The City Council voted 4-1 Monday to spend up to $100,000 to augment planning staff so that a plan to “complete” Charlottesville’s street networks is finished by next summer.
The money would pay for a consultant to help finish the Streets that Work initiative, which would create a blueprint to guide public investment in roads in order to make sure new infrastructure better accommodate all modes of transportation.
“We have not ever looked at the streets other than just a corridor to move cars,” said Councilor Kathy Galvin. “It is important that we balance cars and parking and biking and walking.”
Councilor Bob Fenwick voted against the funding because he thought city staff should be able to complete the work.
The streets plan is being written at the same time the city is producing a green infrastructure plan, auditing the zoning code and updating a bike-pedestrian master plan.
“Where the bike-ped plan recommends primary bike networks, we need to make sure that builds into the street sections that would fit those areas,” said Jim Tolbert, the city’s director of neighborhood development services.
One component of the Streets that Work initiative is to identify “framework” streets that could be reconfigured to add more bike lanes or wider sidewalks. Measures to slow traffic down would include street trees, medians and narrow vehicular lanes.
Jeff Greer, president of the Fry’s Spring Neighborhood Association, called for the city to fund the additional consultants.
“If city staff, who have worked hard on this, need any help getting it to the finish line, money or staffing, please help them to get there,” Greer told the council.
Greer also called upon the council to invest another $100,000 in pedestrian improvements on Jefferson Park Avenue Extended, projects that have not been recommended for funding in next year’s capital improvement program.
The Capital Improvement Oversight Committee decided against recommending the project, as well as $50,000 that would go toward traffic improvements at the intersection of Forest Hills Avenue, Ninth Street and Prospect Avenue.
Greer said he thought it was premature to recommend against that funding at this time, given that the Streets that Work initiative is not completed.
“It’s a bit early in the budget process for us to disregard making some key improvements to safety and mobility at what will soon likely become ‘framework streets,’” Greer said.
The request to hire additional consultants to finish the Streets that Work initiative followed on the heels of a Saturday workshop. Tolbert said many residents are clamoring for action.
“We’ve got a list of probably 20 projects that have been out there for two or three years and they just haven’t risen through the priority process,” Tolbert said. He added that the consultant may be charged with seeing if any of those projects can be done simply by restriping streets.
“We’ve done it at Nelson and Northwood, we’ve done it at Rose Hill Drive, and we’ve been able to see how some of these things work,” Tolbert said.
Councilor Kristin Szakos said she was glad to hear that the use of paint might help speed up improvements.
“If we keep just waiting until we have a full plan, a lot of stuff either deteriorates or people get frustrated and don’t feel listened to,” Szakos said.
However, one resident of the Rose Hill Drive area expressed concern that the city will make improvements without adequately informing the public.
“I’m concerned that the needs of residents of arterial and feeder streets aren’t being adequately addressed by the Streets that Work planning process,” said Kitter Bishop.
Bishop’s interpretation of the draft bike and pedestrian master plan is that 1,000 feet of on-street parking on her road will be eliminated to make way for bike lanes.
Tolbert said no decision has yet been made on that issue, but that city staff will be meeting with Rose Hill-area residents in January.
Fenwick suggested the money should instead be spent to eliminate traffic-calming measures called bulb-outs on Park Street, as well as features that were added to Old Lynchburg Road during a recent project to add sidewalks.
“These roads are dangerous and need to be fixed,” Fenwick said. “I would much rather see this money go there than into another consultant’s study.”
Court study approved
The council also agreed to spend $7,345 on a feasibility study to determine whether the Levy Opera House in Court Square is a suitable place to co-locate the Albemarle and Charlottesville general district courts.
The idea was generated by a joint committee that included city councilors, county supervisors and representatives of the legal community.
“Albemarle County is going to spend upwards of $40 million in upgrading their courts and it’s a question of whether it is going to be done in the city in the downtown location or on [U.S.] 29 north,” said Page Williams, president of the Charlottesville Bar Association.
Albemarle supervisors kept open the possibility of moving its courts to the county this past March after expressing concern over the availability of downtown parking and expressing desire for a potential economic development project.
Under co-location, the two courts would operate in one building with separate facilities and offices.
Williams said having the courts in one place means that the entire community has access to centrally located services such as the public defender’s office and nonprofits that provide legal assistance.
The two localities already share a joint juvenile and domestic relations court, which shares the same clerk.
The council unanimously agreed to fund the study without any debate.