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Charlottesville Tomorrow will be streaming a live audio broadcast of cycling activist Mia Birk's seminar on improving bicycle infrastructure in the Charlottesville-Albemarle region.
Mia Birk is a nationally renowned speaker in non-motorized transportation, and her talk with focus on the dramatic and enlightening behind-the-scenes story of how a group of determined visionaries transformed Portland, Oregon into a cycling mecca and inspired the nation.
By Sean Tubbs Charlottesville Tomorrow Wednesday, October 26, 2011
A schematic of the planned intersection improvements adjacent to the new Oakhurst Inn and Apartments
The developer of a new bed and breakfast in Charlottesville has received the support of the Metropolitan Planning Organization to pursue a state grant to pay for improvements to the intersection of Emmet Street and Jefferson Park Avenue.
When completed, motorists heading down JPA towards the University of Virginia Medical Center will have to pass through the traffic signal, improving conditions for pedestrians and bicyclists. The grant would facilitate the redevelopment project.
“It will be a lodging business right next to the university, and I think this is a good way to fund some much needed renovations to these buildings,” said Bill Chapman, the developer of the Oakhurst Inn and Apartments and co-founder of C-Ville Weekly.
The project will consist of a new 36-unit apartment complex, a renovation of an existing 5-bedroom house, and the conversion of three buildings into a 27 room bed and breakfast.
By Brian Wheeler Charlottesville Tomorrow Monday, September 19, 2011
State officials wrapped up the public planning effort for the future Biscuit Run State Park at a meeting Monday evening. While no state funding has been identified to build and operate the park, that hasn’t deterred local residents from actively participating in the planning effort.
During the past nine months, the Department of Conservation and Recreation has held two public hearings and worked with a 27-member advisory committee to develop the park’s preliminary master plan.
Public feedback has led to the inclusion of a multi-use pavilion and an outdoor amphitheater, 10-12 miles of trails for hikers, bikers and horses, and the inclusion of both campgrounds and cabins.
Christopher Gist, a city resident and advisory committee member representing area bicyclists, said he was pleased with the results thus far.
“It’s a decent plan, but I wish there was a plan for funding,” Gist said. “I think they have done a good job by maintaining a lot of wild space within the park. The whole southern part is largely undeveloped and includes trail networks.”
Janit Llewellyn Allen, a DCR environmental program planner, acknowledged that the state funding challenge could mean the plans for Biscuit Run remain only on paper for the foreseeable future.
“We don’t have funding for the park at this time and we don’t know when we would have the funding,” Allen said.
“We are hoping to bring this to the DCR board in early Spring 2012,” Allen said. “While the economy’s not good and we don’t have any bond money, we want to get the plan approved and ready for the time when we do.”
About 45 people attended Monday’s public hearing and reiterated their support for many of the uses that the master plan will accommodate. However, state officials said that athletic playing fields, sought enthusiastically by other community members and Albemarle County staff, would continue to be excluded from the plans for Biscuit Run.
“We are desperately in need of soccer fields,” said Bill Mueller, executive director of the Soccer Organization of Charlottesville-Albemarle. “The simple fact is there are not enough playing fields now, and the situation will only get worse in the future.”
By 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.
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.”
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.
By Frank Muraca & Sean Tubbs Charlottesville Tomorrow Monday, July 11, 2011
A multi-use trail built alongside Albemarle County’s portion of the Meadow Creek Parkway will not open at the end of this month as previously announced.
“We can’t open anything until we actually complete construction,” said Karen Kilby, program manager for the Virginia Department of Transportation’s Culpeper District.
Photo by Sabrina Schaeffer/The Daily Progress
At a council meeting in early June, City Councilor Satyendra Huja announced that the pedestrian trail would open by the end of July. Huja said VDOT officials had told him the trail could open before the road opens to vehicles.
However, the contractor working on the road will not complete all tasks in time to meet the goal of opening the trail by the end of July.
“Karen Kilby was certainly correct in saying that we can’t open the trail until the construction is complete, because it’s still an active construction area,” explained Lou Hatter, public affairs manager for VDOT in the Charlottesville area.
Hatter said in an interview that construction for the whole project would be completed around the second week of August, but that significant landscaping was needed before the trail could officially open.
