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Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2023

Happy Valentine’s Day! There is virtually nothing romantic about this newsletter, but if you’re a human who travels from place to place in Charlottesville, it’s important all the same.

A few weeks back, a coalition of healthcare professionals, environmental advocates and neighborhood leaders released the results of a citywide survey about mobility. Their purpose was to discover precisely how people here get around, and any struggles they face. 

The survey uncovered a lot.

A sidewalk runs between a colorful building and a narrow street. A utility pole juts from the edge of the sidewalk, mostly blocking the path.

Survey shows that the majority of Charlottesville residents want to walk, bike or take public transit — but don’t feel safe doing so

Most people said they drive. Those same people, though, said they would prefer to walk or bike, but feel unsafe doing so. It becomes clear why when you read the responses from people who have no cars.

Folks wrote of intersections with no crosswalks and streets with no sidewalks. The difficulties become more severe for anyone with a physical disability (as India Sims wrote last October in her First Person Charlottesville story). Sidewalks across the city are not designed for people in wheelchairs. Many end abruptly without a ramp, or are made impassable by utility poles rising directly from their centers.

Portrait of a woman looking at camera, in wheelchair, on small street, with narrow sidewalk and brick wall to the side.
Credit: Kori Price/Charlottesville Tomorrow

India Sims can do everything you can do — just sitting down

The coalition that conducted the survey issued a 100-page report that it hopes city officials will use to begin addressing the myriad obstacles people face in getting around Charlottesville.

This conversation became even more pressing last year when Charlottesville Area Transit was unable to hire enough bus drivers to get children to school, leaving hundreds of kids to walk. The school division spent the summer carefully plotting the safest walking routes possible for children who live in areas immediately surrounding each school — areas where the division does not send buses. But, there are kids who live outside those zones who also don’t have a bus and have to plot their own paths.

A crossing guard stands in the middle of an intersection motioning toward her right as a child on a bicycle pedals past.
Credit: Tristan Williams/Charlottesville Tomorrow

With just six bus drivers, more than 3,000 Charlottesville City Schools children are making their own ways to school this year

Those kids face the same dangers as adult pedestrians, like busy intersections with low visibility crosswalks and sidewalks that abruptly end. And it can be dangerous even in school zones, as substitute crossing guard Adrienne Dent will tell you. Dent wrote a First Person Charlottesville piece last month about how she sees drivers endangering children trying to get to school.

Why a crossing guard will suggest Charlottesville’s City Council install speed cameras near schools

The good news is there are things the city can do — bit by bit — to make walking and biking safer. Dent would like officials to install traffic cameras to enforce speed limits in school zones. And, elsewhere, city staff are already taking steps to address some of the issues that came up in the mobility survey, said Sam Sanders, deputy city manager for operations. Over the past couple of years, the city has audited sidewalks and curbs and pedestrian conditions at intersections, and is replacing and repairing the issues they found.

It’s not going to be easy, said Peter Krebs, executive director of the Piedmont Environmental Council and a lead author of the mobility assessment’s final report. Legacy property lines, trees, water lines and utilities make this work difficult — the city is not a clean slate. 

“We’re trying to do this work inside a bowl of spaghetti,” he said. “But that can be an excuse, and we need to not let that be an excuse. Yes, it’s hard. But we can’t stop there. We need to carefully, intentionally, with lots of listening, still go ahead and move aside the spaghetti noodles so that we can put in a sidewalk.”

Enjoy the sun today,

Jessie Higgins, managing editor

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Jessie Higgins

I'm Charlottesville Tomorrow's managing editor and health and safety reporter. If there’s something you think we should be investigating, please email me at jhiggins@cvilletomorrow.org! And you can follow all the work we do by subscribing to our free newsletter! Hablo español, y quiero mantener a la comunidad hispanohablante informada. Si tienes preguntas o información que debo saber, por favor, envíame un correo electrónico a jhiggins@cvilletomorrow.org.