By, Neil Williamson, President
Now that the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) has voted to fund the US29Western Bypass and the widening of US29 from Polo Grounds Road to Hollymead, how will this fit with Albemarle County’s approved Places 29 Master Plan?
Like a glove – the new urban boulevard “Business 29 “ will allow for the private sector to embrace the Places 29 Vision– let me explain.
The Places29 Vision Statement:
Albemarle County’s four Northern Development Areas will feature compact development consisting of residential and employment neighborhoods that are organized around centers.
These neighborhoods and their centers will be pedestrian-oriented and mixed-use; they will offer a variety of housing choices, retail environments, office types, and employment opportunities.
They will be connected by an attractive, efficient, and accessible multimodal transportation system.
Integrated into this urban-style development, parks and open spaces will provide a sense of respite and contribute to an overall excellent quality of life.
Such design is often referred to as either “New Urbanism” or “Traditional Neighborhood Design” (TND).
These development designs, as well as Albemarle’s Neighborhood Model, have mixed use and pedestrian orientation as primary guiding principles. How the traffic moves through these streets is a critical part of the design construct.
New Urbanist projects include the design of streets that create an environment where drivers will realize that to drive too fast or too aggressively is inappropriate, anti-social
and, perhaps most effectively, uncomfortable. With the appropriate design techniques, drivers will more automatically choose the lower target speeds and less
aggressive behaviors desired by the planners. In this desired “self-enforcing” environment, both motorists and non-motorists will feel more equivalent occupants of each particular New Urbanist street; this sense of equivalency should be a design goal as it will enhance the livability of the street and neighborhood.
Working with The American Dream Coalition, The Free Enterprise Forum has visited several of the leading new urbanists regions across the US over the last eight years. While many of the communities visited had transit (usually light rail) in their core, none had a national highway running through the new urbanist districts.
As an example, Houston, Texas is surrounded by high speed highways that keep traffic that wants to be somewhere else moving while allowing mobility in the downtown area.
In Bellvue, Washington, the private sector has embraced the new urbanist design and built superblocks to increase human scale and pedestrian orientation. While there is significant vehicular traffic around the downtown, the majority of the through trips stay on the bypass just north of the downtown district.
Bellvue’s transit stops are designed to fit into the pedestrian streetscape. Interestingly underneath three of the four corners of this intersection is an enormous parking garage that is linked via underground tunnels to the commercial buildings.
Looking over the renderings included in the Places29 Master Plan it seems clear that the vision is of a mixed use urban boulevard with sidewalk cafes, bike lanes and wide pedestrian sidewalks.
This vision is consistent throughout the planning document until you get to the US29 design.
One has to feel for the planner attempting to reconcile a highway of national significance with a master plan for the north downtown commercial area. To achieve this goal the Places29 Plan calls for a series of overpasses to effectively remove those vehicles that have no intention of stopping, away from the commercial and pedestrian activities.
Places29 identified this concern in its third chapter:
US 29 acts as a strong spine connecting all four of the Northern Development Areas. At present, the design of US 29 generally reflects the differences in character that exist between the southern and northern Development Areas. Further, the frontage conditions along US 29 affect the overall character of the adjacent development. However, this ―spine also acts as a major impediment to connectivity for any travel mode other than the auto. This barrier effect needs to be overcome in the long range planning for the area.
To address this the plan calls for a wide design that is contrary to the urban boulevard concept. Places29 envisions US 29 as:
Pedestrian activity in an area designated Urban Frontage is different for US 29 than on other Entrance Corridor streets. On US 29, pedestrian activity is focused primarily on access to mass transit, as well as the ability to walk safely and conveniently for short distances along the corridor. The expected US 29 Urban Frontage condition is illustrated in Figure 7.3 below.
Figure 7.3. A cross section of US 29 showing an Urban Frontage. Note that an 8 – 12 foot
pedestrian path may be substituted for the sidewalk on one side.
With US29 Western Bypass taking the through trips (and many others) out of the corridor. “Business 29” can work with a much smaller road cross section and lower speed limit. The old/new road will be designed to link the community rather than divide it.
As we documented in our Workplace29 report, the North US 29 Corridor is home to over 20,000 jobs and a payroll exceeding 800 million dollars. This district produces over 40% of all local tax revenue for Albemarle County. With the advent of “Business 29” the economic vitality of this region will significantly improve and the potential of the mixed use, pedestrian oriented reality for the corridor is clearly more attainable.
Neil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a privately funded public policy organization covering the City of Charlottesville as well as Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna, Louisa and Nelson County. For more information visit the website www.freeenterpriseforum.org
Photo credits Free Enterprise Forum, Other images: Albemarle County