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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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Friday, August 17, 2018

Flipping the Flow


There is a proposal to flip the direction of westernmost block of Monticello Road (currently west-bound) because of some restrictions stemming from the Belmont Bridge replacement.

Charlottesville Traffic Engineer Brennen Duncan has proposed an interesting change to Monticello Road. He suggests flipping the direction of its westernmost block as a short pilot (one day). If that goes smotthly, he will try it for longer (six months) prior to making a permanent proposal. I actually like the fact the he is trying new things and this is a spirit of problem-solving that the City really needs, so I support it. The change also could allow some significant bicycle improvements. I wish he didn’t have to seek this solution because, in my view, the cause is unnecessary.

As part of the Belmont Bridge replacement plan, left turns will no longer be permitted from Monticello Road (technically Graves) onto 9th Street (the Belmont Bridge). This will make life extremely inconvenient for anyone who lives or works at that end of the neighborhood, as all current substitute routes are quite circuitous and include stretches even more problematic than the original turning movement.


These are the two route options for someone wishing to head south on Avon from the corner of Monticello and Graves. I think the technical word for a re-route of this kind is "silly."(Base map: City of Charlottesville)

Support for this change was tepid to negative (see note). Still, the engineering firm insisted (due to projected traffic flow improvements) and got the element included in a final design concept approved in a late-night City Council vote. I'm tired of fighting about the Belmont Bridge and ready to move on.

To solve the problem before us, Brennen proposes flipping the direction of the final block of Monticello (currently westbound only) so motorists will be able to exit via Levy Street, which has a traffic light. All traffic flowing westbound on Monticello will bear left and exit at Levy, as well. The eastbound movement includes a hairpin turn; so to create the necessary turn radius, they will need also need to move parking from the current north side to the south side.


This solution is not perfect but it is rather genius in its simplicity.

We also hope to use the occasion of repainting to add a badly-needed contraflow bike lane so cyclists will be able to travel both directions on Monticello Road, which is the safest and easiest connection from downtown to points southeast.

There are community concerns, which Brennen lays out in his memo, but his contention is that we will never really know until we try it. I see no harm in giving it a shot: in a City that is often very risk-averse, I salute his spirit in trying something new. He’s proposing to do it in a very low-stakes way and if it works, maybe the City will be encouraged to try other new things.

I’m disappointed that the Bridge design team created this problem—they didn’t need to and it undercut some good community engagement they had done earlier. But I’m ready to move on and if we truly are stuck with it, then I think we should try Brennen’s creative approach to dealing with the consequences. We should support City staff trying new things in a thoughtful, do-no-harm way. If we don’t like it, we can change it back and if we do like it we will have something no one else would have thought of.

City Council will here Brennen's report at the end of its August 20 meeting. The meeting starts at 6:30 and you may make comments then. Brennen's report will be much later (probably after 9:30) and you may also comment at the end. His report can be found here (page 141).

Note: Design firm Kinley Horn did not put the left turn out of Graves into public discussion--the alternatives they offered assumed this change. My memory is that the community opposed this and the documentary evidence support this. See voting sheets and presentation in which all options assume this closure. Feel free to point me to evidence of public support (besides their own notes) and I will stand corrected. Their resource page is here.

Monday, June 25, 2018

An Equity + Development Field Trip


When I asked the youth which part of the trip they liked best, they all said the same thing: "The Museum." I could not disagree.


Last week, I had the good fortune to tag along with the Youth Leadership Team from Friendship Court, as well as some friends and mentors, on a trip to Washington, DC. The purpose of the visit was for the seven high school students to learn more about Equity Planning, property development and how the two intersect, through the lens of some specific projects. It was the culmination of a two-year program of civic education to empower them to be active contributors to Friendship Court’s redevelopment plan.

After taking the morning train and depositing our luggage at a rented townhouse, we traveled to Southeast to meet with Vaughn Perry, Equitable Development Manager of the 11th Street Bridge Park. The 11th Street Bridge project is one that I have been following closely because it is cool in so many ways. Attempting to bridge the Anacostia's social divide is challenging enough but they are also setting a new standard of positive social impact.

The project is relentlessly community-driven. It started with an honest discussion of whether the neighbors even want the park, and if so what kinds of features, uses, and programs will make the project appealing and useful for the entire community—especially those under-served neighborhoods on its south bank. This striking architectural project is accompanied by an equally bold Equitable Development Plan, which has specific strategies for workforce development, affordable housing, and small business enterprise. Although it's by no means required (or anything like standard practice), they’re on track for a 1:1 match of community development monies raised to park project funding.

Tyquan asked what was on everyone’s mind: “Are you really going to build this?” Vaughn didn’t hesitate, “We’d better build it—too much is at stake not to. Let me just say this: I’m 99.9% certain.”

From a physical standpoint, it’s still just a plan, although work is slated to begin in a year or so (a speed made possible by the fact that it is being built with local, not Federal, funds.) Still, they are not waiting for the physical structure to start pulling people to the river or to pursue their equity mission. They co-host a major festival in adjoining Anacostia Park, as well as youth programs (focused on gardening and the river), neighborhood-specific public art, a Ward-8 home buyers club and more.

They host periodic walking tours and I think we should take a group from Charlottesville. In any case, this is definitely a project I will continue to watch.

The meeting with Vaughn was a big highlight for me, but it was just the beginning of an ambitious agenda. The youth also met with Matthew Steenhoek, vice-president of the firm that is developing the massive mixed-use District Warf project. They had a private visit (!!!) to the National Museum of African American History and Culture. And, they toured SeVerna on K with Mel Thompson, of Grimm and Parker—the firm selected to redesign Friendship Court. SeVerna is very similar to the envisioned future of Friendship Court and it was very enlightening to walk through an actual space (including some apartments)--much better than looking at plans or drawings. I think it would be useful for more people to do that.

It was a whirlwind trip, with a lot to take in and no small amount of walking and riding around the capital city. It was great to hang out with the kids, most of whom I’ve known since they were very young. It was also quality time with some of my favorite adults—Barbara Brown-Wilson, Claudette Grant, Beth Meyer and Margaret Haltom. It’s nice to be with friends but it’s especially great to be together in beautiful spaces and to see real-world expressions of ideas we talk about so much.

I'm looking forward to applying some of what I learned to my work in Charlottesville.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Catching Up


Monticello is one of several connections we are trying to create between Charlottesville and surrounding assets in Albemarle County. Here, the an existing social trail to the future Biscuit Run Park that should be made safe and legal.

I was horrified to look at my blog and discover nothing since 2017! It's not like I haven't been writing; simply the Monticello Connectivity Project is being included in a larger and very ambitious regional connectivity project I'm working on now. I'm writing ALOT on that project's web site.

Here are some highlights:

Packed Room for Greenways Kickoff Event (October, 2017)
Cypherways Uses Hip-Hop to Generate Ideas and Enthusiasm for Greenways (November, 2017)
About the Greenways Project (January, 2018)
Fifth Street Hub: A Project with Momentum (March, 2018)
Photo Gallery: Anacostia River Greenway (April, 2018)
Photo Gallery: High Bridge Trail State Park (May, 2018)
Charlottesville / Albemarle Bike / Ped Survey (June, 2018)

I am working on a few things specific to Monticello and Beyond. More on those soon...