Monticello Road is a community arts project in Charlottesville, Virginia. Through photography and a series of public events and conversations, we explore how an art can be an essential, integral and everyday part of a healthy community.

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Thursday, June 22, 2017

Connective Corridors to Monticello

Charlottesville to Monticello & Beyond is a report I co-authored about re-connecting Charlottesville to Monticello for pedestrians and cyclists. The entry explores the core of the report: a comparison of four possible connective corridors. My deepest gratitude to my co-authors (Maura Harris, Caroline Herre, Joel Lehman, and Julie Murphy) whose ideas and language infuse this entry.

The practicum team and its advisors studied four corridors to connect Charlottesville to the Saunders-Monticello Trail based on City and County Comprehensive Plans, which are closely aligned on this subject. Although it is possible to get from source to destination using other routes, such as stream valleys, our analysis had to be finite and build upon our stakeholders’ previous consensus-building work. Our work focuses mainly on transportation corridors, while acknowledging that a truly comprehensive outcome will probably make other, more recreational connections, too.

For convenience, we named these corridors Routes A, B, C, and D.

Route A: Avon Street Corridor via PVCC

Route A follows the Avon Street corridor, crosses Interstate 64 on a proposed pedestrian bridge, passes through the woods and campus of Piedmont Virginia Community College, and crosses VA-20 at a redesigned intersection at College Drive.

Overall Advantages
  • Access to PVCC
  • Connection to low-income Charlottesville city neighborhoods and Albemarle County’s Southern
  • Neighborhood Area
  • Possibility to add parking
Overall Disadvantages
  • Much of Avon Corridor is not ready for multi-modal access
  • Crossing Interstate 64
  • Crossing VA-20
  • Steep hills along Avon Street and College Drive
  • Relatively long distance
Route B: Monticello Avenue & VA-20

Route B begins on Monticello Avenue at the Charlottesville border and follows Monticello Avenue/VA-20 south past the Interstate 64 cloverleaf to the entrance to the Saunders- Monticello Trail. The most ideal expression of this route includes facilities on both sides of the road.

Overall Advantages
  • Gentlest topography
  • Links to PVCC
  • Potential to add parking
  • Designated Bike Route 76
Overall Disadvantages
  • Adjacent to a busy road (VA-20)
  • Requires reconfiguration of I-64 interchange and crossings25
Route C: Monticello Road (Re)extended

Route C begins just north of Moore’s Creek, to the east of Monticello Avenue. It crosses Moore’s Creek on a proposed bridge, passes under I-64 through a proposed tunnel, then follows the eastern edge of the Blue Ridge Hospital Site. The route then crosses VA-53 (Thomas Jefferson Parkway) on a proposed bridge, connecting with the Saunders- Monticello Trail at Michie Tavern.

Overall Advantages
  • Most direct route
  • Surrounded by scenic forest environment
  • Historic continuity
Overall Disadvantages
  • Cost of tunnel (including engineering)
  • Possible land acquisition
  • Wetland/floodplain
  • Pedestrian Bridge needed at Michie Tavern
  • Access through Michie Tavern property
Route D: Historic Woolen Mills

Starts at Woolen Mills, crosses Moore’s Creek and follows the Rivanna River and the railroad corridor, passes under the existing Interstate viaduct and follows south side of highway to join the other routes.

Overall Advantages
  • Close connection to a park and the Rivanna Trail
  • Near a potential river crossing
  • Developer of new mixed-use property eager for trail and willing to contribute.
Overall Challenges
  • Parking already an issue
  • Easement required from a second landowner
  • Disused factory site in unstable condition
  • Steep land
  • Railroad easement likely needed
We recommend a phased comprehensive approach that uses elements of all routes. A wider network provides greater access, disperses users through space, reduces crowding, and creates a diversity of route options. Each route has at least one major advantage—and at least one major disadvantage. None will meet all the goals alone.

Read the full report for a detailed description (and cost estimation) for each route as well as recommendations for a phased implementation that includes both quick wins and long-term goals.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Saunders-Monticello Trail User Thoughts on Connectivity

The following two entries dive deep into the recent report I co-authored on connecting Charlottesville to Monticello & beyond.

A large part of our research centered around the fabulously-successful Saunders Monticello Trail, which serves as a gateway to Monticello and will the linchpin of our connector(s). We conducted a survey of current trail users because it is essential that we understand their preferences and desires if our own project is to be successful. The survey succeeded far beyond our expectations, with 1010 responses in 18 days.

