifying the public of the possible change or providing the public an opportunity to comment in any meaningful way as to how this change will impact the public's ability to participate in these public hearings. The defense of this action given in the September 17, 2008 draft minutes is that "the 2007 Public Participation Policy only requires that public hearings be 'accessible and convenient,' so 5:00 p.m. is not a required time."

I presented to the MPO policy board that for many members of the public who have regular daily work-hours, holding a public hearing shortly after 4:00 pm is not even possible (let along accessible or convenient) while such a hearing at or after 5:00 may be possible to attend even if somewhat inconvenient. My recommendation to the policy board that the public be invited to weigh in on how this schedule change would impact their ability to comment was not agreed to by the MPO policy board.

I have long been an advocate for proactive public involvement where decisions directly impact the public and am very sensitive to actions that clearly limit opportunities for the public to participate in a meaningful way. Yes, as pointed out by MPO staff, the public can telephone, email, or mail comments on issues prior to the public hearing, but there is no guarantee that they will have access to all of the relevant material for the issue at hand (often supplemental material is distributed at the meeting) and they will not be able to hear the introduction of the matter by staff and others clarifying elements of the matter prior to the public hearing. The action taken by the MPO policy board will limit the ability of members of the public to participate. The change is apparently more about convenience to the voting members of the policy board (their desire to end a meeting earlier than 5:00 pm when few items are on an agenda when a public hearing is scheduled) than to provide interested members of the public an opportunity to participate in local transportation decision making.

So, what I got from my experiences on October 22 is that the public may participate, but not as comprehensively as is the intent or tradition, and I am not convinced that anyone is really listening.

Friday, October 17, 2008

VDOT is Pushing the Parkway Agenda

I was surprised to read the headline in Rachana Dixit's Oct. 16, 2008 Daily Progress entitled: Parkway plans pass another milestone. Apparently VDOT is eager to get this project moving in spite of the fact that the McIntire Road Extended and Route 250 Bypass Interchange at McIntire Road project are still in preliminary engineering and as I see it still wrought with potential project design problems, environmental compliance problems, funding considerations, and other potentially project delaying (or termination) requirements.

This action reminds me of the strategy National Football League teams use to avoid reconsideration of a controversial football play call. Teams will hurry to the line of scrimmage and try to get the next play in motion before the play is challenged by the opposing team. Sometimes it works - sometimes not. Unfortunately, we proponents of using our funds for better transportation alternatives can't simply throw a red flag onto the playing field to request a review.

In VDOT's action, they are hoping to maintain that the county project - Meadow Creek Parkway - is totally independent of the city project - McIntire Road Extended. I and others contend that it is essential to consider all three related projects (Meadow Creek Parkway, McIntire Road Extended, and the Route 250 Bypass at McIntire Road) together for environmental review purposes. It appears that even the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) considers Meadow Creek Parkway and McIntire Road Extended to be one combined project for purposes of determining appropriateness of water quality permit applications for storm water discharge and stream impacting activities of those projects. In fact the USACE is just beginning the process of reviewing impacts of these projects on Nationally Register of Historic Places eligible properties prior to considering signing any required permits. Given that this Historic Property process (known as the Section 106 process) is supposed to be completed prior to selecting a final project design it appears that VDOT's advertisement for bids on a final project is a bit premature.

I do not know what VDOT's rationale for their most recent action is, but perhaps this is going to turn out to be our own local "October Surprise." I am ever optimistic our elected officials will realize that the financial and resource costs to construct this set of road projects is not consistent with our future needs and both Charlottesville and Albemarle will look to fund and construct better public transit solutions to meet our needs of the future - and not build these road projects that may not even have been good solutions to our problems of the past.

Note: Photo from Charlottesville Tomorrow.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

A great bicycle path model for us to emulate

Here is a great photo of what part of the soon to be constructed bicycle path to be built in Germany might look like. I read in the Oct. 16 2008 online version of the Dutch newspaper de Telegraaf that Germany will construct a 915 kilometer (about 550 mile) bicycle path from its border with Poland through five German states to its border with the Netherlands at a cost of about 900,000 euro (about $1.5 Million) over the next three years. The goal is to promote bicycling and bicycle tourism. What a great project to emulate here in Virginia and beyond. Given the high cost of automobile projects, investment in safe, long-distance bicycle facilities would be a great investment of scarce transportation dollars. With the Millions of dollars being taken from the Virginia transportation program, I urge our transportation decision makers to consider projects like this along with more investment in transit.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

FHWA responds to my inquiry regarding Route 250 Bypass Interchange project

Below is a letter in response to my August 18, 2008 letter to Roberto Fonseca-Martinez, Division Administrator of the Virginia Division of the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). Note that FHWA is the lead agency on the Route 250 Bypass at McIntire Road Project and must ultimately approve that the project development process and the environmental review of the project are consistent with all Federal requirements including the NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act of 1969) process, Section 4(f) of the US Dept. of Transportation Act, and Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act.

I will be sharing this letter with other folks interested in the Route 250 Bypass Interchange at McIntire Road project and expect that further discussion with FHWA about issues addressed in this letter will occur.

