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Incident highlights challenge for Streets That Work initiative
Sean Tubbs | Monday, November 30, 2015 at 5:21 p.m.

Three years ago, Kate Bennis and her daughter Anya witnessed a near-tragedy when a car drove too fast through the intersection of Little High Street and 11th Street, almost hitting a group of children and parents waiting for a school bus.

At the time, Anya wrote a letter to Charlottesville’s City Council asking for either a crosswalk or a four-way stop sign to make it a safer location.

Neither happened, so the pair visited the council last month to ask again.

“I don’t think we need another petition and I really don’t think we need another study,” said Kate Bennis. “We need someone with authority to put in a four-way stop or a cross-walk. What’s going on?”

The decision whether to install a stop sign or traffic light does not rest with city officials alone. A Federal Highway Administration document called the Manual on Uniform Control Devices governs how traffic signs and road marking are to be used.

The firm Engineering and Planning Resources was hired to study the intersection in the fall of 2013 to see if it would qualify for a four-way stop sign. Only 11th Street traffic currently is required to stop.

“The volumes did not warrant a change in the traffic control,” said Amanda Poncy, the city’s bike and pedestrian coordinator.

The study did recommend several ways to make the intersection safer, such as improving sidewalks, removing utility poles and reducing on-street parking to increase sight distances. None of those has yet occurred.

In the meantime, the city has been working on an overarching initiative to rewrite road design rules to make streets safer for pedestrians. The Streets That Work Initiative has been underway since February 2014 and is expected to be completed in the spring.

Councilor Kathy Galvin said that when completed, the initiative will give city planners and traffic engineers more tools to reduce speed and increase walkability. However, she said that won’t change the state and federal guidelines.

“When the public feels that an intersection is unsafe for pedestrians, regardless of the trip traffic, we must investigate the problem and come up with a solution,” Galvin said.

Galvin suggested the road may be too wide for pedestrians to cross.

At the intersection, 11th Street is 40 feet across and Little High Street is 30 feet across. Streets That Work calls for intersections to be reduced wherever possible.

“A Streets that Work solution in this case might be to … shorten the crossing distance and slow traffic,” Galvin said. A “bulb-out” would allow the city to comply with guidelines that preclude a four-way stop.

In all, there are 168.6 miles of public roadway within city limits. Most of the roadways, including Little High Street, are classified as “local” streets.

The language of the draft Streets That Work report seeks to elevate the amount of attention paid to pedestrians. A pedestrian is injured by a vehicle once every 12 days, according to data collected for the initiative. The last pedestrian fatality was in 2013.

“While it remains critical to accommodate motor vehicle movement throughout the city, the original focus on cars has been at the expense of other modes of transportation and has emphasized the ability of vehicles rather than people to access places,” reads a section of the draft report.

At a council meeting last month, one councilor expressed frustration that the city has moved slowly.

“It’s way past time for study and it’s time for action, and that’s what I’ll be pushing for,” said Councilor Bob Fenwick.

A meeting of the Streets That Work steering committee will be held from 10 a.m. to noon Wednesday in the city’s Neighborhood Development Services conference room at City Hall.

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