Motorists will continue to have a second way to drive across Charlottesville’s downtown pedestrian mall. City Council voted 3-2 at its meeting on April 7, 2008 to make the south-bound crossing at 4th Street SE permanent. Mayor Dave Norris and Councilor Holly Edwards both voted against the resolution.
Council also approved a recommendation by the Planning Commission to reopen 4th Street SE to two-way traffic just to the south of Water Street. The road is currently north-bound only from Garrett to Water Street, but that restriction will be dropped for a one-year trial period.
Council’s action comes nearly two years after the 4th Street crossing was first opened on a trial basis after 7th Street SE was closed to make way for the extension of the Mall to the Charlottesville Pavilion. Council voted in June 2007 to extend the trial, but former City Councilor Kevin Lynch directed staff to evaluate whether 5th Street would make a better crossing. Staff recommended keeping the crossing where it is, and the Planning Commission agreed at its meeting in March 2008 .
The Commission also suggested reducing parking on 4th Street SE between Market and Water, and suggested opening up the crossing during Pavilion events. Currently it is closed because of the increased number of pedestrians, but some Commissioners felt it should always be open. Council sided with the views of the Police Department, who want to see the crossing closed during special events.
Neighborhood Services Director Jim Tolbert said that the $1 million cost estimate that has
been associated with the construction of a permanent crossing is no longer accurate. That figure assumes that the utilities along 4th Street SE would be placed underground and that the sidewalks would get a major upgrade – key features of the Mall renovation project.
“What’s being recommended now… is that we would just do the bricking improvements as part of the redesign of the Mall project,” Tolbert said. “What we want on both 2nd Street W and 4th Street E is to make sure that any automobile coming up realizes they’re entering into a pedestrian space.”
Tolbert’s resolution for Council did not include any changes in side street parking, pending the result of an ongoing study on the City’s needs. NDS staff will also begin studying 4th Street E to see if two-way traffic affects traffic patterns in neighborhoods to the south.
While there was no public hearing on the resolution, two citizens addressed the matter during the Council’s public comment period. Former City Council Candidate Peter Kleeman pleaded with City to take time to study the need for the crossing, which he said infringed on pedestrian space. Collette Hall of the North Downtown Neighborhood Association asked Council to not re-open 4th Street E to two-way traffic out of a concern that the roadway would become a short-cut.