Do let me know if you have interest in pursuing any of the issues addressed here. You can provide a comment using the link at the end of this posting.

September 4, 2008

Route 250 Bypass/McIntire
Road Interchange;
Charlottesville, Virginia

Mr. Peter Kleeman
407 Hedge Street
Charlottesville, Virginia 22902

Dear Mr. Kleeman:

We are in receipt of your letter dated August 18, 2008, in which you contend that a "change" in the southern terminus of the state-funded McIntire Road Extended project has implications for the decisions made by FHWA related to the Route 250 Bypass interchange project in fulfilling its obligations under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). You further contend that if the extension and interchange projects remain independent in light of this change, then we will not be in compliance with NEPA; accordingly, you encourage us to review the Route 250 Bypass interchange project and provide guidance to the project sponsors as to how they can come into compliance with NEPA requirements.

FHWA has reviewed the Route 250 Bypass interchange project as you have suggested and does not see cause to change the decision that we have made regarding the independence of the interchange project. In fact, we have addressed the independence issue several times already as well as the relationship between project development activities and NEPA, both directly and indirectly, and done so in a manner that is applicable here as well. This issue regarding the southern terminus of the state-funded McIntire Road Extended project first arose several months ago when VDOT released stormwater management design plans for the project. Before VDOT released those plans, the District Environmental Manager contacted FHWA to see if we had any issues with VDOT releasing plans that did not show the state-funded McIntire Road Extension project going all the way to the Route 250 Bypass. FHWA indicated that it did not have the authority to dictate to VDOT how they developed the plans for their state-funded projects and the limits that those plans covered. Further, it has been FHWA's understanding that VDOT and the City intended to issue construction contracts for the McIntire Road Extension project and the Route 250 Bypass interchange project as closely together as project development activities would allow in order to minimize disruption to the environment, adjacent communities and the traveling public. Therefore, common sense dictates that if VDOT and the City are going to work toward this goal, then they are not going to spend time and money to develop design plans and construct a project that would be replaced by another project scheduled to follow closely behind. We made it clear at the time that VDOT has the authority and discretion to design and construct projects as they deem fit; NEPA does not dictate how projects are designed or construction contracts are let or the limits that those design plans and contracts cover. If VDOT wants to combine a state funded project and a federally funded project into a single design or construction contract, that is their prerogative. If they want to limit the scope of the design or construction contract of their project in anticipation of another project coming down the road, again, that is their prerogative.

As indicated above, we have addressed this issue of the relationship between NEPA and other project development activities and provide you with the following references:

In response to your 2005 inquiry to the VDOT Commissioner and FHWA Division Administrator, VDOT correctly stated (after consulting with FHWA), in part, that "Proposed projects with location approvals and funding commitments may serve as logical termini for other projects that are being considered in the planning, feasibility or early preliminary engineering phases."

In our August 31, 2006, response to you we stated:
"By virtue of its inclusion in the United Jefferson Area Mobility Plan 2025 for construction, the Constrained Long Range Plan (CLRP) for the region, the McIntire Road Extended/Meadow Creek Parkway project is considered a committed project. When FHWA prepares a NEPA document, the no-build alternative is defined as all committed projects from the CLRP (i.e. those projects funded for construction) minus the project being subjected to NEPA. The Six-Year Program plays no role in defining the no-build alternative, and it has no standing with respect to FHWA's metropolitan or statewide planning requirements; instead, it is the CLRP that is the controlling document for determining whether or not a project is considered committed."

"Neither does NEPA dictate the sequence in which projects are to be constructed. Even though we maintain our position that the McIntire Road Extended/Meadow Creek Parkway project remains a committed project by virtue of its inclusion in the CLRP, nothing requires VDOT to construct it in advance of the Route 250 Bypass/McIntire Road Interchange project. Notwithstanding, based on recent discussions with VDOT and the City of Charlottesville, it is their intent to advertise and construct both the McIntire Road Extended/Meadow Creek Parkway project and the Route 250 Bypass/McIntire Road Interchange project at the same time to minimize disruption to the adjacent communities and the traveling public."

In our February 15,2008, letter to VDHR:
"... determinations regarding independent utility are based on whether a proposed undertaking can function or operate on its own and is considered useable if no other improvements are made, not whether a proposed undertaking will function or operate on its own. The determination of whether a federally funded project can function and operate on its own is a NEPA determination and isn't necessarily influenced by the decisions made by others regarding how a project is actually constructed or how contracts are let. Therefore, while the interchange is being designed and is intended to be constructed to accommodate what FHWA considers to be a committed project by others, this design and proposed sequencing of construction has no bearing on FHWA's determination regarding independent utility."

In RKK/FHWA's responses to comments submitted by the Section 106 consulting parties (released at the February 26, 2008, consulting party meeting):
"Finally, to not include McIntire Road Extended in the no-build (and build) alternatives for the Federal action would be poor planning for compatibility with a project in this stage of design. Furthermore, advancement of the two projects simultaneously so that compatibility maybe achieved does not equate to the two projects being dependent on one another - it simply means that the design of one does not preclude the design of the other, which is consistent with the way other projects are developed in Virginia, especially those involving bridges which have a different design life than adjoining roadway improvements."

