I hopped off the free trolley and walked over to Jefferson School of African American Heritage, which was already bustling with anticipation. To be honest, I hadn’t expected many community members to purchase tickets to learn about walkability, but I shouldn’t have been surprised by the community members of a city already nationally recognized for its pedestrian mall.
Jeff Speck, a renowned urban planner known for his book Walkable City¸ understood the promise of Charlottesville, and pointed out it was one of the few locations he could begin his presentation with a plan for becoming “more walkable” instead of the just “walkable”.
I was expecting Speck to recount his book, but he actually took the time to explore Charlottesville and offer concrete suggestions. For example, Jeff took pictures of stoplights with left hand turn lanes and suggested that these left hand turn lanes could be removed by replacing the stoplights with stop signs. By taking out these left hand turn lanes, the freed space could be used for parallel parking. Parallel parking in front of small businesses can boost store profits and help make the downtown area more accessible.
Speck also focused on West Main Street, which is currently an area of focus for Charlottesville planners. Planners want to add in a median of trees between the two lanes of traffic. Speck warned planners against this idea because it would require removing some of the mature trees to plant young trees in the center. Furthermore, parking spaces would be lost. Speck drew a plan for West Main where he put the bike lanes for both directions along one sidewalk side. The bike lanes were then protected by a lane of parallel parking spaces. Cafes were also given the option to use these parallel parking spaces as outdoor sitting in the summer.
It was really nice to see the process planners go through to create streetscapes. I also enjoyed seeing that so many people care about making Charlottesville even more accessible to public transportation.