FORUM WATCH EDITORIAL
By. Neil Williamson, President
Will the built environment drive the market or will the market drive the built environment?
Will light rail be part of the transportation solution?
The answer is both yes and no to all of the above – please let me explain
This past week, the Free Enterprise Forum was honored to participate in The University of Virginia’s Architecture School 2014 VORTEX focused on reimagining US 29. We along with the Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce, The Piedmont Environmental Council, The Southern Environmental Law Center and City Councilor (and architect) Kathy Galvin took part in a kick off panel discussion moderated by Brian Wheeler of Charlottesville Tomorrow.
While the results of the VORTEX were fantastic (see drones delivering groceries) the concepts were pure and devoid of any fiscal, or in many cases technological, restraint.
Each of the 27 segments presented spent time defining the problem. Most highlighted the challenge US 29 faces serving as a local road and a major transportation corridor.
As is rather typical for these university events, there was the expected anti-automobile undertone with about half of the solutions relying on light rail to accommodate people moving [ironically, the parking lot outside the hosting Carver Recreation Center was as full as I have ever seen it].
Many of the presentations focused on the concept of the death of big box. One presenter suggested “Route 29 would be reduced to 2 lanes with nature trails winding along the side with views of the ruined big box store husks”. Others indicated significant societal changes would occur that would accelerate the demise of the sprawl.
While I was impressed a number of segments addressed the need for freight transport along the corridor and recognized the topographical challenges, none of the segments designed significantly considered the property rights issues that will be obstacles to implementation.
It is important to remember the students were seeking approval and recognition of their hard work from the faculty. We believe some of the statement included in their presentations such as “Corridor of Consumption” and “Landfill to Landform” were designed to pique the interest of the visiting professors. It is less than surprising when one competitor suggested making US29 “to the scale of the University”.
Interestingly just as the VORTEX teams were finalizing their projects, The University of Virginia Center for Survey Research released the results of their annual Jefferson Area Survey which indicated:
A strong majority of Charlottesville-area residents thinks a U.S. Route 29 bypass around Charlottesville is needed, and a majority favors construction of the proposed Western Bypass
Sixty-two percent of area residents say a U.S. 29 bypass is needed; 25 percent say a bypass is not needed, and 12 percent expressed no opinion. When considering only those who did voice an opinion, 71 percent say a U.S. 29 bypass is needed, while 29 percent say a bypass is not needed.
Asked more specifically about the proposed Western Bypass, 53 percent favor construction of the much-discussed road, 30 percent oppose it and 17 percent voice no opinion. Of those who have an opinion, about one-third (32.2 percent) strongly favor construction, another third (32.1 percent) somewhat favor it and the remainder are somewhat opposed (16.6 percent) or strongly opposed (19.2 percent). [Emphasis Added-NW]
The results of this survey closely mirror the 2004 Mason-Dixon conducted survey commissioned by the Free Enterprise Forum.
The US29 problem is well understood by the students, who walked the five miles of US29 from the University to the Rivanna River, as well as the residents in the survey. There is a need to reduce the traffic volume on US29.
While some students believe creating a “Blade Runner” like tunnel or delivering all our shopping needs via drone is the solution others suggest forcing increases in population density will create a more efficient development pattern and reduce society’s automobile dependency.
The Free Enterprise Forum is excited to see the students push the US 29 envelope but we continue to believe that the expeditious construction of the Western Bypass will result in a context sensitive ‘Business 29’ that meets the citizen expectations, enhance economic development AND the goals set out in the UVA VORTEX.
Neil Williamson, President
Neil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a privately funded non partisan 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, Warner Brothers Studio