To summarize, FHWA stands by its determination that the Route 250 Bypass interchange project has independent utility and will serve a function and need if no other improvements are completed in the area, including the McIntire Road Extended project, as outlined in our February 15, 2008, letter to the Virginia Department of Historic Resources. The decision by VDOT to limit the scope of its design of the McIntire Road Extended project does not undermine the reasons cited by our agency in that letter in concluding that the interchange project is independent of the McIntire Road Extended project. Finally, as we have stated before, FHWA is only obligated and required to determine that its undertakings have independent utility and is not required to demonstrate that other undertakings outside of its jurisdiction have independent utility, operate in an independent manner, or serve a function and need if no other improvements are made. Therefore, it is not correct to state that the current FHWA position is that these two projects can proceed as independent projects. FHWA's position is that the Route 250 Bypass interchange project has independent utility and can proceed apart from the McIntire Road Extended project if the project applicant wishes to develop it in that manner.

Sincerely,

Roberto Fonseca-Martinez
Division Administrator



By: Edward S. Sundra
Planning and Environment
Program Manager

Monday, August 18, 2008

Thoughts on the Route 250 Bypass Interchange at McIntire Road I shared with FHWA

Here is the text of a letter I sent today to the Division Administrator of the Virginia Division of the Federal Highway Administration. Given the actions that Charlottesville City Council is considering in moving the McIntire Road Extended project forward to construction I feel it is necessary to get FHWA to review the situation. Perhaps if you have thoughts on the legality or propriety of how these projects are being developed you can share your thoughts with FHWA, VDOT, and Charlottesville City Council, too.



August 18, 2008

Roberto Fonseca-Martinez
Division Administrator
FHWA Virginia
400 North 8th Street, Suite 750
Richmond, Virginia 23219-4825

Dear Mr. Fonseca-Martinez,

A change in the southern terminus of the McIntire Road Extended project in Charlottesville from intersecting at Route 250 Bypass at McIntire Road to a point 775 feet north of the Route 250 Bypass has recently occurred. Given that this road and its connection to Route 250 Bypass constituted the no-build alternative in the Route 250 Bypass Interchange at McIntire Road – a Federal-aid Highway project – it now appears that there is no basis for using the current no-build alternative in the interchange project.

I and other interested stakeholders in Charlottesville have communicated our concern that these two projects should be combined into one project with the no-build alternative being the current in-place roadway network since the inception of the separate interchange project. With the recent official change in the McIntire Road Extended project design scope, the current FHWA position that these two projects can proceed as independent projects clearly needs to be revisited. The new design scope of the state funded McIntire Road Extended project makes it no longer a road as it only has one terminus that connects to the existing roadway network and clearly is dependent upon the Federal-aid interchange project to provide any transportation utility in the roadway network. The interchange is also the only currently proposed project that if constructed will link the southern terminus of the proposed McIntire Road Extended project to Route 250 Bypass (a National Highway System facility).

I believe that the current projects remaining as independent projects is not in compliance with NEPA requirements regarding project segmentation, and the interchange project is not in compliance with the NEPA requirement of having a suitable no-build alternative under consideration.

I encourage you to review the McIntire Road Interchange at McIntire Road project in light of these significant developments and provide necessary guidance to the project sponsors (City of Charlottesville) as to how they can come into compliance with Federal-aid Highway Program and NEPA requirements.

I am happy to discuss this issue with you or members of your staff further by letter, telephone, or electronic mail. My contact information is provided above.

Sincerely, Peter Kleeman


Friday, August 15, 2008

McIntire Road Extended Easement Update

As a follow-up to my previous posting, I provide below the listing of all easements proposed by VDOT necessary to construct McIntire Road Extended. The data below are taken from the "Preliminary Right of Way Data Sheet" that is Sheet 1C of the plan sheets for the project. These data reflect data as of three months ago, and apparently some small changes in the amount of temporary easement is necessary for a more recent design update - triggering the need for city council to reconsider the granting of the specific easements to VDOT at the Aug. 18, 2008 council meeting.

The McIntire Road Extended project uses parts of two land parcels - both owned by the City of Charlottesville. One parcel (parcel 001) is land in McIntire Park that is located in the City of Charlottesville and contains 145 acres. The other (parcel 004) is land in McIntire Park that is located in Albemarle County but south of Melbourne Road and contains 3.5 acres.

The agenda material claims that only temporary easements need be transferred to VDOT, but the Preliminary Right of Way Data Sheet contains the following number of acres of easement in each parcel listed by type of easement. I believe the Utility category lists permanent easements, but these easements are to utility companys and not to VDOT. It is not clear to me when and how these easements are granted.


--------------- Easement Type ----------
Parcel Permanent Permanent
Number Roadway Drainage Utility Tempory

001 1.73 2.80 2.79 14.88
004 0.864 0.029 0.998 1.88

Total 2.6 2.8 3.8 16.8


If these data are current, they indicate that only 16.8 of the approximately 26.0 acres that are to be put under easement will actually be temporary easements with 9.2 acres being granted to either VDOT or utility companies as permanent easements.

