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As the Charlottesville region’s cyclists celebrate the first week of Bike Month, planners are working one step at a time to improve the area’s non-motorized transportation network.
“It’s all a big puzzle and you take any piece you can get,” said Chris Gensic, the city’s trails planner. “All of a sudden, many of those pieces are clicking together pretty fast.”
City Council adopted a bike and pedestrian master plan last year that includes several pieces Gensic and other city officials have been working to turn from concept to reality.
“Last summer, we completed climbing lanes on Alderman Road,” said Amanda Poncy, the city’s bicycle and pedestrian coordinator.
While Poncy’s work focuses mostly on roadways, Gensic’s work concentrates on off-road trails. Over the past several years, several long-planned projects have been built.
“People who know how to ride bikes are totally comfortable in traffic,” Gensic said. “But if we expect the [rest] of the population to ever get on a bike, these are the kinds of systems that are going to allow that to happen safely.”
One of the city’s requirements for the John W. Warner Parkway was for a parallel multipurpose trail for people to bike, walk or stroll on. That is now open and cyclists can now use that path to and from Albemarle County, but Gensic says they will also be able to travel west along the U.S. 250 commuter trail within a year.
“We’re going to pave a trail from the parkway interchange to the railroad probably in the next six months around what is going to be the McIntire Skate Park,” Gensic said. “That’s going to aim for the bridge we’re building over the railroad.”
The railroad bridge has been in the planning stages for many years and Gensic said the $1.5 million project could go to bid shortly.
“We have written the bid document and the blueprints are done,” Gensic said. “The last piece is the railroad signing the easement that allows us to build over the tracks.”
Gensic said he hopes construction will begin this summer, allowing the planned commuter trail to open.
“If you go behind the fire station now, there’s a paved trail with bridges over both creeks so the middle section of the trail currently exists,” Gensic said.
Gensic is also in negotiations to acquire property along U.S. 250 between the fire station and Dairy Road.
“We’ve also got another [Virginia Department of Transportation] grant that will pay to build the trail under the Dairy Road bridge and convert the sidewalk from Dairy Road to Hydraulic Road into a 10-foot-wide bikeable trail,” Gensic said.
Gensic’s work so far has mostly concentrated on improving facilities within Charlottesville city limits.
One member of the city’s bike and pedestrian advisory committee says that presents a challenge to Albemarle residents who might want to bike to work.
“One of the biggest problems has been the transition from city to county and vice-versa,” said Scott Paisley, who is also a co-owner of Blue Wheel Bicycles. “The boundary zone is not safe at this point and is an issue that needs to be addressed.”
Albemarle’s capital improvement program only contains a handful of public works projects. One of them would add a bike lane on eastbound Ivy Road from the U.S. 250 Bypass to city limits, but the westbound lane would only include a “sharrow” telling cyclists they can use the lane with cars.
Trevor Henry, the county’s director of facilities and environmental services, said VDOT needs to approve the plans before a public hearing on the project can be held. That could happen by July.
Albemarle’s northern urban area will get new bike facilities as part of the Route 29 Solutions projects that are underway. Bike lanes will be part of the Berkmar Drive Extension and a 10-foot-wide multi-surface trail is being built as part of the widening of U.S. 29.
The city recently acquired property near Azalea Park that will include a 10-foot-wide multipurpose trail. Gensic said he is not sure when that will be built.
“We get roughly $75,000 a year for trail construction,” Gensic said. “We’re at a point where a lot of trails all around the city are ready to get gravel, pavement and bridges. It’s going to come down to funding which ones are going to be built first.”
Looking to the future, Gensic said there are conceptual plans to build bridges over the Rivanna River at several different locations. Two would connect Pen Park and Darden Towe Park.
Gensic said there are several candidates for the next round of federal and state grants.
“One would be a tunnel around the railroad at Greenbrier Park that would connect John Warner Parkway over to the Meadowcreek trail. Another would be a tunnel under [Interstate 64] to get to the Monticello trail, and three and four are the river bridges,” Gensic said.
Many of these projects are being coordinated with the Thomas Jefferson Planning and District Commission. That agency is working on a grant to pay for a trailhead at the 5th Street Station to support the off-road trail network.