Our Burgeoning City Traffic

East High Street. Long Street/250. West Main. Ridge/McIntire. From 4:00-5:30 each day, these roads are packed. High Street gets backed up clear past Meade, Long past Locust and sometimes to Park. Navigating Pantops during lunchtime and during evening rush hour is an exercise in patience. As the populations of the surrounding counties boom (Fluvanna, in particular), the number of people commuting to Charlottesville climbs correspondingly.

What are we going to do? It’s not possible to widen most of these roads — we’ve got to work with what we’ve got. The Meadowcreek Parkway and the 29 Bypass Bypass wouldn’t have any effect on this traffic. Public transit to and from population centers in Albemarle and the surrounding counties would be neat, but I don’t see it in the cards. The only solution that I see is a total overhaul of how planning works for the entirety of Central Virginia, creating viable centers of blue- and white-collar commerce all around the area, rather than centering on Charlottesville.

But that’s just one idea. What do you think will keep things from getting worse?

18 thoughts on “Our Burgeoning City Traffic”

  1. I hate having to make a left hand turn onto 250 from the CVS side of 250 (sad of me but growing up here I never took the time to learn the street names). During peak hours the traffic backs way up that street and blocks the entrances to both CVS and the Farm Store (or whatever it’s called- I still think of it as the old Safeway).

    For intersections like that one we need to look at advance green left turns which would be extended during rush hours.

    Waldo wrote:

    The only solution that I see is a total overhaul of how planning works for the entirety of Central Virginia,…

    Planning in this area largely consists of waiting until the problem can no longer be ignored, and only then doing something about it. So yes in that respect there needs to be a very major overhaul.

    …creating viable centers of blue- and white-collar commerce all around the area, rather than centering on Charlottesville.

    I agree! Give the people a reason *not* to come to charlottesville but instead to find entertainment in their own neighborhood. In keeping with spirit of that sentiment- Palmyra, Zion’s Crossroads, The Town of Orange, and possibly even Ruckersville all need…

    MULTIPLEX CINEMA’s!! a Putt-putt, and a food/alcohol/Music Venue combo where Coran Capshaw has at least a partial ownership interest. Well at the very least they need Multi-plexes. And maybe another Keglers- if the region could support one, and we’ll give that one to the Zion’s Crossroads area as a halfway point inbetween the other previously mentioned areas so the folks from fluvanna can have access to it also. But does anyone really go bowling anymore?

    Anyway that’s my 2 cents.

  2. This is obviously no replacement for sound regional planning, but I’d really like to be bombarded with PSAs about using turn signals and not running red lights. Seriously, a lot of people have just completely forgotten about a lot of basic traffic regulations. Enforcement of any traffic law excet speeding is practically non-existant.

    I remain convinced that the fastest possible way to get everyone to their destination without actually re-engineering roads would be for everyone to just follow traffic law to the letter, stop slowing down for green lights (that should be a ticketable offense) and to friggin’ GO the very second that the light turns green.

  3. I was thinking about that just yesterday. I’d like to see one of the local news stations send out a cameraman to one of the intersections with the worst red-light running (I’m thinking Rio/29, where the Jessica Kitchin observed that somebody runs every single red light) and record every red light runner. Ideally, you’d want a vantage point where you can see the license plate and the driver’s face. They should edit that footage down to a “best of,” showing a couple of dozen light runners in the span of 60 seconds. Broadcast that once a week.

    I’d watch it. I’d love the scarlet-letter aspect of seeing which of my friends and neighbors are red-light runners, a crime that I place right up there with drunk driving, particularly regarding those who deliberately do so, as opposed to those who mistime a yellow. It’s that sort of sensationalism that gets people tuning in.

    (This is the point where I should admit that I once accidentally ran a red on 250, some years ago. I think they’d just changed the timing on the light, and it turned red way faster than I thought it would.)

    Anyhow, yeah — I’d love to see some serious discouragement of this sort of behavior.

  4. Jack – I totally share your frustration with the absent-minded cattle who will not go the speed limit (so as to hit the timed lights that do exist), and sleep halfway through each

    Waldo – I think the scofflaw attitude we see towards red lights is a response to the situation Jack notes. When you are stuck at the same light through multiple cycles, and can clearly see you ‘would’ve made it’ except for the pokey person in front of you who slowed down until it’s yellow, and then spurts on through, the temptation to say, ‘I’m taking my damn turn anyway’ is pretty great.

