Monday, July 30, 2007
In these times of concern over global warming, protection of wilderness areas, preservation of streams, endangered species, and even just quiet areas and scenic and/or historic landscapes, I am disappointed that the idea of "Go Anywhere > Do Anything" is being promoted in Charlottesville, and that the city is at least in part participating in the event by closing South First Street so that Jeep marketeers can provide sales related material to the public.
The photo above was taken just after the close of the Downtown City Market (about 12:05 pm). This lot is (I believe) heavily used by market goers, but those who are buying local and in fact taking positive (and healthy) actions toward reducing environmental damage through long distance transport of food, and supporting our local farmers were not able to use that parking area so that Jeep could promote the Go Anywhere > Do Anything theme.
Having never driven a four-wheel drive vehicle, I took a ride. I selected a Super Wrangler or something like that, drove over a row of logs as though I was driving through a wilderness area, rocking uncomfortably from side to side; climbed the approximately 45 degree hill to roughly 30 feet in the air; descended to the pavement again and drove through the simulated river back to the starting point. I was impressed by the experience. But, unlike the impression Jeep is hoping for, I had my four-wheel drive experience, and clearly want no part of driving through sensitive wilderness areas ripping up stream beds, hillsides, or forested areas. I didn't see the fun in any of this.
I suppose other Jeep riders loved the experience and will soon be sending lots of cash to Jeep to buy an opportunity to Go Anywhere > Do Anything but I started listing the many places that I think should be off limits to these four-wheel drive machines. I think of the buffalo in Yellowstone, Caribou in the Alaska Wildlife Preserve, and the many other threatened species and landscapes being invaded by these vehicles in the summer and the go anywhere and do anything snowmobilers in the winter. Aren't there places we simply shouldn't be going? And if we do go there, do we have to drive vehicles like these into those fragile places. I think not. Fortunately, many people who buy these vehicles rarely go off-road and I suppose the money primarily buys the idea of freedom we don't realy need to exercise in the wild. I guess even the idea of freedom is worth the price to many.
Perhaps everyone needs to get the experience of driving a four-wheel vehicle once in their life. I lived 60 years (and Jeeps were around before I was born) until I had mine. Unless I am involved in some future life saving mission where only a four-wheel vehicle can do the job, I think I may have driven my last. I guess I can go where I need to go, and do what I need to do without a Jeep. How about you?
Thursday, July 26, 2007
----- My Comment -----
I found the comments in Dave McNair's "Primping Preston" to range between the enlightened and out of touch with reality. Perhaps this makes for good reading over coffee at Cafe Cubano (my favorite place to read the HooK), but I hope there will be a follow up to this story that delves into some of the transportation and traffic realities of the Meadow Creek Parkway (McIntire Road Extended in the city) and Preston Avenue.
I applaud Dave McNair including planning commissioner Bill Lucy's comment that "Preston Avenue has been badly designed." In fact, if my memory serves me well, Preston Avenue was to be continued with a similar road design westward to US Route 29 (Emmet Street) but opposition to that road stopped Preston Avenue widening in its current configuration. That extension, along with the Meadow Creek Parkway were all controversial in the 1960's and 1970's, but for some reason the Meadow Creek Parkway (McIntire Road Extended) projects outlived the Preston Avenue project. Had Preston Avenue been designed as something other than a connector road, I would think it might have better served the neighborhoods adjacent to it. Clearly, improvements can be made and I think it is a terrific idea to redesign Preston Avenue in a manner that allows Preston Avenue to better serve those neighborhoods.
I found the Elizabeth Meyer quote stating that a roundabout at the Preston/McIntire intersetion "would slow traffic coming off the Meadowcreek Parkway" to be in the 'out of touch' category. Roundabouts do not function well in high traffic flow conditions, and as best I can determine adding 20,000 anticipated vehicles per day on McIntire Road Extended, many of which are assumed to be traveling on existing McIntire Road into downtown Charlottesville will result in a highly congested situation at a Preston Avenue/McIntire Road roundabout. Given that VDOT is assuming over 2,000 vehicles per hour will be using the McIntire Road Extended in the peak hours, my conclusion is that any roundabout (or intersection for that matter) at Preston/McIntire will operate at such a poor level of service that slowing traffic will not be an issue. Traffic congestion and slow travel will more likely be the normal situation at that location.
I am delighted that Dave McNair and the HooK have opened a discussion about traffic and possible improvements to traffic along Preston Avenue and McIntire Road, but I must suggest that the HooK consider publishing additional stories that include input from traffic engineers and other individuals familiar with the traffic implications of the proposed McIntire Road Extended and the Route 250 Bypass Interchange at McIntire Road. Only then will HooK readers get a fair picture of what possibilities exist for the neighborhoods in the vicinity of McIntire Road and Preston Avenue.