Faulconer Construction has largely completed construction of the county’s portion of the parkway. The road was briefly open last October while a portion of East Rio Road was re-routed.
Key Construction was awarded a $3.37 million contract to build the city’s portion of the road, but work cannot start until VDOT complies with a requirement set in place as a result of a federal review of the road’s impact on historic and cultural resources.
“VDOT and its contractor will not conduct any ground-disturbing construction activity within … McIntire Park [until] all Section 106 consulting parties to the McIntire Road Extended project have had 30 calendar days to comment on the photographic documentation distributed on June 22,” Hatter said in an email.
Three lawsuits filed by the Coalition to Preserve McIntire Park are pending in federal court. One contends that the Federal Highway Administration unlawfully broke the entire parkway project into three segments in order to avoid a full environmental review.
The second, filed in mid-June, alleges that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers improperly issued a permit allowing the city’s portion of the road to proceed.
“VDOT plans to begin land clearing for the McIntire Road Extended project in the park before a decision on that motion will be reached,” said coalition member Peter Kleeman.
On Friday, the Coalition filed a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction to prevent work in the park from getting underway.
Design work continues on the $33.5 million interchange, and the city hopes to advertise the project for construction bids by the end of the year.
The City Council has indicated it does not want the county’s portion of the road to open to vehicular traffic until all three segments are completed.
However, Albemarle Supervisor Kenneth C. Boyd said in an interview in June that he wants the county’s portion to open as soon as it is ready.
“We have an overwhelming outpouring of people who say they don’t want a road to nowhere — a new, finished beautiful parkway that they can’t use for years while we wait for the city to catch up,” Boyd said.
In other news, VDOT has granted Albemarle County $3 million in revenue-sharing funds over the next two years toward a $4.7 million replacement of the Broomley Road bridge near the Ivy Nursery. The one-lane wooden bridge, owned by CSX, was damaged in 2007 by a passing train and now has a load limit that prevents use by the county’s first response firetrucks.
As part of the revenue-sharing agreement, the county will need to come up with $1.5 million to match the funds allocated by the state. Albemarle’s county executive, Tom Foley, said money could possibly come from the capital budget if the project were to be added as a priority.
“We might have to shift that money around to be sure that we can support that with our match,” Foley said.
By Sean Tubbs Charlottesville Tomorrow Wednesday, June 22, 2011
Design work continues on the replacement of Charlottesville’s deteriorating Belmont Bridge, despite an uncertain funding future.
“We want to carefully consider our options with this new bridge,” said Jeannette Janiczek, manager of the city’s urban construction initiative.
Janiczek briefed the City Council on Monday night on the ongoing design of the bridge’s replacement. She wanted the council to weigh in on several design choices that have been made regarding the bridge.
“One of these is that this bridge is a community asset, that it needs to be multi-modal, that it’s a gateway, and that it needs to be safe and attractive,” Janiczek said.
Other design goals include keeping it within the existing right of way and phasing construction so the roadway does not close while the bridge is replaced.
A cross-section of the bridge depicts two bike lanes, two sidewalks, and three vehicular lanes
Those choices have led planners to design the bridge with bike lanes in both directions of traffic. There will also be a 5-foot-wide sidewalk on the eastern side and an 8-foot-wide sidewalk on the western side.
Councilors were generally supportive of the design’s direction.
“It is an entrance to the downtown area and we want to make sure that it is attractive and welcoming,” Councilor Satyendra Huja said.
Councilor Kristin Szakos asked if there was a way to use the bridge to help shield the Belmont and Carlton neighborhoods from noise from the nTelos Wireless Pavilion.
“We’re not going to do anything to make the sound worse in Belmont, but I don’t think that a sound barrier for that very purpose would be allowed in the funding for the project,” Janiczek said.
The bridge was built in 1961. A study in 2003 determined the bridge’s deck was deteriorating and recommended replacement as a more cost-effective solution than repairing it. The new bridge will be built with an anticipated lifespan of 75 years.
In May, the Metropolitan Planning Organization Policy Board approved an amendment to its transportation improvement plan that increased the cost estimate for the bridge from $9.2 million to $14.5 million.