    On an even larger scale though, the red-light problem is a direct function of basic human behavior: we obey the laws when the system is reasonable. People start ignoring laws which are bogus. I’ve seen an explosion of this around c’ville – particularly in the aftermath of the ‘traffic calming’ idiocy that Gary O’Connell and the council pushed through over the objections of their own engineers. The worst places are the 4 way stop signs that don’t meet the uniform traffic code for the traffic that exists there.

    As I was saying about the ability to ‘average 38mph’ from town out to Burnley Station – it’s ludicrous that the traffic only moves that fast.

    Most of the problems you cite on those roads is a direct result of bottlenecks where they feed onto the major arterials. 250 at Free Bridge is just inexcuseable. A decent re-engineering/re-working of our major arterials – that would be Business 29 & Business 250 – to promote unimpeded flow, with lots of grade separated interchanges would do wonders.

    An excellent start would be getting the Meadowcreek Pkwy built, and opening up 5th (Ridge/McIntyre) through to the grade separated interchange by the McIntyre tennis courts (skate park). Ridge-McIntyre ought to have roundabouts where the major traffic lights are now. The stupid light in front of Nolan’s is terrible. Grade separated interchanges for 20N/250 & E High/250 would also help.

    The Meadowcreek, BTW, should be extended up the backside of Forestlakes/Hollymeade/Forestlakes all the way to Proffit Rd! Proffit ought to be widened to match the new Airport Rd., and a grade separated interchange put in up at Airport/29.

    The biggest problem we’ve got is that we continue to use these old arterials without limiting access. If everyone gets their own turn lane and light for their driveway (well, everyone in the “29N business coalition” or whatever group Carter Myers is masquerading as these days), the problem is just going to keep getting worse.

  5. I agree with most everything that cville_libertarian said. Getting any new form of transportation built around here is darn near impossible.

    Regarding those who blatantly ignore the red lights, I would like to see the media do an expose on the number of police who run red lights themselves as well as those who watch people run red lights. Last week I was sitting at the McIntire/Preston intersection right next to a policeman who watched someone run a red light … the officer could not be bothered to get off the cellphone to do his job.

    When those charged with enforcing the law choose not to, it’s no wonder that people feel free to run red lights.

  6. I see two conflicting complaints here. One is the people who run red lights, and the other is people who waste time by making sure the way is clear before venturing into an intersection.

    I am one of those people who wait until everyone has finished running the red light before I go on green. Sorry, but I’m not going to change that.

    Also, as a side subject, I think Avon is the new Rio. The traffic’s not horrible at the moment, but in a couple of years it will be a parking lot.

  7. In my personal opinion the problem isn’t planning its getting these plans from the planning stage to concrete action. Its hard for me to believe that our political leaders don’t know what we need to help fix our traffic woes. The problem isnt the planning its politics. We have a moderate county with a pro business slant and an ultra liberal city that makes transportation improvements as difficult as possible because of their anti-sprawl stance and their long-standing fued wtih Albemarle. I once asked my grandmother if the county and city ever got along…. her response was “ever since there has been a county and city there has always been conflict”

    I am a staunch Democrat like most Charlottesvillians but im becoming more and more inclined to endorse Republicans for local offices. When any party dominates government, whether it be the Republicans in Washington or the Democrats in Charlottesville, arrogance and corruption ensues. The lock on local government that the Democrats have held has led to senseless partisan stances and the toppling of anyone within the party who disagrees (Richards and her support of the Parkway comes to mind). In short, what do I think will help solve the traffic problems in the area? Not just decades of planning but an efficient government that is willing to make practical decisions. In my opinion practical decisions are product of actual political competition. If Republicans or Independents want to gain seats in the city I suggest they tout transportation and budget reform and a lack of Democratic action on the issues.

  8. CommonSenseGuy – no reason for you to change your behavior, but then, you ought to know the type we’re talking about perfectly well: drivers who have their mind anywhere but on the task of driving. You know the type: zone out at the light, fourth of fifth car back, and don’t realize the light’s changed. It’s not unsafe for them to proceed – several cars have already gone through. They just aren’t paying any attention to what they’re doing. They do a lot of other brain dead stuff too – far more dangerous stuff.

  9. High Street traffic, Pantops traffic… for that matter, Rio Rd traffic, getting from the Bypass onto Park/Rio, and let’s not forget McIntyre to Ridge. It’s all a mess of traffic, and it’s been that way for many years. It has everything to do with population growth, of course, and where that population works (your point). But, much of the specific population making the traffic in these areas is working at the University of Virginia. Of course, we have Nexus and city/county workers, but the University population causes the great majority of the traffic. The University is an unmovable entity, but something can be done about High Street. All it takes is money and eminent domain.

