Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Charlottesville School Board to consider easement for Meadow Creek Parkway again on May 1, 2008

Yes, the Charlottesville School Board will again consider whether or not to approve the granting of a construction easement of about 9 acres of city property to VDOT for the Meadow Creek Parkway. I have been lobbying the school board against giving away use of this valuable school resource (including one softball field) with no positive compensation. The school will get traffic congestion, air pollution, noise pollution, loss of tree cover and screening, decreased student safety, and likely other negative results from this 'deal'.

The school board will consider a new resolution including some conditions discussed at the last meeting where the vote on the easement was tabled. I am unsure that any of these conditions will be enforceable and if I were a board member I would likely suggest that if VDOT wants to build the parkway it should acquire this land through eminent domain - and provide fair market value for the land used. The land to be eased is about one-third of the 27 acre parcel the city owns that is zoned R-15 (the county's highest residential density zoning) and assessed at about $7 Million. Fair market value would appear to be in excess of $2 Million. The school could then use these funds to mitigate the impacts to the school from loss of the land and impacts from the parkway construction and traffic load.

I am not convinced that a simple signalized intersection at Melbourne Road can handle the design year traffic (2000 vehicle in the peak hour on the parkway - and significant High School traffic in the morning peak hour on Melbourne Road) at an acceptable level of service. I suggested that the city provide an intersection analysis of delay at the signal, anticipated length of queues in the peak hour and related data for consideration by the school board and the public. I was surprised that the host of city, county, and VDOT staff present at the April 17 board meeting didn't have answers for many of the boards questions about the project.

You can participate in commenting on this at the school board meeting on May 1. It is at Charlottesville High School library and scheduled for 6:00 pm. The Meadow Creek Parkway item is early in the agenda so be there at 6:00 pm if you wish to comment.

Here is the text from the draft minutes of the April 17 meeting included in the School Board agenda packet. Check this out before you comment on May 1.

Draft Minutes from April 17, 2008 School Board Meeting

B. Meadowcreek Parkway Resolution: Prior to any discussion on this item, Mr. Wade said he was going to respectfully recuse himself from voting on or participating in any deliberation to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest. Mr. Wade is employed by Albemarle County as a Transportation Planner. Mr. James Henderson introduced this action item to the Board for consideration. At the April 3, 2008 School Board Meeting, Mr. Spencer DeJarnette, representative from the Virginia Department of Transportation, presented an overview of the Meadowcreek Parkway project which included the exact location and design of the right-of-way. VDOT contacted the City of Charlottesville requesting a donation of the right of way and easements necessary for construction of the parkway. The property involved is approximately 9 acres which is titled to the City of Charlottesville, but is utilized by Charlottesville High School for junior varsity girls’ softball practice. Spencer DeJarnette from VDOT; Gary O’Connell, City Manager; Craig Brown, City Attorney; and Angela Tucker, City Engineer were present at the meeting to answer any questions the Board might have. Discussion by the Board centered on issues of speed, pedestrian and bicycle safety and, access to the linear park on the east side of the parkway. Specifically, the following requests were made by the Board:

  • That the posted speed be 25 mph on the entire parkway and reduced (if possible) to 15 mph at the Melbourne/McIntire Road Extended intersection.
  • Signalization at the Melbourne/McIntire Road Extended intersection for pedestrian safety.
  • Flashing signals be appropriately placed on the Meadowcreek Parkway and McIntire Road Extended to alert motorists they are approaching a school zone.
In addition, Ms. Galvin asked that the Board consider amending the resolution to include:
  • That provisions be made to ensure the future design and construction of an east/west bicycle-pedestrian connection between the CHS site on one side of the Parkway to the multi-use trail and linear park on the other side of the Parkway.
  • In order to ensure the feasibility of funding the construction of the bicycle-pedestrian connection(s), it is understood that the City of Charlottesville and the County of Albemarle will earnestly commit to working together to secure funds as required either through VDOT contingencies, State “Enhancement Grants” and/or other local public (and private) sources as necessary.
  • That ongoing School Board input into the design, location and funding of the intermediate bicycle-pedestrian connection(s) as well as the final design of the Parkway itself, especially at the intersections of Melbourne Road, Rio Road and the Parkway will be ensured by appointing a Charlottesville City School Board member to sit on a Parkway Design Review Committee or whatever established vehicle charted with that purpose.
  • That a suitable replacement field space be created that meets the needs of Charlottesville High School.
Ms. Blount made a motion to table action on the resolution until the May 2, 2008 School Board meeting. Ms. Dugger seconded the motion. Mr. Michie stated the delay will allow time to discuss this matter with City Council and for Board Members to consider the suggested amendments to the resolution. Mr. Michie called for a vote. The motion passed with Ms. Blount, Ms. Galvin, Mr. Michie and Ms. Dugger voting aye; Dr. Edwards and Ms. Puryear voting nay.

