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Charlottesville eyes ‘road diet’ with revisions for 5th Street improvements

Published: May. 24, 2022 at 10:37 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - Charlottesville councilors and Planning Commission members spent Tuesday evening discussing ways to improve 5th Street, which in the past five years has been the site of four fatalities and six severe injuries as a result of crashes.

Most of the planners and councilors agreed on one improvement plan, but say it may need some more time and research before it can be financed and construction can get underway.

Option two, as presented, is the ‘road diet’ option. It features sidewalks on both sides of the road, with a separate bike lane, a separate bus lane, and one driving lane with a median.

“People really like the opportunity to promote alternate modes of travel, but also were concerned about congestion and potential negative impact on the neighborhoods from cut-through traffic and dispersion of traffic from other already congested corridors,” said Amanda Poncy, a senior planner with EPR-PL.

Although the city’s traffic engineer Brennan Duncan said he wouldn’t recommend it yet -- at least not without a study -- the governing bodies liked the start of the proposal. However, they say they want to explore ways to tweak the road diet so traffic congestion may be relieved.

“I would strongly request an alternative be looked at that somehow opens up the bus lane during rush hour for traffic,” said Planning Commission Member Jody Lahandro.

There was support for a study.

“[The study] can get real-world data on things like mode shift, things like shift to other entrances in the city,” said Rory Stolzenberg, a member of the Planning Commission.

Duncan indicated he could recommend the proposal after a study, depending on the findings of traffic congestion and other variables.

While city staff is pushed toward a study, they will also be encouraged to take the ‘lower cost’ immediate options, including more frequent speed limit signs and better lighting.

“I think we need to act quickly and not defer this,” Planning Commissioner Hosea Mitchell said. “We need to do something.”

Right now, busses in Charlottesville make about two stops an hour in that area. Councilors want that number to at least double. Once that’s in place, they want to explore a park-and-ride option to encourage a shift for commuters from cars to mass transit and biking.

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