JPA bridge fallout: Is Shamrock Road dangerous now?
When Charlottesville resident Lora Kelly and her husband, Eric, purchased a house on Shamrock Road in 2009, its two lanes and mish-mash of missing stretches of sidewalk already created a fear factor. But a momentous April included the City's closure of nearby Jefferson Park Avenue and the arrival of the couple's first child.
Kelly recounts a recent incident in which she was crossing the street in front of their house with a stroller. While one car stopped for her, the one behind it raced around and almost struck her.
"I would say the road is very dangerous now," says Kelly, who notes there are lots of pedestrians and children on the street but not much in the way of traffic signs or speed humps.
A new $5.8 million bridge slated to replace the nearly 80-year-old structure won't be completed until September 2012. While City traffic engineers prepared for the bridge closure by speeding up a schedule to install a traffic signal at the intersection of Shamrock Road and JPA and upgrading the traffic signal at Shamrock and Cherry Avenue to include mast arms, pedestrian actuation/signals, and ADA-compliant curb ramps, Kelly says the street simply wasn't designed for the traffic it's now carrying.
"There is no break in traffic now, and people don't necessarily stop anymore," says Kelly. "I feel like placing traffic cones in the road."
Shamrockians (and through-drivers) may be forgiven for frustration. After all, the street was already in the midst of a lane-closing, traffic-snarling underground utility project when the bridge shut-down suddenly began dumping thousands more vehicles into the mix.
The speed limit on the road is 25mph (a new 15mph sign was installed at a sharp corner), but Kelly says the heavy traffic seems to be moving more like 40mph. In the mornings, says Kelly, the traffic is usually backed up past their house from JPA.
"I'm sure the city knew this was going to be a problem," says Kelly, "but it seems like barely any prep work was put into ensuring Shamrock would be a place people could live without fear of being hit every time they try to take their newborn for a walk."
"City staff has been monitoring traffic conditions on Shamrock Road for quite some time in anticipation of the JPA Bridge closure," says City traffic engineer Jeanie Alexander. In addition to hastening the signaling projects, she says "numerous" speed limit and curve-warning signs were installed, along with new paving and striping to widen the railroad track crossing, and curb ramps and crosswalks have been improved.
"Would two more speed limit and curve signs count as numerous?" Kelly asks, asserting that the ones added are difficult to see, and that she and her family live on a section of the street with a blind curve.
Alexander says the approach to Shamrock at Cherry Avenue will be re-striped to include a turn lane, with the traffic signal improved to include an overlap phase to allow simultaneous turning in two directions in an attempt to unclog the intersection.
"Beyond these specific improvements," says Alexander, "City staff will continue to monitor traffic conditions and maintain an effective level of enforcement."
To make matters potentially worse, the City attempted to restrict parking on certain sections of the street, leaving room for traffic to race down the road, but nowhere for Shamrock Road residents like the Kellys to park, a proposal that was rejected by the neighborhood.
Besides, as one resident points out, there wasn't a problem in the area where the City wanted to restrict parking.
"The problem is between Stratford Court and the railroad tracks," says Jennifer Slate. "I have almost been hit by bigger cars and trucks several times because there are not two full-size lanes for traffic or bikes when cars are parked there."
Indeed, the road narrows considerably on that stretch, and there isn't a sidewalk on the JPA-bound direction.
"Maybe they did everything they could to make it better," says Kelly, "but many people who come over to our house remark how bad it is before I even say anything."
Kelly says she understands the necessity of having to use Shamrock while the JPA bridge is replaced, but she worries for the neighborhood.
"There have been two accidents on the road already," she says. "We support building the new bridge, but something needs to be done before something bad happens. This is just asking for trouble."
Indeed, September 2012 is a long way off.