By Julia Glendening
Thursday, June 18, 2009
The Alliance of Neighborhoods (AoN) held a forum on June 16, 2009 to discuss the management of neighborhood traffic issues within Charlottesville and Albemarle County. Jeanie Alexander, the City of Charlottesville’s Traffic Engineer, and Juandiego Wade, Transportation Planner for Albemarle County, answered questions from neighborhood association representatives and local citizens. They walked the audience through the process of how to solve a traffic problem and gave examples of tactics that were both successful and unsuccessful. While citizens expressed their concern with fixing the overall traffic system, both Alexander and Wade said fixing large-scale traffic problems will progress slowly due to funding.
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Victoria Dunham, Vice-President of AoN, moderated the forum and began the discussion with a question on the political process citizens should follow when they observe a traffic problem in their neighborhood.
Alexander outlined the City process specifically with speeding problems, which starts when citizens tell her directly about a problem. That is followed by data collection by City staff, and then an informational meeting in which citizens are shown the City’s plans for mitigation. Ballots listing the proposed solutions are then sent out to residents. If more than half of residents respond, and over 66% are in favor, the City will go ahead with the plan if funds can be allocated to the project.
Wade described the County’s process as similar and said the Board of Supervisors must ultimately approve every county traffic management plan. He emphasized how traffic calming is not expensive, but the planning process required for County roads by the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) is extremely lengthy.
Alexander described options that are available for traffic management issues, such as speed humps, speed cushions, bike lanes, extending curbsides, and building medians. Some members of the audience were interested in narrowing streets to calm traffic, but Alexander informed the audience that narrowing roads is one of the most expensive options.
“Cost to [narrow streets] is probably more expensive than any of the other traffic calming things because then you really get into some drainage issues if you start messing with your pavement and your curb line and property line issues get a little more complicated,” said Alexander.
She also clarified the difference between traffic calming and traffic control. Traffic calming is a self-imposed modification that is voted on by the residents and includes devices such as speed humps. Traffic control includes stop signs and stop lights that can be enforced by police. Alexander said traffic calming solutions are used when speeding is the issue because it forces traffic to slow down, whereas people might not stop for a stop sign.
One citizen said he was concerned the City was only making a quick fix with traffic calming solutions.
“I’ve always felt that traffic calming is kind of a Band Aid on a symptom,” he said. “Maybe the problem is that there’s a bigger issue where the whole transportation system needs to be looked at.”
Wade responded by saying the County and the City work together to enhance interconnectivity and each problem has to be examined individually. He described the work as “ongoing” and said “each little bit helps.”
“In my role traffic, calming is something I can do. I can be part of the conversation, but the bigger issue that’s creating a lot of this problem is something to remedy over time,” said Alexander who agreed with the citizen’s assessment.
The citizen voiced his worry that with growth, traffic will fill up main roads and spill over into local roads. He said traffic calming devices on local roads will make congestion worse and traffic will continuously be pushed into new areas, unless the City’s and County’s entire traffic grid is examined.
Alexander and Wade answered further questions about traffic studies and stressed the importance of communication between residents, neighborhood association representatives, and local governments. They both described traffic problems which have been hindered by neighborhood disagreements and they recommended resident discussion should occur before a traffic complaint is filed. Dunham finished the forum by commenting on the importance of citizen involvement from the beginning of an issue and how residents are able to make changes throughout their neighborhood.
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