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November 06, 2011

City Council candidates on transportation

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In the run up to Election Day on November 8th, Charlottesville Tomorrow will once again mail out our in-depth nonpartisan voter guide, featuring exclusive one-on-one interviews with all the candidates for Albemarle County Board of Supervisors and Charlottesville City Council.  In the weeks before the election, we will feature one to two questions a day so that citizens like you can compare candidates’ answers and make an informed choice November 8th.

Charlottesville Tomorrow’s 2011 Election Center website features links to the full written transcript and audio of candidate interviews, as well as links to videos of candidate forums, copies of our 2011 voter guide, information on where to vote, and more.  All the following passages are excerpts from our interviews.

CITY COUNCIL, SEVENTH IN A SERIES

image from cvilletomorrow.typepad.comWhat is your transportation agenda for the city? Does it require more money?  How will you fund AND implement it?


 

Scott Bandy (I) – Challenger

…I think the challenge for the upcoming council is going to be just maintaining, maintaining things as they are. And that definitely would include transportation.

My impression as far things go was that the council struggled just to maintain a budget without having to raise further taxes. Certainly no one wants higher taxes. The current transportation in place, well, transportation, you break that up into different items. The [Charlottesville Area Transit], roads which I’m of the opinion that some people have never seen a road here that they didn’t like.

It’s difficult to pin down where this is going to be headed. The challenge will be to fund it within the constraints that we are limited to and to keep services as they are at a sufficient rate. You know, to satisfy, getting the buses running on time.

 

Brandon Collins (I) – Challenger

My ideas on transportation are almost wholly centered on public transit and expanding public transportation.  Of course we need to do much more to increase pedestrian transit.  When we talk about pedestrian transit I think one thing that people aren’t always aware of is that it’s also how people with disabilities get around…

I think there is a great interest in the city in expanding our bike lanes and doing much more for bike transportation, and I’m all for that, but I’m basically focused on a city that is built and based on public transportation rather than automobile-based transportation.  I would like to see a great expansion of public transportation…

At any cost, we should not be looking to build too many new roads and instead always be looking to see how we can expand public transit, see how we can get more people on the bus, and see how we can plan our city to be based on our bus routes, some of that may require rearranging some of how we deal with our bus routes.  With this, I think if we can use our transportation grant money that we get from the state for public transportation, we should always be looking to do that… If we are going to have to use funding from the general fund, I am completely in favor of that.  I think public transportation is one way we can really work towards having a sustainable city. 

 

Bob Fenwick (I) – Challenger

Well, our community transportation is puzzling at best.  Our political leaders say one thing:  let’s make the city pedestrian friendly, encourage mass transit, bike travel and so on, but their actions speak otherwise.  We have bumper-to-bumper traffic into and out of town in all directions….And the best road planning the city and county can offer is two huge bypasses/parkways directly into the urban ring.  Who benefits from that? 

…We do not need another elaborate transportation plan.  We need some common sense and some action.  First, our community needs true bypasses much further out that takes traffic around the city to be fed into smaller roads directly to the place of work or study…

Second, our city needs to utilize the transportation assets we already have, namely buses—much better… Before we add more bus routes and/or buses, I propose filling our buses with more riders.  How to do that?  We have two examples right in front of us:  the UVa bus system and the trolley and the common denominator is both are free.  It is fair to say that very few people think of bus transportation as their first option.  We can change that…

And, of course, this move wouldn’t be free.  Someone would have to pay and it would be all of us through taxes and fees but remember, we are already paying 80% of the costs for these empty buses.  If we have the money for outside consultants and experts, we have the money for a more efficient transportation system.  The alternative is to keep circling the city with empty buses and what sense does that make? 

Third, open up the county’s completed portion of the Meadow Creek Parkway for an entrance to the downtown area for pedestrians, bikes, and handicapped citizens.  That part is there and in place.  Let’s use it. 

 

Kathy Galvin (D) – Challenger

…[M]y transportation agenda is tied to a housing agenda. …Currently we have on average 5…dwelling units per acre.  I hear a lot around town—when I go to town halls, and when I talk to residents and citizens—they would really love to see a street car system.  That takes 10 dwelling units per acre to sustain just basic ridership and an efficient bus service needs about 7 dwelling units per acre.  So you can see why we don’t have a very efficient bus service and so we need to get the ridership up to start supporting that, but we need to also think about our connectivity. 