The chart tallies a manual count of concept mentions relative to connectivity. We also did a word cloud cloud (see end of article) but we found the manual method much more informative and precise. A word cloud, for example, does not distinguish between a user who says "I want a connection," and one who says, "I don't want a connection." Word clouds give a useful glimpse but are not sound basis for policy.

Out of the 1,010 survey responses, there were 443 comments in response to the open-ended question “Do you have any other comments about connecting the trail to Charlottesville and/or other destinations (e.g. Morven Farm, Highland, Mill Creek, PVCC)?” The chart left illustrates the relative themes that emerged. All topics with two or greater mentions are included.

Among the responses, the most mentioned by far was a positive response expressing support and excitement for the trail.

Respondents mentioned Piedmont Virginia Community College more than any other destination, but quickly followed by many of the major destinations explored in the study: Morven Farm, the Rivanna Trail, James Monroe’s Highland, Route 20, Belmont and the Charlottesville downtown area, and Avon extended and its associated neighborhoods (including Mill Creek). Several other respondents considered the broader regional connection possibilities, including the 3 Notch’d Trail, Scottsville, and Crozet.

Bikes and Accessibility
A significant number of respondents mentioned desire for bike access through the connection. Some respondents hoped for facilities if the trail is expanded and connected into a wider network, particularly parking. Regarding accessibility, several respondents mentioned a desire to continue bringing their family to the trail, others mentioned a desire to bring dogs, to connect the trail to transit, and for the trail to be ADA accessible and friendly for senior users. Of particular note about the transit access, several respondents mentioned a desire for a shuttle bus that would connect the end of the trail to key destinations within Charlottesville, including PVCC, UVA, and the Downtown Mall.

Trail Characteristics and Amenities
Several respondents mentioned a desire to highlight and maximize historic and cultural connections through the trail network expansion. Some respondents mentioned key physical aspects of the trail, including a preference for a pathway that is not directly adjacent to the street, and a desire to increase crosswalk safety.

A few respondents reacted negatively to the premise of the study: either they did not desire a trail, did not desire a trail to connect to their neighborhood, or did not desire bikes to be allowed to use the trail. Two respondents expressed concern and recommended thoughtful consideration about the people who have set up camps beneath and near the I-64 and Route 20 bridges.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Why Visitors Love the Saunders Monticello Trail


Out of the 1010 survey responses, there were 681 comments of various length. We divided the terms into categories, among which a few key themes emerged. They are summarized, in chart form, above. Here's what they tell us:

Design and Upkeep
The gentle, sloping boardwalks are wildly popular. Users like that they moderate the challenge of climbing a mountain and make the trails accessible to people of all abilities. They like that they’re wide enough to be social, that there are also more rugged options, there is educational signage along the way and they are long enough to merit a trip. The meticulous maintenance is a very significant contributor to the sense of welcome.

Visitors love the park’s natural beauty.

Proximity to Where they Live and Work
Exposure to nature in a way that is highly welcoming and close to home completes a triangle that explains the park’s success.

No Cars, No Fear, No Stress
The Saunders Trail is a stress-free environment. Some users talked about safety from cars, others about safety from crime. Most users just used the word “safe” and without context it is impossible to know which version of safety they were referring to. They also see the park as a place to get away from daily life. It would be interesting to follow up with research to know how much (and what kind of) contact with humanity is enough for perception of safety from crime. It is clear, however, that park users value the absence of cars, which is interesting given that the trail was built as part of a parkway project.

Kids, Families, Community and Activities
Even though the trail is a place of natural escape, users still value the social connections that happen there, whether they go with friends or meet acquaintances. The park is designed in such a way to promote positive interaction as well as harmony between active and contemplative uses.

Amenities at the David M. Rubenstein Visitor Center and Monticello Itself
It appears that most Saunders Trail users visit the park as a destination independent of Monticello. A small number did indicate appreciation for the connection to the World Heritage Site and the visitor center as a destination and amenity for the trail.

Implications for a Connector Trail
The overwhelming response to the survey indicates very high demand for a connector.

A large percentage of users are from Charlottesville, the others from urban parts of Albemarle, or from out of state. All of these users would benefit from a connection, and the majority have stated they would use it. Many would leave their cars at home, improving community fitness and reducing stress in the parking lot.

