Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee Statement on W. Main Plan

Below is the City of Charlottesville’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee’s response to actions of late around the acceptance of the West Main plan.  Statement available here.  The W. Main plan is available here.

Charlottesville Bicycle & Pedestrian Advisory Committee Statement Regarding West Main Street

The Bicycle Pedestrian Advisory Committee [BPAC] would like to voice its concern regarding the recent statements by Mayor Huja and members of City Council regarding the plan for West Main Street [at the Tuesday, Jan. 20th. council meeting]. First, we would like to make it clear that the BPAC supports the plan put forth by Rhodeside & Harwell [R & H]. The comments from Council members alluding to the unpopularity of the plan took many of us by surprise after so much community building has occurred through the public work sessions, the steering committee, and PLACE work sessions as well as input from individuals and groups throughout the process. The BPAC thinks that this process has resulted in a good plan for the safe movement of both vehicular and non-vehicular modes of transit through this important corridor. It takes into account the needs of the traveling public as well as the merchants, churches and increasing numbers of residents, who live, work and play along this corridor.

In [Tuesday’s] session, Councilor Smith voiced a concern that there was simply not enough room on West Main for the improvements necessary for safe multi-modal use and suggested instead making these improvements elsewhere. This fails to appreciate that West Main Street is the most heavily used corridor for cyclists and pedestrians in the city, because it is the most direct and level connection between the two principle centers of our city. West Main Street will continue to be a primary corridor for non-motorized users for the foreseeable future. While the 60 ft. wide space between property frontages does not leave much room to accommodate everyone, the R & H plan has used a lot of creativity as well as compromise to come up with a solution that works for the majority of users. It does not favor one segment of the user population over others but rather has a good balance between the safety needs of the more vulnerable users, i.e. pedestrians and cyclists, while still retaining adequate on-street parking and allowing the same volume of vehicular traffic as in current usage.

Second, we wish to speak to the contentious issue of parking. Councilor Fenwick quoted the statistic from Jeff Speck that one well managed on street parking space can generate up to $300,000 of revenue for local businesses. The simple math of multiplying $300,000 by 30 spaces “lost” suggested to Councilor Fenwick that Charlottesville businesses would suffer $9,000,000 in losses if the R &H plan were to be adopted. [Editor note: in subsequent research, that $300,ooo figure appears to be completely unfounded and suggests that values are a fraction of that number for well managed parking] There are multiple problems with this logic; first, R & H, contrary to Councilor Fenwick’s assertion that Mr. Speck’s value of parking has not been addressed, did specifically calculate the value potential in the curbside parking spaces (including the $300,000 potential). But the recently completed parking study found that these spaces on West Main are currently NOT well-managed with use being dominated by business employees and other long-term parkers instead of the targeted business patron users. The survey by R & H also found that at this time there is not a severe need for additional parking. Second, data from New York City, Portland, Oregon and elsewhere, cited in the parking survey and presented to the West Main steering committee, finds a substantial financial benefit to businesses in corridors with improved bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure. Third, a key aspect in the current plan that was not addressed in Monday’s Council meeting was that this is the only plan among the alternatives for the West Main Street that maintains the current volume of traffic on West Main, whereas other variations that retained full on street parking would have required as much as a 70% reduction of motor traffic. These traffic reduction alternatives would be a burden upon the businesses along West Main Street as well as the neighborhoods adjacent to West Main that would have to deal with the tremendous influx of new traffic. With enhanced pedestrian and bicycle facility, the total number of users/patrons could actually increase with this plan. Lastly, the current plan from R & H took great pains to maintain the curbside parking where businesses and community centers exist. We suggest therefore, that in addition to providing a much needed safety improvement for one of the central corridors in our city, these infrastructure improvements, including a parking improvement plan to more than replace the 30 on street spaces, would generate financial improvements, not losses.

The BPAC also considers the R & H plan to be far superior to no plan. There were no voices at any of the public meetings expressing the view that things are fine as they are. Whatever plan moves forward for West Main Street, it needs to happen quickly as the street is currently being developed with no plan in place. It is our hope that the issue of safety for all users of this corridor remains first and foremost in the minds of council as decisions are made.

Another accident last week involving a police patrol car and a cyclist at the corner of 4th and West Main St. illustrates the continuing problem of safe passage for pedestrians and cyclists in this corridor. It is imperative that we take this opportunity to make this corridor safe for all of our citizens. The ability to maneuver a full stroller on our sidewalks without entering the street to navigate around a power pole or a tree is an appropriate minimum. The ability to safely ride a bicycle from the downtown mall to the University on West Main St. without running into an opening car door or being hit by drivers trying to quickly pull into on street parking spaces should also be a minimum. These minimums were, by our consensus, achieved in the plan presented by Rhodeside & Harwell and which was unanimously approved by the West Main St. steering committee (including representatives of the Midtown Merchants association, the City Tree Commission and the BPAC). If these safety goals are retained in some alternative plan acceptable to the community, this committee would support it

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