Meadowcreek Debate: Lynch Responds

City Council Kevin Lynch, after reviewing the two recent discussions about the renewed Meadowcreek Parkway debate (“Meadowcreek Debate Gets Weird,” “Lynch Clarifies Meadowcreek Parkway Opposition“), has taken the time to address many of the concerns raised by users, and compiled those thoughts into a single document, complete with extensive documentation going back several years. Keep reading for the full text of Lynch’s comments.

I’ve been meaning to check out this site for a while. Glad I got here when I did. Jeez, this is a tough audience. Lots of County commuters by the looks of it. A lot of good questions though, which I will do my best to address.

Trying to cure traffic congestion by adding more capacity is like trying to cure obesity by loosening your belt followed by the counter argument Constriction in the waistline does not cause obesity. It is a symptom of obesity…You need to diet and exercise, or otherwise cure the underlying cause of the obesity, sure – but for now you also need to buy some bigger pants.

Traffic congestion is building up in the region, no doubt about it. Cville is getting press for being a good place to live and people are moving here in droves. Most are living outside of the City. Providing so the new people can travel around without creating congestion for the people already living here is a major challenge.

Much depends on where the newcomers live. The County is growing with mostly new housing in the South, mostly new retail in the North and a mix of the two in the East. I agree with those who say that we need to loosen the belt around the City. Building the parkway is more like unzipping your fly.

If it is time to loosen the belt, then I am absolutely convinced that we need to start with a series of connector roads in the urban ring of the County. Yes, I realize that this is outside of City jurisdiction, but I don’t believe I’m the only one who’s noticed that the urban ring of the County is exploding in population and traffic. Unlike City residents who can and do use a variety of alternatives to the auto, the suburban and exurban residents must and do drive everywhere. I don’t begrudge them this (whether this is healthy in the long term is another matter) but I’m not willing to sacrifice quality of life in the City for their convenience.

Personally, I prefer a bicycle or the trolley, but if we must loosen up then the first notch in the belt should be a two lane “eastern connector” parkway, between Pantops and Rio Rd. That’s where the bulk of the new traffic is going. A new two lane road will take 20,000 cars a day off Pantops, the 250 bypass, Park/Rio, and to a lesser extent, Hydraulic. We could get started on the eastern connector in two months and have it built in three years, if we had the political will to do so.

The next notch is to complete the Southern Parkway between Avon street extended and 5th street extended. This provides Mill Creek, Lake Renovia, Lakeside, etc with quick access to Route 64 and the 250 Bypass, allowing them to move around the region without driving through the center of the City. It will take about 7000 trips a day off Avon street and going to points North (on High/Park St) and will help tremendously to decongest Downtown. When UVA builds the North Grounds connector, even more traffic will be diverted around the City. The Southern Parkway could also be started in two months and built in three years with political will.

Only then should we build the Meadowcreek Parkway, with a functioning interchange, on the 250 bypass. Everyone who has analyzed the traffic flow at the intersection realizes that it fails miserably if we try to do it with a traffic light. Does anyone want to create another intersection like the one at 29 and Hydraulic? We’re contemplating spending in excess of 50M dollars to retrofit the 29/Hydraulic intersection with an interchange. The traffic volumes are comparable to MCP/250. Better to do the intersection job up front, at half the cost or less.

Even if we do these three things within the next 5 years (achievable but a lot of work) we wont adequately addressed our regional and statewide traffic needs. The road network in the urban ring needs reinforcement everywhere, not just in the North East sector. Because the County has been focused on defeating the 29 Bypass, and doing little else, we have a 10 year infrastructure deficit in the region. We’ve already started to address the problems on Rt. 29 with the extension of Hillsdale drive between Hydraulic and Greenbrier, better light synchronization, and a redesign study for several major intersections. I am cautiously optimistic that we can accommodate the predicted increase of statewide traffic on 29 in a manner similar to Highway 101 in Santa Barbara, but it will take 5 to 10 years minimum.

I see no vision in these elected officials. Status quo is their game and that’s why the situation is so difficult today. The more you procrastinate, the more difficult and compromising it’s going to be. Sure, prudence is good. But non-action is stupid, cowardly and fatal.

