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.

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