And, as mentioned in my last posting, the Constitution of Virginia apparently requires that council needs at least four votes to reach the necessary super-majority for granting these permanent easements in McIntire Park.

The entire process of proposing to use only easements (whether temporary or permanent) is not the usual path taken by VDOT. My understanding is that VDOT typically acquires title to the land necessary for the construction of a road, and then after completing the project returns all of the land VDOT does not require for maintaining the road to the municipality. The McIntire Road Extended project may well be the only VDOT project that is following this process.

If you are interested in what is going on here, I recommend you bring your concerns to council on Monday Aug. 18 and present your thoughts at the public hearing scheduled early in the meeting. The meeting starts at 7:00 pm and the public hearing will likely begin about 30 minutes after the start of the meeting.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Late summer arrives - and again the city will consider giving away McIntire Park land to VDOT

If it is summer, then watch for some controversial action on the McIntire Road Extended project at city council. On July 16, 2007, city council last considered granting a temporary construction easement of roughly 22 acres to VDOT to construct the McIntire Road Extended project. A public hearing was held, but no council action was taken until October 1, 2007.

On Oct. 1, 2007, a resolution by council was passed 5-0 to grant a temporary construction easement to VDOT (in return for $1 payment). The relevant - and exact- wording included in the resolution passed by city council on October 1, 2007 is as below in italics:

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED by the Council for the City of Charlottesville, Virginia that this Council hereby authorizes the City Manager to sign the following document, in form approved by the City Attorney, upon (1) certification from the Virginia Department of Transportation that the Commonwealth has acquired title to or a permanent easement over 49.1 acres of real property that will be dedicated for use by the City as replacement park land; (2) review and approval by City Council of the final design of the storm water drainage plan; and (3) written confirmation from the Virginia Department of Transportation that this temporary construction easement will not be used to construct an at-grade intersection at the intersection of U.S. Route 250 Bypass and McIntire Road Extended:

Agreement between the City of Charlottesville, as "Grantor" and the Commonwealth of Virginia, as "Grantee", granting a temporary construction easement across and through McIntire Park for construction of McIntire Road Extended, and related utility and drainage work.

On Aug. 18, 2008, another resolution to grant a slightly modified temporary easement to VDOT is under consideration and a case is to be made that all of the conditions from the previous resolution have been satisfied.

But, some issues are unresolved. Given that council has never approved a final design of a storm water drainage plan (only the concept was approved). And, the official southern terminus of the McIntire Road Extended project was moved from Route 250 Bypass to approx. 775 feet north of Route 250 Bypass. The project was shortened by approximately one-third in distance and the project only connects the roadway network at Melbourne Road. Clearly, McIntire Road Extended is dependent upon the so-called independent Route 250 Bypass Interchange at McIntire Road project. Yes, the interchange project is considered to be totally independent of the McIntire Road Extended project. I believe that VDOT is required to hold a new design public hearing when such a significant change in project terminus occurs - and when a project connects at only one point in the roadway network. This constitutes a significant change in project design scope. In fact a new design public hearing was held because of a change in design scope for Meadow Creek Parkway (in Albemarle County) when the project alignment changed after the Jones and Jones consultant's design was approved by Albemarle County Board of Supervisors. With all the changes to the McIntire Road Extended project, there hasn't been a VDOT location or design public hearing on this project since 1999.

It is troubling that the city council resolutions only discuss temporary construction easements. On the most recent VDOT plans for McIntire Road Extended, land is clearly identified with proposed permanent easements as part of the storm water management plan. If city council approves the proposed resolution, it appears that only the temporary easements will be granted. Perhaps city council should consider this issue along with the final storm water design before they authorizing granting of any easements.

Charlottesville resident Stratton Salidis has spoken often at city council about the need for council to have a super-majority vote to grant permanent easements as apparently required by the Virginia Constitution. I believe he is correct. This would mean that a 4-1 vote in favor of granting a permanent easement would be required on council.

Lastly, the condition council passed about not using the granted easement to build an at-grade intersection has become moot due to the change in project terminus. McIntire Road Extended might better be called something else in that it no longer even connects to McIntire Road. This is our local equivalent of the Alaska bridge to nowhere project although that proposed bridge actually connected to something. As of now, there is no commitment to build an interchange to bridge the gap. Technical and funding problems are yet to be resolved, and preliminary engineering and interchange designs are not yet complete. The environmental review of the project is still underway and no final action is likely to occur until late spring 2009. Council may well be building a multi-million dollar road to nowhere through McIntire Park.

I expect better attention to detail on project development from the city, and VDOT when so many millions of dollars and over 22 acres of McIntire Park are in jeopardy - plus added community noise, air pollution, and loss of or impact on natural, historical, and cultural resources.