Graphic: from the Charlottesville City School logo.

Monday, April 28, 2008

The Sunday article in the Daily Progress by Seth Rosen - Interchange design plans tied in knots (April 27, 2008) again demonstrates the disconnect among the goals of our community and how the components of the trio of transportation projects (Route 250 Bypass Interchange at McIntire Road, McIntire Road Extended, and Meadow Creek Parkway) are being developed and brought before our decision making bodies. City council declined to approve either of the two interchange designs developed by the council appointed interchange steering committee. The steering committee appeared to be more of an interchange lobbying committee at the most recent council meeting where several committee members were pushing the council to make a choice among two not very appealing alternative designs after they themselves were pushed by the interchange design consultants at the most recent steering committee meeting to make a choice. I applaud our council members for resisting the push.

Council members will schedule a work session and expressed an interest in developing some new ideas that will lead to new candidate solutions - be they alternative interchange designs or choices using modes of travel other than automobiles whizzing around massive roundabouts and ramps in McIntire Park. Where will these ideas come from? VDOT? Neighborhood Development Services? The design consultants? I don't think so. I believe that the only way to develop new ideas is to reframe the transportation problem being addressed. My recommendation is that the three 'independent' projects that are clearly interdependent in their design and construction be combined into one project. This project should address the broad range of alternatives for meeting the growing transportation demands among areas north and east of Charlottesville. Maintaining the three projects as independent studies - linked by an ever expanding set of conditions, design linkages, precedents, and other directives that overdetermine the set of choices and eliminate even the possibility of identifying new creative and more environment and neighborhood friendly solutions. One alternative suggested by several members of the public at the city council meeting included expanded transit development along with improvement of the Route 250 Bypass/McIntire Road intersection (without building a road through McIntire Park) to meet future transportation, park access, and pedestrian, bicycle and automobile safety concerns. Under the current three-project scheme, this alternative can not even be considered!

The interchange consultants, staff, and steering committee failed to identify any interchange design alternatives that meet the pedestrian and bicycle access and safety concerns often claimed to be the prime objectives in this planning effort. The consideration of of impacts on historic properties and most recently on city owned land in Albemarle County that are athletic and recreational recources at Charlottesville High School were hardly even considered in any timely way so as to influence the design process. Effects of the interchange on historic resources is still to be determined, yet these concerns have be relegated to mitigation issues rather than preliminary design issues. Student safety at the Melbourne Road, Meadow Creek Parkway, McIntire Road intersection was a topic of significant discussion at the most recent Charlottesville School Board meeting and no clear resolution of this concern was achieved at that meeting even with a host of VDOT, Charlottesville, and Albemarle planning staff on hand to address school board concerns. Coordination of these independently designed - but not really independent projects where three different design teams are operate under three different project development administrators is simply not working and may not even be workable. It is difficult enough to develop one project without having to coordinate three overlapping projects under development simultaneously.

Perhaps the parkway project promoters believed that a 'divide and conquer' strategy would bring the over forty years of debate to an end. But, I think it has done just the opposite. I urge our city councilors and our school board members to demand that a unified project encompassing the current three projects be started with the goal of meeting our future transportation needs. It is time we stop limiting our planning to putting roads through our parkland and historic resources - simply because we haven't been willing to rethink decisions promoted to solve the transportation problems of the 1960s.

