Peter Krebs, community outreach coordinator for the Piedmont Environmental Council, leaned over the edge of a boardwalk in Greenbrier Park. A crazy number of frogs and other creatures fill the park’s wetland in the spring, Krebs said. The noise can be deafening, Charlottesville parks and trails planner Chris Gensic added.The Greenbrier Park trail, which the city improved this year, is one piece of a loop that eventually could connect both high- and low-income neighborhoods to schools and job centers. This week, Krebs and Gensic gave Charlottesville Tomorrow a tour of the trails they hope will one day connect the city as completely as subway maps do elsewhere. “I can’t wait until we have a map that looks like DC Metro that has the Green Line to the McIntire area and the Blue Line to the Rivanna River,” Gensic said.Charlottesville Tomorrow followed up with Albemarle County to get a complete picture of urban paths and trails. Some pieces of the puzzle are ready for walking and biking this holiday; some may be gifts for the next holiday season.
McIntire Park bridge
The biggest project the city completed this year is the bridge over the Norfolk Southern Railroad within McIntire Park. The cost of building a bridge is much higher than the cost of clearing or paving a trail. The bridge had a price tag of $2.1 million, with one-fifth paid by local dollars and the rest by federal dollars distributed by the state, Gensic said. But the value also is high because bridges and tunnels stitch together areas that have been close but separate for years.“People can generally find a way until they hit a river, a highway, a railroad, and then they’re kind of stuck. Breaching the barriers is the heavy lifting,” Gensic said. Gensic and Krebs are both advocates for the benefits of paths and trails beyond recreation. Krebs said that using paths and trails for everyday transportation reduces stress and is good for the environment. Gensic said that providing good walking and biking infrastructure helps the affordability of the region if families do not need to own a car or do not need to miss work if their car breaks down. Gensic said he has found that residents already are using new city paths for transportation. A device installed on the McIntire pedestrian bridge counted 24,000 crossings in the first month, Gensic said. He said spikes in crossings around 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. tell him that people are using the infrastructure to get to work or school and back.
U.S. 250 Bypass trail
Although generally easier than bridges, some trails are more complicated than others. The U.S. 250 Bypass path under construction near Charlottesville High School was expected to be completed by August of this year but has experienced delays. The asphalt path requires a retaining wall to hold the soil in place on the adjacent hillside at Dairy Road. Gensic explained that the team realized during construction of the wall that there was a small chance that the soil could collapse on the construction workers. The realization only required a change in construction technique but resulted in several months of paperwork, he said. Construction has resumed this winter, and, barring further delays, is expected to be done by Christmas. The project is part of a plan to connect Whole Foods Market and the Seminole Square shopping center to the Downtown Mall. This would give the low-income neighborhood on Michie Drive biking and walking access to CHS, the YMCA in McIntire Park and the downtown area. Gensic said he is hoping to hold a ribbon-cutting ceremony this summer on the full path to McIntire Park. That still requires receiving official permission to build a trail through private property in the Greenbrier neighborhood, but Gensic is optimistic.
Whitewood Road bike lane
This is something of an off-year in Albemarle County bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure work, according to county transportation planner Kevin McDermott. He said that some of the county’s largest projects for urban connectivity occurred in 2018 and that the county has several projects ready to begin construction in 2020. One bicycle lane completed in 2019 is a stretch of Whitewood Road near Albemarle High School. Residents now can bike from Oak Forest Drive to Hydraulic Road, which connects Charlotte Humphris Park and the Parks Edge Apartments to AHS. Several important sections of sidewalk are on McDermott’s agenda for next year, including the stretch of Avon Street Extended between the Lakeside Apartments and Arden Drive. Sections on Rio Road, Ivy Road and Rockfish Gap Turnpike also are fully funded and designed, with construction expected to begin in 2020. The Ivy Road improvements would include bike lanes. Altogether, the budget for those four projects is $6.4 million.
Several Albemarle paths and trails projects serve less urban areas of the county. This summer, Albemarle finished improving the trails around Baker-Butler Elementary School. The trail improvements, which cost approximately $203,000, help connect the school to Forest Lakes and adjacent neighborhoods. The campus is one of several Neighborhood Improvement Funding Initiative sites where residents worked with county staff to spend a small chunk of money on a project of their choice. Many of Albemarle’s most breathtaking trails are located in parks outside of its urban area. County outdoor recreation supervisor Dan Mahon encouraged area residents to make a trip to the Patricia Ann Byrom Forest Preserve Park in northwestern Albemarle. “This time of year is when all the views open up from our parks with any kind of elevation. Any other time of year, you just don’t see through the foliage,” Mahon said.