I agree that many elected officials are lacking in vision and that the status quo is becoming intolerable. I will match my record in working on our regional infrastructure needs against anyone’s. In my past 3 years on council I have taken the lead in pushing to build a regional network1,2, including extending Hillsdale Drive ( – public hearing on the final alignment will be held in early spring – I have been advocating that we build alternative C ASAP) building the Southern Parkway3 (county has agreed to build, but no claims no money is available) and eastern connector4,5,6 (I have proposed 4 potential alignments, county dragging its feet until recently, still no agreed alignment or funding). Other elected officials will pay lip service to these projects, but you can ask anyone at the local VDOT office who actually walks the walk and puts real workable proposals on the table.

I’m afraid that it is the County, along with Blake, Meredith and Rob who are stuck in a 30 year old paradigm (the City builds roads to the County line and the County overdevelops them). This has not been helped by the fact that for the past 10 years, the County’s transportation strategy has been largely focused on stopping the 29 Bypass. Like many, I think the 29BP was badly designed and overpriced. However it would have helped our region’s North/South transportation problems and eased congestion in the City. We’ve given up much of our leverage with the County by letting go of the 29BP. Once the MCP is built, we will have lost what little leverage we still have to get the County to pull its weight outside of the City.

This so reminds me of the debate in Arlington 20-30 years ago over development of I-66. Local government and activists dug in their heels to prevent the road, then to restrict it to fewer lanes than were projected as necessary.

Exactly! And for 20-30 years, Arlington has been one of the most livable areas in Virginia, and the most livable in Northern Virginia (other than some expensive bits of Alexandria). Arlington has used transit to attract mixed use development into its urban corridors while preserving quiet residential neighborhoods, many of which are within walking distance to work, shopping, recreation, etc. Those who sneer at urban planning should know that Arlington’s property tax rate is less than 98 cents per hundred, well below the State average.

Contrast Arlington to sprawling Fairfax, which has tried to build its way out of congestion with roads, instead of intelligent planning (no disrespect to Fairfax planners, it’s a different voter mindset). As a result, Fairfax is a soulless wasteland with a tax rate of 1.21 per hundred.

As Charlottesville grows, it needs to look around the State and Country for examples on how best to grow. We can try to stay compact and focus our infrastructure around transit oriented development like Alexandria and Arlington or we can role over and sprawl out like Fairfax and Newport News. If you prefer the former, then Maurice and I need your help. If you prefer the latter then you should vote for someone else.

The statement [There are at least 1800 new housing units planned for the immediate area, which will result in about 18,000 car trips per day] rubs me a little wrong. Are we to believe that every house will result in ten car trips per day?

Absolutely. 10 trips per day is the average for a suburban residential housing unit. In an urban area like Charlottesville, where 16 percent of people living in the City walk to work, the number drops to as low as 4 trips per household. This suggests an obvious answer – induce people to live closer to where they work, play, shop, etc and the traffic goes way down. Obvious but not easy. Housing in the central City is expensive and scarce. I realize that’s a problem, although people have been finding creative solutions.

Anyone know what [Lynch] means by [The character and success of the Downtown Mall has largely hinged upon the City’s ability to induce people to come downtown while leaving their automobiles somewhere else.]? How does he think people get downtown now? If what he says were true, there would be no parking problems downtown… All the “character” in the world is not going to offset the increasing inability to get downtown.

When the Downtown pedestrian mall was built in 1976, the idea was that people would park at the outskirts and walk to retail, office and entertainment destinations on the Mall. Over time, this expanded to include parking garages where people can leave their cars all day. Later came satellite parking area, park and ride lots, ride share, bike lanes and transit. In the neighborhoods immediately adjacent to the Downtown Mall and University, 30 percent of residents walk to work.

