Image from sketches of West Main streetscape Credit: Credit: Rhodeside & Harwell

For the second time this year, the Charlottesville City Council has rejected the results of a study commissioned to develop a new streetscape for West Main between the University of Virginia and downtown.

“I would like to see West Main improved, but not the way it is proposed in this concept,” said Mayor Satyendra Huja.

A streetscape concept was developed as part of a $340,000 study conducted by Alexandria-based Rhodeside & Harwell. The council authorized the expenditure in February 2013 and the study began that October.

After an hour-long discussion late Monday, councilors voted 4-1 to hold another work session to determine how to proceed. After that, a steering committee that has overseen the work will be reconvened with added positions for the fire department and UVa.

University officials have grown increasingly concerned the plan called for narrowing the roadway to make more room for wider sidewalks and an enhanced bike lane.

“Our biggest concern is the unimpeded flow of emergency vehicles on West Main Street,” said Kevin Fox, facilities administrator for the UVa Medical Center. “The [hospital] had 22,000 emergency patient transports last year, and that number will probably grow this year.”

The results were unveiled to the council in December, at which time the consultants said full implementation would cost $30 million. That amount included placing Dominion Virginia Power utility lines underground.

In January, Huja announced that he could not support the project. The council held another work session in March with Rhodeside & Harwell representatives, but the city’s urban designer, Carrie Rainey, said no changes had been made to the plan since that time.

On Monday, councilors were asked to take a position on whether they support the basic framework of the plan.

Before they did, speakers representing West Main businesses and cyclists critiqued the plan.

Kai Rady, of the toy store Shenanigans, said she did not support the removal of 33 parking spaces along the road without the promise of alternatives.

“Most of us wish we were not as reliant on vehicles powered by fossil fuels but we are for now,” Rady said. “Cars need to be accommodated or businesses will fail.”

However, members of the bike community called upon the council to make West Main an example of how Charlottesville can improve conditions for cyclists.

“I’m asking you tonight to do something to make this bike commute safer for me and the hundreds of cyclists who use West Main every day,” said Ruth Stornetta. Some cyclists have said they want a protected bike lane for the street’s entire span.

One member of the steering committee urged Council to keep moving forward with the plan, but to take a more practical approach.

“As we look forward to what’s realistic in the next five years or ten years, $30 million does not sound realistic unless we keep raising taxes,” said Peter Castiglione, a co-owner of Maya Restaurant. “[But] $10 million over ten years we might get something done.”

Councilor Bob Fenwick said he was concerned that buses would stop in the travel way, which would require both vehicles and bikes to halt.

However, one city planner said that is the case now on Avon Street and Market Street.

“While there is a slight delay to traffic, our preliminary traffic analysis has found it will not be a significant impact to the corridor,” said urban designer Carrie Rainey said. “One benefit is that it improves transit access and speeds up the bus.

Councilor Kristin Szakos supported the buses stopping in the travel lane.

“We have to make sure cars can get through but the only way we’re going to change behavior is to make the other things more attractive,” Szakos said.

Councilor Kathy Galvin called for a task force to evaluate how to pay for the full implementation of the study when a conceptual plan is approved.

“I would like to have a better idea of what is possible in terms of state government and VDOT grants or what can we be doing with Dominion Power in terms of negotiations,” Galvin said. She said Dominion might be persuaded to place utility lines underground.

One councilor expressed frustration at seeing the same plan that was presented in March.

“I have the same concerns I had last time when we talked about this at council and none of it has changed,” said Councilor Dede Smith.

Smith said she opposes removal of the “slip lane” from West Main to Ridge Street, as well as removal of the left-turn lane allowing eastbound vehicles to turn onto Fourth Street.

Fenwick also expressed frustration.

“This latest iteration of West Main Street has been going on for about two years now,” Fenwick said. “It seems to me, at this point, that we ought to have some clarity, and that’s obviously not the case and I dare say that as we sit here tonight it is getting more and more confusing.”

Huja repeated his objections from March. He said the design is incoherent, provides no continuity, cuts down too many existing trees and eliminates too much parking.

The council is expected to hold a work session on the streetscape plan in the near future.

Rainey said that if Rhodeside & Harwell were to be commissioned again, the council would need to create a new scope and agree to spend more money for further study.

Suggested changes to the street’s zoning — in particular, limits on new building heights — also were a product of the study. The council is expected to discuss that topic in September.