Photo: from www.250interchange.org - traffic on Route 250 Bypass, Charlottesville VA

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Route 250 Bypass Interchange at Route 250 designs sent back to the drawing board

Charlottesville City Council heard about three hours of public comment concerning current proposed designs for an interchange at the intersection of Route 250 Bypass and McIntire Road. The vast majority of commenters opposed approval of the designs recommended by a city council appointed project steering committee. Several of the steering committee members commented and asked council to approve their recommendation.

Opponents pointed out their assessments that the designs were too large, had too much impact on McIntire Park itself and on other nearby properties eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places, didn't solve traffic needs, did not adequately provide pedestrian access to the park, and a host of other concerns. Charlottesville Tomorrow posted a comprehensive summary of the interchange discussion in a blog entitled "Council defers decision on Meadowcreek Parkway Interchange" that is well worth reading. I also expect that the video of the council meeting will be broadcast on the city cable TV-10 channel over the next few weeks where you can see all the comments and discussion.

This deferral of action is another twist in the ever twisting events surrounding what is often called the Meadowcreek Parkway. As this project changed over time it evolved into three independent projects: Meadow Creek Parkway (from Melbourne Road to Rio Road in Albemarle County - a state funded secondary road system project); McIntire Road Extended (from Route 250 Bypass to Melbourne Road - a state funded urban system road project) ; and Route 250 Bypass Interchange at McIntire Road (a federally funded interchange project being administered by the City of Charlottesville). I believe these three projects are so interdependent that it makes no logical sense to develop and design each one separately. They should be one project. Of course, as one project that would use federal funding for construction the entire project would have to undergo environmental review where several federal statutes would need to be followed. I think this would be the best possible path for considering if a parkway with or without an interchange should be built. One project on one time schedule with one study team should break the ever confusing boundary and funding issues that have plagued the project development over the years.

I applaud all of our city councilors for deciding to investigate this interchange further. I urge council (as I did in my comment at the public hearing on Monday night) to combine the interchange and the McIntire Road Extended projects so that better and more environmentally sensitive solutions to our transportation needs can be considered. Only then can some truly new ideas enter the conversation. Too much money has been spent for too little value on these inappropriately segmented project studies.

One citizen suggested solution is to combine improvement of the McIntire Road/ Route 250 Bypass intersection and expand transit options in our community. This forward thinking and promising solution can't even be considered in the current multi-project environment of convoluted project assumptions. It is clearly time for a refocussing of these independent efforts. Little is to be lost and so much to be gained. I believe that city council, the city school board, the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors, VDOT and the Federal Highway Administration all need to put their minds and efforts toward a unified goal. Only then can this project get analysed and finalized - whether to build or not build should become a clear and defensible decision when addressed as a unit.

Photo is from Charlottesville Tomorrow weblog.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Charlottesville School Board Tables Easement Decision

The Charlottesville School Board met on April 17, 2008. After about 90 minutes of presentations, discussion, and questions to which only some answers were available from VDOT, Albemarle County, and the City staff the board voted 4-2 to table the issue until the next school board meeting. Apparently the school board only got involved in this issue - "A Resolution of the Charlottesville City School Board Consenting to the Conveyance of Certain Real Property Interests by the City of Charlottesville to the Commonwealth of Virginia for the Construction of the Meadow Creek Parkway" - about three weeks ago. Although this property was purchased for school division use in 1982, and use of this property for a roadway has been considered in some form since well before that date, this is a new item on the school board's agenda. A work session included discussion of this issue occurred on April 3, 2008.