    The problem on River Road (ref TrvlnMn) has to do with those of us who cut through the city neighborhoods to get from Park to the Pantops area.

    But the biggest problem is residential development, period. As a Realtor, I have often spouted great words of wisdom to clients regarding the high price of housing… Ah, it’s a matter of supply and demand. There’s just not enough housing for the masses who wish to partake of Charlottesville’s Oz-like community. But, Dorothy, this ain’t Kansas, and the 21st century Oz is Albemarle Place. Borrowing from one of Brian Wheeler’s references on Charlottesville Tomorrow, “Albemarle County is tracking major development projects like Biscuit Run on their website here.” If you’ve not been there, go. The litany of massive-scale development makes me want to vomit. And, keep in mind, these are just those that have submitted site plans but haven’t received final approval. There are many others, with the exact same description, which are already in process (Old Trail Village being one). And many more to come. When does “not enough” become “too much”? I’ll tell you when… when suddenly Charlottesville occupies the bottom spot of Best Places to Live in America, because the area is over-built, and there aren’t jobs for the people for whom the neighborhoods have been built. When short-sighted planners talk about improving the roads immediately outside of the subdivision gates, but they fail to keep in mind that residents need to get to and from work. I think the touted Village concept has merit, but it is only fully effective when you start looking at full-scale planned communities like Reston, Va. or Columbia, Md., where employment opportunities are incorporated into the community. The kinds of villages we’re talking about for Charlottesville are bringing theatres, restaurants, and shopping venues to a residential environment. Who will be working at those commercial establishments? The village residents? I think not. The residents will leave for work, and the wait staffs & clerks, who can only afford to live outside of the area, will be coming in to work.

    This thread began with High Street, and Waldo referenced Fluvanna County development. There are currently 3600 homes associated with the Lake Monticello Owner’s Association, with another 1000 still to be built. There are countless new developments in process or under consideration in and around the Lake. Glenmore will have approximately of 750 homes, and the new Rivanna Village is planned for an additional 500. At least you can get to the University via I-64, but have you driven the roads between the Lake and I-64 lately? And, getting to Whole Foods is a whole other issue… I wonder why Rio is such a bear.

    Biscuit Run, with it’s proposed 5000 homes (Can you even begin to wrap your head around that? 5000 homes, a mile from Downtown.) is actually one of the best conceived in terms of transportation (of course, Harris Street will be interesting to drive). I still hate it.

    While showering this morning, an image of Oz came to mind. Do you remember when Dorothy, et al, reach the crest of the hill, and they look down over the fields of poppies? Now imagine 5000 Mac-Mansions and multiplex theatres.

    Virginia (who’s personal favorite film is Capra’s Lost Horizon)

  10. Amen to what Virginia said!

    And I love the Oz analogy… unbelievable when someone tells you about it… and even more unbelievable after you’ve seen it first hand.

  11. slightly off topic, but only slightly…if part of the trouble is that there is all this residential development but no corresponding business development (i.e., all these new houses for people who will work where?) and if part of the solution could be the development of business/employment sites that are not downtown or part of UVa but are in some sort of ring outside of Charlottesville, then my question is who is working on attracting this kind of business to Cville? do our civic leaders have this on their agenda? Is there any creative vision or leadership in this regard?

  12. For Jim, :-) back at ya… I didn’t say I like the idea of eminent domain… but it makes our existing highways fixable, at the expense of good business folks. As to the issue of Cecil’s questions… let’s talk “Economic Development”. I have written only one letter to the editor of our main local rag, and it was years and years ago, when I was attending BOS meetings for my job. While waiting to get my turn at the podium, I had the pleasure of listening to lots of things that made me choke. Among them was the question posed to the BOS about their plans for establishing a position on economic development for the county. Now, I’ve been in the real estate business for nearly 20 years (omg), so this must have been 17 years ago. It was unanimous at the time that this fine county didn’t need to have an economic development plan, that to have a plan meant that the county wanted businesses to move here. I’m quite serious. And, in case you missed Jim’s blog post noted above, Albemarle County has just, last month, become a member of the Thomas Jefferson Planning & Economic Development Commission. It’s insane. But, heck, at least they are there now. It’s a little late, but if they are going to allow all of this residential development, they better darn well start thinking about where these people are going to work. Or, we’ll have a lot of ghost neighborhoods. And no rural area. Virginia

  13. A few notes:

    I’m constantly astonished at the decline in courtesy and enjoyment in driving around Charlottesville over the last few years. I hate it. Unfortunately, as Jim noted a while back, it’s nowhere near as bad as NoVa, so this decline is likely to continue if unchecked.

