Members of the steering committee for Charlottesville’s update to its Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan recently had a chance to voice their concerns and identify specific areas of improvement to the design firm coordinating the update.
“We’re really emphasizing bike network, pedestrian planning and policy-level things that we should be considering,” said Amanda Poncy, the city’s bicycle and pedestrian coordinator.
At a meeting last week at CitySpace, representatives from Toole Design Group facilitated the discussion and asked the committee for feedback about priority corridors and necessary policies to improve bicycle and pedestrian accessibility.
The update to the Master Plan coincides with several other major planning projects in Charlottesville. These include the complete streets and green infrastructure plans and the city’s code audit.
“The Bike-Ped Plan is kind of first out of the gate,” Poncy said. “We’re a little bit farther along [with it] than some of the other plans.”
Jeffrey Ciabotti, senior planner with Toole Design Group, said that having the different planning processes occurring simultaneously is working to their advantage.
“As we push forward with the Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan, we’re creating a plan that talks to all of the other plans,” he said. “In a year or so, those plans, taken in total, really present an aspiring vision of Charlottesville in the future.”
Ciabotti presented the project vision: “Walking and biking will be practical, convenient, safe and pleasant ways to travel to destinations within and adjacent to the city.”
He added that the update aims to target a group of interested but concerned riders and to emphasize making connections between Charlottesville and the surrounding region.
“We’re getting toward the back third of the project,” said Ciabotti. “This is where the rubber hits the road in terms of making some important decisions for how this network comes together.”
Over the past six months, Toole Design Group has gathered data from local residents using an interactive map. Online users were able to identify points on the map where they already walk and ride, where they would like to walk and ride, and where barriers to walking and biking exist.
“We had a lot of really great responses to this map,” said Brian Woods with Toole Design Group. “There’s already some pretty great policy things happening in the city, and we’ll be able to build on them.”
Respondents identified poor road conditions and interactions between cyclists and drivers at certain intersections as barriers to bicycling. They also highlighted Grady, Preston and Jefferson Park avenues as precarious places for pedestrians.
“We really want things to be safe,” said Ken Ray, an urban designer with Toole. “We want the network to work together in a comfortable manner so that … riders that are kind of in the mid-range feel comfortable going out and using a bike instead of a car.”
Ray said potential ways to accomplish this goal include narrowing traffic lanes or even removing travel lanes to devote more space to bicycles.
After hearing comments from the consultants, the steering committee broke into groups to look at maps of the city’s bicycle and pedestrian networks to provide more feedback.
The committee discussed the importance of sidewalk connectivity and connecting different pieces of the network.
Several members also emphasized the importance of making sure sidewalks are safe enough for children to walk to school.
Connectivity also was a point of discussion for bicyclists.
“It’s unconscionable that we have two World Heritage sites here in our city and you can’t get [from one to the other] except by car,” said Paisley
Committee member Eberhard Jehle noted that plans are underway to extend a path at Monticello to Ash Lawn-Highland.
“[The path] is so lovely,” Jehle said. “It needs more promotion. It needs more signage and way-finding.”
The steering committee also was concerned about sidewalk and bike-lane closures, asking for a policy to employ temporary sidewalks in key areas and payment for construction projects that result in bike-lane closures.
“Our job at this point now is to take that volume of feedback and integrate it into revisions for both networks,” Ciabotti said.
Ciabotti said he hopes a public meeting set for Nov. 20 will get people excited about being advocates for implementation of both policy and infrastructure.
“We had great turnout during the first meeting. And we got really, really substantive feedback,” he said. “So we want this next public meeting to be equally attended.”
Ciabotti also noted that new bike and pedestrian infrastructure has been installed this summer, and he hopes it will spur the planning process along.
“A lot of it looks good and people are using it,” he said. “That will really help feed momentum to getting the plan that we end up with implemented faster than it ordinarily would be.”