If we start increasing our ridership without thinking about additional routes, then you are going to get congestion, more so than you have today.  So it’s this balancing act of wanting to give greater connectivity, increasing the housing opportunity so people get off the road, and then at the same time also putting in place a sequence of investments to go from more efficient bus service to hopefully bus rapid transit…

Finally, looking at bike-[pedestrian] … I am a cyclist … but the thing is that if you are going to get serious about that, you have got to look at places like Madison, Wisconsin that have a real bonafide alternative, parallel network of bike routes and then when they get the bikes on the street everyone understands the rules of the road. 

But one thing I have noticed keenly as a cyclist is that we don’t have good access management on our corridors.  By that I mean the interactions between cyclists, pedestrians, and cars is more frequent than just intersections with roads, it is the curb cuts to the driveways and into the parking lots… So it gets down to the regional level as well as down to the detail and the quality of the streetscape.

To be effective we have to get to the point that we have a regional transit authority.  I have looked at the [city’s capital budget], we have made increasing investments in transportation, but we are not going to get to the point where we could have an overlapping bus system without some vehicle, like an authority, that can start giving us dedicated funds.  If we can’t get that, then I do think we need to look at our own infrastructure bank…

 

Satyendra Huja (D) – Incumbent

We need to develop a balanced transportation system.  Currently there’s too much orientation towards the automobile.  We need to do other modes of transportation equally well.  I’ll propose an interconnected network of pedestrian ways and trails with a special emphasis on safe access to schools. I would also propose an interconnected network of bikeways, on and off streets. 

I plan to propose restructuring our transit system to be more customer friendly and to be more frequent, every 15 minutes.  With those initiatives, and other highway improvements, I think we’ll have better transportation.  I also support the Meadow Creek parkway, Hillsdale Drive [Extension], Belmont Bridge [replacement], and [Route] 250 bypass ramps [at Best Buy].  I feel that if you add good safe pedestrian, transit, and bike [facilities] to the roads you will have a balanced transportation system.

 

Dede Smith (D) – Challenger

Well what I am seeing happen in Charlottesville is that we have a number of initiatives for transportation, whether it’s public transportation with buses, bicycling, and pedestrian.  They are all very much alive and being discussed here and what I would like to see is a more comprehensive plan looking at all three of those and how they network with each other.

This came up recently in a meeting about the Belmont Bridge.  Citizens were saying, “You know we need to be able to get our bikes to the buses.”  All the busses will accommodate a bike, and I thought that was a really interesting comment, that again we not only have a good bike infrastructure but that that bike infrastructure actually interfaces with other forms of alternative transportation. 

The other thing that I think we really need to be focusing on as we look at a comprehensive plan is not only being sure that we’re getting people where they want to go, but let’s think about where we would like to see people go.  We’d like people to see people come downtown—and be able to come downtown by alternative transportation, not just cars—as well as other city tax bases, there’s Barracks Roads, there’s Whole Foods and some of the places that … if we want our citizens to be able to patronize our city amenities, we need to make sure they are able to get there.

As we look at the whole picture, we need to look at all those pools of money that we currently have, and quite frankly I don’t know how that will play out.  I do think it’s a strong priority for this community and basically where those funds will come from, I am just not in the know enough to know where those pots of money are, I just think it is a high priority for really a lot of our citizens here in Charlottesville.

 

Andrew Williams (I) – Challenger

…I think that it would serve the resident better, it would alleviate traffic stress in the long run if we did have a bigger public transit system. It’s simple, but although it could be complicated to actually move forward with an initiative of that nature … I want to do everything that I can to make sure that that vision is manifested.

[I]f we scrutinize our budget first off, and take monies away from maybe programs or initiatives that aren’t working, which of course is somewhat controversial but it is what it is, if you look at it from a business standpoint, if a department wasn’t producing as much as it should, in all reality, it would be either downsized or it would be contracted or what have you. I’m not saying that we need to do that for any department in particular, but we need to have that flexibility, or at least be willing and able to appropriate funds where the needs are…

We need to be more efficient, we need to stop throwing money at the problem, we need to throw some intellect at some of these problems. But not solely book smarts, real world working-class experience, which Charlottesville could use a different perspective in my opinion.

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