Kathleen Galvin lead the questioning of VDOT, county and city staff asking how this project will benefit the school, and about the safety issues associated with the parkway design and plans for the at-grade intersection where the proposed Meadow Creek Parkway and McIntire Road Extended projects meet at Melbourne Road. Galvin said she made a list of the 'pros' and 'cons' associated with this project, but the discussion clearly was dominated by exploring the 'cons'. I am curious what she had listed in the 'pro' column. My own personal listing of benefits to the school division from this project is void. Other board members also expressed concerns about safety issues and limitation on access to the natural area blocked from both Charlottesville High School and CATEC by the proposed roadway.

Kathleen Galvin lived up to her campaign slogan in the November 2007 election. She clearly did her homework on this issue. The issues she raised included troubling safety concerns and loss of needed athletic fields by the high school and appear to have convinced four of the six members who will be voting on a resolution (Juandiego Wade recused himself from this matter due to his being a transportation planning staff member employed by Albemarle County and involved in the parkway project in that capacity). The school board and city council have a luncheon meeting today (April 18 - 12:00 at city hall basement conference room) and I expect this resolution and its ramifications will be a topic of discussion. This meeting is open to the public. I plan to attend and see if any positive features of this proposal emerge.

This proposed resolution is what I consider to be a lose-lose situation - unfortunately if city councilors and school board members all don't do their homework it just might be approved. I will continue to encourage all of our elected officials to identify what benefits - if any - this project provides, and weigh the environmental, safety, athletic, educational and other costs against those benefits to make whatever decision is best for the school division and our community at large. These are the tough decisions we elect our local officials to make. I hope the board doesn't default to what appears to be the lose-lose decision as the material presented to the school board at yesterday's board meeting suggests to me.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

TJPDC Executive Director to Accept New Position

As a first order of business at today's (April 16, 2008) Metropolitan Planning Organization meeting, Harrison Rue, Executive Director of the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission (TJPDC) was recognized and announced that he will be leaving his current position to accept a consulting position. He served as executive director for six years at TJPDC.

I have gotten to know Harrison Rue over these six years and we have had many lively discussions about transportation policy issues, public involvement policy, and a broad range of issues before the Metropolitan Planning Organization that is staffed by the TJPDC. Although Harrison and I don't agree on a number of topics discussed, I believe that we have shared our ideas in a professional way and I suspect we have learned and expanded our thinking through these conversations.

I wish Harrison Rue well in his new position, and look forward to working with the next executive director at TJPDC. If you know any candidates to lead the TJPDC into the future, encourage them to get their resumes up to date and submit an application

Photo Source: Charlottesville Tomorrow weblog posting
Sean Tubbs at Charlottesville Tomorrow posted a summary and the audio podcast of the April 3, 2008 Charlottesville School Board work session discussion on granting an easement for construction of the controversial Meadow Creek Parkway. The proposed easement to VDOT would affect nine acres of school property. Check out this material and find a link to a color plan of the parkway location and design at the Charlottesville Tomorrow Blog item entitled City School Board to consider easement for Meadowcreek Parkway.

Graphic Source: Charlottesville Tomorrow website

Background Material on April 17, 2008 School Board Item

Here is the background information provided to the Charlottesville School Board regarding transfer of nine acres of land to VDOT for construction of the Meadow Creek Parkway. The meeting starts at 6:00 pm at the Booker T. Reaves Media Center in Charlottesville High School and this item is early in the agenda following comments from members of the community and board member comments. The background material below identifies the safety issue and loss of recreation/athletic fields but doesn't address any of the health, environmental, and natural resource impacts of reprogramming this land for highway use. I also find it interesting that there is no statement as to the value of loss to the school from this request, or any statement of what benefit to the community will be gained (if any) in return for the undefined loss of use this property transfer would cause.

As decision leaders for both the city school division and our community as a whole, I encourage the school board members to identify the costs and benefits to the school division and our community for the alternative choices they have relating to the 9-acre parcel of land. As elected officials, our school board members need to consider actively the concerns of the public in their actions. The agenda packet states "the Superintendent recommends the Board deliberate and take action on the resolution." I couldn't locate the text of the proposed resolution. But, I do hope you will contact the school board members and encourage them to indicate clearly why they believe their ultimate action - to approve or deny - is in the best interest of the schools and our community.

