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September 09, 2011

Charlottesville’s downtown residents raise concerns about pedestrian and bike safety

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DailyProgressBy Brian Wheeler
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Friday, September 9, 2011

About 70 residents gathered at CitySpace on the Downtown Mall Thursday for the latest in a series of town hall meetings held by the Charlottesville City Council. 

Charlottesville’s North Downtown and Martha Jefferson neighborhoods were invited to engage councilors and city staff with questions. Residents shared concerns about pedestrian and bicyclist safety and about homeless residents sleeping overnight in their neighborhoods.

20110908-TownHall Resident Linda Goldstein said drivers not following the traffic laws were putting lives in danger near her home off McIntire Road.

“I am really concerned as a pedestrian and dog walker about people breaking the laws and speeding though our neighborhood,” Goldstein said. “I feel defenseless and scared at times, and there are lots of children and older residents.  I’d like to see some constructive things done to protect our neighborhood.” 

Andres Clarens, a University of Virginia professor of civil and environmental engineering, challenged the City Council to do more to improve bike safety.

“I am curious to know, above and beyond bike lanes, what the plans are in the city to improve connectivity for bikers?” Clarens asked. “For a city of its size, and given the reputation it has nationally, I think Charlottesville definitely falls short.”

Charlottesville Mayor Dave Norris described how the council had formed a pedestrian and bike safety committee and allocated greater funding in that area.

“We have stepped up on the financial side for better connectivity and infrastructure,” Norris said. “I think there is a real heightened interest to take this to another level. We really should have a world class bicycle network here.”

Bernie Martin, a city resident and downtown property manager, moved the town hall conversation to the topic of the city’s homeless population, many of whom he said had told him were not from the area.

“The homeless situation seems to be invading downtown Charlottesville, the Downtown Mall and the North Downtown area where I live,” Martin told the council. “They are an eyesore for the beautiful Downtown Mall. You guys at City Council seem to be encouraging these people to come here.  hat’s going on?”

“I am not sure I completely agree with the idea we have been encouraging [homeless] people to come to Charlottesville,” responded Norris. “For a number of years, Charlottesville has been a stopover for people who are traveling around, and I think there are people who prey on the generosity of this community.”

20110908-TownHall2 City Manager Maurice Jones encouraged residents to call the police if they encounter a stranger sleeping on their property.

“If someone is camping out or using vacant property, call the police — that’s trespassing,” Jones said.

City Councilor Satyendra Huja said the town hall meetings had been very successful this past year.

“Many citizens have come that don’t usually come to City Hall or council meetings,” Huja said. “It helps us hear concerns at the neighborhood level, but we do need to make sure that we are following up on all the questions.”

Galloway Beck, the city’s human resources director, was one of more than a dozen city staff on hand to hear those questions directly.

“I think [citizens] really do appreciate having direct access to council,” Beck said. “For some people, it’s a lot more convenient too.”

For Locust Avenue resident Lisa Stewart, the informal nature of the town hall, combined with a chance to have dinner with her two young daughters, made it possible to participate.

“I work part time, so I don’t necessarily want to do meetings after work,” Stewart said. “I really appreciate the format and I would like to get more involved in my neighborhood.”

Thursday’s meeting was the latest in a series of town halls held for the eighteen major neighborhoods across the city. On Sept 22, councilors will attend a town hall for Kellytown/Rose Hill at Burley Middle School. That event will take place from 6 to 8 p.m., and dinner and childcare will be available, according to city officials.

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