Monday, March 12, 2018

Where the Sidewalk Ends: Negotiating Charlottesville as a Pedestrian

I grabbed a screenshot of this headline because it exactly mirrors my thoughts about being a pedestrian in Charlottesville. The article pictured above is about Dublin (which has issues where pedestrians are concerned) but it translates to Charlottesville.

To be a pedestrian in Charlottesville is to know rage. Inconsiderate drivers are one thing, but in this post, I'm focusing on how local government is responsible for terrible pedestrian conditions. 

There are a lot of construction projects going on around town, particularly along West Main Street and absolutely no accommodations have been made for pedestrians, who are shunted from one side of the street to the other and back again because the sidewalks are closed. West Main is a busy, dangerous street to cross, particularly after 4:00 pm, when it has the highest volume of pedestrians and drivers. 

Yesterday morning, I walked down West Main to the library at UVA. Here's some of what I saw. For those of you unfamiliar with the area, West Main is one of the busiest streets in the city of Charlottesville. It is the connector from downtown to the University of Virginia. It sees heavy pedestrian, car, bus, and bike traffic. It is absolutely unacceptable to allow developers to take over the sidewalks and bike lanes here.

^Little traffic because it was early Sunday morning. 

Rumor has it that my office is moving back to this area so I'm going to have to walk through this mess every freaking day. And sure, these projects will end, but there's always a new one. I've already seen a few other projects from beginning to end, when different sections of sidewalk were blocked off, again with no pedestrian or bike accommodations. I have spoken at town hall meetings with city council, I have emailed city council, I have had numerous emails with Charlottesville's bike/ped coordinator. I've attended city forums about bike/ped issues. I have specifically asked that developers be required to provide temporary sidewalk access and I'm certain I'm not the only person addressing the city about this, and yet nothing changes.

Essentially, if you are an ordinary Charlottesville resident, you are a serf. Following that analogy, city government represents the ruling class, real estate developers are the nobility and the rest of us don't matter except for our payment of tribute (taxes) with which city government rewards the real estate developers. We serfs are supposed to passively accept that construction projects may shove us into the street.

At its heart, the pedestrian issue is a class issue. Is it a coincidence that the best conditions for pedestrians are found in the richest neighborhoods in the city?  The people building all the hotels and apartment buildings around town are the ones with the money. City council gives them what they want and lets the rest of us go to hell. Since pedestrians aren't a well-funded lobby group, we are at the mercy of local governments. They may choose to make things nice for us, or they may not. It's mostly not. 

It makes me wonder what our streets would look like if pedestrians and cyclists had a lobby group as powerful as the NRA. What do you think bike/ped conditions would be like if that happened?


  1. I think Charlottesville doesn't want you to walk, bike, OR drive. I guess we're all supposed to stay home and just pay our taxes and shut up.

  2. We recently got into it with the city over our hedge - they claimed the size of it was pushing pedestrians into the street. My husband responded by stating that because we have NO sidewalk in the vicinity of our hedge, pedestrians are already forced to walk in the street.

  3. Arggh. Just Arggh.

    Aggravating issue, but excellent title for this post.

  4. That sounds SO frustrating. And I agree. Everyone walks. If we funded a walkers' organization we'd crush the NRA, heck, crush the AAA!

    1. Oh gosh, does AAA lobby for cars to the detriment of pedestrians? I never even considered them, although I have actively resisted joining because I can jump start my own car, thank you very much.