08-106: Information Items:
A. Meadowcreek Parkway Resolution - Mr. James Henderson presented this information item to the Board. The Virginia Department of Education contacted the City of Charlottesville requesting a donation of the right of way and easements necessary for construction of the Meadowcreek Parkway. The property involved is approximately 9 acres which is titled to the City of Charlottesville but utilized by Charlottesville High School for junior varsity girls’ softball practice. Mr. Spencer DeJarnette, representative from VDOT, was present to give an overview of the project which included the exact location and design of the right of way and easements needed for the parkway. The Board had received a packet from VDOT which contained a copy of the resolution, VDOT’s property owners manual, plan sheets and copy of the request to the city to convey the easements to VDOT, and accompanying legal documents. Mr. DeJarnette reviewed the easement information with the Board. The road project is slated for advertisement this summer. Relocation of the utilities at the CATEC end has started. VDOT expects if they obtain all the right of ways necessary by the summer, they will go to ad in August or September and construction of the roadway should begin in January or February of 2009. Mr. DeJarnette said he understood this was a working meeting and he and Mr. Rome would be glad to attend the Board meeting on April 17th to answer any additional questions Board Members might have prior to approving the resolution.

Mr. Michie asked Craig Brown, City Attorney, to explain the legal part of the ownership. Mr. Brown explained that the property was purchased in 1984 for the purpose of use by the schools. For a number of years after the school was built, the outdoor recreational facilities at the old Lane High School were still being used which necessitated the acquisition of the property across the street. The property is titled to the City of Charlottesville and was never deeded to the school division. Given that it was acquired for use by the school and historically been used for that purpose, from a public perception it is seen as a part of the Charlottesville High School campus. It was Mr. Brown’s opinion and in consultation with the School Board’s legal counsel, Patrick Lacy, that this was fairly characterized as school property. Under Virginia Law, they agreed this Board’s consent was necessary before the easement could be conveyed. Mr. Michie asked if the School Board had any identifiable interest in the property. Mr. Brown said none of record.

After Board discussion and questions, the consensus of the Board was there should be conditions on the resolution which would include making sure there is assured pedestrian access either over or under the new parkway, that the intersection is extremely safe for pedestrian crossing and the timing with the city end of the road is extremely critical. Mr. DeJarnette said he would gather information on all three of those points as quickly as possible and get the answers back to Mrs. Atkins and Mr. Henderson. He also told the Board he would have the planners and designers of the project come to the next meeting if that would be helpful.

Graphic Source: the Charlottesville City Schools logo from their website.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Charlottesville High School Property Sought for Meadow Creek Parkway

I was surprised to learn that about nine acres of land is being sought by VDOT from the Charlottesville High School property to construct the Meadow Creek Parkway in Albemarle County. This was published in the Daily Progress by Barney Breen-Portnoy on April 4, 2008 in the article "VDOT wants school’s land for parkway." This article generated three letters to the editor published on April 9, April 11, and April 13. All of the letters opposed giving this land (that contains athletic fields also sorely needed in our community) over to VDOT for construction of the proposed Meadow Creek Parkway. It is my understanding that there will be an item on the April 17, 2008 city school board agenda relating to approval of the transfer of this land to VDOT for parkway construction.

I have never spoken before the city school board, but this may be my time. I hope you too will consider sharing your thoughts on giving away these nine acres - that will be in addition to other acreage in McIntire Park for the McIntire Road Extended and Route 250 Interchange at McIntire Road Projects. Perhaps we can encourage the city school board to consider this a "teaching opportunity." I will encourage them to provide leadership in creating a community our current students will follow in their future community involvement - ensuring that our resources are used for the benefit of our area without destroying our natural, historic, and cultural resources. I believe the Meadow Creek Parkway is not a facility that will benefit our region, but instead open even more land for development that would better be left undeveloped.

