Residents of Charlottesville’s North Downtown neighborhood peppered city councilors this week with questions about public safety, dangerous traffic conditions and the Meadow Creek Parkway interchange.
Thursday’s event was the latest in the City Council’s series of Our Town meetings, which are designed to give the public a chance to communicate directly with elected officials and city staff.
“There are 43,000 experts in our city on what happens on any given block, and without [their] voices, we don’t know what’s going on,” said Councilor Kristin Szakos, who called for the town hall meetings during her 2009 campaign for office.
This was the second time a town hall event has been held for North Downtown, a neighborhood that spans from South Street to the U.S. 250 Bypass between Kelly Avenue and McIntire Road.
Linda Goldstein said she expressed concerns about pedestrian safety at the last meeting two years ago, but has since been hit by a car while trying to cross Nelson Drive at McIntire Road.
“I was in a marked pedestrian crosswalk,” Goldstein said, adding that she has needed two surgeries and over six months to recover. “The police department did not even charge the woman who hit me.”
Goldstein said she is concerned that the traffic situation in her neighborhood will get worse once the Meadow Creek Parkway is completed in the summer of 2015.
“I’m really scared about it,” Goldstein said.
One resident said many University of Virginia students do not know that Virginia law compels motorists to yield to pedestrians.
“Can we have signs that point out that this is a pedestrian city?” said Henry Brown. “If you don’t do this, all of us are in danger,” Brown said.
Several residents also said drivers frequently ignore two traffic circles on Nelson Drive and Northwood Avenue.
“I think those either need to be stops or a raised circle so people have to drive around them,” said Jane Angelhart.
Virginia Germino wanted councilors to know that construction of the parkway’s interchange is affecting her quality of life.
“We were promised by the head of the project that there would be no work at night,” Germino said. But one time, she said, crews made horrendous noise until 2 a.m. when using heavy equipment to break up concrete medians.
Jim Tolbert, the city’s director of neighborhood development services, said he knew work on the project was going as late as 10 p.m., but would look into the issue.
John Cruickshank, who was part of a group that sued to stop the parkway, took issue with plans for the interchange that show new parking spaces near the Charlottesville Albemarle Rescue Squad.
“This interchange was supposed to be a gateway into McIntire Park and now it will be 77 parking spaces with a lot of pavement,” Cruickshank said. He also wanted to know if the Rock Hill Academy gardens would be restored after the interchange.
Tolbert said a landscaping plan to screen the parking spaces will be available in early October. He said the gardens will be restored on land purchased by the city, but it would be up to the Monticello Area Community Action Agency to bring them back on the rest of the garden.
Several people expressed concern that conditions at Lee Park are deteriorating.
“It’s filthy,” said Alice Gore. “I don’t feel like I’m in a public space anymore.”
“I don’t feel very safe anymore,” said Sherry Kraft, who called for more data on crime around Lee Park. She said many have the perception that muggings are on the rise.
Residents asked for cameras to be installed in Lee Park, for the space to close at 9 p.m. rather than 11 and for additional police patrols.
City officials said they would provide information on crime in the vicinity at a future North Downtown Residents Association meeting.
“It’s really important to look at the data and see what’s going on,” said Councilor Kathy Galvin.
Szakos said she empathized with residents’ concerns, but that solutions are not black and white.
“Some people would like to see more draconian solutions, but other people see in distress who needs help,” Szakos said.
The City Council will hold a work session Thursday to continue the discussion about public safety in the Downtown Mall area.
Councilors Dave Norris and Dede Smith were not present at the meeting.