I hope you will consider the details of this and the related projects and share your thoughts on this project with VDOT, and the city council and staff. There will be a public hearing on this matter early on the Aug. 18 council agenda. The resolution being considered on Aug. 18 is as follows:

A RESOLUTION AUTHORIZING THE CONVEYANCE OF A TEMPORARY CONSTRUCTION EASEMENT IN MCINTIRE PARK TO THE COMMONWEALTH OF VIRGINIA

WHEREAS, the City of Charlottesville is the owner of McIntire Park; and,

WHEREAS, the Commonwealth of Virginia, through its Department of Transportation, has requested a temporary right and easement to use approximately 22.2 acres within McIntire Park for the construction of McIntire Road Extended, also known as the Meadow Creek Parkway, and related utility and drainage work; and,

WHEREAS, by Resolution adopted October 1, 2007 City Council authorized the granting of the easement upon the fulfillment of certain conditions; and,

WHEREAS, in accordance with the prior Resolution the Virginia Department of Transportation (“VDOT”) has certified that it has acquired title to or a permanent easement over 49.1 acres of real property that will be dedicated for use by the City as replacement park land, and that this temporary construction easement will not be used to construct an at-grade intersection at the intersection of U.S. Route 250 Bypass; and,

WHEREAS, the storm water drainage system has been designed in accordance with the concept previously approved by the Council.

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED by the Council for the City of Charlottesville, Virginia that this Council hereby authorizes the Mayor to sign the following document, in form approved by the City Attorney:

Agreement between the City of Charlottesville, as “Grantor” and the Commonwealth of Virginia, as “Grantee”, granting a temporary construction easement across and through McIntire Park for construction of McIntire Road Extended, and related utility and drainage work. The approximate location of the easement area is shown on a drawing dated June 23, 2008 and entitled “Proposed McIntire Road Extended U000-104-V02, PE-101”.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this Resolution is enacted with the expectation that Albemarle County, in response to the granting of this temporary construction easement, will:

1) Commit to a continued and substantial increase in funding for public transit;
2) Commit to making extensive pedestrian and bicycle improvements within the urban ring;
3) Commit to building a transportation connector between Sunset Avenue and Fontaine Research Park/29-250 Bypass that would divert traffic from Old Lynchburg Road; and
4) Commit to continued development of alignment and funding scenarios for the Eastern Connector.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Charlottesville City Council requests that the Virginia Department of Transportation use any means at their disposal to ensure that Albemarle County is capable of meeting the City Council’s expectations as expressed herein.

Friday, July 25, 2008

A terrific - Taste of Ghana - both music and food!

Last night (July 24) was a special treat for me and upward of 100 others attending Chihamba's 19th Annual African American Cultural Arts Festival presentation of "A Taste of Ghana" featuring Okyerema Asante at the Burley Middle School.

Online biographical notes describe Okyerema Asante as "a master drummer from Ghana, famous for performing all parts of a traditional five-person drum group by himself. He attaches percussion instruments to various parts of his body and simultaneously plays drums, a balafon, and many other instruments. He has as many as 85 instruments in one performance. Coming from a family of drummers, Asante is an expert of traditional Ghanaian talking drums."

Asante has also toured with Hugh Masekela is playing with Paul Simon on his Graceland album and is well worth seeing in the future if you missed yesterday's performance.

I think it is James Brown who was called something like the hardest working man in music (I don't think that is correct - but close). But, Okyerema Asante might now fit that description. He was constantly in motion - shaking the bells and nuts strung around his lower legs while playing a huge ensemble of drums, the balafon (a xylophone sort of instrument) and a host of other hammered, struck, shaken or plucked instruments - often while telling a story. Incredible.

I and about 10 others joined in on two audience participation numbers playing a variety of percussion instruments while marveling to the drum rythms of Asante.

Asante was dressed in much the manner in the album cover image above, but with a different set of horns. I guess when one tours the world and wear horns as a regular costume item one set might not be enough. Or, perhaps, with strict limits on bringing animal parts into the US, perhaps the ones in the album cover had to remain in Ghana.

There were also several poetry readings by members of our local African-American community, awards to community members and local business sponsors and a great sense of community among all who were present.

But, there was more than the music concert an poetry worth noting. There was a fabulous assortment of traditional dishes from Ghana for all to sample. The menu included Peanut Paste Soup with Chicken, Jjolof Rice, Rice Balls, Ghanaian Pancakes, Ghanaiaan Meat Pie, Fried Red Plantain, Spinach Stew with Meat, Spinach Stew with Fish and Shrimp (my personal favorite), Wakye, and Akala. Perhaps you can check these out on Google search and try them at home. Some of the ingredients in the dishes was grown at the QCC Farm at Sixth Street SE and Monticello Avenue. Now that is definitely eating local!

I had such a good time that I am disappointed this is the first Taste of Ghana I have attended. Be sure to consider attending next year's Taste of Ghana. If it is to be anything like this year's it is worth putting on your calendar now. Iaren Waters, Executive Director of QCC Inc. was the mistress of ceremonies and I am sure put in a great deal of organizational effort along with the rest of her team to make this a memorable community event. Thank you Karen for your efforts and for alerting me to this year's Taste of Ghana. I definitely plan to attend again next year.