Users are interested in a widely connective network that is both kid- and bike-friendly. Accessibility by public transportation and for the elderly and disabled is important. Destinations near all of the corridors are mentioned, with enthusiasm roughly proportional to proximity. There is strong support for an extension to Highland and Morven, which is not one of the routes studied in this report, but is being addressed independently by Highland and Morven.

Amenities like bathrooms, water fountains, and quality signage are desirable. A fractional minority oppose the trail for fear that more users will spoil the Saunders-Monticello Trail experience, but far more indicated they expect an enlarged network would spread users and reduce crowding.

In order for the trail to be well integrated with the Saunders-Monticello Trail it will need to exhibit the following qualities:
  • Users should be fully separated from automobiles.
  • It should be wide enough to comfortably accommodate cyclists and groups of pedestrians.
  • Inclines should be as gentle as possible.
  • It should feel safe for women and the elderly.
  • There should be natural scenery.
  • There needs to be a sustainable maintenance plan.
  • I f cyclists and pedestrians use the same corridor, it needs to be well-managed either through signage, clear rules, or separate facilities.
  • Clear directional and even some interpretive signage would be welcome. 

This is an excerpt from the report Charlottesville to Monticello and Beyond. Read the executive summary and download the full report here.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Charlottesville to Monticello and Beyond

Corridors identified for study.

Phase Two of the Monticello Connectivity research project is underway. Five Masters students1 from University of Virginia’s department of Urban and Environmental Planning are studying the feasibility of a pedestrian and bicycle trail to Monticello, James Monroe's Highland and more.
The regional Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission (TJPDC) is sponsoring the study in cooperation with the Thomas Jefferson Foundation as part of its Jefferson Area Bike and Pedestrian Plan. The report to be completed in the Spring of 2017 will examine the Saunders Monticello Trail, possible connection routes, impacts, opportunities and identify resources and case studies.

Learn more

1. Graduate students Maura Harris, Caroline Herre, Peter Krebs, Joel Lehman and Julie Murphy.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Monticello Connectivity Pre-Assessment:
Executive Summary

Saunders Bridge from Monticello (Aaron Eichorst via instagram)

This is the executive summary of a 50-page pre-assessment report I wrote about reconnecting Charlottesville to Monticello and beyond for pedestrians and cyclists. That document is the result of an independent a study course at the University of Virginia's Masters of Urban and Environmental Planning program. The next phase will be an in-depth practicum in which I will be joined by four other graduate students. We will delve with greater detail into the issues identified in this report. That will be available in the late spring/ early summer. -Peter Krebs

Monticello is an important source of Charlottesville’s history, cultural identity and economic vitality. In combination with the Academical Village at the University of Virginia it is a nearly unmatched resource and very unusual for a town of this size. Monticello is close to the city (its lands are less than a mile from the border) and it is visible from many locations, yet it is difficult to get there without a car. This discontinuity poses problems of equity and unrealized opportunity for Monticello, the city and the region.

Monticello was once easily accessible. There were multiple routes into town with significant travel and exchange in both directions. When Interstate 64 was built (in the 1960’s and 70’s) all of those routes were severed except for one (VA-20) and that was widened for highway speeds without accommodation for bicycles or pedestrians, effectively cutting Monticello off from those who do not have—or choose to use—a car.[1] There is no transit connection, which limits residents and visitors alike.

The Thomas Jefferson Foundation, which owns and operates Monticello and much of the surrounding lands, bridged half the distance in 2000 by opening Saunders Monticello Trail. This winding two-mile pathway is fully ADA accessible (while climbing a mountain!) and its beauty attracts tremendously diverse visitorship. Combined with the adjoining parkland, it is a wildly successful landscape and a destination in its own right yet it is difficult to get there with a vehicle and nearly impossible without one.

The core of the study area, showing roads, parcels and institutional landowners.

The remaining gap, subject of this study, is small but complicated. The highway itself is a formidable physical and psychological barrier.[2]  The zone is split between two jurisdictions (Charlottesville and Albemarle County) with a third (Virginia Department of Transportation) in between. There are multiple institutional landowners as well, most of whom would like to solve the problem but none able to tackle it alone. A collaborative process will be required.

Both the City and County’s Comprehensive Plans mention Monticello connectivity or show it on their maps but they are not coordinated. Additionally, Morven has begun a study for a trail from its vast and historically significant lands south of town, through James Monroe’s Highland to Monticello.[3] The regional Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission (TJPDC) has begun a decennial revision of its 2004 Jefferson Area Bike and Pedestrian Plan and this segment will be a crucial part of it. As part of that process, the TJPDC is sponsoring a spring study by Masters students (including myself) from University of Virginia’s department of Urban and Environmental Planning. We will provide research support.

