After four days of intensive public input sessions, and meetings with community members and elected officials, a national engineering and planning firm completed the first phase of a process that could help determine the future of transportation in Charlottesville.
The Toole Design Group on Friday released its findings from the workshops to a group of about 40 people in CitySpace. The consultants were hired by the city this spring to oversee one of several planning efforts to create “complete streets,” roads that safely accommodate pedestrians, cyclists and motorists.
“We’re trying to figure out what’s important according to people’s values, and make those more of a priority,” said Ian Lockwood, a consultant with the design group.
Some of what the group heard from the community was that the city should be safe, easy to walk, beautiful, diverse, bike friendly, environmentally friendly and affordable.
Based on those values, the group made mostly general recommendations on how to improve city streets. One of the recommendations was for the city to address parking.
Lockwood suggested the city undergo a parking management effort that would include an inventory of what is and is not being occupied. One of the locations where Lockwood recommended a review was at the Downtown Mall.
“It seems things are backwards,” he said. “The free parking is most convenient, and where you pay for parking is the least convenient. It’s no wonder everyone fights over the on-street parking.”
Lockwood offered some specific road design options that could be implemented to help increase parking, but he said the current parking model for the Downtown Mall should be rethought.
“You have employees using up the parking that go play parking roulette every two hours, and all sorts of negative behaviors that you really ought to correct,” Lockwood said. “It will help your businesses and it will make it more convenient for people to come in and shop.”
Another recommendation he offered was adding more affordable housing around the Downtown Mall area for employees who typically can’t afford to live in the city.
“Workforce housing here would be really great because then you would start getting a more 24/7 downtown with more activity,” Lockwood said. “You will see right away, shops, and services, and grocery, and all kinds of things to support that population, start coming in.”
Toole Design Group’s Ian Lockwood (left) speaks with Rex Linville (right), Piedmont Environmental Council
City Councilor Kathy Galvin, who was at Friday’s meeting, agreed with the importance of adding more affordable housing options in the city.
“The workforce housing is critical,” she said. “Making the connection with housing and transportation congestion is really important. We have got to increase more opportunities for people that work here to live here.”
Lockwood said something that many community members want to see more of in the city is trees. He suggested the city create guidelines on how far apart the trees should be from each other in order to create an effective coverage area, and how far away their roots should be from underground utilities.
“You really need to get your arms around this whole tree thing because there is an internal debate going on about, ‘is it just decoration or are there other roles?’” Lockwood said.
Lockwood also suggested the city update its city code to match the city’s values. Lockwood cited examples in the code on the current size of street curbs and the length of pedestrian crossing times.
Other recommendations included the creation of a truck route map, the addition of a bicycle lane down McIntire Road from McIntire Park, and the installation of a roundabout at the intersection of McIntire and Harris Street.
Galvin said that Lockwood’s presentation should be shared with the City Council, and she will recommend the council have a work session on the findings and proposals from the group.
“He’s given us good principles to start thinking about how do we go about solving our traffic issues,” Galvin said. “It’s going to be about both road, workforce housing, and it’s going to be about street design, and it’s going to be about the will to execute it.”
The design group was paid about $30,000 to $35,000, according to Jim Tolbert, the city’s director of neighborhood development services. Over the next few weeks, the group will prepare a more detailed outline that will provide a summary of what was shared to them by the community, and what their recommendations are for improving city streets.