In an email sent to Charlottesville Tomorrow earlier this month, Janiczek said the city has so far accrued $4.1 million toward the project.
Last week, the Commonwealth Transportation Board approved $1 million in revenue-sharing funds for the project over the next two years, requiring a $1 million match from the city. However, no other funds from the state are expected until at least 2018 unless the Virginia Department of Transportation’s six-year improvement plan is amended by the CTB.
However, the city recently agreed to transfer to VDOT control of a project to add additional lanes at the interchange of U.S. 29 and U.S. 250. Officials have said it is possible that money saved for that project could be transferred to the Belmont Bridge.
The council will receive another update on the bridge in a few months.
By Brian Wheeler Charlottesville Tomorrow Tuesday, June 7, 2011
At a public input session Monday, area residents called for trails, athletic fields and a multi-use pavilion at the future Biscuit Run State Park as state officials and a 27-member advisory committee sought suggestions.
The meeting, held in Lane Auditorium at the Albemarle County Office Building, drew about 80 people who had the opportunity to weigh in on the draft goals for the park as well as specific amenities and uses.
“It is interesting to me how many different interests there are in the community with this park,” said Danette Poole, the Department of Conservation and Recreation’s planning division director. “In the long run, we can’t be all things to all people, but we will take their feedback into consideration with the resources available at [Biscuit Run] and factor that into the state’s mission for our parks.”
Poole described for the audience the results of the 2006 Virginia Outdoors Survey that ranked public demand for outdoor recreation areas and facilities.
“Walking for pleasure has been at the top of the public’s list,” Poole said. “Visiting historic sites is second.”
Since the planning effort began in January, the advisory committee has heard from a variety of special interest groups seeking to use the 1,200-acre site located south of Charlottesville between U.S. Route 20 and Old Lynchburg Road.
Performing arts advocates have sought facilities for dancing and music. The draft plan promised to “evaluate feasibility” for both an amphitheater and a multi-use pavilion.
“We have a very strong music culture in this area,” said county resident Sara Greenfield, speaking in favor of the pavilion. “People come here from all over the country to be part of the music culture.”
Active recreation users have also sought to shape the park’s plan and connect it to the larger community. Bikers, hikers and equestrians have all provided input and the draft plan calls for a system of trails to meet their needs.
“The children would like you to include opportunities for exploring, hiking and camping,” said Foster. “Please plan for pedestrian access to the many communities that lie on the west side of the Biscuit Run stream.”
“I think there is a lot of temptation when building a state park to focus on a central parking area with closed [trail] loops,” said Schoppa. “Adjacent to so many residential areas, there are real opportunities to create access points that are purely trails and not roads.”
Before being acquired for a new state park in December 2009, Biscuit Run was the largest residential development ever approved in Albemarle County. The project would have included up to 3,100 homes, a 400-acre county park, a school site, playing fields and major road improvements.
Albemarle officials have been trying to secure a commitment to new athletic facilities and a connector road throughout the planning process, two proposals that state officials have said would be unusual for a state park.
Bob Crickenberger, Albemarle’s parks and recreation director, serves as a member of the Biscuit Run advisory committee and was one of the officials who has called for inclusion of new athletic fields.
“We are strongly encouraging that athletic fields be a part of this master plan,” Crickenberger said in an interview.
Representatives of local youth sports organizations said Monday they also want to see athletic playing fields added to the park. Large facilities like those provided at Darden Towe Park and the Soccer Organization of Charlottesville-Albemarle’s North Fork soccer complex have been unable to keep up with local demand for field space.
“Biscuit Run State Park could help alleviate the severe shortage of athletic fields in this region,” said Rick Natale, SOCA’s President. “I know having athletic fields in a state park is not common in Virginia, but there can be ways to partner with local organizations. Natural grass fields could be added with minimal impact on the environment.”
“The final decision about park uses won’t be made tonight,” Poole told the audience. “We will be taking feedback up until July 1.”
The next meeting of the state park advisory committee will be on Aug. 1 when they review a draft concept plan. A second public meeting on September 19 to review the park’s draft master plan will follow that.
The DCR expects to complete a master plan by the end of the year. Implementation of the plan, and the ultimate opening of the park, will require new funding from the General Assembly.