But, that is not all....... The African American Cultural Arts Festival will be continuing on Saturday at Booker T. Washington Park starting about 10:00 am and ending at 5:00 pm or so. I will be there too for storytelling, music, dance, and yes - more food. I hope to see you there too.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Yes you can get visitor information through the mall entrance

Yes, you should be able to get into the Charlottesville Albemarle Convention & Visitors Bureau through the doors on the east end of downtown mall whenever it is open. I am delighted that the city took my concern (see previous blog entry) expressed to city council about these doors being blocked by the Charlottesville Pavilion fencing on Saturday afternoon July 5 when we had lots of visitors in town - even though the Visitors Bureau was still open for another hour and the Pavilion concert wasn't to begin until later that evening.

I presented my concerns on Monday, July 7 during 'Matters from the Public' and got an email from Aubrey Watts, Charlottesville's Director of Economic Development on Friday, June 11 stating that he met with Pavilion staff, Convention & Visitors Bureau leadership, and Transit Center staff to discuss the matter. The email stated that the door to the Convention & Visitors Bureau "must be accessible whenever they have the CVB office open." In addition, the policy is that "they must open the area anytime a person with the need to use the elevator request it."

I thank Aubrey Watts for addressing this concern so promptly and ensuring that all of the groups involved had a clear understanding of the access policy for the future. I wasn't aware of the elevator access policy, so I even learned something new from this conversation.

Many people still believe that "you can't fight City Hall," but I find that you can bring a concern to the city leadership and if you present a clear argument for action on their part you can get a prompt and positive response. With interaction like this, there is really no need to even consider needing to fight City Hall."

Graphic: Logo of the Charlottesville Albemarle Convention & Visitors Bureau

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Is the Pavilion sensitive to Charlottesville's visitors

In my last Squeaky Wheel column in the May 24, 2007 HooK entitled "Pavilion creep: Speak up about Mall takeover' addressed the issue of the Pavilion claiming an increased area of public space for its events over that specified in the Pavilion agreement with the City. But it appears that there is a continuing effort by the Pavilion to expand even further into the public space.

I was walking toward the Pavilion on the downtown mall at 4:00 pm on Saturday July 5, 2008 and was blocked at the Pavilion fence that blocked the entire east end of the mall to pedestrian traffic. I was not even able to access the Charlottesville Visitor's Center - which was open for business at the time. I saw the several groups of visitors being instructed that they could enter through the Water Street entrance. But, that requires walking down 30 steps, then back up those steps again to the Visitor's Center desk, then down and up again to get information that shouldn't require the 120 step trip.

I did the hike and chatted with several visitors at the desk who also did the detour demanded by the Pavilion staff. I also learned from the Visitor's Center staff that they knew nothing about the blocking of their entrance but that this was the first time their doors had been blocked. I chatted with the person operating the Pavilion ticket table who told me that if I had any problem with the fencing, I should talk to City Council. Never being shy about bringing my concerns, ideas, suggestions, etc. to City Council I presented my concerns last night during 'Matters from the Public' at beginning of the council meeting. I am counting on councilors, our city manager, and our city attorney to review this in light of the Pavilion agreement and ensure that visitors to the mall have access to the information they need when they visit Charlottesville in a convenient manner.



What I find most disconcerting about this blocking of mall level access to the Visitor's Center is that the Pavilion management is claiming their need to post a permanent information sign for mall visitors. How odd to believe that access to Pavilion event information on the east end of the mall is important, but access to visitor information is not.

Perhaps there is a misunderstanding about where the Pavilion event area has been set, and I hope this is a matter that will not happen again, but I look forward to a clear statement from the city or the Pavilion management once our city leaders work out a solution. I do believe that access to the Visitor's Center must be available to our visitors whenever the Center is open to the public. Simply placing the plastic fences in a slightly different location would solve the access problem.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Should the new downtown mall brick be placed in mortar or sand? Or is it best to repair the current bricks?

The most recent public discussion about how the bricks on the Charlottesville downtown mall should be repaired or replaced brought out a standing room only crowd at the city design space. The MMM consultants promoted the idea of replacing all of the bricks with new brick and placing them in sand rather than using mortar as the original bricks were installed. Apparently, MMM has determined that placing the bricks in sand is the current standard installation technique around the country. But, if we look at the recent brick and stone installed in sand at in the crosswalk at East High Street and Fourth Street NE, there is obvious damage to both bricks and stone due to automobile traffic.


This is already the second installation of these bricks. The first installation had significant settlement of the bricks and stone, and many of the brick and stone elements were chipped. But, the two photos of this crossing taken on July 5, 2008 show similar damage (but no further settlement). The stone pieces are loose and the sand between the stones and the bricks is no longer in the joints. Is this what we will see on the two vehicle crossings of the mall?



Another problem with the sand joints is evident in the sidewalk bricks by the Albemarle County Sheriff Office. The bricks have only been in place for a few months in the entrance to the Sally Port (where prisoners are loaded and unloaded behind the just installed steel gates), but the sand joints have lost most of the sand. And, in the sidewalk section near Jackson Park on East High Street, crab grass is growing in the joints.

I am curious what the difference in installation would be between these installations and that to be done for the hundreds of thousands of bricks proposed for the downtown mall. My guess is that there will be a significant maintenance requirement to keep the sand joints in good order. Is the sand installation better or worse than the mortar installation? I can't tell. The mortar installation on the mall lasted over 25 years with not much routine maintenance. Can sand installation really do better than that? Clearly the vehicle crossings won't do well if the installation is similar to the 'improved' installation at the pedestrian crossing at East High Street and Fourth Street NE.



