Locust Avenue residents given traffic-calming choices

Charlottesville’s Martha Jefferson Neighborhood Association has been asking for ways to slow down motorists on the community’s streets.

“Right now, Locust Avenue is a Berlin Wall for pedestrians, especially for younger pedestrians, and we want to encourage people to cross [the street],” said Eberhard Jehle.

City planners recently held a workshop with residents to receive input on potential traffic-calming measures. A traffic study of Locust Avenue’s 700 and 800 blocks showed that 85 percent of vehicles travel faster than the 35 mph through the area. The posted speed limit is 25 mph. 

“According to our traffic-calming handbook in Charlottesville, that shows the street deserves some sort of calming,” said Christy Fisher, the city’s assistant traffic engineer.

Budget constraints, as well as federal standards, limit what can be done in the short term. However, the city has expressed willingness to try short-term solutions with simple paint rather than concrete or other solutions that would modify the roadway.

“Some people are calling this tactical urbanism with short-term strategies that we can try out before we spend a whole lot of money,” Fisher said.

Bill Wuensch, of the firm EPR, was hired to come up with three concepts, all of which would narrow the roadway to 11-foot-wide lanes.

In all the concepts, curb extensions would be created at intersections to shorten the distance required to cross. The roadway over the bridge over the U.S. 250 Bypass would be narrowed using hash marks.

One concept would create a two-foot buffer zone between existing bike lanes on the southbound side of the road and would delineate existing parking spaces.

Another would narrow the roadway using series of chicanes — artificial shifts of the travel lanes from side to side — between the bypass and Hazel Street that also would alternate on-street parking between the west and east sides of the road.

One resident said he was concerned about the chicanes.

“Park Street has ruined the idea of chicanes,” said Bruce Odell. “It’s like chicanery. You’ll have to convince people it won’t be an impossible drive.”

The third concept would remove the bike lane in favor of a sidewalk and new landscaping on the west side of the road.

“All of them really have the ability to be a first phase,” said Wuensch.

However, four-way stops and traffic signals have been ruled out.

“We did a multi-stop warrant, which is a set of criteria from the Federal Highway Administration that we look at to see if a [stop sign] is [permitted],” Wuensch said. “The way the volumes shook out, they weren’t warranted.”

Speed humps also are not likely.

“‘Vertical deflection devices’ is the $5 word for them,” Wuensch said. “They’re just not really on the table for this kind of road. They’re difficult for emergency vehicles and a lot of other vehicles.”

Locust Avenue is classified as a collector road, which means through-traffic must be taken into consideration.

“There aren’t that many roads connecting downtown to the main arterial network,” Wuensch said. “There’s a natural tension in this corridor between the residential, which is a great environment, but it’s also an important piece of the transportation network that is going to get more cars over time.”

The 800 block of Locust Avenue is a quarter-mile long so there is no intersection for people to walk across. None of the three concepts shows mid-block pedestrian crossings at vehicular intersections, but Wuensch said they could be part of a second phase.

City planning staff said they will sift through the feedback and will come back before the neighborhood later this year.