Friday, November 5, 2010

Back Road to Farmville

Why would anyone go to Farmville? Furniture – kayaks – a romantic encounter? Like many places, without a good reason, you probably would never go. If you’re just passing through, this isn’t going to help. But if Greenfront is in your future, I have a shortcut.

A quick look at the map leads you south of Charlottesville on SR 20 through Scottsville and on to Dillwyn, from there, turn right and head south on US 15 until you cross paths with US 460. By now you’re about two miles west of Farmville and you get to decide whether to go in on US 460 Business or motor east on the 460 Bypass and then work your way back in from the south. This is one of those places where you find yourself muttering: “There must be a better way”…. And there is.

A few miles south of Sprouse’s Corner, where US 15 and US 60 intersect, an out of place, rocky hill juts out on the left side of the road. This is Willis Mountain. Amongst the rolling piedmont, it seems out of place, yet it holds a magic all its own. This little mountain is made of Kainite – a rare blue and white flakey mineral that’s used to make the porcelain found in spark plugs. They’ve been mining the mountain for years, slowly dismantling it, bit by bit. Geologists know it well; I once saw a small piece of the mountain at the Mineralogy Museum in Oruo Preto Brazil. It was a grounding experience to be so far from home, staring in a display case at a familiar friend.

About twenty years ago on the fourth of July, I was speeding down route 15 in my red pickup truck. I was late for my sister’s first wedding at my mom’s farm, and I still had another 70 miles to go. What I didn’t know was the wedding was running late too and I had plenty of time. Flying past Willis Mountain, I rounded a corner and passed a state trooper coming the other way. I knew he would turn around and come after me. So I pulled into the parking lot of an abandoned store, dropped the tailgate, sat down with my license in hand and waited. He saw me, slammed on his brakes and pulled in.

“Why did you stop? “ He asked. I told him I knew he would come back and pull me over, so why fight it. I said I was late for my sister’s wedding, and for a moment, he looked like he would give me a police escort. That faded when I told him where I was headed.

“Brunswick County’s too far for me to help you, but I’ll write you for six miles over; you may be able to beat that if your speedometer is out of calibration.”

Turns out it was, and the judge lowered the offence to improper equipment. But that’s another story.

The ceremony took place on a beautiful hot July day on the front steps of mom’s farm. Afterwards, folks got out of the sun by spreading out all over the house, and under the shade of the big oak trees. Grandma Neale was in the living room, by then she was in her late eighties. I sat with her and some others, eating and talking. The conversation drifted towards my sister’s new husband. One guest after another complemented him until it was grandma’s turn. “What do you think of Steve? “, someone asked; she looked up at us and said: “I think he stinks” and then went back to eating. An awkward pause settled in around us, then we all went back to lunch. She was a wise woman and I truly miss her.

Oh yes, the shortcut.

Once you are on US 15 South and have crossed US 60 at Sprouses Corner, go 6.6 miles to Evans Mill Road.

Evans Mill Road Turnoff

Along the way you’ll pass Willis mountain, and you might even see that abandoned store. Take a left onto Evans Mill Road (SR 621); it’s about three miles long and cuts over to Old Plank Road (SR 600) where it ends at a Tee. Make a right and follow Old Plank Road for a little over eight miles until it ends at a traffic light at North Main Street (SR 45). If you turn right, Greenfont is just across the bridge. Appomattox River Company is on your left. This back way cuts out over two and a half miles and a few traffic lights. My thanks to Bob Taylor at Appomattox River Company for showing it to me.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

A Streetcar Named Charlottesville

The Buzz

A couple years ago, the buzz on the street was electric, well sort of. It was about that time that folks down at city hall were bantering about the idea of bringing streetcars back to Charlottesville. Back? Oh yes, there was a time, from 1897 until 1935, when they roamed our streets.

It Works Other Places

I like the idea of streetcars; Munich Germany has a great system that’s closely interconnected with the surface road infrastructure. They have separate traffic signals for the streetcars that are also timed with the auto signals. But I digress.

New Ideas
In 2008 the city took an in-depth look at putting in a street car line from the Transit Center on Water Street, down Main St. and University Ave., to Emmet St. and Barracks Road. That’s a pretty cool first step.