I hope MMM and the city will make sure they consider if the problems shown in these photos will occur on the mall, too. Maybe repairing and replacing the mortar in the existing bricks is the best solution after all.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

On Being Independent - suggested reading

A thought on July 3, 2008

I find that some documents are worth reading many times - and that I learn or understand the meaning of that document more each time. The declaration of independence is one such document. With the anniversary of the signing of that document upon us, I thought you might spend a few minutes re-reading it - or maybe reading it for the very first time. There is an online copy of the Declaration of Independence (along with other "Organic Laws" of the United States).

An online presentation of the Declaration of Independence is available on the U.S. House of Representatives Office of the Law Revision Council website for easy access.

I am always intrigued by how many of the very same issues addressed in this document in 1776 still are being discussed, and fought in many places around the world - and in the United States, too.

I encourage you to spend the few minutes it will take to read this document and consider what being a free and independent people means in the 21st Century.

Enjoy the read! I just did, and will plan to do this again next July if not before.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Drop in automobile use and increase in transit ridership offers new opportunities

The US Dept. of Transportation put out a press release on the recent decline in vehicle miles traveled on US Highways that should make us all consider how we in Charlottesville should be investing our limited transportation dollars. I might question the Secretary of Transportation, Mary Peters, notion that we now need to finde new revenue sources for highways, but I would agree that we need to invest more in transit programs nationwide - and even moreso in Charlottesville area. Even at 14 miles per gallon, a reduction of 1.4 billion highway miles results in saving 100 million gallons of highway fuel saved compared in April 2008 compared to April 2007.


In Charlottesville, the millions of dollars available for transportation might be much better spent in expanding transit options compared to building projects such as the Meadow Creek Parkway, the McIntire Road Extended, or the Route 250 Bypass Interchange at McIntire Road. With reducing highway traffic demand, and rising transit usage, now is not too soon to refocus our investment strategy toward public transportation, and enhancing pedestrian and bicycle options.

Below is the press release from the US DOT. If a six-month decline is not a trend, then I am not sure what is. Join me in challenging our city and county decision makers to look at how much reprogramming can be achieved in the very near future. Virginia is not making sufficient funding available to build our way out of our transportation challenges through highway construction alone. I believe investments in transit and other not highway construction solutions is where we need to be moving.

DOT 84-08
Wednesday, June 18, 2008
Contact: Doug Hecox
Tel.: (202) 366-0660

Americans Drove 1.4 Billion Fewer Highway Miles in April of 2008 than in April 2007 While Fuel Prices and Transit Ridership Are Both on the Rise
Sixth Month of Declining Vehicle Miles Traveled Signals Need to Find New Revenue Sources for Highway and Transit Programs, Transportation Secretary Mary E. Peters Says

WASHINGTON – At a time of record-high gas prices and a corresponding surge in transit ridership, Americans are driving less for the sixth month in a row, highlighting the need to find a more sustainable and effective way to fund highway construction and maintenance, said U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary E. Peters.

The Secretary said that Americans drove 1.4 billion fewer highway miles in April 2008 than at the same time a year earlier and 400 million miles less than in March of this year. She added that vehicle miles traveled (VMT) on all public roads for April 2008 fell 1.8 percent as compared with April 2007 travel. This marks a decline of nearly 20 billion miles traveled this year, and nearly 30 billion miles traveled since November.

“We’re burning less fuel as energy costs change driving patterns, steer people toward more fuel efficient vehicles and encourage more to use transit. Which is exactly why we need a more effective funding source than the gas tax,” Secretary Peters said.

The Secretary said as Americans drive less, the federal Highway Trust Fund receives less revenue from gasoline and diesel sales – 18.4 cents per gallon and 24.4 cents per gallon, respectively.

The Secretary noted that data show midsize SUV sales were down last month 38 percent over May of last year; car sales, which had accounted for less than half of the industry volume in 2007, rose to 57 percent in May. She said past trends have shown Americans will continue to drive despite high gas prices, but will drive more fuel efficient vehicles consuming less fuel. “History shows that we’re going to continue to see congested roads while gas tax revenues decline even further,” she said.

“As positive as any move toward greater fuel efficiency is, we need to make sure we have the kind of sustainable funding measures in place to support needed highway and transit improvements well into the future,” said Acting Federal Highway Administrator Jim Ray.

To review the FHWA’s “Traffic Volume Trends” reports, including that of April 2008, visit http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/ohim/tvtw/tvtpage.htm.

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Sunday, June 22, 2008

Solar Power Options

In the spirit of becoming a more sustainable city and reducing our carbon footprint, perhaps Charlottesville can learn from other university cities and take some bold energy policy actions. The city of Marburg Germany has taken just such a step. Check out this story I found on an international newsite (www.telegraaf.nl) and searched out an English language write-up to share.

So, here it is.

Marburg makes solar power mandatory

Published: 21 Jun 08 10:57 CET
Online: http://www.thelocal.de/12627/

The Hessian town of Marburg has decided to make the installation of solar panels compulsory on all new buildings, and any older ones which are renovated or altered.

