On September 19, 2007, the Policy Board of the Metropolitan Planning Organization held their monthly meeting.  Topics include a review of potential Pedestrian Safety projects on Route 29, a discussion of a new multimodal trail along Emmett Street in Charlottesville, and an update on the MPO’s long range plan. The MPO Policy Board is chaired by Albemarle County Supervisor David Slutzky.


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CHARLOTTESVILLE TRANSIT UPDATE



The MPO received a transit update at the meeting.  CTS director Bill Watterson reported that CTS’ rider’s guide – with both CTS and UTS logos clearly visible from the front of the brochure – was released at the end of August.  Route 7 began a Sunday trolley service (7:45am – 5:45pm) at that time, and will likely see increased ridership.  There has been an increased bus frequency on Route 5, which travels west of 29 North in between Barracks Shopping Center and Walmart.

Overall bus ridership is continuing to increase.  There was a 4% increase last year, reaching 1.5 million riders for the first time, and even an additional 2% increase this summer, which, in a college town that loses much of its population between May and August, is a significant success.  Since Route 7 runs through Grounds and caters to the University population, Watterson suspects that “Route 7 is really leading the charge there.”  Not only is that particular route accessible to a portion of the area’s citizens that already heavily use public transportation, but CTS is still offering fare-free service to those with valid University IDs.  This will continue through the academic year and further conversation is expected to take place.

In light of the free fare’s success amongst members of the University community, CTS has announced October as an upcoming fare-free month to the general public.  Watterson explained that they are “trying to get a better handle on what the potential impacts on ridership might be if we were to eliminate fares sometime in the future.”  In conjunction with its fare-free month, CTS will be celebrating the grand opening of the downtown transit station (adjacent to the Charlottesville Pavilion) on October 4th at noon.

Watterson also shared a bit more information about the forthcoming tracking devices to be used by both CTS and UTS.  Their goal is to have this real-time travel information in place by the beginning of 2008.

Approximately two dozen bus stops will have bus-finding devices: at the touch of a button, such a device will “indicate the number of minutes until the next scheduled arrival.”  The main transit station will also host several view screens with real-time bus tracking.  That same information will be available online.

City Councilor

Kevin Lynch

expressed curiosity about CTS’ ability to extend service into both Sundays and holidays.  Watterson explained that in fact CTS already has a higher frequency of service than is obligated.  Service is offered without overtime pay on 49 out of the 52 Sundays in any given year – excluding Memorial Day Weekend, Labor Day Weekend, and Easter Sunday – and CTS operates with approximately half as many holidays as are recognized by the City.  MPO recognized that although service may be beneficial on those days that CTS currently does not run, a limited service would probably suffice to provide transportation for the lower number of riders.

According to Watterson, most city bus systems define a “Sunday level of service” and then use that measurement to provide the same level of service on remaining holidays.  This ensures that transportation is available without coming at a significantly increased cost to the bus system itself.


TRANSPORTATION PRIORITIES

At the meeting, the MPO Policy Board considered what priorities to
bring to the attention of the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB).
The annual request lists the MPO’s major projects, and identifies which
ones may need increased funding, or additional dollars for
implementation. The CTB’s public hearing  will be held on November 1st
in Culpeper. The MPO will finalize their priorities at its next meeting
in October. The discussion began by a quick review of

last year’s list

.

Albemarle County Supervisor

Dennis Rooker

(Jack Jouett) pointed
out that the status of the Meadowcreek Parkway Interchange had not been
updated. Charlottesville City Councilor

Kevin Lynch

said
funding for the interchange could be an issue, with estimates for the
250 Bypass bridge pushing the project over the $32 million that has
been set aside for the project in the Six Year Transportation
Improvement Plan. Harrison Rue said federal obligations are being
reduced because of the ongoing war in Iraq.

Dennis Rooker asked for some language to be added about funding for
bridge improvements. “We’ve got three or four bridges that are
substandard that very much need upgrading,” he said.

Supervisor

David Slutzky

(Rio) asked if the Berkmar Extended
bridge, a proposed parallel road which would cross the South Fork
Rivanna River just north of the Sheraton Hotel, could be added to the
list. Harrison Rue said Congress is considering allocating a hundred
million dollars for bridge maintenance, but not for new construction.

Rooker asked if the parallel roads proposed as part of the Places29
Master Plan could quality for primary road funding, because they would
assist with traffic management on Route 29, which is classified as a
primary road. Rue said an argument could possibly be made to justify
such funding, but that the County will have to adopt the plan first.
VDOT Culpeper District Administrator Quentin Elliot said state law has
been recently changed to allow such flexibility, but he’s not aware of
an example close to what Rooker suggested.

City Councilor

Dave Norris

suggested adding language to say that
the City and County are looking for additional park and ride lots
around the area. He also asked if something should be written about the
MPO’s efforts to create a regional transportation authority. That was
the number one priority in last year’s transit priorities. David
Slutzky said it should be changed to ask state officials to form a
transportation district, which would have the ability to raise taxes to
fund transportation improvements.

Dennis Rooker suggested including Charlottesville Tomorrow’s recent
survey results, which indicated 55 percent of Albemarle County
residents would be willing to pay higher gas taxes in exchange for more
transportation funding.


MONEY SOUGHT FOR NEW BIKE TRAIL NEAR UNIVERSITY





The location for the proposed multimodal trail

On behalf of both the City and the University, Charlottesville Parks and Trails Planner Chris Gensic presented the MPO with information regarding a proposal the two bodies have co-written to seek $200,000 in funding for a sidewalk widening project on the western side of Emmet Street, in between Groundswalk – a pedestrian bridge – and Arlington Boulevard.  Potential grant money from VDOT’s new Highway Safety Improvement Program would be used to widen the sidewalk for increased cycling and pedestrian purposes.

Historically this proposed site performed more as a thoroughfare between two zones – the City and the University – than much else, but last year’s completion of the John Paul Jones Arena has seen an increase in bike and pedestrian traffic.  The upgraded sidewalk could serve as a better connector to the University and 29 North for the rising foot and bike population sector.  Gensic reported that the City is prohibited from widening the roads to increase the curbside for bike lanes, so instead they plan to nearly double the sidewalk width in order to create a 10- or 12-foot promenade-like path.  This will allow for enough space for two additional lanes of cyclists to share the sidewalk with pedestrians.

“This area, just from observation, is probably as heavily a trafficked bicycle area as there is in our community,” said Supervisor Dennis Rooker. The MPO approved a resolution to approve the grant application.

How far the $200,000 could be stretched will depend on the necessary amount of cut and fill involved in construction.  UVa has also stressed appearance, stating a desire for an aesthetically pleasing – and probably costly – stone wall along the stretch of sidewalk that runs past the Arena.



Timeline of Meeting:

Kendall Singleton & Sean Tubbs

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