We have been struggling to make our transit system work better. We still have a long way to go, but we have increased ridership by over a thousand trips per day in the past few years. The trolley is very successful at moving people between Downtown, the University and surrounding neighborhoods. Drive past a downtown bus stop during the evening rush hour and you will see increasing numbers of people who are working downtown and riding the bus by choice, because its easier and cheaper than dealing with a car. I will be the first to admit that we need to figure out how to make the bus system a viable option for more people. And I have been working on this. I’ve had proposals for streamlining the bus service on the table for over a year and a half. 7, 8, 9

Where exactly are the parking problems Downtown? We’ve got a surplus of space in the parking garages. If you are complaining that you can’t park right under your office window for free all day, I’ll grant you that. But give me an example of any City in the State with the density and level of cosmopolitan amenities of Charlottesville where one can do this? Sure, you can probably find some bland office park or shopping center where you can park a little closer, as long as staring at a cubicle all day is your idea of a good time.

The buses do not run often enough and when they do, they impede surrounding traffic … Why wait 45 minutes at a bus stop for a 30 minute bus ride when driving 15 minutes and spending 5-10 minutes parking is clearly much less time consuming and troublesome? … I don’t think that the problem is necessarily a lack of demand, it is a lack of an efficient, convenient service. For better or worse, we live in an auto-centric society… Cville transit system is as-if non-existent to those who want a modicum of convenience. On the other hand, developing a good transit system is a worthwhile goal, rather than only thinking about cars.

Good points. I don’t disagree. We need to make transit and ridesharing more competitive with the SOV. Until we come up with a workable congestion pricing scheme, the only mechanism we have to do this are to improve transit and be careful with where we allow roads and parking. Our current bus system is based on a hub and spoke system. Most routes only run every hour and its not very scalable. I’ve been promoting a backbone and feeder system. It’s a lot easier to navigate. Busses would come every 15 minutes in the neighborhoods and every 10 minutes on the backbone. Its much more scalable and would only take 4 more busses than what we currently have.

Why on earth do [Bike lanes on the MP]? Leave Park Street and Rio road to the cyclists and the peds. If you want to put a parallel bike path to the MP, that would be great. But I don’t see that as an absolute necessity.

Because even under the best case scenario, where we preserve open space and don’t build out to the level that the County is proposing, at least 1000 new units are going to be built right around the northern termination of the MCP. Getting the number of trips per household from the suburban average of 10 to the urban average of 4 requires that these folks have some viable alternatives, one of which is bike lanes for commuters. And we want to also have a separate lower speed path for kids, recreational cyclists and pedestrians. I know that there are a lot of soccer moms out there who would rather send their kid to practice on a bike or on foot (as my own mom did) rather then schlepping them around in a minivan.

What’s the purpose of building another slow [35mph] road in Charlottesville?

Believe it or not, 35mph is the optimal speed for getting maximum volume throughput from any given road (as I recall, the number is closer to 40, but most people will drive 40 on a road signed for 35). The reason has to do with spacing between cars. As speed increases, safe following distance increases exponentially, and you get less volume throughput, even though the cars are going faster.

I’d like to see at least 65 mph on the MP

That would be Interstate 64 (on a good day). I like to make time on the road as much as the next guy/gal, but driving 65 in an urban area like Charlottesville is ridiculous. You need to find a nice little midwestern dustbowl town or stick to the interstate if you like driving 65 everywhere

The MP needs to be a fast way to get past Charlottesville / Albermarle, with just 1 exit until past the airport.

No. That’s a bypass you are referring to – Not the MCP. The County pulled out all the stops to eliminate the Western Bypass. Now they want to turn the MCP into an Eastern Bypass. In fact when VDOT determined the best route for the bypass, they looked at MCP, (which was called alternative 7A). VDOT concluded that the Western bypass (alternative 10) was preferable to MCP for a number of reasons. 10 The western bypass would have taken much more traffic off other roads than the MCP and the southern termination for the MCP (at the 250 bypass) is the wrong place for a bypass. Environmentally, the MCP impacts more wetlands sites, crosses twice as many streams and impacts more than twice the acreage of “high value” habitat and floodplain, than does the Western bypass.

Yes, the Western bypass would go through our watershed, while the MCP goes through the downstream watershed, but so what? Communities downstream of us still have to drink the water, which will be more polluted if we build the MCP than if we were to have built the Western Bypass. Anyone who considers himself or herself an environmentalist must realize that the MCP is a worse road environmentally than the Western Bypass.