    As Cville Tomorrow’s Transportation Matrix shows, an enormous number of road projects are planned or being discussed, but there’s no indication that there will be enough funding for this approach to work within the next few decades.

    I am encouraged by planning efforts like Places29 which take into account land use and transportation needs together. Researching local road projects for the Transportation Matrix, I was disheartened to discover how labyrinthine and arbitrary these decisions can be. Good planning is certainly worth the cost and time.

    Public transit is an excellent option, but only if the real estate market is shifted to reward more efficient development. This is a goal of the Neighborhood Model, and I do expect some improvements in this area, but it’s no silver bullet given current trends.

    I agree strongly with the principles behind Waldo’s idea of locating blue and white collar commercial opportunities where people actually live, but I don’t think a planning solution will necessarily produce those results. Many commercial uses are uneconomical unless a certain number of customers are available nearby. You can get a store like Toddsbury at Ivy in the country, but a Harris Teeter ain’t likely.

    I believe that what all of these problems are pointing to is a failure to tune the real estate market to produce what we want. This is a policy failure, not necessarily a planning failure. What I would love to see is for Central Virginia to adjust the real estate market by adopting split-rate taxation. This would make building affordable housing profitable, encourage development in desirable areas and discourage sprawl, improve the economy, reduce traffic, reduce property taxes for most residents, reduce infrastructure costs, encourage investment in quality art and architecture, and make agriculture much more economical.

    That’s the way things look to me right now.

  14. Wow… such good suggetions.A little insight for my 2cents.First.. the meadow creek parkway should be a push for ,if any reason, safety.The ability of emergency rescue vehicles to arrive at the scene of an accident ANYWHERE on the stretch between park and 29 on rio is nil.not to mention responding to an emergency at the houses at Pen Park and the other divisions on that stretch.A few months ago I was caught at a jam at the Pen Park light ,only to find a wreck at the intersection.The ambulance was stuck in “traffic”on the other side about 100 yards away with no where to go.Pantops is a lost battle.Until someone figures out that there are only two routes into town from that direction….well you figure it out.29 into town….lThe studies show that everyone that is in the south bound lane beween 5:00am and 8:00pm is…going to town.duh.Albemarle police have pretty much given up on writting tickets during these hours on the north side of town because it’s impossible to go over the speed limit.What happened to the by pass to UVA?The shuttle and satelite parking for UVA?What I’d like is a survey of the amount of people going to a certain destination in town from these two areas…29 north and pantops.I hopeit takes them 5 min. to stop and answer the question.Then maybe we can figure out who needs to “solve” the problem

  15. Pantops is a lost battle. Until someone figures out that there are only two routes into town from that direction….well you figure it out.

    That’s a really great point. I’ve been trying to describe the problem on that end of town to people, and I just hadn’t managed to boil it down into such simple terms: there are only two routes into town from that direction.

    And that’s where so much of the Central VA growth is coming from!

  16. You know I’ve always wondered why people dont use 64 into town on that side of town. I dont live on that side of town so maybe my opinion is skewed but it seems to me that 250 is overused while 64 isnt taking on the capicity that it can handle. Am I wrong? Is 64 just as congested as 250 in the evenings and mornings? Other than 29 north I cant think of too many places (UVA via 29 to Fontaine, Downtown via 20 north/5th street) that u cant get to by 64.

    On a different note, I think the city’s position that if u build it/widen it they will come has been generally disproven by 29. In the evenings and morning 29 flows relatively smoothly until you hit the city limits and lanes start to dwindle. Monday around 5 I was driving from UVA up 29. I hit a wall of traffic a few dozen feet before the Arlington intersection. I thought it was maybe traffic from Barracks, long but not a terrible line of traffic. I was shocked/annoyed to learn that traffic was backed up from Hyraulic (about 1.5 mile). Once you got into the county and the 8 lanes of traffic things picked up speed (of course it slowed down pass wal mart again). The way to solve this is probably making getting on the 29 bypass worth it. I was initially opposed to a bypass but I think it would allow Hollymead,Forest Lakes, Profit, and Greene residents to bypass the stoplights and get home quicker. Berkmar extendend, Hillsdale extended, and the Meadowcreek PKWY all the way to Profit are also important.

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