The opening of the new 5th Street Station will bring more shopping and dining opportunities for area residents, but some planners and activists are hopeful commitments made during the land’s rezoning will be a catalyst for the southern urban area’s bike and pedestrian network.
“There is tremendous potential if we as a community are willing to step up and take advantage of what could be,” said Rex Linville, co-chairman of Albemarle County’s Fifth and Avon Advisory Committee. “This will require advocacy from the community and investment by Albemarle County to put the system together.”
Proffers made during the land’s rezoning in 2008 helped the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission secure a $400,000 grant from the Virginia Department of Transportation to design and build a network of 10-foot-wide, paved multi-use paths that stem from the shopping center.
One of those trails will pass underneath Interstate 64 to link up with an abandoned road to connect to neighborhoods to the south.
Another will build a bridge across Biscuit Run to connect with Fifth Street Extended to the west. There also will be a bike “node” where the new trails connect, allowing for bike parking and a fix-it station.
TJPDC officials say they hope the project can go to contract for an engineering firm in November with a team in place this spring.
The grant is an illustration of how public infrastructure is often built over time through a combination of private and public resources.
As part of the rezoning in 2008, the original developer agreed to build the 5th Street Station Parkway, which recently opened with bike lanes and sidewalks. But the developer also proffered an easement for greenways, a bridge over Moores Creek and $200,000 in cash that is being used as a local match for the grant.
The TJPDC asked the county if it could assist in helping to get the center’s greenway and trail network built.
“We were asked where there was a grant-worthy project that would be a good pilot project for developing better use of TJPDC’s staff resources,” said Dan Mahon, outdoor recreation supervisor for the county.
Mahon said the idea of such a bike node has been part of the county’s Comprehensive Plan since 1996 but staff resources have been limited.
“We have three permanent staff members in the Southern District and they are covering parks and schools from Walnut Creek Park to Scottsville,” Mahon said.
The southern spur follows along Biscuit Run, and the president of Habitat for Humanity of Greater Charlottesville calls for a multi-use trail to eventually connect all the way to the organization’s Southwood community.
Dan Rosensweig said his group’s plan for a Biscuit Run gateway draws upon several initiatives to create off-road trails and improve existing facilities to connect downtown with places to the south.
“If there is an easy and safe multimodal way to get to the Wegmans [5th Street Station] shopping center from the city core, it makes all the sense in the world to extend that another mile to increase access to jobs and shopping for the Southwood community, as well as create an inviting non-vehicular way to access 500 miles of trails in the future Biscuit Run State Park,” Rosensweig said.
Linville, who also is a land-use officer for the Piedmont Environmental Council, said he hopes the bike node project will help to build the network, but there are obstacles to consider.
“I hope that the TJPDC bike node project identifies some concrete steps needed to make it a reality,” he said. “In addition to getting actual construction dollars to construct the trail corridor, the other key will be getting permission for the corridor from the three homeowners associations that would be involved.”
That means residents of the Willoughby, Foxcroft and Mill Creek neighborhoods would need to support the project for it to become a reality.
“Without permission from those private landowners, the project is essentially dead in the water,” Linville said.
Several other components of a wider network also are planned.
The city of Charlottesville’s bike and pedestrian master plan has a list of 20 bikeway projects in its section on implementation. No. 18 calls for separated bicycle lanes on Fifth Street Extended and No. 20 calls for the addition of bike lanes on Ridge Street.
The plan also identifies the need for around $1.1 million for trails for the upper and lower sections of Moores Creek.
The city is taking steps to fulfill that need.
Earlier this year, the city acquired 27 acres along its southern border near Azalea Park through funding assistance from Dave Matthews and Coran Capshaw, manager of the Dave Matthews Band and principal of Riverbend Development, which built 5th Street Station and the new parkway.
When an easement through the Eagle’s Landing property is added, that new parkland will carry a permanent section of the Rivanna Trail with a 10-foot-wide, paved multi-use path along Moores Creek leading to the Fry’s Spring neighborhood.
The Board of Supervisors recently approved a project by the Piedmont Development Group on Fifth Street. That developer also dedicated land to the county for a greenway.
“This follows along the western side of Biscuit Run and secures a possible connection behind the Holiday Inn,” Mahon said. “The challenge in this area is crossing Fifth Street.”
Mahon said an existing culvert under the road that carries a portion of the Rivanna Trail is not suitable for a commuter trail for cyclists.
One local resident looks forward to an enhanced network.
“I’d like to be able to cycle there from my house primarily for grocery shopping,” said Frank Allen Deviney Jr., of Old Lynchburg Road. “I live about three miles from there, so it’s not a long trip.”
Deviney said current conditions could be better.
“There’s a wide shoulder along Fifth Street [Extended] most of the way but there are some gaps in there where you have to ride on the road with 45 mph traffic,” Deviney said.
Rosensweig wants the community to dream big.
“Those state trails could connect to the proposed heritage trail and, before you know it, people from city and county neighborhoods will be able to enjoy an amazing trip on their bikes to Scottsville and the James River without ever fighting 50 mph traffic on Fifth Street, Old Lynchburg Road or Route 20,” he said.