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").


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.


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.


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.