However, the thought of finding room for a streetcar on the corner scares me. Add to mix electric lines strung over the road to power the trains and things start to get ugly. We also have a lot more traffic than they did in 1935. Keep in mind that was the year when they had enough of streetcars and moved on to busses. No, I am not a proponent of buses, though they have their purpose. And I’m not going to get into a history lesson of Standard Oil and GM conspiring to destroy our country’s street car infrastructure. I’m thinking subway.

The Charlottesville Subway System

Ok, it’s a lofty goal, but come on, every major city has one. And it puts all those messy trains underground, out of sight and out of mind. What’s not to love? As a first step and a public service, I have already done the hard part. I created a map of the Charlottesville Subway System. With that out of the way we can get onto the more mundane task of actually creating the infrastructure. I will leave that to the professionals.

In the meantime, I think the idea has to get out to the desk of the common man, where he can ponder the possibilities while drinking coffee. That’s when I got this nifty idea of making Charlottesville Subway System coffee mugs. I actually did a prototype run. And you know, there may be more interest in the mugs than the subway itself. If I can just get a decent run cost on a quantity buy, they would make great Christmas presents… Stay tuned…

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Top 10 Charlottesville Shortcuts - Part 1

While this blog is dedicated to the future of transportation, today, I’m providing immediate relief to your transportation woes by presenting my pick for the 10 best shortcuts in Charlottesville. Remember, every time you take a shortcut, you are doing your part to reduce our carbon footprint.

Note: Because of all the pictures, split this into two post…here we go:

#10: East Downtown Bypass

From: Monticello Ave.

To: Harris St.

Via: Carlton Rd. and Mead Ave.

Bidirectional: Yes

Why use it: Great way to miss downtown, and a back way to Belmont.

#9: South Downtown Bypass

From: Monticello Ave.

To: West Main St.

Via: Roosevelt Brown Blvd., Cherry Ave., and Elliot Ave.

Bidirectional: Yes

Why use it: It’s Quick way to UVA Hospital; Elliot has a rollercoaster hill.

#8: South West Bypass

From: 5th Street Extended

To: Jefferson Park Ave.

Via: Harris Rd and Jefferson Park Ave.

Bidirectional: Yes

Why use it: A Favorite escape from Carl Smith Center

#7: Back Way to the Airport

From: Hydraulic/Rio Rd

To: CHO Airport

Via: Earlysville Rd. and Dickerson Rd.

Bidirectional: Yes

Why use it: Best way to the airport – all the taxis use it

#6: North West Passage

From: Commonwealth Ave.

To: Berkmar Drive

Via: Dominion Dr., Shoppers World Court

Bidirectional: Yes

Why use it: Northbound, it bypasses 4 lights and a U turn on Rt. 29

Top 10 Charlottesville Shortcuts - Part 2

#5: Preston Sticks Light Bypass

From: Preston Ave.

To: Grady Ave.

Via: 10th Street NW

Bidirectional: No – Westbound Only

Why use it: This light cycle borders on the ridiculous. Shoot past it and make the next left.

#4: Emmet/Barracks Bypass

From: Emmet St.

Via: Morton Dr., Meadowbrook Rd.

To: Barracks Rd.

Bidirectional: Yes

Why use it: Gets around traffic jams at the light. Heading south on 29, it’s the best way to get to Arch’s Yogurt.

#3: Rugby Rd.

From: Preston Ave.

To: Hydraulic Rd.

Via: Rugby Rd.

Bidirectional: Sort of. Best for heading to Hydraulic.

Why use it: It’s a secret route that pops out unexpectedly

#2: Continental Divide Cut Through

From: Preston Ave.

To: West Main St.

Via: 8th Street NW

Bidirectional: Yes

Why use it: Impress your friends be sure to look for the troll in the railroad tunnel

#1: North East Bypass

From: 29N

To: 250 Bypass

Via: Rio Rd, Park St.

Bidirectional: Yes

Why use it: Everybody else does. On second thought, stick to the main roads.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Crosstown Traffic

Crosstown traffic
All you do is slow me down
And I'm tryin' to get on the other side of town
- Jimi Hendrix

Pantops? Free Bridge? If you’re new to the area, you’ve probably found Pantops by now. and most likely used Free Bridge to get there. You might have even caught a glimpse of the Rivanna River on your way back to town, sitting there on that slab of concrete, waiting for the light to change, wondering if there’s another way… Well, there isn’t.

