Overview of West Main Street corridor area

The Charlottesville City Council has learned more about how the West Main Street corridor might be redesigned to make the road a public space that is safer for cyclists and pedestrians. It comes with a cost estimate as high as $30 million, if utility lines are moved underground.

“West Main Street has an opportunity to become the ‘front door’ for adjacent neighborhoods through the provision of improved pedestrian and vehicular connections between West Main and those neighborhoods,” said Ron Sessoms, a planner with the Alexandria-based firm of Rhodeside & Harwell.

The company has spent the past year conducting an analysis of the street to create what they are now calling the West Main Street Action Plan to create what it calls a “place for everyone.” The council held a work session on the plan Thursday night.

The design team assessed the road’s transportation capacity, how on-street parking could be better managed, and the economic impact of future development. The work also suggested how form-based zoning would affect new construction.

The report acknowledged that the character of West Main is changing as new buildings are constructed along the corridor.

Proposed transportation enhancements include larger transit stops, safer bike facilities and wider sidewalks.

“We’ve given you a design in which a double-stroller would never again have to go into the street,” said Karina Ricks, a transportation planner with Nelson Nygaard, a firm working on the project with Rhodeside & Harwell.

The action plan sets forth 10 master plan principles spanning from “create a multimodal street” to “create an eclectic streetscape.” Others include “establish neighborhood connections,” “retain views” and “activate the street.”

“We want an environment that is comfortable and encourages everyone to visit,” said Sessoms, who is serving as project manager.

The plan offers two alternatives for the section of West Main between Jefferson Park Avenue and Ninth Street. While both feature 9-foot-wide sidewalks and wider bike lanes, they have different configurations. One would include a 10-foot-wide at-grade median and no on-street parking.

The plan has only one recommendation for the section between Ninth Street and Ridge-McIntire Road. Its proposed configuration is an 8-foot-wide sidewalk on the south side of road, a 4-foot-wide protected bike lane, a 4-foot-wide tree zone, an 8-foot-wide parking lane, two 11-foot-wide vehicular lanes, a 5-foot-wide bike lane and a 9-foot-wide sidewalk.

No traffic lights would be removed as part of the plan, as had been suggested in an earlier draft. Ricks said that’s because emergency service personnel and Charlottesville Area Transit officials said they would prefer to have signals.

Councilor Kristin Szakos asked for the stop signs to be put back in the plan.

At the intersection with Ridge-McIntire Road, the plan suggests creating pocket park at the Lewis and Clark statue by eliminating a lane that currently allows vehicles to driving east on West Main to turn right onto Ridge Street. The entrance to South Street would remain, according to the plan, and bike lanes would be striped on all the major streets.

Forty of the current 109 trees along West Main would be removed, if the plan is implemented, and 321 additional trees would be planted. The plan details which specific trees would eliminated.

“Many of the trees are beautiful along West Main and the goal is to retain as many as possible,” said Elliot Rhodeside, of Rhodeside & Harwell. “But the existing trees are a monoculture.”

The parking management section of the action plan seeks to balance the need for deliveries to business, the need for West Main employees to park and the need to make parking more available.

In the eastern section of West Main, 33 of the existing 85 on-street parking spaces would be removed. The plan’s authors argue that the loss can be mitigated with more enforcement of the remaining spaces and through better parking management.

“What customers want is parking that is reliable, so if they come to West Main, they can actually patronize the benefits,” Ricks said. “By managing the parking, we know from experience you can triple the efficiency of those spaces.”

The action plan recommends meters, consistent enforcement and altering time limits. There also would be a need to create signage directing people to the 5,000 off-street parking spaces, some of which are currently private, within 600 feet of West Main Street.

The study also concluded there is no need for a new municipal parking structure, but that new parking spaces in private development could become a public amenity.

“You have limited land resources on this corridor,” Ricks said. “We think your best bet is to coordinate through the development process.”

The plan also calls for a rezoning that would split the corridor into two districts. Building heights would be lowered in a downzoning, and developers would not be able to build taller buildings with a special use permit.

The cost estimate to implement the entire plan would range from $13.6 million to $16.6 million with the lower number being generated through value engineering.

However, those figures do not include the cost of placing utility lines underground and relocating gas lines. The entire project cost would be around $30 million

“A lot of money goes to underground [projects], but it also provides a great benefit,” Rhodeside said.

The draft Capital Improvement Plan for the next five years includes $11 million to invest on West Main Street. Councilor Kathy Galvin suggested working with the University of Virginia to help pay for some of the project.

The council plans to debate the plan at a future public hearing, but some residents had the chance to make their views known.

“I can foresee a pedestrian being hit by a cyclist,” said Starr Hill resident Pat Edwards

Edwards also was concerned that side streets, such as Commerce Street, would be flooded with traffic.

“We’re already getting cut through traffic, lots of it, and we seem to have no indication of any possibility for relief,” Edwards said.

Another citizen was concerned that the study was too focused on one road.

“We’re not getting views of the context beyond West Main itself,” Mark Rylander said. “It’s important to go beyond the designated corridor for these studies.”