About a month after the city hosted a workshop with a national planning and architectural firm to create more “complete streets,” the same design firm returned to focus on improving pedestrian and bicycle accessibility in Charlottesville.
The effort is part of the city’s plan to update its Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan, which was first approved in 2003.
“The plan update is a great opportunity for people of all ages and abilities to help the city prioritize investments in biking and walking in the short and long term,” said Amanda Poncy, the city’s bicycle and pedestrian coordinator. “Participation at this stage in the planning process will help us identify existing routes, desired routes and barriers to using those routes.”
The update, facilitated by the Toole Design Group, ties in with the city’s other projects underway this summer related to complete streets and green infrastructure plans and a policy and code audit. According to Poncy, Toole is receiving $85,000 to update the Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan.
About 40 people came to CitySpace last week to provide input to city staff and Toole consultants on changes they would like to see, identify barriers to biking and walking on an interactive map, and hear from Toole representatives on national biking and pedestrian trends, and potential challenges they have encountered so far in Charlottesville.
Some of the challenges identified include connectivity issues with current bicycle lanes, railroad and highway barriers, including the U.S. 250 Bypass that surrounds the city, the high volume of traffic and steep elevations.
“You got a lot of hills but they don’t really stop a lot of you from riding,” said Bill Schultheiss, an engineer with Toole. “I think the key point is that it’s not a big town … a big part of this process is making people comfortable making those short trips by having a connected system, making sure those bike lanes touch each other.”
Another concern expressed by attendees was the lack of connected bike lanes with Albemarle County.
“There is a real disconnect between the city of Charlottesville and the county,” said Ned Ormsby. “There is great biking in the county but there is no way to get there without risking life or limb.”
Maintenance of current bike lanes was another concern expressed.
“I always recommend that the [John W. Warner] Parkway be cleaned more often,” said Caroline Laco, who is on the board of Community Bikes. “A lot of time debris in the bike lanes is something that makes people feel nervous about riding on them.”
Elly Blue speaks about biking to a crowd at The Bridge PAI
Photo: Andrew Shurtleff, The Daily Progress
After the public-input session, the nonprofit Bridge Progressive Arts Initiative sponsored a bike-themed event, with support from the city, at its location on Monticello Road. The event featured Elly Blue, who recently published “Bikenomics,” and Joe Biel, who showed his film on bike activism and advocacy and how it impacted the city of Portland, Oregon.
“The Bridge wants to be a place where art and those conversations can meet, and then try and think about what can happen in the city to make some new ideas happen,” said Matthew Slaats, the Bridge’s executive director. “With the bike-pedestrian meeting before this … it was a really great culmination moment to talk a little bit about bikes in the community and what that culture is like.”
The speakers shared their experiences in how other cities and countries approach biking, and how people can bring about more cycling opportunities in their community.
“You need both strong advocacy to direct the conversation, you need street-level activism to be able to allow those advocates to ask for more and you need leadership to be amenable to those changes and to execute them,” said Biel, whose documentary is called “Aftermass.” “In very, very few places is leadership embracing of this before advocacy directs them to it.”
The Toole Design Group will take what it heard from the public and the advisory committee to help form a set of recommendations in November and a master plan early next year.
A community survey and opportunity to share feedback on an online map are available at www.charlottesville.org/bikeped.