Vehicles travel along U.S. 250 where a sign marks the entrance to Birdwood Road in Charlottesville Credit: Credit: Ryan M. Kelly, The Daily Progress

Charlottesville residents hoping Birdwood Road would be converted back into a two-way street at the U.S. 250 Bypass have learned that the city would not support the change.

With the construction of the grade-separated interchange for the John W. Warner Parkway, Birdwood Road became a one-way entrance to Covenant Lower School and the Birdwood Court and Hillcrest neighborhoods.

In response, residents circulated a petition asking the city to study restoring Birdwood Road to its previous configuration.

“I think the exit can be done, and I think it can be done safely,” said Birdwood Court Homeowners Association President Laura Rydin.

The only point of egress for the school and neighborhoods is Hillcrest Road.

Hillcrest connects to an exit ramp leading from the east lanes of the bypass. Residents say morning rush hour traffic makes it difficult to enter the ramp and the signal at the ramp’s end is poorly timed

At a meeting with neighbors at the Covenant Lower School on Thursday, city staff shared an update on the interchange construction and the reasoning behind the configuration of the roads.

Jeanette Janiczek, the city’s manager of urban construction initiatives, said the city couldn’t justify the risk of Birdwood carrying two-way traffic because of safety concerns.

“Safety has been and continues to be the shared main focus of the project and the neighborhood,” Janiczek said. “The city has observed improved safety operations within this project area, looks forward to the official opening of new pedestrian [and] bicyclist facilities serving this neighborhood and will continue to work on additional planned improvements for the area.”

Rydin said she’s disappointed the city is refusing to study Birdwood and hopes officials will change their minds.

“There has been no formal study since the road has been completed,” she said.

Rydin said she thinks being able to exit the area on Birdwood would be safer because drivers would come to a stop and look to the left instead of looking over their shoulders while merging onto the ramp.

“I think coming to a full stop and looking is better,” Rydin said. “Even though you technically have a dedicated lane, it’s easy to miss people driving past you.”

Janiczek said project staff will review the merge conditions on the ramp.

“There is still a stop sign that will be removed and there is a designated lane getting onto the ramp,” Janiczek said. “[Hillcrest] seems to be functioning based on the project’s intention and has calmed down with the finishing of construction on the ramp.”

Other concerns discussed were additional signage, signal timing adjustments, pedestrian and bicyclist facilities and emergency response.

Public safety officials at the meeting said response times have improved dramatically with the completion of the interchange.

 “The fire and rescue team assured us that when there are emergencies [in our neighborhood] that they can get there quicker now,” Rydin said. “And we are pleased they are looking at the timing of lights under the bridge and considering larger signs.”

Neighbors also have called upon the city to improve plowing during winter storms. Rydin said there have been collisions when vehicles slid down Hillcrest during wintry weather.

“The only exit for this neighborhood is Hillcrest, so the city will take that into account about how and when they will plow,” Janiczek said. “We’re going to do traffic counts and continue to monitor the area.”

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