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 hear 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.

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