If you can attend and speak at the April 17 School Board meeting - terrific. If not, you can always contact the members of our school board and let then know your thoughts on this issue. Their contact information is available at http://www.ccs.k12.va.us/board_members.html.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Here is where your recycling is sorted.

I and about 20 others traveled to Chester VA to visit the recycling center that processes the mixed (single stream) recycling collected curbside in Charlottesville. I was surprised that this facility used a large number of employees who manually sorted material on a fast moving conveyor belt. Metal cans were removed using magnetic systems (the best part of the plant for me was the place where aluminum cans leaped off the conveyor belt into a separate chute from other material flowing on the belt).

Here is a view of one of the sorters at work. This woman was terrific to watch. She was sorting plastic bottles from the stream of material and looked as though she was dancing to some inner rhythm. Very impressive. I wonder how she could keep this up for a 12-hour shift (the typical shift length).

The whole operation was geared toward separation of the recyclable materials by type - something we all can do at home. I plan to continue to bring much of my recyclable material to the McIntire Road facility where I can keep the material separated by type. It appears to be much more efficient to distribute recyclable material directly from a pre-sorted bin at McIntire Road than to haul it all jumbled together to Chester VA and spending what appears to be a significant amount of energy and other resources to separate the material there - and then shipping it on for recycling by type.

The plant personnel provided lots of helpful information and provided a terrific tour. I applaud the city staff for making this tour possible and allowing interested residents to hop on the city provided bus for the tour. I will encourage the city to do more tours of this type to other facilities the city uses in meeting the needs of its residents. Perhaps we could get a tour of the Water and Sewer facilities, the trash transfer station, the proposed Ragged Mountain reservoir site and the eastern portion of McIntire Park through which the McIntire Road Extended is proposed for construction.

Bringing residents to these locations and providing information about what will truly be gained or lost when public policy decisions are made is a terrific step toward the city's goal of a citizen oriented government. I am ready to sign up for the next tour. I hope you will consider going along, too.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Caveat Pedes - "Let the Pedestrian Beware"

I just got to read the background material relating to my previous posting concerning making the East Fourth Street mall crossing permanent. After a public hearing on whether or not the mall crossing was consistent with the comprehensive plan at a recent Planning Commission meeting, a Planning Commission work session (where the public is not invited to participate) where the following recommendations to the city council were developed.

Planning Commission Recommendations to council on mall crossing issue
  1. That the additional mall crossing be at 4th Street, East.
  2. That the directional flow remain unchanged.
  3. That the section of 4th Street between Water and Garrett Street be reopened as two-way and that new signage be placed there to insure safety and that in twelve months Council evaluate to determine if its changing to two-way has resulted in significant increase in cut-through traffic through the adjacent neighborhood and on the Mall.
  4. That the Council be urged to reconsider its decision to close the 4th Street crossing during Pavilion events.
  5. That increased efforts by law enforcement should be made to reduce stopping, parking and standing in the crossing and that the redesign should include spaces for drop-off.
  6. That the final design come back to the Commission for comment.
  7. Elimination of the two-hour parking spaces nearest the mall – consider eliminating all to avoid congestion – replace with a drop off area if recommended by the pending parking study.
  8. Include better signage to direct traffic to the alley perpendicular to 4th and 5th Streets when 4th Street is closed at the mall.
  9. Provide better design, striping, and signals at crossing to alert pedestrians and vehicles to the crossing.

To my surprise, the budget impact has changed dramatically - from an estimate of approximately $1 Million in construction cost to make the crossing suitable for vehicular traffic in prior council material to the following budget impact statement.

Budget Impact: There will be some impact on the budget to redo the bricks in this area and make other signage improvements. However, until there is a commitment to do major side street improvements in this area, there are no budget impacts anticipated other than those that can be absorbed through the mall improvements project.

Perhaps we have seen the trend of trying to flex road funds to benefit pedestrian and bicycle project development flipped to using pedestrian mall improvement funds to support automobile crossing construction that introduces rather than mitigates pedestrian safety issues.

