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Council adopts Streets That Work policy; zoning review underway
Cross section of West Main Street, August 2016
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Credit: Sean Tubbs, Charlottesville Tomorrow
A cross section of existing conditions on West Main Street
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Sean Tubbs | Wednesday, September 07, 2016 at 7:43 p.m.

A new set of policies that require Charlottesville roads to meet the needs of cyclists and pedestrians is now part of the city’s Comprehensive Plan.

“The [Streets That Work] plan is a comprehensive one that pulls from complete streets principles and ultimately rethinks the way that Charlottesville’s existing and future streets are designed so that they will function for all users and create a sense of place,” said city planner Heather Newmyer.

Councilors voted, 5-0, to adopt the plan, which has been in development since February 2014. While the final report was created by city staff, the Toole Design Group has been paid $132,000 for their work on the effort.

“While it remains critical to accommodate motor vehicle movement through the city, the 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 plan.

The project's goal is to create design guidelines and an implementation plan.

“Different types of street projects go through different review processes depending on the scale of the project,” said Amanda Poncy, the city’s bike and pedestrian coordinator. “Throughout the planning process, citizens reported a number of street-related problem areas and needs for public improvement.”

City Councilor Bob Fenwick voted for the plan despite misgivings. In particular, he said some neighborhoods are bearing the brunt of too many vehicles.

“Streets That Work does not address critical safety problems because it is not designed to solve them,” Fenwick said. “Speeding and irresponsible driving are by far the most frequent transportation issues brought to us time and again by the residents of this city.”

The policies also take into account how roadwork can help enhance the city’s natural resources by preserving trees and improving stormwater management.

Developers already have implemented some of the principles. For instance, construction of the Flats at West Village placed utility poles underground.

“We have already started working with developers, even with this not being adopted, to educate them on what the plan is and how they can incorporate some of the design guidelines into their future projects,” Newmyer said.

The plan classifies streets into different categories, with “framework streets” forming the main network.

“These are the most direct routes throughout the city that connect places, neighborhoods, districts and also serve as emergency vehicle routes,” Newmyer said.

Detailed charts specify whether curbs should be built, recommend types of lighting and delineate widths of travel lanes.

For instance, Garrett Street has a width of 51 feet. Newmyer showed an example of retrofitting where travel lanes would be reduced from 14 feet to 11 feet. The space reclaimed would be used to plant street trees as a curbside buffer.

“That’s one of the highest-priority-ranked parameters in the downtown area,” Newmyer said.

The plan also imagines new kinds of streets where automobiles are not the main priority.

“Streets That Work also introduces the concept of a shared street as an approach for local street design,” Poncy said. “Shared streets are low volume with low speeds of 10 to 15 miles per hour in which people walking and biking can safely coexist with people driving.”

The crossings on the Downtown Mall are an example of these shared streets. Poncy said specifications for these are not yet complete.

A long-awaited review of the city’s code has been on hold pending completion of the Streets that Work process. The PLACE Design Task Force recommended such a code audit in 2013 to ensure zoning matches Comprehensive Plan goals.

“The code audit is basically a legal review of development regulations and policies, and if there are deficiencies they will be updated and corrected to align them with the Comprehensive Plan,” said Alex Ikefuna, the city’s director of neighborhood development services.

Ikefuna said one goal is to help protect single-family residential neighborhoods that have been affected by higher-density development.

For example, the plan makes recommendations that could impact zoning code.

“Mid-height buildings of four to six stories should be designed at a pedestrian-oriented scale at the lower one to three floors and integrate awnings, windows, balconies and other features that provide opportunities for occupants to overlook the street from upper floors,” reads the plan.

The plan also discourages additional driveways and encourages consolidating existing ones where possible. Streets That Work encourages the use of small traffic circles in neighborhoods.

Three multimillion dollar projects funded this year through the Virginia Department of Transportation’s Smart Scale process will be designed using the Streets That Work guidelines.

“East High Street, Fontaine Avenue and Emmet Street will allow us to really apply these principles,” Poncy said.

A pilot traffic-calming project on Locust Avenue also was developed using Streets That Work.

Council also on Tuesday ratified a staff recommendation to apply for additional Smart Scale funding for the West Main streetscape and a project to add turn lanes at the intersection of Barracks Road and Emmet Street. City engineer Tony Edwards told councilors that cost estimates are not yet available.

The city also is seeking $1.1 million in additional funding from VDOT to improve pedestrian safety at intersections to ensure compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.


 

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