I remain unconvinced that building a Parkway will make Park street worse. With the addition of traffic lights on Melbourne, most motorist will avoid a road with several traffic lights (rio/park) to drive on a road with none.

Building the Parkway in itself doesn’t make things worse. All of the development that is enabled by the Parkway makes things worse. And please, all of you pro-development types, don’t tell me that its going to happen anyway. I know several of the developers and I know that they have plans which have been sitting on the shelf for years because Park/Rio traffic counts are too high to allow any new subdivision roads to access Park/Rio. Of course, some growth will occur naturally. This is a popular place to live. However, if the MCP doesn’t get built, then the number of people moving to the area will decrease (because developers and realtors won’t be shilling their product to people outside of the area) and those who do move here will either have to settle for living on a more compact footprint in the City or somewhere in the County where the infrastructure is better (such as Western Albemarle – except that no one wants any newcomers there). I think it makes some sense that the County wants to designate Rio Rd as a growth area, but they need to build their own roads. Don’t make the City build them.

I agree that lights on Park street will make things better for Park street residents. I have been advocating this since before I was on Council.

I see nary a mention of cost in Lynch’s nearly three thousand words here.

You must have missed the press release. 11 VDOT is planning to begin construction of the Meadowcreek Parkway in 2006 and expects to complete the 2.1 mile project by 2008, at a cost of approximately 26 million dollars. This number, which does not include a functioning interchange, is more than what it will cost to build the Eastern Connector and Southern Parkway together

My question for Cox and Lynch is this: if tomorrow the County agrees to ban trucks, the replacement parkland they want is provided, and VDOT approves their plan for the 250 intersection, would they then support the parkway and vote for the transfer?

If you have read this far, you should know by now that my answer is no. If you include a real commitment to build the Eastern Connector and Southern Parkway then the answer is yes. I’ve been on the record on this for years.

I have been absolutely clear and consistent here. A few months after being elected to Council I sent a memo to Council which outlined how we could move forward with the MCP without giving up on the regional network and creating a disaster for the City. 12 The result of this memo was that on Dec 11, 2000, The City sent a letter to VDOT and the County, clarifying the position of the new Council and establishing a stronger position for the City.

I did not sign the Dec 11th letter, because I did not believe that the commitment requirements in the letter were strong enough. On December 5th 2000, I sent Council a version of the VDOT letter which I was willing to sign.13 I also sent it to the Daily Progress, so I am on record with this. The wording in italics are additions that myself and the rest of Council agreed on. The change bars are the things I wanted to see in the letter before I would sign it. Read it for yourself and then ask me if I am being unreasonable. You will note that I am not asking for anything new, other than firm commitments on the conditions that the City is asking for.

Kevin Lynch

References (all authored by Kevin Lynch):

  • Letter to CHART committee, publicly distributed, concerning regional network. 10/23/02 (RTF, 25kb)
  • Accompanying proposed regional network map 10/23/02 (JPEG, 96kb)
  • Aerial showing alignment of Southern Parkway between Mill Creek and 5th street. Created 7/11/02 (JPEG, 84kb)
  • Letter to MPO, publicly distributed concerning Eastern Connector alignments. 4/01/02 (RTF, 8KB)
  • Aerial showing 4 possible alignments for Eastern connector. 4/01/02 (JPEG, 76kb)
  • Aerial showing possible alignment for Eastern Connector extension along North side of Pantops 4/01/02 (JPEG, 80kb)
  • Proposal for reconfiguring the CTS bus system, publicly distributed. 7/23/02 (RTF, 16kb)
  • Map of existing bus service routes (JPEG, 80kb)
  • Map of proposed reconfiguration of bus system, publicly distributed. 7/23/02 (JPEG, 72kb)
  • No Bypass or no Western Bypass, publicly distributed 10/21/02 (RTF, 984kb)
  • Press release from Kevin Lynch, Maurice Cox Re: Transfer of land for Meadowcreek Parkway 11/30/03 (RTF, 24kb)
  • Necessary conditions for building Meadowcreek parkway. Sent to City Council Oct 23rd, 2000 (RTF, 436kb)
  • Draft letter to VDOT, to be signed by Lynch. Sent to City Council Dec 5th, 2000 (DOC, 36kb)
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