U.Va. holds focus groups for input on future of parking, transportation

Many community members offered constructive criticism through groups and online feedback

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At the bicycle and pedestrian focus group, held Thursday afternoon, many present offered constructive criticism about the current state of walking or biking in or around Grounds. Caroline Stoerker | Cavalier Daily

The University held several focus groups and an open house in Newcomb Hall and the Health System Education Resource Center Thursday to receive community input as it prepares to revise its Parking and Transportation Plan.

The plan exists to both improve current transportation infrastructure and facilitate smooth transportation — whether it be driving, walking, biking or using public transit — on and around Grounds over a 10-year time span. The plan does not assess properties owned by the University of Virginia Foundation — a group that handles finances and real estate for the University, such as the Boar’s Head Inn in eastern Charlottesville. 

The primary driving force behind the plan’s revision is a 15-member committee, which includes several students. The committee will take community input into consideration when drafting revisions and will additionally examine various development projects around the University — such as the upcoming demolition of University Hall and the redevelopment of the Brandon Avenue corridor — to cultivate a solution that will adequately suit the transportation needs of University students, faculty and community members alike. 

About 30 people were in attendance at the bicycle and pedestrian focus group, held Thursday afternoon in Newcomb Hall. The group included staff from academic departments and the Health System, students and Charlottesville community members. 

Erin Robartes, a graduate engineering student, said that she attended the meeting as a way to enhance her research on bike safety. 

“I do research on bike safety, so going to these kinds of meetings is a good way to get a feel for what’s happening in the community,” Robartes said.

Julia Monteith, the University’s senior land use planner, said that the goal of the focus groups was to offer a forum for community input and seek innovative ideas that could be included in the plan’s development. 

“The focus group is to hear what people have to say, but also to look for innovative ideas,” Monteith said. “We are combining the technical skill set that they have in terms of transportation planners knowing how to look at solving problems with idea generation that comes out of the focus groups.”

Following a brief presentation regarding statistics of both bicycle usage and pedestrian habits primarily among faculty and staff, many in the room voiced frustrations and offered constructive criticism about the current state of walking or biking in or around Grounds.

Many comments focused on the need for educational campaigns that would address situations such as how to exercise proper bike safety, how to use pedestrian cross signals properly and how to share the road with drivers, pedestrians and bikers. 

One of the most widely shared concerns was how biking or walking down Rugby Road — a high-frequency roadway for both students and commuters to the University — is made difficult because of narrow streets, narrow sidewalks or overgrown landscaping. Several health system employees in attendance also shared concerns over how biking on the streets around the Hospital is difficult due to narrow streets and distracted drivers. 

One attendee suggested the University should provide “substantial material incentives” for faculty who frequently bike to work. Another attendee expressed concern over “road detour signs placed in the bike lane” which could pose a safety hazard.

In addition to the focus groups, the University has an online feedback portal through which individuals can offer thoughts on the several methods of transportation frequently used on and around Grounds. As of Sep. 4, the portal had over 400 individuals who made posts with over 2,000 total comments. 

“Given the number of comments we’ve already received, I think that people seem invested in trying to communicate,” Monteith said in regards to the online portal. “We weren’t sure since we already got so many comments in the portal if people just wouldn’t come to the focus groups, but it seems like people are doing both, so that’s good.”

Three more open houses — each focusing on on-grounds parking, intercept parking and multi-modal transportation — will be held Friday in Newcomb Hall, with an open house geared toward employees of the University Health System also scheduled for Friday afternoon. Feedback through the online portal will also be accepted through Sep. 14.

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