This document provides background for the Monticello Connectivity portion of that work by identifying key stakeholders and issues, and examining the overlapping spatial factors such as jurisdiction, land tenure and legacy infrastructure that make this problem complicated. It evaluates the current planning environment to determine whether a collaborative approach is likely to succeed.

Connectivities within and related to the study area.

Here are some key findings, several of which will be investigation topics for the practicum group:
  • The key stakeholders are motivated and ready to work together but they need coordination. They have good but mostly informal working relationships.
  • Multi-jurisdictional plan integration is not the local norm, but that might be changing.
  • The TJPDC decennial process will provide coordination and yield recommendations but it is not advocacy. Stakeholders will need implementation strategies and funding.
  • To be successful, this project needs to pay attention to the regional context and look at opportunities near (but outside of) the study area, such as Piedmont Virginia Community College and the County’s Southern Neighborhood area. It is not only about trips to Monticello from Charlottesville.
  • The notion that the trail could extend all the way to Morven, and connect Highland, is extraordinarily compelling and appears within reach.
  • The issue of connectivity and accessibility to Monticello (and the other sites) is not only a physical question. It has an important socio-historical component, which the Thomas Jefferson Foundation is actively engaging. This trail would therefore not a typical piece of infrastructure: it would be a physical expression of historical and cultural discovery. That history is being energetically debated, contested and expanded. The trail will have to acknowledge and reflect that.
  • The landscape in question is quite beautiful, with many opportunities for recreation and education.
  • The entire pathway from Morven to the UVa Rotunda (and beyond) via Highland, Monticello, the Saunders Trail, Belmont, the Downtown Mall, the Jefferson School and West Main carries nearly infinite possibilities for interpretation, programming and storytelling.
  • Planning history and theory recommends circumspection: even though this project seems very beneficial, there could be hidden downsides, such as residential or business displacement. There is no specific evidence that this is likely, but it is serious enough to merit investigation.
This will not be a typical amenity or recreational trail. It is a connection between two halves of a UNESCO World Heritage site; a region and the full telling of its history; a community and a vast zone of ecological and cultural discovery. There are challenges but very high and very likely rewards. It is an exciting project and an opportunity to model a better collaborative approach between neighboring localities, governments and foundations to unlock a shared opportunity.

The situation is ripe for a collaborative master planning process to proceed.

[Full Report--1.7 MB]


1. That segment is part of National Bike Route 76, notwithstanding its unsuitability.

2. I theorize a nexus between these three forces—physical, psychological and procedural—that causes them to mutually self-reinforce to make simple problems more challenging

3. The University of Virginia Foundation owns Morven as it does the Blue Ridge Sanitarium site, which occupies much of the land between Charlottesville and the Saunders Trail.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Historic Routes to Monticello

1890 Charlottesville Land Company Map, showing several of the lost roads (dashed), Monticello Road and Avenue and Market Street (which still exist) and the path of Interstate 64. (Special Collections Library, University of Virginia via Scholars’ Lab). Click to enlarge.

For most of its history, it was easy to get to Monticello. There were multiple possible routes: through Woolen Mills, Carlton, present-day Monticello Road and present-day Route 20. There was busy commerce along all of these routes and there is enduring evidence—and local memories—of that. The advent of the automobile did not itself cause a disruption. During my earlier work studying Monticello Road, I met long-time residents who used to travel that route and I heard amusing stories of joyrides along the steep and winding road into town.

Construction of Interstate 64 in the 1960’s sliced between Charlottesville and Monticello, obliterating those old routes. The Woolen Mills/Carlton approaches exist in only on maps; Monticello Road is in two disconnected segments (one of which is completely disused) and the Monticello Avenue approach was widened to a four lane divided highway without sidewalk.

There was a flurry of institutional building at that same time, with the opening of Piedmont Virginia Community College (PVCC) in 1973, the original regional visitor center (now PVCC Stultz Center) and the serial re-purposing of the Blue Ridge Hospital (ultimately mothballed in the 90’s). Since then, there has been steady growth south on Route 20 (including several subdivisions and a high school), but pedestrian access has not gotten easier...

This text is extracted from my pre-assessment report, Reconnecting Heritage: Pedestrian and Bicycle Connectivity to Monticello, The executive summary and full text of that report will be available soon.