By Brian Wheeler Charlottesville Tomorrow Friday, May 13, 2011
About 90 city residents gathered at Johnson Elementary School on Thursday for the sixth community town hall meeting held by Charlottesville’s City Council during the past year.
Mullberry Avenue residents Beth Stein & David Tooley
Neighbors from Fry’s Spring and Johnson Village provided abundant feedback on a wide range of issues, including traffic congestion and mass transit. City leaders listened attentively and served up an ample supply of food from the nearby Wayside Takeout & Catering.
Beth Stein and David Tooley moved onto Mulberry Avenue in April of 2010. They spoke up early with concerns about cut-through traffic related largely to diversions around the closed Jefferson Park Avenue bridge. The bridge recently was put out of service as part of an 18-month replacement project.
“We recently bought a house in this area and we want to be active in the community,” Stein said in an interview.
“A lot of the inhabitants on Highland [Avenue] and above are now cutting through Mulberry to get to Shamrock,” Tooley told the City Council. “A lot of them are driving very quickly. I have seen people go 45 miles per hour down this essentially one-lane road because nobody has driveways and there is parking on both sides.”
Mayor Dave Norris (standing) responds to a neighborhood question while fellow city councilors listen and take notes. Seated (L to R): Kristin Szakos, Holly Edwards, David Brown, & Satyendra Huja
Tooley asked Jim Tolbert, director of the city’s Department of Neighborhood Development, to compare their street with others with speed bumps, slower posted speeds and sidewalks.
“A lot of us have very young children,” Tooley added.
Tolbert promised to have the city’s traffic engineer look at the situation, but said the city could not post any speed less than 25 mph.
“We can also coordinate with the police department to ramp up enforcement and get the traffic engineer to see if anything else might be done,” Tolbert said.
Peter Hedlund spoke on behalf of the Fry’s Spring Neighborhood Association and raised more than a dozen concerns and priorities for the city’s consideration. Over the past several years the neighborhood association has demanded improvements to Old Lynchburg Road to improve safety of pedestrians and bikers.
The Old Lynchburg Road project was planned at the same time Albemarle County was anticipating nearby Biscuit Run would become its largest residential development. While that 1,200-acre property has now been acquired for a state park, Hedlund said Fry’s Spring residents still had concerns about traffic originating from Albemarle’s growing urban area south of Interstate 64.
“We’d like the city to practically act on our neighborhood’s behalf to protect us from county commuter traffic which affects our quality of life,” Hedlund said. “Someone suggested [at our neighborhood meeting] last night that there be a commuter lot set up in the county so a [university] bus could run people to [the University of Virginia.]”
Two residents suggested to councilors that they close Old Lynchburg Road at the border with Albemarle.
“It doesn’t solve the problem, it displaces the problem and just makes traffic worse for other people in the neighborhood,” Mayor Dave Norris said. “I think we need a Sunset-Fontaine Connector … and we need to work with the county on looking at patterns of development and growth. We need to look at improving transit, and that was a very creative idea that you all came up with for a commuter lot.”
After about 30 minutes heavy on car traffic concerns, new resident Jean Rodgers shared her experience using the Charlottesville Area Transit system.
“I’d like to offer a compliment to this city for the public transit system,” Rodgers said. “My husband and I have an automobile, but we have used it less since we’ve been here simply because we learned the schedule on the bus.”
That sparked a less than glowing review of the bus system from neighbor Jeanne Brown.
“Unless you are going to UVa or downtown, you can’t get anywhere from here. It takes forever so it’s kind of useless,” Brown said. “I once tried to get to Barracks Road and it took me an hour.”
As a candidate for the City Council in 2009, Kristin Szakos promised to move some council meetings out into the community “where residents can voice their concerns and offer suggestions on issues facing the city.”
After her election, the city began holding a series of neighborhood town halls starting in July of last year.
“I would like to compliment this neighborhood as you have not just one but two very active neighborhood associations,” Szakos said. “I think that that really enables you to be better citizens and to have an impact on what happens in the city.”
“One of the goals for [Thursday] night was to make sure the Johnson Village neighborhood was heard,” city spokesman Ric Barrick said in an interview. “That was one goal that we met. To date it was one of our most productive and successful meetings.”
