A majority of Charlottesville and Albemarle County residents drive by themselves to work, according to new data released by the U.S. Census Bureau.
The American Community Survey, conducted from 2005 to 2009, shows that 59 percent of Charlottesville residents drive by themselves to work, as well as 77 percent of Albemarle workers.
The city has a goal in its comprehensive plan to reduce single occupancy to 50 percent of all vehicle trips by 2015. The county’s plan does not have a specific target, but contains many references to using transit and car-pooling to achieve reductions.
“It should be a priority for everyone to start working on those numbers to the best of our ability,” said County Supervisor Duane Snow. “I think that with the price of gasoline, it becomes even more important.”
The data, which was shown to members of the Metropolitan Planning Organization Wednesday, also breaks down how many people use alternative forms of transportation.
Ten percent of Charlottesville residents regularly car-pool, 7 percent take public transportation, 2 percent ride a bike and 15 percent walk. Another 5 percent work from home and 1 percent use “other means.”
In Albemarle, 11 percent car-pooled, 2 percent took the bus and 2 percent walk. The survey indicated that a statistically insignificant number of Albemarle residents bike to their place of employment work and 7 percent telecommute or work from home.
“I think people make their choices about how they get to work based on cost and what’s convenient to them,” said Stephen Williams, the executive director of the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission. “These statistics are really a reflection of what works well for people from a cost point of view and what’s convenient for them.”
Williams said local governments have to work together to provide adequate alternatives in order to meet their goals.
“People aren’t going to ride their bike to work if they don’t feel safe on the road,” Williams said.
“They’re not going to walk if they don’t feel safe. They’re not going to ride transit if the bus doesn’t go where they need to go.”
Bill Watterson, director of Charlottesville Area Transit, said he felt his service would play a role in helping the city further meet its goal.
“We want to see the number of people using transit grow, and I’m confident that number is growing because our ridership is growing,” Watterson said. He added that CAT is projected to increase its ridership by more than 4 percent in the current fiscal year.
Heather Higgins of the advocacy group Bike Charlottesville said there are a lot of ways to increase the number of people who cycle to work.
“We can have more bike corridors that are clearly marked with either bike lanes or ‘sharrows,’” Higgins said. The latter term describes the use of shared-lane street markings to create bicycle paths on existing roads.
“We can have better connections between the city and the county so folks who don’t live in the city can actually get to [work in] the city more easily and more safely,” Higgins added.
One project on the MPO’s long-range transportation plan is a bike trail to connect the Hollymead area with downtown Charlottesville. The Northtown Commuter Trail would rely on a patchwork of other projects being completed, including the Meadowcreek Parkway.
In other business, the MPO policy board endorsed a route change for Bike Route 76, a national cycling corridor route that passes through Charlottesville and Albemarle County.
The route, also known as the Trans America Bike Trail, was created in the mid-seventies to celebrate the nation’s bicentennial.
“Route 76 was drawn from Williamsburg to Oregon to follow the original path of Lewis and Clark,” said city trail planner Chris Gensic.
Visiting cyclists recently complained that signage was missing in downtown Charlottesville. Gensic said that gave the city the opportunity to update the route.
The route currently crosses the Belmont Bridge and follows High Street to Ridge-McIntire before connecting to Water Street. Now the route will turn at Garrett Street before connecting to Water Street.
“People figured out it would be better to turn on Garrett and bring bicyclists to the downtown mall,” Gensic said. The route is laid out the way it currently is because Water Street was a one-way street when the route was created.