Given that many people have been involved for several years in developing a rational set of facts and options concerning vehicular traffic options in the vicinity of the downtown mall, I believe we should have an opportunity to be part of this discussion through an informed public participation processs to understand what is actually being proposed here and to provide input.

One of the alternative solutions to facilitating vehicular circulation around the mall and to parking structures (that could possibly eliminate the mall crossing) was improved signage. Signage is now being proposed, at $1 Million, but it looks like the city is promoting both the mall crossing and signage. Where is the logic in this? And how is it that the mall crossing is now viewed as not having a significant cost associated with it? What are the facts here? Does anyone know? Or will the facts only cause confusion in this project decision process? So many questions remain.

I am not sure we as members of the public will be able even to comment on the proposed resolution at council on April 7 in that this may be considered an issue for which a public hearing has already been held. But, all of the proposed details of the resolution were developed without public participation after the joint council/planning commission public hearing on this issue.

Interestingly, the proposed resolution is all about vehicle traffic - not pedestrians. The only part of this resolution that addresses pedestrian issues is that pedestrians will be alerted to the vehicles using the pedestrian mall. So it is Caveat Pedes - let the pedestrian beware!


WHEREAS, the City Council of the City of Charlottesville requested the Planning Commission to: (1) review the issue of an additional vehicular crossing of the Downtown Mall; (2) determine whether an additional vehicular crossing is consistent with the 2007 Comprehensive Plan; (3) provide guidance on whether the crossing should be at 4th Street or 5th Street; and (4) recommend the direction of traffic flow; and

WHEREAS, the Planning Commission met on March 11, 2008 and made recommendations to City Council with respect to such issues; now, therefore

BE IT RESOLVED by the City Council for the City of Charlottesville that:
  1. An additional vehicular crossing is permanently established at 4th Street, East betweenMarket Street and Water Street.
  2. The southbound directional flow of 4th Street, East shall remain unchanged.
  3. The section of 4th Street between Water Street and Garrett Street shall be re-opened as twoway and new signage placed there to ensure safety. In twelve months Council will review this decision to determine if changing the direction to two-way has resulted in a significant increase in traffic through the adjacent neighborhood and on the Mall.
  4. Increased efforts by law enforcement will be made to reduce stopping, standing, and parking in the 4th Street crossing.
  5. The final physical design of the 4th Street crossing will be presented to the Planning Commission for comment.
  6. Improved signage will be installed to direct traffic to the alley running perpendicular to 4th and 5th Streets when 4th Street is closed at the mall.
  7. Enhanced striping, signage and/or signals will be installed at the 4th Street crossing to alert pedestrians and vehicles to the change in traffic pattern.

Will City Council Ignore Study Results and Opt to Make Second Mall Crossing Permanent?

I got my email containing the April 7, 2007 city council agenda from the city. I was surprised to find the following item included:

7. RESOLUTION* Permanent Vehicular Crossing of Downtown Mall at 4th Street
(1st of 1 reading)

Having followed this project since the beginning, I am surprised that council is poised to simply approve this as a permanent crossing. I immediately sent the following email to Mr. Craig Brown, the City Attorney with copies to all of the city council members expressing my concern about the project and the process. I agree that reasonable people can disagree on issues of this type, but when virtually no compelling data has been generated through the actual transportation studies supporting this project (theoretically a basis for making a decision) - and the near $1 Million price tag for making this crossing into a permanent vehicle crossing I wonder how we got to this point. I guess the power of special interests can still trump field data and analytical findings that show degraded rather than improved performance in studies to date.

Of course my thoughts on this issue are based on my experience and information generated by the city and their consultants. But shouldn't there be some identifiable benefits to our community presented prior to making decisions of this type that impact our city in such significant ways and at a significant cost?

Sent to Mr. Craig Brown, City Attorney with copies to all city councilors on April 2, 2008

It is my understanding that City Council never determined that a permanent mall crossing was consistent with the Charlottesville Comprehensive Plan. Isn't that supposed to be determined before Council actually even considers which crossing (if any) should be a vehicular crossing? I thought council's next action would be to consider Planning Commission input on consistency with comp plan as a separate action - to then allow the public a fair opportunity to present their concerns about the issue.