Pantops grew exponentially in the last decade. OK, maybe not on the scale of Beijing, but there’s been more build out than I’ve ever seen around here – and there would have been more if the housing bubble hadn’t burst. Through it all, the transportation infrastructure stayed pretty much the same.

In the sixties, when downtown Charlottesville was the center of commerce, city planners envisioned the Meadowcreek Parkway as a vital link to downtown. Today, it’s finally being built (most of it anyway), but times have changes and our community is far more distributed. When it opens, most people who consider themselves authorities on transportation (me included), think all that traffic won’t be flowing downtown. More likely, they’ll be headed for Free Bridge, Pantops, and points beyond.

So today’s buzzword is “Eastern Connector”, a new crossing north of Free Bridge, for the crowd on Route 29 who want to head east. That’s a great idea, and it needs to happen. But it doesn’t bring Pantops any closer to downtown. Some think a footbridge will do the job. Personally, I think it’s too little, too late. This idea loses sight of the importance of connecting downtown to Pantops.

There’s also been talk of a putting in a road somewhere near State Farm, building a bridge across the Rivanna, and using East Market Street to get to downtown; but East Market’s a mature neighborhood with a road base that will not pass muster.

My vote is for a similar, alternative route. Not just a road, but a cohesive infrastructure that includes provisions for bicycles and pedestrians – and possibly light rail. Just for a moment, let’s consider this alternative. It could bring us one step closer to a cohesive community.

The Pantops Parkway

This concept is to provide a direct link from State Farm Blvd to Water and Main Street with a new two deck bridge crossing the Rivanna, downstream from Woolen mills. The upper deck would include four traffic lanes. The lower level would provide a pedestrian/bicycle lane and a separated light rail track that would share the CSX right of way. Access to the existing Rivanna trail system and planned Pantops trails would be included.

Beginning with a new traffic circle at State Farm Boulevard, the planned route follows the contour of the land, crossing the Rivanna, it skirts the city’s waste treatment facility.

From there it intersects Franklin Street and Carlton Avenue before passing under the CSX railway. From there, the route skirts Coiners scrap yard and stays close to the CSX right of way, intersecting Mead Avenue and terminating at Water Street. A branch to East Main is also included for traffic load balancing.

Could this work? I think so. But I’d like to hear your thoughts. Yes, it’s a lofty plan; but I think it’s a critical link to Charlottesville’s future.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Charlottesville Downtown Tunnel Study

The Charlottesville Institute for Eventuality (CIE) understands that change is driven by innovative concepts and gradual acceptance. In the case of the Meadowcreek Parkway, primary resistance can be linked to an overall opposition to increased traffic through the downtown area. The CIE realizes that, while the destruction of McIntire Park is currently on forefront on everyone’s mind, once this major artery is opened, gradual acceptance will take hold. Eventually, one will really care that the land used for the parkway was once declared a park.

Initial Investigation
Under an exploratory grant from the Intermodal Subterranean Development for Mobility in Cities Act (ISDMOCA) the CIE explored multiple options that would increase traffic through downtown Charlottesville with the least impact to the community. Our research team down selected 23 alternatives and settled on option 14A: A new four lane tunnel from Ridge-McIntire to 5th Street Extended.

In this Topo map section of Charlottesville’s downtown you can see the blue line depicting alternative 14A, the planned route and associated North and South termini. The CIE felt that this implementation would greatly improve overall traffic flow while leaving fragile, historic residential areas untouched. Additionally, no homes would be taken by eminent domain.

More importantly, the Jefferson Gray moles discovered during the Environmental Impact Study, can be safely relocated to Mcintre Park.


The CIE center for graphic arts has developed accurate renderings to illustrate the tunnel entrances. The southern terminus, south of Tonsler Park, is show here.

The Charlottesville Downtown tunnel would continue approximately 0.7 miles to the Northern terminus near Vinegar Hill shopping center.

Re-purposed Roadway

As an added benefit, the Charlottesville downtown tunnel will eliminate the need for the 5th Street extension segment parallel to Tonsler Park and the block of Ridge-McIntire from Staples, to the Lewis and Clark (with cowering Sacagawea) statue. The CIE recommends repurposing the reclaimed roads to park space. After all, highway deconstructing is the latest fad in urban renewal; it can only improve Charlottesville’s standing in the next top ten cities rating.