Barrick said the next town hall is anticipated to be for the Kellytown area sometime this summer. That will be followed by a Sept. 8 town hall for North Downtown and Martha Jefferson.
“People do not drive because they want to,” said Steven Williams, executive director of the TJPDC. “They have needs and to meet those needs they have to move from one place to another in some fashion.”
“Managing the local population should be considered an essential part of managing transportation in this part of Central Virginia,” said David Shreve, an economic historian who serves on ASAP’s board.
“We think [it] is an essential tool to manage existing bottlenecks or [prevent] potential bottlenecks,” Shreve added.
Left to right: Daniel Bowman, Cynthia Neff, Randy Salzman, Steve Williams, and David Shreve
According to the U.S. Census, the combined population of Albemarle and Charlottesville increased from 124,285 in 2000 to 142,445 in 2010. That translates into an average annual growth rate of 1.37 percent, a figure Williams said was slow compared to other areas of the United States.
Williams acknowledged that traffic is a problem on U.S. 29, but said projects such as the extension of Hillsdale Drive would help alleviate problems by offering motorists more choices.
“I would challenge the assertion that we are either growing or moving towards gridlock,” Williams said. “Gridlock is a function of capacity and if we don’t build roads, we are inevitably going to end up in gridlock simply because we’re not keeping up.”
Other panelists and audience members did not see it that way.
Transportation activist Randy Salzman said some cities in Australia have reduced automobile trips by using a special program called TravelSmart that advises motorists on how to use other forms of transportation.
“All they literally do is build a community around the fact that you can get around other ways besides your personal vehicle,” Salzman said. “We can change behavior.”
Williams, whose organization offers car-ride matching services, said most Americans choose to drive because it is cheaper and more convenient. He said many people are willing to make long commutes if it means their housing is more affordable.
“Before you can influence future policy, you have to face up to that fact,” Williams said.
The American Community Survey, conducted from 2005 to 2009, shows that 59 percent of Charlottesville residents drive by themselves to work, as well as 77 percent of Albemarle workers.
Charlottesville resident Scott Beyer said one solution would be to increase residential densities within city limits so more homes would be close to the University of Virginia and other employers.
“If we upzone existing neighborhoods, it takes away a lot of the density that gets pushed out into the suburbs,” Beyer said.
Shreve said he felt cities were efficient ways of organizing people, but not every area should become a city.
“There have to be places in this world that are different,” Shreve said. “If the people in this community decide that this place is just a little bit different than New York … then we can’t be on that same track and there’s a limit to what you can do.”
Cynthia Neff, an ASAP board member who ran against Del. Rob Bell, R-Albemarle, in 2009, said the community needed to find a way to get developers to build more infrastructure. She said relying on developers to pay for transportation improvements through voluntary proffers has not been effective.
“The truth is there is no developer that is going to widen U.S. 29,” Neff said. “If we don’t have the money to do infrastructure … we shouldn’t approve the development.”
“We don’t’ know when that might happen,” Tolbert explained.
Tolbert told Council they could choose to spend $300,000 on repairs that would re-open the eastern sidewalk but that he did not recommend such a large expenditure. Instead, he presented them with an option to spend $14,000 on a 600-foot long aluminum fence to improve safety and keep pedestrians from using it.
“Aluminum is much lighter and will not have the impact on the footprint of attachment on the sidewalk,” Tolbert said.
Tolbert also said he had considered two of the Council’s previous suggestions to improve the barrier’s appearance. The first suggestion was to include flower baskets in the project.
“Our parks department recommended not to go that way because of difficulty of watering them…and safety to the crews who would try to access them,” Tolbert said.
Another suggestion was to include art displays. Tolbert said he was concerned that might create distractions for drivers and also could also be dangerous to pedestrians who would walk across the road to take a closer look at them.
Tolbert ultimately recommended the city invest in the fence and convince the VDOT to fully fund the bridge replacement project.
Tolbert also reported that most pedestrians use the western side of the bridge, and that an LED crosswalk would be installed at the southern end near Spudnuts to allow pedestrians to signal that they want to cross the road.