There are plans for miles and miles of off-road trails that would connect various locations in urban Albemarle Countyand Charlottesville and a new partnership aims to find ways to get many of them built.
Earlier this month, the Charlottesville Area Community Foundation announced a grant of nearly $180,000 over two years to the PEC and the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission as part of its “Strengthening Systems” funding initiative.
“Over the years we’ve gone through this process where we’ve put lines on a map, but we haven’t really listened to the community at a deep level to get the buy-in that we need to move us from planning to implementation,” said Rex Linville of the Piedmont Environmental Council.
“We are already completing a regional bike and pedestrian plan,” said Chip Boyles, the executive director of the TJPDC. “We will be using that process and that plan to help promote and coordinate bike and pedestrian improvements as well as plans that are already in place.”
The funding will allow the PEC to hire a part-time community engagement specialist to help build community support for an off-road trail network that builds on existing efforts by the city, county, the Charlottesville Area Mountain Bike Club and the Rivanna Trails Foundation.
“What we identified is that the advocacy community around trails and greenways needs a common vision and a common set of goals that everyone is shooting for,” Linville said. “There’s not a broader vision with the community at large.”
One member of the RTF’s board of directors said many people in the community want to see trails built as soon as possible.
“What parks and recreation surveys show again and again is that the highest demand for recreational amenities in the county and the city are greenway trails,” said Michael Barnes, who is also Waynesboro’s former planning director.
Barnes said off-road multiuse paths provide a safer alternative for people who would like to commute to work on their bikes but are concerned about traffic safety. He and other members of the Greenbrier Neighborhood Association are advocating a greenway trail on city-owned land along Meadow Creek that would connect two north-south bike routes.
“The John Warner Parkway greenway trail is the major north-south greenway trail that exists that runs from the Albemarle County office building to the edge of Belvedere,” Barnes said, adding that bike lanes along the Hillsdale Drive is the other.
This “Meadow Creek Connector Greenway Trail” is one of the many ideas that exists in studies ranging from the city’s Bike and Pedestrian Plan to the TJPDC’s long-range transportation plan for 2040.
Barnes has asked city and county officials to consider applying this year for a Transportation Alternatives Grant from the Virginia Department of Transportation to build it. The deadline for a project is November 1.
“What we’re trying to do in the activist community is pick a project that is along the edge of the city and the county,” Barnes said, adding he wants the two localities to work together to do something that will benefit the entire urban area. The TAP grant would require the county to contribute some money as a match.
However, at least one member of the Board of Supervisors wants to wait until more planning is conducted.
“While I applaud the effort, I do not support diverting funds to this project,” wrote Supervisor Brad Sheffield in a July 24 email to Barnes that was also sent to members of the Board of Supervisors.
Sheffield went on to state the county has a long list of “deserving projects” in the capital improvement program that are unfunded. He said the county government needs a strategic plan that outlines how it will invest in capital projects. Absent such a plan, he said he cannot support a grant for the Meadow Creek Connector.
City Councilor Kathy Galvin supports the idea of the Meadow Creek Connector and would support an application this year. She said she would like any future commuter trails to be well-designed, well-maintained and well-lit.
“That gets more cars off the road which means less wasted time sitting in congestion on our streets, less CO2 in our air, and less polluted runoff in our streams,” Galvin said.
Supervisor Diantha McKeel supports the idea of a network of greenways and believes the greater bike plan that will be created as a result of the community foundation grant will put the area in a better position to apply for funding in the future.
“This work on behalf of Albemarle County and the city of Charlottesville will provide a regional bike and pedestrian plan to be completed in time to provide funding within the cycle for fiscal year 2019,” McKeel said.
While Linville supports the Meadow Creek Connector, he said the PEC’s work with the TJPDC will help build support for a future trail network.
Linville said people who want a healthy community might be brought in to promote the wellness opportunities. Groups seeking to increase the number of affordable housing units in the community might want to promote low-cost commuting opportunities.
“How do we bring all of these people together to hear their issues and concerns as they relate to bike and pedestrian connectivity, and then implement a program to bring that about?” Linville said.
Linville pointed to the example of Roanoke communities that created a political body in April 1997 after years of citizen planning.
“They created an authority and a commission where the city of Roanoke, county and the local planning district commission are all partners and that has been the point of focus for getting that work done,” Linville said.
Roanoke Valley Greenways has since raised millions of dollars from government, corporations, foundations, civic groups and individuals. That has led to the creation of 23.7 miles of paved greenway trails, according to the commission’s 2014 annual report.
Barnes said he hopes the same coordination can lead to progress here.
“As a community we need to build these things,” Barnes said.