Citing concerns over pedestrian safety on-Grounds and in Charlottesville, two University students, Second-year Architecture student Ethan Van Berkel and third-year Engineering student Patrick Brown have launched a new safety initiative, MoveUVA, aimed at improving walking, biking and public transportation options.
Van Berkel and Brown founded the group following mutual frustration with the lack of transportation safety on Grounds. Both are involved in civil engineering and said their studies influenced this focus on local infrastructure.
The initiative encompasses three pillars — improving pedestrian infrastructure, improving and expanding bike infrastructure through protected bikeways and continuous bike lanes and improved services under the University Transit System and the Charlottesville Area Transit.
“Because of Charlottesville’s high student population, it makes sense to provide adequate infrastructure needs for pedestrians, people on bikes, etc. — yet the University and the City continue to do the bare minimum to meet these needs,” Van Berkel said.
A 2022 Mobility Assessment suggests that a large number of residents in Charlottesville feel unsafe walking or biking, and public transit is largely unreliable. In addition, Charlottesville has a dense student population with Charlottesville City Public Schools containing nine schools and 4,255 students and the University student body of over 22,000.
Van Berkel also listed a bike resale program, wider sidewalks and expanded VEO access as potential goals. Additionally, the group has released an interest form for students to comment on aspects of transportation they would like to see improved.
Brown said he hopes to hold the University and the City accountable for changes that the majority of the student body wants to see.
“The bottom line though, is that it’s not just about what I think people here want, I need to make sure that these issues and changes actually have significant support,” Brown said.
Andrew Mondschein, associate professor of Urban and Environmental Planning and associate dean of research at the School of Architecture, said the Office of the Architecture has already been making positive strides in pedestrian and cycling infrastructure, referencing the construction on Brandon Ave and the new Contemplative Commons bridge over Emmett St. that will be much more accessible than current options.
Mondschein said he agrees, however, that more needs to be done and supports MoveUVA’s commitment to limiting car infrastructure and expanding existing transit systems.
"It would be much more pleasant and feel safer and ultimately be a more livable experience to be on Grounds if we tipped the scales a little bit towards the investments in pedestrian, cycling and transit infrastructure and not so much towards parking,” Mondschein said,
Mondschein said the methodology of tactical urbanism — citizen-led, low cost changes to the built environment that improve a neighborhood or city — is a strong initiative with a proven track record in other cities. He also recommends that students interested in improving infrastructure on Grounds be more active in student government and municipal politics.
"Organizing around these issues, as students and making sure that students and Student Council have a voice on these issues, is critical to making sure that the administration of the University hears student needs and is considering this when they're trying to improve student lives," Mondschein said.
Van Berkel said he hopes to begin by reaching out to Livable Cville — a local group advocating for housing, mobility and safety — along with contacts in local government. MoveUVA met for the first time 8 p.m. Wednesday in Brown 148 to form a plan of action, open to all who are interested.