Saturday, April 2, 2011

Charlottesville City Council may vote to fence off sidewalk on Belmont Bridge

[photo source: Charlottesville Tomorrow]

Charlottesville City Council will consider a proposal to fence-off the sidewalk on the east side of the Belmont Bridge in downtown Charlottesville rather than repair the sidewalk. A replacement bridge is under consideration, but there is no clear date that a replacement will be in place. I have weighed in on this topic in recent weeks. If you wish to share your ideas on this topic with city councilors, you can email them at, or present comments at the April 4, 2011 meeting in city hall at 7:00 pm.

My comment to council on the matter sent today.

Dear council members,

I was surprised at the recommendation of staff concerning the item "Approval of Concept for Belmont Bridge Sidewalk Fence" on the April 4, 2011 agenda. The 'analysis' presented seems to contradict the goals and practice of the Art in Place program. The staff response fails to provide any reasonable argument against the art in place option, and the rationale could just as easily be used to eliminate consideration of an attractive fence to block the sidewalk from pedestrian use. I have provided below the three points provided that staff considers problematic with my response to each for your consideration.

• The weight of the art is generally too heavy for this sidewalk to support.
-- clearly any request for artistic sidewalk project can specify a maximum weight for the installation - as you may recall from my previous email that some sort of light-weight material or even fabric presentation could be an effective and attractive solution.

• The sidewalk is too brittle to attach the necessary supports for the art.
-- the proposed fencing will also need to be fastened to the sidewalk in some manner. I do not believe that the support for a fence can only be through the proposed connection to the bridge railing.

• The Traffic Engineer is concerned about traffic implications as drivers slowed to look at the art given the existing traffic concerns on the bridge.
-- a large number of Art in Place installations have been place in medians of roadways and along roadsides where motorists routinely can view them.This concern by staff for the bridge sidewalk appears to be an unjistifiable claim by staff in light of the routine installation of art on many city roadways.

I urge you not to discount the value of providing a creative, attractive and effective means of temporary restriction of pedestrian travel on the bridge sidewalk and not be coerced into considering that a fence is the only possible solution. My recommendation is that council redirect staff to provide a more credible analysis of the alternatives related to the structural concerns on the Belmont Bridge.

For me, the current three identified choices in order of desirability are as follows:

1. Have staff repair the sidewalk so that pedestrian traffic will be restored. The best option by far.
2. Promote submission of creative solutions to a temporary restriction of pedestrian travel if the restriction has a clearly identified termination point when pedestrian traffic can again be restored.
3. Building a fence that blocks the pedestrian traffic for an indeterminate period.

I am also concerned at the safety issue of pedestrians choosing to walk along the fence to cross the bridge. I do not believe that the construction of a fence and signage will necessarily keep people from this behavior.

I urge council to reject the staff recommendation (below) and reconsider a broad range of creative and superior solutions befitting a community like Charlottesville. This is a time where council can indicate clearly to its community that creativity in meeting public needs is the normal order - not reducing community access by accepting clearly uninspired actions on the basis of poor analysis of alternatives.

I have included my original email to you on this subject below so you can recall my argument for a creative approach to this matter.

Peter Kleeman

Staff Report:


Agenda Date: April 4, 2011
Action Required: Approval of Concept for Belmont Bridge Sidewalk Fence
Presenter: James E. Tolbert, AICP, Director of NDS
Staff Contacts: James E. Tolbert, AICP, Director of NDS
Tony Edwards, City Engineer

Title: Belmont Bridge East Sidewalk Repair/Fencing

Background: Several weeks ago staff approached Council about fencing off the sidewalk on the east side of the Belmont Bridge while awaiting the bridge repair. You asked that we explore a more aesthetic option than either chain link or wood fencing. Council also acknowledged the concerns with weight and wind loading and asked that those be addressed in any solution.

Discussion: At the request of City Council, staff has explored additional options for fencing this section of sidewalk in a more attractive manner. What is now proposed is to fence the sidewalk with decorative metal fencing at a cost of $14,530. A drawing of the fence is attached to this memo. This is essentially a four foot version of the fencing that has been used to protect the railroad tracks near the C & O Property and near the University Hospital. The cost is in line with all other proposals and it is much more attractive.

Alternative: Staff was asked to consider the possible installation of Art in Place along the bridge. As our engineers examined this possibility, it was determined that there were several issues that made art installation problematic on this sidewalk:

• The weight of the art is generally too heavy for this sidewalk to support.
• The sidewalk is too brittle to attach the necessary supports for the art.
• The Traffic Engineer is concerned about traffic implications as drivers slowed to look at the art given the existing traffic concerns on the bridge.

Budgetary Impact: $14,500 that can be paid from the Bridge Repair Account.

Recommendation: Staff met as requested with Councilors Szakos and Huja to discuss this option and both agreed that it is an appropriate solution. Staff recommends approval of the concept.

Attachments: Fence Proposal/Example

My original email:

From: Peter Kleeman <>
Date: Sat, Feb 26, 2011 at 3:26 PM
Subject: Follow-up Thoughts on the Belmont Bridge Sidewalk Issue
To: Charlottesville City Council <>

Dear council members,

After hearing your discussion at the Feb. 22, 2011 council meeting regarding the possible closing and fencing of the pedestrian walkway on the east side of the bridge, and having an opportunity to reflect on the discussion a bit, I offer you the following possible course of action.

If you decide to restrict use of the sidewalk, rather than fence off, blockade, or prevent ready access to the sidewalk in some similar fashion - thereby creating a space that is a fenced in void and possibly an attractive nuisance, I suggest you offer an opportunity for some Art in Place type installation that will fill that space. Clear criteria for the project can be specified including that the space must fill the sidewalk, be restricted in weight, not present a hazard to motorists, etc, but also be designed to be best viewed from the sidewalk on the opposite side of the road. Perhaps the installation can complement the form of the pavilion that is visible from the Belmont Bridge creating a pedestrian and vehicle corridor with a unique visual character in the city and beyond.

Several benefits of this idea come to mind.

First, the city can sponsor the chosen project and likely pay less than the cost of providing barriers or fencing;

Second, the aesthetics of an art installation will be an asset to the ambiance of the entrance corridor,

Third, there will be an advantage for pedestrians to cross the street to use the opposite sidewalk an have the opportunity to enjoy the installation from its best viewpoint;

Fourth, the area will likely not collect debris as would a fenced in space;

Fifth, it will provide some artist - or group to provide the city an installation that could be a truly creative challenge and source of pride in the community and the city as a whole.

Of course, as I have clearly presented to you in comments at recent council meetings, I believe repair of the pedestrian path is be the best solution and is consistent with the Charlottesville City Council goal of being a pedestrian friendly community. But, if a majority of council opposes repair, I believe this suggestion is a positive way to reprogram that space for an indeterminate period of time rather than simply closing the path and creating a less than satisfactory barricaded void space in the entrance corridor.

I encourage you to consider this proposal prior to your next council meeting. I anticipate that a design challenge to fill that space would be welcomed by members of our robust art, architecture, and design communities, and I believe our entire community will appreciate the result.

Sincerely, Peter Kleeman
Peter T. Kleeman
407 Hedge Street
Charlottesville VA 22902
(434) 296-6208

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