Wednesday, April 2, 2008

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

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