1

Committee discusses making Charlottesville streets ‘work’

As Charlottesville continues to grow both in population and age, city planners are continuing work on an initiative designed to make streets safer for bikes and pedestrians.

“The primary problem is that we have older streets that we like, but the standards for the new streets create ones we don’t like,” said Dan Rosensweig, a planning commissioner and member of the Streets That Work steering committee.

Streets That Work is one in a series of ongoing planning studies intended to revamp city processes. City Council allocated $100,000 last December to hire the Toole Design Group to perform the review, which will recommend new standards for travel lanes, sidewalk widths and when to build bike lanes.

The plan is to be finalized next year after a second open house in the spring. After that, the planning department will turn its attention to an audit of the city’s zoning code.

“It all comes down to the [zoning] code and it comes down to having things the city can stand behind and tell developers how the streets are going to be,” said Ken Ray, a planner with the Toole Design Group.

The company also received $95,000 to work on the city’s bike and pedestrian master plan. That study was adopted by Council earlier this year.

The goal is to create a new city process to ensure that new and existing streets can work for more than just automobiles.

“The implementation part seems to be the biggest piece and that’s where we want to give this teeth,” Ray said.

The steering committee met Wednesday to review the work in progress.

Member Rachel Lloyd, who also serves on the PLACE Design Task Force, said she wants the final document to give more examples of how zoning conflicts make it harder to make streets more walkable.

“I think it would be nice to have you all identify what the discrepancy is between the actual codes and street design guidelines we have and what you’re proposing,” Lloyd told Ray. “That will really speed up our code audit process.”

Bitsy Waters, a former mayor and member of the city’s tree commission, said the draft report does not do enough to stress the importance of trees.

“Trees traditionally here have been things that are nice to have but if we need utility easements or if the developer needs more space … then we have to let trees go,” Waters said. “I’m looking to you folks to provide experience from other communities.”

Rosensweig said he wants the final report to not only include examples of what other communities have done but also what Charlottesville has gotten right. He said Altamont Street in north downtown is an example of a “beautiful” roadway that is only 14 feet wide.

“It’s got trees, it’s got sidewalks, it’s got narrow travel lanes and it’s got parking one side,” Rosensweig said. “It has low-density residential development and high-density residential development.”

One resident of the lower section of Rugby Road who is not on the committee said she wants the study to offer solutions for her neighborhood.

“We’ve been struggling for years,” said Trisha Taylor. “We have no place for pedestrians to walk.”

The two-lane road has no space for sidewalks or bike lanes. Taylor said she has asked the city to widen the road, but was told that would only encourage people to drive faster.

Ray said he was not familiar with the location, but he would look into it.

Waters said the final document has to make sense to the public.

“As a person who is a great fan of having consultants do things that we can’t totally do on our own, we have to demonstrate the value of it or it gets more difficult to do it,” Waters said.