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Council briefed on transit study; passengers express concern

Representatives from the firm Nelson Nygaard made two appearances Monday to present their recommendations for how Charlottesville Area Transit could be reconfigured to boost ridership.

The City Council expressed satisfaction with the progress of the $116,000 study, but members of the public said they were concerned many current passengers would be short-changed.
 
“I think the report is a disgrace,” said Paul Long, of the Transit Riders Association of Charlottesville.
 
For example, Long said he was concerned service would start later and end earlier on some routes, including Route 10 to Martha Jefferson Hospital.
 
However, councilors said the study was going in the right direction.
 
“I think you have made great improvements and the proposals are much better in my mind than what we have now,” said Mayor Satyendra Huja. “I am happy that you decided to do some bus service in the northern part of the city, which has no service right now.”
 
Around 50 people attended a presentation given by Nelson Nygaard in CitySpace before the same routes were presented to the council at its regular meeting.
 
“We were tasked to figure out how to make service more direct, efficient and easy to use,” said Tara Gallen, a planner with Nelson Nygaard.
 
To save resources, Nelson Nygaard is recommending starting buses on low-ridership routes later and ending them earlier. Several routes would be made straighter by cutting off loops. Some routes would be eliminated and a new Route 11 could be created to serve the Greenbrier neighborhood.
 
Under Nelson Nygaard’s proposals, Route 4 would travel along Cherry Avenue and Cleveland Avenue on its way to Willoughby Shopping Center, but would no longer make a loop on Willard Avenue. 
 
“A consequence of that is that you’ve left a big chunk of the Fry’s Spring neighborhood unserved by any route,” said Timothy Wilson, the husband of Councilor Dede Smith.
 
Another woman had an issue with the shortening of Route 4.
 
“At Forest Ridge and Rock Creek, [the elderly] would have to walk up a steep hill to get to the nearest stop,” said Andrena Green. “People who are older than me and cannot walk as much, such as my mother, she’s going to have a problem walking to the nearest stop.”
 
“One of the things in making services that appeal to a large mass transit audience is that they need to be direct and efficient,” Gallen said. “That’s not possible if services are going up and down every road.”
 
Peter Thompson, executive director of the Senior Center, wanted an explanation of why the new Route 11 would not use Park Street because of the new developments that have been built or are planned along that road.
 
“With Treesdale Park and the Dunlora Forest and many of the other developments that are coming there, there’s a whole lot more elderly and low-income population there than in the Greenbrier neighborhood,” Thompson said.
 
Gallen said a major constraint of the study was to stay within the Charlottesville city limits.
 
Councilor Kathy Galvin said many of the changes align with her vision of a bus system.
 
“Route 9 now goes to the Virginia Workforce Center, and it’s directly linked into the south side of town and Fifeville, which is fantastic,” Galvin said.
 
Councilor Kristin Szakos noted that the route she uses, Route 2A, would disappear under the recommendations.
 
“I understand that there are very few people who ride it very often, but there are people who ride it,” Szakos said. “The way it has been re-routed, it goes along Locust Avenue but it doesn’t go through the more working-class part of the neighborhood.”
 
Councilor Dave Norris said he understood why Nelson Nygaard took its approach, but said he wished they had gone further.
 
“My original hope was that there would be a real attempt to look at what this system could look like if we started from scratch,” Norris said. “What we got was some pretty solid suggestions about how the existing system can be improved.”
 
Huja suggested that Nelson Nygaard incorporate some of the adjustments suggested by councilors.
 
“I hope you do not get too married to your vision and will have flexibility,” Huja said.
 
“Ultimately, you’re the ones who need to approve and we need to bring to you a plan that you like and you’re happy with,” said Geoff Slater, principal with Nelson Nygaard.
 
The council will be presented with a final set of recommendations in early March.
 
The moves are contemplated at a time when CAT does not have a permanent manager. Bill Watterson, who presided over several years of ridership growth, took a position in Burlington, Vt., in February.
 
Judy Mueller, the city’s public works director, said six candidates to replace Watterson will be interviewed during the first week of January.