Is it legitimate or even desirable to simply act now without following what appeared to be the process previously described by your asst. City Attorney when this issue was last discussed at council?

I am alarmed at the level of traffic using the temporary East Fourth St. mall crossing. The volume of traffic crossing and using the mall as a loading/unloading spot and stopping for long periods of time is ever increasing. I have not done any actual counts on that street, but it appears to me that the mall crossing (E. Fourth St. between Market St. and Water St.) may be among the most heavily travelled block in the North Downtown area. What was promoted as a convenience for visitors in getting to near downtown parking has become a major travel route and a major disruption and potential hazzard to mall pedestrians.

The last actual data collected for the crossing indicated that the original goals of the project (promote parking access, improve business sales, etc) showed results directly opposite of what the crossing was to provide. Without any new information, and based on my own frequent crossing of this area as a pedestrian, I can only conclude that this project demonstrates no truly credible benefits toward meeting the goals outlined for the project.

Is this a model of public policy making the city can be proud of? As a pedestrian and motorist in Charlottesville and resident of the North Downtown neighborhood I see absolutely no compelling data supporting making this crossing permanent. In fact, based on the negative outcomes of the performance measures reported, I see no compelling reason to even continue the temporary crossing. I am also curious to learn on what basis the city believes this crossing is even consistent with our comprehensive plan and the major goal of reducing vehicular traffic in the city and promoting pedestrian travel and enhancing pedestrian safety.

This is a project that appears to be running primarily on inertia and political influence from special interest groups in the city contrary to the stated goals, objectives, and stated review process for determining if a mall crossing is at all in the public interest.

Please let me know what the basis for having this action as listed on the council agenda prior to consideration of consistency with the comprehensive plan.

Sincerely, Peter Kleeman

Photo: From online posting of Dec. 11, 2007 article in the HooK

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Mall Fountains Signal that Spring has Come to Charlottesville's Downtown Mall

It is April 1, and I was delighted to see that three of the four fountains on the Charlottesville Downtown Mall were operating. I wrote an article for the HooK published on Feb. 15, 2007 in my first Squeaky Wheel column about the need to get our fountains working again after their being dry for some time even then. It took a while, but Mike Svetz of the city's Parks and Recreation Department promised to get them working and succeeded after some pump repair.

But, drought conditions interrupted the fountain season and then they were all turned off for the winter. I am hoping this will be a full season for enjoying the fountains.

The three fountains on the mall that were operating are at Central Place, Miller's cafe space, and outside Eppies. The round fountain by Chap's was wet, but wasn't operating. I am hoping it just needs some minor pump cleaning or some similar maintenance operation to get it working regularly, too.

The fountains are very high on my list of what I like about the mall. The fountains along with the daffodils and tulips are my signals that spring has come to charlottesville. Lets hope the fountains will be on until late fall - long after the daffodils and tulips have gone.

A Pedestrian Space?

After months of construction, Third Street NE between Market Street and the Downtown Mall (East Main Street) is finally open. Unfortunately it hardly looks or feels like a pedestrian space. In fact, after the road was opened, I saw this space being used as a loading/unloading zone by delivery trucks. To me, the current space actually looks more like a loading/unloading zone with the bollards placed near the mall end of the block to keep the delivery trucks from driving onto the mall. My photo shows how this street look more like a vehicular mall crossing than the current (and hopefully temporary) mall crossing at East Fourth Street - one block from here. If it looks like a vehicle space, I am certain motorists will use it.

I wonder if this is just a transitional view of this block - with outdoor cafe seating, or more pedestrian oriented furniture or planters soon to be installed to make it look and feel like a pedestrian only space and not a loading zone or mall crossing. I do hope so. Perhaps our city planners can quickly get this area to read as a pedestrian area without having to put the two barricade-like signs to alert motorists not to enter. After many months of waiting for the street to open, I am hoping that this is not the final product.