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Public sees plan for a more walkable West Main
20140805-West Main Open house 1
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Cyclist Stephen Bach studies the plan for West Main Street at Tuesday's Open House.
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by Michelle Delgado | Wednesday, August 06, 2014 at 9:34 p.m.

The loss of 30 street parking spaces on Charlottesville’s West Main Street in favor of marked bicycle lanes remains a key concern, members of a steering committee learned Wednesday.
 
The meeting of the West Main Street Steering Committee followed Tuesday’s open house at the Carver Recreation Center.
 
At that open house, approximately 100 people perused plans for a West Main's new streetscape design, leaving their comments on sticky notes attached to the drawings and renderings on display.
 
The conceptual layout was approved unanimously by the Steering Committee June 10.
 
The plan adds protected bike lanes, wider sidewalks, new seating areas and bus stops, public art and history installations, and a tree canopy made possible by the addition of 300 new trees.
 
Additionally, the plan proposes changes to the traffic pattern near the Ridge-McIntire intersection. Access to South Street would be closed off and replaced with green space. Traffic would be directed instead to Water Street.
 
“In general, I think it’s excellent,” said Stephen Bach, a local cyclist, following Tuesday’s open house. “The original proposals were not good at all. We gave them feedback, and they really listened.”
 
Bach’s appraisal seemed to reflect the general consensus. However, concerns about the design still remain.
 
Though increased walkability may promise to bring foot traffic to local businesses, the loss of street parking in order to accommodate bicycle lanes failed to win the support of some business owners.

“I don’t want the cycle tracks at all,” said Peter Castiglione, owner of Maya. “Neither does the Midtown Association.”

Castiglione emphasized in a subsequent interview that his concern is about dedicated cycle tracks on West Main between the Amtrak station and Ridge-McIntire if they eliminate on-street parking.   He supports the use of “sharrows,” special markings that tell motorists to share their lane with cyclists, and that once long-term parking needs are addressed by the city, additional accommodations for bicyclists should be considered in this area.
 
Charles Roumeliotes, the owner of Orzo Kitchen and Wine Bar, also questioned the need for bike lanes.
 
“I bike in the county, and I share the road,” said Roumeliotes. He was concerned that losing street parking spaces would hurt businesses that lack parking lots.
 
Some parishioners at the historic First Baptist Church are also concerned about parking and sharing the sidewalk after services and during events such as weddings.
 
“It’s a little confusing to me,” said Anne Ford, a First Baptist parishioner, before Tuesday night’s presentation began. “We’re worried about being able to park and get to church on Sunday.”
 
To answer these questions as the project moves forward, the city will consider parking options and alternatives, such as incentivizing public transit or working to convert some spaces in private lots into spaces available for public use. A parking study is underway and will be completed once students have returned to the University of Virginia for the school year.
 
Cyclists have concerns of their own. Bach pointed out the corner of West Main and Ridge-McIntire as a pinch point where the bicycle lane disappears from the map.
 
“The city missed a real opportunity to fix that,” he said.
 
Residents of Starr Hill and Fifeville have voiced concerns that slower speeds and greater walkability may divert vehicular traffic onto their residential streets.
 
However, Jim Tolbert said that two new studies will help the city proactively deal with traffic concerns.
 
“We’re trying to get on the front end of that instead of you having to come to us,” said Tolbert. “We have to remember that at the end of the day, these are public streets, and cars will use them, but we want to make sure it’s the appropriate use when they do it.”
 
“People would love to live on cul-de-sac but drive on a gridded system,” he added.
 
Still, the committee acknowledged that not all requests could be accommodated within the limits of the 60-foot right-of-way.
 
Steering Committee member Rachel Lloyd reminded those at the group that it may take time for users to adjust to the new design once it is implemented.
 
The Steering Committee hopes that stricter enforcement of cycling, driving, and pedestrian laws combined with educational campaigns will smooth the transition.
 
“There are plenty of college towns where 20 thousand college kids are on bikes, and it’s all OK,” said Lloyd. “There are cities all over the world where this very integrated, multimodal way of getting around is totally fine.”
 
Tolbert closed the meeting on a positive note.
 
“This isn’t the end for the Steering Committee. As we go through this process, we want to keep you engaged and get your feedback,” said Tolbert. “We feel good about it as a concept, but there will be adjustments as we go through and we want to run those things by you and have a conversation about them.”
 
To learn more, visit www.gowestmain.com. Public comments will be accepted until Sept. 1.

With additional reporting by Brian Wheeler

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