The radical move was decided on Friday by the Social Democrats and Greens which command a majority of seats in the town council.

It takes the 79,000-head town way in front of most other areas in the country – anyone who fails to fit a solar panel on their roof when building or altering their house, could be fined €1,000.

Generally such rules are only applied to new buildings, but in Marburg, the only opt-out will be if a building is being fuelled by other renewable energy.

A share of the costs will be met by state money, while heating bills will be but once the solar panels are installed and working.

"It's all well and good when you tighten up the rules for new buildings. But the most energy is used in older buildings," Marburg Mayor Franz Kahle told the Associated Press.

The German government is committed to trying to meet 14 percent of all energy needs with renewables by 2020.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

When is a concept a final design?

When is a concept a final design? Apparently when you are on Charlottesville's staff and wanting to move forward granting an easement to VDOT to build the McIntire Road Extended.

At the May 5, 2008 city council meeting, a resolution was passed that reads in part "that this Council hereby approves in concept the storm water management design" for the McIntire Road Extended project. But, at the May 21, 2008 Metropolitan Planning Organization this approval of concept was misrepresented as an approval of a final design for storm water management by the city's VDOT liaison, Jeanette Janiczek (in response to my comment to the MPO that no such design had been approved, but only a concept for storm water management). Then, at the city council work session on May 4, 2008 on the Route 250 Bypass Interchange at McIntire Road project [advertised as the McIntire Road Extended Interchange project], City Manager Gary O'Connell stated that the resolution passed by council on May 5,2008 was an approval of a storm water plan - not a concept and that the condition included in the October 1, 2007 resolution by city council regarding storm water planning was thus satisfied. O'Connell went on to suggest that all of the three conditions of the October 1, 2007 resolution could be satisfied within a month or so and the easement letter could be legitimately signed. I beg to differ!

What is the condition that needs to be met?

The relevant - and exact- wording included in the resolution passed by city council on October 1, 2007 is as below in italics:

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED by the Council for the City of Charlottesville, Virginia that this Council hereby authorizes the City Manager to sign the following document, in form approved by the City Attorney, upon (1) certification from the Virginia Department of Transportation that the Commonwealth has acquired title to or a permanent easement over 49.1 acres of real property that will be dedicated for use by the City as replacement park land; (2) review and approval by City Council of the final design of the storm water drainage plan; and (3) written confirmation from the Virginia Department of Transportation that this temporary construction easement will not be used to construct an at-grade intersection at the intersection of U.S. Route 250 Bypass and McIntire Road Extended:

Agreement between the City of Charlottesville, as "Grantor" and the Commonwealth of Virginia, as "Grantee", granting a temporary construction easement across and through McIntire Park for construction of McIntire Road Extended, and related utility and drainage work.

NOTE: the draft agreement is available online as page 29 of the October 1, 2007 city council agenda packet .pdf file.



So, what is the big deal?

Mayor Norris asked Ms. Janiczek at the May 5, 2008 meeting prior to the vote on the storm water management resolution given below if it was true that the vote was for just the concept, and not a storm water plan - to which Ms. Janiczek said yes. This being clarified, the vote was taken and the resolution given below in its entirety was passed.

It is my understanding, and apparently the mayor's understanding, that a final storm water management plan (including Best Management Practices) would need to be developed before the construction easement to VDOT would be brought back to council for final approval in compliance with the October 1, 2007 council resolution. Although no further action was taken, our city manager now believes that the condition is met.

Below is the complete resolution of May 5, 2008 passed by city council. Given that no final storm water design plan was even supplied to city council prior to the May 5, 2008 meeting, and the clear statement is included that "Council hereby approves in concept the storm water management design" rather than approving "the final design of the storm water drainage plan" as required indicates that council needs to be provided a final plan for its consideration and approval prior to the city manager signing any easement agreement.

RESOLUTION

WHEREAS, a committee (composed of City staff, VDOT representatives, landscape
professionals, etc.) was appointed by City Council to evaluate the design of storm water
management facilities for the McIntire Road Extended project; and

WHEREAS, the committee has submitted its recommendation for the design of storm water management facilities which will best blend with the natural contour and landscaping of McIntire
Park, with an emphasis on rain gardens; now, therefore

BE IT RESOLVED by the Council of the City of Charlottesville, Virginia, that this Council hereby approves in concept the storm water management design shown on the attached two (2) drawings (Concept Plan and Concept Perspective) by Land Planning & Design Associates,
dated May 5, 2008.

Approved by council
May 5, 2008


Clerk of City Council



I don't believe the city staff is providing good service to city council members when reinterpreting council approved resolutions and confusing the status of ongoing issues as is the case here. Is it the role of the staff and our city manager to push projects forward prematurely? I communicated my concern about this misinformation, but they do not seem to be concerned enough to review the text of the resolutions already passed. One concern I expressed several years ago to council was that our city staff couldn't attract or sustain sufficient expertise to manage complex transportation development projects under the then proposed First Cities of Virginia agreements. I believe that staff is now demonstrating that this expertise is not currently available and the First Cities of Virginia agreement might be worth revisiting.