Bike and pedestrian safety gets more attention in Charlottesville
Even as warm-weather enthusiasm for bicycling winds down, Charlottesville’s bicycle and pedestrian safety committee is working to increase the focus on alternative transportation options under the leadership of the city’s bicycle and pedestrian coordinator, Amanda Poncy.
The committee recently appointed Scott Paisley as its voting member on Charlottesville’s PLACE Design Task Force, an advisory panel for urban design.
Paisley said this was a significant step to have more of an influence in the city’s planning processes and to provide input from the cycling and walking community.
“We’ve been invited not only to have a seat at the table, but we will actually be a voting member,” Paisley said.
At its meeting last week, the committee discussed the results of a bicycle and pedestrian survey, initiated by participants in the Neighborhood Leadership Institute last spring. The survey found that for two-thirds of respondents, poor sidewalk and bike lane conditions was the most significant barrier to walking and biking in the city.
Committee member and cyclist Peter Olhms said he was not discouraged by this finding.
“It’s actually good that these issues are at the top, because the city can do a lot of things about improving sidewalks and bike lanes,” Olhms said. “We can’t do much about the weather or hills.”
Members offered their input on some existing plans for improving bike routes in the city, especially around the University of Virginia. University planners have created designs for improvements at the intersection of Emmet Street and Ivy Road, and are looking at adding bike lanes and improved pedestrian crosswalks.
Poncy showed the committee another design by the city for the intersection of University Avenue and Rugby Road, which is a complicated crossing for cyclists.
Committee member Mac Lafferty said he was supportive of the proposal for an incremental left-turn box at the intersection for cyclists.
“I’ve seen people get off their bikes and walk this intersection,” Lafferty said.
Some organizations are not as aligned with the bicycle and pedestrian safety committee’s goals, however.
Stephen Bach, a member of the safety committee, is also a member of the Citizens Transportation Advisory Committee, which works with the Metropolitan Planning Organization on the area’s long-range transportation plan.
He told the committee that not everyone was enthused with the idea of allocating a portion of transportation funds for bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure.
“If 10 percent of people are biking, why not spend 10 percent of our money on them?” Bach asked.
The bicycle and pedestrian safety committee would like to be able to prove that Charlottesville needs to improve conditions for bikers and walkers.
The problem, some say, is that bicycle and pedestrian accidents are highly under-reported. Committee member Eberhard Jehle mentioned an accident he witnessed between a car and a cyclist on the Downtown Mall.
“I went over to see if he was OK, and the car just drove off. The driver didn’t report it, the biker didn’t report it.” Jehle said.
Committee members would like to work on an initiative to encourage anybody involved in these kinds of accidents to file a police report. They are not sure what that would look like yet, but envision an online system that files a report with the committee and the Charlottesville Police Department.
“This is the hard data we need to go back to the city and say that these accidents are happening,” Poncy said.
The committee is hoping to increase its public presence before the end of the year.
Poncy and other members will be participating in a public workshop about the Belmont Bridge replacement options Nov. 21.