Travel plans: Will Bypass bypass peds, bikes, and transit?
The proposed Western Bypass, the resurrected $235 million road project that will cut a 6.2-mile swath from Forest Lakes South to the North Grounds of the University of Virginia through neighborhoods west of Route 29, will not include bike or pedestrian access. Yup. And that's a fact that frustrates advocates for alternative transportation.
"We implore you to focus not only on the roadway design," writes Len Schoppa with the Alliance for Community Choice in Transportation, in an email to the Albemarle Board of supervisors, "but on design elements that impact the ability of this project to improve bicycle, pedestrian, and transit connectivity in our region."
"The Bypass RFP makes it clear that the Bypass will not allow bicycles or pedestrians," says County Supervisor Dennis Rooker, who has convened a task force to add recommendations in an addendum to the RFP in the hopes of getting a better Bypass, 55 percent of which lies in his district.
As Schoppa points out, the current RFP for the project includes few mentions of bicycles and pedestrians, no mention of public transit, and only vaguely touches on "the need for more trails."
"This is an understatement," says Schoppa, who says the project could be a great opportunity to assist alternative modes of transportation. "All community surveys of parks and recreation needs show that trails are at the top of the list of priorities."
Indeed, the proposed Northtown Trail, a planned 14-mile commuter-bike-trail project to run from the airport to downtown on both the east and west sides of Route 29, was created to address this problem of getting bikes and pedestrians across the major roadway and the Rivanna River.
"Any project that spends $250 million or more to improve the flow of vehicular traffic without devoting some funds to improved transportation via these other modes is an anachronism," says Schoppa. "All projects in the 21st Century, especially those connecting and passing through densely populated areas, should include accommodations for walkers and bikers."
The Bypass design's neglect of public transit is "equally egregious," says Schoppa. Since the Bypass connects to Leonard Sandridge Road, Schoppa argues that it would serve as an excellent transit route for students. Other local transit providers like CAT, UTS, and JAUNT could also develop express routes on the new Bypass.
For example, Schoppa points out that at the Bypass's Earlysville Road crossing where it comes close to the dense housing on Rio Road, and near Sam's Club and Berkmar Drive, an express bus pull over on the Bypass to serve these employment and residential centers without the time-consuming process of going in and out of shopping centers as CAT's #7 currently does.
"Only by giving transit the ability to travel at similar speeds to vehicular traffic will we ever be able to entice choice riders to switch to transit," says Schoppa.
At a task force meeting on Monday, October 24, landscaping to buffer road noise, the need for aesthetically-pleasing bridges, and the possibility of limiting speed to 50mph were discussed, according to a report by Charlottesville Tomorrow. Modes of alternative transportation? Not so much. In fact, eyebrows were raised by a plan to move the road closer to North Grounds and UVA's Darden School, currently an extremely pedestrian-friendly area.
"It is going to funnel a tremendous amount of traffic into North Grounds," said Mark Stanis, CT reported, a member of the task force who works for facilities management at the University of Virginia, where Leonard Sandridge Road will likely grow from two to four lanes.
Still, Rooker says alternative transportation issues are still on the list.
"One thing we are looking into is how we can create new pedestrian and bicycle connectors along the area of the Southern Interchange to prevent balkanization of the community by the interchange," says Rooker. "We are also interested in making certain that Bypass bridges don’t interfere with existing and planned pedestrian and bicycle paths and connections."
VDOT issued the RPP in September, and will issue an addendum on November 8, and a second addendum will also be included in the RFP in February before the contract is awarded.
Before then, Schoppa's group has a wish list of its own:
· Bikes and pedestrian trails on bridges over the Rivanna with pathways separated from motor traffic, much like the 14th Street Bridge over the Potomac in Washington, DC.
· Roadway pull-offs for at least three bus stops with stairways and/or wheelchair accessible ramps providing pedestrian access from nearby neighborhoods.
· A continuous bicycle and pedestrian trail (similar to the Mount Vernon Trail along the George Washington Parkway) along the entire route.
Of course, it's questionable how realistic some of these wishes might be, considering the Bypass project has been a pedestrian-unfriendly "limited-access highway" project from the beginning. But, as Schoppa points out, the opportunity is there to change that– if we want to.
For recent design concepts, maps, etc. visit VDOT's design page at www.virginiadot.org/projects/culpeper/rt._29_bypass.asp
More recent design concepts: