Land Use - Albemarle, Land Use - Charlottesville, Meeting Reports

Regional transit partnership paving way for better mobility in greater Charlottesville 

As the population of greater Charlottesville area continues to increase, so too will the need for alternatives to driving alone in single-occupancy vehicles. Doing so will reduce traffic congestion, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and create better communities. 

Both Albemarle and the city of Charlottesville have Comprehensive Plans which call for dense, urban communities where people can choose not to drive because there are alternatives such as transit and greenways.  But how do we make sure those plans get implemented and options increase? 

I will continue to advocate for improvements to make it easier for people to make a change. We will also educate people about how policies work and how they can be improved. That is the purpose of this article, which is based on the June 27, 2019 meeting of the Regional Transit Partnership (RTP). 

Background 

There are currently three major transit agencies that operate in the area. They are the Charlottesville Area Transit (CAT), which is solely owned by the city and operates under their public works department. There’s JAUNT, a public service corporation owned by local governments that provides paratransit and commuter routes throughout the greater region. JAUNT also provides door-to-door service for people in rural communities. Finally, there is the University Transit Service (UTS), which focuses solely on moving people around the University of Virginia. 

In the late 2000s, there was a push to create a Regional Transit Authority that would become the sole provider of bus service in the city and county. The Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission (TJPDC) coordinated the effort, which included a committee tasked with thinking through the details of how the three agencies might come together as one. 

Among other reasons, the idea fizzled after the General Assembly failed to pass legislation allowing a sales tax referendum to pay for the authority’s operations. The regional transit committee eventually disbanded. Discussions on the future of transit revered back to the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO). 

Several years later, the Albemarle Board of Supervisors began pressing city officials for more details about how their annual bill for the service was calculated. That resulted in the City of Charlottesville, Albemarle County, JAUNT and the TJPDC forming in 2017 a Regional Transit Partnership to address that and other issues. 

The group currently meets monthly to discuss ways that CAT, JAUNT and UTS can cooperate in the name of increased community mobility.  Each serves a slightly different constituency, but when they work together, the goals of less traffic congestion and greater community mobility are more likely to be met. 

The RTP is valuable to our region’s future and fits within the community’s goals for urban areas that function well. This article is intended to serve as a primer for a public body that needs a higher public profile. 

The current numbers

One of the most commonly used metrics for how people get around is the American Community Survey, a service of the U.S. Census Bureau. The 2017 survey found that 76 percent of Albemarle commuters drove to work in a single-occupancy vehicle and another 11 percent carpooled. Only two percent took public transit, one percent rode a bike and another two percent walked. 

The numbers get a bit better when you look at the 2017 numbers for the urbanized population of 103,716 people that includes the city of Charlottesville. Sixty-eight percent drove alone and 11 percent carpooled. The public transit figures rose to six percent and eight percent walked to work. Cycling remained the same at two percent. 

One of the catalysts for the RTP’s creation was a desire by Albemarle to have up-to-date information about ridership. That data was being provided regularly but the most recent data available on the RTP website is unfortunately from December.

Ridership on CAT was down 5.35 percent from December 2017 to December 2018. In real terms, the drop was from 144,811 passengers to 137,065. 

Ridership on all routes declined except the trolley-style bus and Route 2, which serves the Fifth Street Station shopping center. JAUNT also experienced a ridership decrease over that period, with a 12.9 percent decline. (March 2019 ridership report)

Ridership declined nine percent from 2013 to 2017, according to reports filed with the Federal Transit Administration

The declines could eventually lead to a loss in funding. The Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation (DRPT) continues to implement transit reform that passed the General Assembly in 2018.  For those interested in improving community mobility in the region, it is crucial to keep an eye on how policies are made. (bill)

States changes in transit planning 

For many years, transit agencies in the state that receive public funding had to create a transit development plan (TDP) every six years. According to the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation, such plans “help transit operators improve their efficiency and effectiveness by identifying the need and required resources for modifying and enhancing services provided to the general public.” 

While CAT submitted an updated plan to DRPT last October, the plan has not been adopted by the City Council. Its most recent director, John Jones, left the position in February. 

The draft plan recommended many route changes but acting director Juwhan Lee told the RTP at the June 27 meeting that the agency decided to hold off until a new director settles in.  A month later, City Manager Tarron Richardson selected Garland Williams for the post. Williams has been the director of planning and scheduling for the Greater Richmond Transit System

Williams takes the reins at a time when the DRPT is switching away from requiring a TDP in favor of a new “transit strategic plan.” CAT will be among the first localities to create such a plan when that work begins in the summer of 2020. 

JAUNT also created a new TDP but their Board of Directors had not adopted it as of June 2019.

“The recommendations that came out of the TDP were not fully-formed enough for us to carry forward,” said JAUNT CEO Brad Sheffield. As a result, his team of planners has been working to collect more data to provide more information. 

JAUNT is implementing some of the recommendations from its TDP, such as the August 5 launch of commuter service between Crozet and the University of Virginia. 

“There is a recommendation in there about on-demand transit and we are in the process of analyzing that concept and the platform that would be needed,” Sheffield said. 

The strategic plans will require agencies to demonstrate what they will do to increase ridership and enhance service. This is part of legislation that passed the General Assembly in 2018 that reforms how transit is funded in Virginia. (bill)

“The General Assembly has said ‘we want you to really tell us what you’re trying to get out of this idea you want funded,’” Sheffield said. Annual reports from the plan will also have to document whether progress is being made. 

RTP successes 

The most significant achievement of the RTP has been to forge an agreement between the City of Charlottesville and Albemarle over how CAT calculates the county’s contributions for fixed-route transit services. That agreement was adopted by elected officials in both communities this summer after months of negotiations. 

“That’s a big win because it’s the first time that’s ever been done,” said Chip Boyles, the executive director of the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission. 

The partnership has also resulted in agencies coming closer to sharing data with each other, including from e-scooter services. Better understanding of that data might help explain ridership declines as well as paint a more accurate picture of how people who don’t drive get around the community.

More funding through can come through discussion 

The meetings also provide an opportunity for the agencies to talk about new sources of revenue. In May, there had been a robust discussion about whether Charlottesville Area Transit should report more data to the federal government in order to qualify for more funding. 

In June, the acting transit director told the RTP that it would be a matter of hiring more staff or getting a consultant to report the additional data. This would allow it to qualify for the Federal Transit Administration’s Small Transit Intensive Cities program.  (flowchart

“The project is an additional $500,000 and so that’s our end goal and we’re trying to figure out how we get there,” Lee said. “We’re also waiting for a new transit director to be part of the discussion.”

We wait to see what Mr. Williams will bring to the table. 

Whither the RTP? 

Near the end of the meeting, one member of City Council asked an existential question.

“Is this RTP just going to go on indefinitely?” asked City Councilor Kathy Galvin. “Is this a task force? What is the end game?” 

Boyles said the goal is to either create a regional transit authority or create a regional system that works together despite being multiple agencies. He said his hope is that the regional vision will continue to evolve as CAT and other transit agencies work on their planning documents. 

“That will hopefully push us in a direction of asking whether the authority is the end game,” Boyles said. 

Boyles said another benefit of the continued existence of the partnership is better alignment between the University Transit Service and the rest of the community. UTS is entirely paid for through enrollment fees and does not have to report any data to the state or federal government. That could change.   

“Currently UVA is a non-voting member of this board and they are now interested in becoming a member,” Boyles said.

Boyles said he does not see the RTP ending in the near future because of the work that needs to be done.

“It’s more important than ever that we are accurately reflecting ridership because of the new funding requirements,” Boyles said. “That’s new since this partnership began. The other thing that we will have to adjust for is the likelihood after the 2020 Census that the MPO boundaries will change which will change transit service as well.”

Talk about the regional transit partnership could come up again in September when the Board of Supervisors and City Council meet for a third time this calendar year. 

The Regional Transit Partnership is scheduled to meet again on August 22. One potential topic is the role that transit can play in encouraging and supporting economic development throughout the region. 

Another hope I have for the partnership is that it can be a forum where people can bring forward ideas. For instance, how can we transition the public transit fleet to electric vehicles? 

Increasing carpooling 

The Regional Transit Partnership is more than just fixed transit. 

The Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission offers a program called Rideshare to help connect people who don’t want to drive alone to work. About eleven percent of people in the Charlottesville metropolitan area carpool together, according to the latest data from the U.S. Census

“Our main goal is to help reduce traffic congestion by reducing the number of single-occupancy vehicles,” said Sarah Pennington, the Rideshare coordinator. 

Rideshare is now launching a new app to try to increase that number. 

Pennington said she and her colleagues at the Central Shenandoah Planning District Commission to offer alternatives.

“Many commuters are crossing those boundaries and we see many people come in from across the mountain over into Charlottesville for work,” Pennington said. 

Rideshare also operates a “guaranteed ride home” program where committed carpoolers can cover the cost of immediate transport if there is an emergency back home. 

“It’s kind of like an insurance policy,” Pennington said. “It’s one of the tools that we use to get people to change their behavior. Asking people to step out of their car is a really hard thing to do and people are a little hesitant at first. Knowing they will not be stuck is the first question.” 

Rideshare also coordinates information about park and ride lots in the area, which is where many carpools start from. Pennington also coordinates the van pools, which are more formalized than carpools.  A private contractor is hired to run the vans.

“Usually you’re looking at a minimum of seven to 12 people to put into a vanpool,” Pennington said. “There is a formal agreement they enter into in and then they pay a monthly fee for that seat in the van.” 

The TJPDC has hired a new person to assist Pennington in administering the program with an eye toward getting more out of their cars. Boyles said this part of an overall shift to market community mobility under one unified brand that spans the individual agencies. 

“This will start that process,” Boyles said. 

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Infrastructure updates, Land Use - Albemarle, Land Use - Charlottesville

Two urban intersection projects to move forward 

(editor’s note:  Charlottesville opted to spend on a different project – this article is out of date and was not updated)
The Virginia Department of Transportation has found additional funding that could lead to the reconstruction of two major intersections in our area.
Deputy Secretary Nick Donohue announced Tuesday that $8.88 million will be spent at the intersection of U.S. 250 and Route 20 in Albemarle County and $5.9 million will go towards the intersection of Preston Avenue and Grady Avenue in Charlottesville.
thorgle
Both projects had been submitted for funding through VDOT’s Smart Scale process, but had not originally qualified for funding. Under Smart Scale, all potential road projects are ranked according to how they address safety issues, relieve congestion, boost economic development and more. The new funding for these projects comes in part from cancellation of other projects across the state as well as better-than-expected revenue projections.
The Preston Avenue project is intended to create safer conditions at its intersection with Grady Avenue and 10th Street. One goal will be to reduce crossing widths, and another is to reduce the number of commercial driveways in the vicinity. Bike lanes will be constructed along Preston Avenue.
“The improvements will realign Preston Avenue and create a consolidated signalized intersection of Preston Avenue / 10th Street, and Grady Avenue,” reads the Smart Scale application.
The intersection of U.S. 250 and Route 20 will be rebuilt with additional turn lanes, medians in the right of way, and new traffic signals. A “keyhole” bike lane would be “added along the right turn lane from U.S. 250 to Route 20. The project would also construct 385 linear feet of new sidewalk on the west side of Route 20 from the U.S. 250 intersection, filling a gap.
free-bridge

The projects still need to be approved by the Commonwealth Transportation Board. A final vote is scheduled for the CTB’s meeting in June.

 

Land Use - Albemarle, Land Use - Charlottesville, Week Ahead

Week Ahead for May 6

Welcome to a weekly look at meetings coming up in our community.  As with everything on this secret blog, this is an experiment and not considered official.

Monday:

A busy week kicks off with a series of meetings.

Albemarle’s Architectural Review Board is charged with ensuring new buildings are consistent with the county’s design expectations. On Monday, the five member body will consider a new AutoZone at the corner of U.S. 29 and Westfield Road, as well the expansion of an office building on U.S. 250 west of Crozet. We are watching the latter closely as the building is just outside of the county’s development area. Take a look at the full agenda here.

In Culpeper, Virginia Transportation Secretary Shannon Valentine will host a public meeting on the state’s six-year improvement program. That fund is one of many sources of revenues for road, bridge, rail, bicycle, pedestrian and public transportation projects in the state. I’m going to take the opportunity to speak with planners about keeping the rural character of several roads in northeastern Albemarle. The meeting begins at 4:00 p.m. in VDOT’s office in Culpeper. Before the meeting, I’m going to participate in a litter clean-up with the Secretary.

Charlottesville City Council has an ambitious meeting agenda with items ranging from an update on the city’s climate action plan to a review of the West Main Streetscape Plan. There will also be proclamations for both Bike Month as well Kids to Parks Day, which is coming up on May 18. The meeting begins at 6:30 p.m. in City Council Chambers and can be viewed live through Facebook, the city’s website or Cable Channel 10.

Finally on this busy day, Albemarle will begin a series of events called Climate Mondays as part of the work toward the development of the county’s Climate Action Plan. The first event will discuss energy efficiency and renewable energy in residential buildings, which represents 27 percent of the county’s greenhouse gas emissions. The event begins at 5:30 p.m. at room 235 in the County Office Building on McIntire Road.

Tuesday

If you’re interested in transportation projects in Albemarle, have I got a meeting for you.

The Planning Commission will be briefed on two major plans coordinated by the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission. The first will be a presentation on the Long-Range Transportation Plan, a document that must be updated every five years to tell federal officials what projects are desired by the community. Want to know what this means? Give me a call and I’ll help you understand how it all works.

The second will be a public hearing on the 2019 Jefferson Area Bike and Pedestrian Plan, a document that is a “focused list of regionally-significant bicycle and pedestrian projects that enhance connectivity to residential and economic centers.” Thanks to a grant from the Charlottesville Area Community Foundation, my colleague Peter Krebs has been working to develop public support for the plan. The meeting begins at 6:00 p.m. in the Albemarle County Office Building.

Wednesday

Crozet is gearing up for an update of the master plan that guides future development. The Crozet Community Advisory Committee will meet at the Field School at 7:00 p.m. for their monthly which will set up the plan’s review. In particular, county planner Andrew Knuppel will brief citizens on what staff’s approach will be to the review. After that, the group will discuss the status of Eastern Avenue, a north-south road that has been called for since the Crozet Master Plan was first adopted in December 2014. I plan to be there and look forward to the discussion.

Thursday

Charlottesville’s PLACE Design Task Force was created in 2012 to advise City Council on urban placemaking. Since then, the group has weighed in on the Belmont Bridge, the West Main Streetscape and other key projects that affect the city. At this meeting, they will discuss the future of planning in the city. Shortly before the city hired Tarron Richardson as its next manager, Council authorized creation of a new position to oversee long range planning.

At the same time, review of Charlottesville’s Comprehensive Plan was put on on hold earlier this year. In early February, Council agreed to spend around $900,000 to hire the new position and to hire a new consultant to complete both the Comprehensive Plan and to begin a rewrite of the zoning ordinance. I am hopeful that I will get an update from staff at the PLACE meeting on Friday, which begins at noon in the Neighborhood Development Services Conference room in Charlottesville City Hall.

Friday (and Saturday)

There is nothing on the agenda, as far as I know, for Friday. This isn’t unusual. But I’ll be working with Peter Krebs to prepare for the Rivanna River Fest. Our friends at the Rivanna Conservation Alliance are holding this event on Saturday, May 11, to bring people downtown to enjoy the waterway that serves as the border between Albemarle and Charlottesville.

Events Include:

  • Underwater Photography at Lewis & Clark Exploratory Center
    Join the Lewis and Clark Exploratory Center for a workshop on underwater photography with our cameras. Children and adults can participate. Children must be accompanied by a parent. Your hands will get wet, but your legs don’t have to! Available times: 10 AM and 11:30 AM. Workshop lasts approximately an hour. $5 per person. To register, please email lewisandclark@lewisandclarkvirginia.org
  • Music & Fun at Rivanna River Company

  • Join us for a River celebration at the Rivanna River Company!
  • There will be live music by the Rivanna Roustabouts and Red and the Romantics!
  • Food vendors include: Mexican Tacos, 106 Street Food, and Blue Ridge Creamery
  • Kids Activities: Face-painting, monitoring demonstrations, and more!
  • Shuttles will run from parking at Darden Towe Park (where the morning activities will be held) to the Rivanna River Company from 12:00 – 5:00 pm.

We can’t wait to see you on the river!






Land Use - Charlottesville

Developer purchases University Tire property on West Main

A New York-based developer who is currently constructing new apartments at 600 West Main Street has added another property to his portfolio.

Jeffrey Levien has purchased 602 West Main Street for $2.9 million. Plans have not yet been filed with the city’s Department of Neighborhood Development Services.

The property currently is home to a University Tire franchise and was assessed in 2019 at $1.43 million. The limited liability company that bought the property has the name Heirloom West Main Street Second Phase.

The first phase of Levien’s development project, known as Six Hundred West Main, is currently under construction. A six stories with 57 apartment is being behind two structures that are historically protected. One of these structures is the home of the Blue Moon Diner, which is expected to re-open later this year.

Levien is also seeking to purchase 218 West Market Street, a small shopping center that he is seeking to demolish. That request will go before the Board of Architectural Review at their meeting on March 19.

“Looking at the current and future expansion of Charlottesville, the BAR must identify opportunities for accomodating growth in ways that are sensitive to our historic urban fabric by protecting important structures in our cultural and urban development while recognizing that some old buildings must be allowed to be taken down to make way for the future,” reads the narrative for the demolition request. As with Six Hundred West Main, Levien is represented by the firm Bushman-Dreyfus.

The narrative for 218 West Market makes the case that the BAR has granted several demolition permits in the vicinity, most notably at the former Main Street Arena which is still in the process of being deconstructed. The seven-story CODE building will be built on the footprint by the entrepreneur Jaffray Woodriff.

The BAR did not allow Levien to take down the two structures that are now part of the Six Hundred West Main project. They were both contributing structures in the West Main Architectural Design Control District, as were two structures that are being incorporated into the Quirk Hotel across the street.

(this story will be updated as needed)