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.