Monday, July 23, 2007
I have been impressed by Cheri Lewis' dedication to issues before the planning commission and on this issue I definitely share her concerns. If developments done by right can be of a scale that may overwhelm our downtown road system, I feel there may be a need to review what levels of development can be done in our city neighborhoods under our planning commission approved comprehensive plan soon to be considered for final approval by city council. Shouldn't our comprehensive plan provide safeguards against development that is too big for thee capacity of our road, sewer, water, stormwater or other infrastructure?
I commented to the planning commission during their July 2007 public hearing on approving the comprehensive plan that it is desirable to focus attention on elements of that plan during the five year life of the plan and to amend those elements as needed. Such ongoing review, element by element as necessary, could make our comprehensive plan a significantly better guide to growth and development in our city. I didn't recommend what I suggest as a first element or concept to explore at that hearing, but based on this news on the Coal Tower project I suggest that the comprehensive plan balance available infrastructure availability and growth with realistic limits on by right development in all of our city neighborhoods. I wonder how many other projects are possible that could exceed our infrastructure capacity yet can currently be built by right. A comprehensive review of this type would be a valuable improvement to our comprehensive plan.
I am impressed by the commitment of planning commissioners to address growth, development, transportation and environmental issues relating to matters brought before them. I believe a review of the just recommended comprehensive plan to identify and act to eliminate opportunities for other very large developments that put unreasonable demands on our infrastructure is neccessary. Yes, I guess there will be some significant opposition to eliminating what I consider to be 'development loopholes' in our comprehensive plan, but our quality of life in Charlottesville will be greatly reduced if supersized projects are allowed without any review of their scope by either our planning commission or city council.
I suggest that our planning commissioners consider this suggestion and take some action as soon as they take a sufficient recovery time after the lengthy development of the comprehensive plan now before council. Action of this type is better done sooner rather than later, however.
Saturday, July 21, 2007
Friday, July 20, 2007
I don't pretend to have these answers, but crime is a community problem and I think a community discussion about what might be the best strategy for addressing crime is needed before a quick solution is implemented. Perhaps a discussion of what cameras can and cannot do, some identification of camera effectiveness and how our community can be sure using cameras will provide some - perhaps measurable - results. I think some police, city staff, citizen, and business community members could identify a range of possible actions that may or may not include adding cameras to our downtown area. The city has a variety of task forces in place like the strategic planning committee that could possibly serve as a core group to address crime as a strategic problem with added input from other stakeholders.
I had my camera with me on the mall yesterday and shot the photo above. As a frequent pedestrian on the mall, I pass the Fourth Street East vehicle crossing several times each day. Although I am not doing a scientific study, I am noticing a continued increase in vehicles crossing the mall at Fourth Street. It is a rare occurance that no vehicle is waiting to cross the mall when I cross Fourth Stsree on foot. In fact about half of the time lately there are several vehicles queued to cross.
Not only is there more vehicle traffic, but there is also an increase in the number of times a vehicle is stopped or even parked in the crossing. These vehicles block both crossing traffic and pedestrians. The vehicle in the photo was parked with its driver side door open while the driver was off doing some errand on the mall, I suppose. The driver was just returning when I had succeeded in digging my camara out of my bag and finding a reasonable angle for the shot. Perhaps this does not rise to the level of a crime, but it is clearly an issue that makes the mall less safe for all mall users.
Would a camera at the Fourth Street mall crossing be a good idea? I think so. Perhaps the police and neighborhood development services could collaborate in putting up a camera to do ongoing traffic counts and identify other traffic problems at the crossing in addition to providing some crime related benefit as well. If our community agrees that cameras on the mall is something worth doing, I hope we can put them where we can get the most value for our investment in as many ways as possible.
Perhaps there are already cameras capturing this area of the mall. My guess is that there are plenty of cameras already watching us as we walk the mall. If we knew how many cameras are already around, the few additional ones the city might consider adding might not add that much additional crime prevention and we could consider other actions to discourage crime in our downtown area. Shouldn't we have all the information about this issue available before we jump to a 'solution?'
Wednesday, July 18, 2007
NAACP president, M. Rick Turner, presented a strong statement on the matter to city council at their July 16, 2007 meeting and encourage council to take action to eliminate all discrimination in mortgage lending within their power. If you have an opportunity to view a rebroadcast of the council meeting on Adelphia cable channel 10, I hope you will tune it in.
But, mortgage lending appears to me to be primarily in the hands of private companies and banks. City council and county board of supervisor members have little influence in the practices of these private companies. Here is clearly a moment for a public-private partnership to form with the goal of eliminating this discrimination.
I considered what I could do as a private citizen and concerned member of the Charlottesville community, and decided to contact our local Chamber of Commerce. I telephoned their Charlottesville office and recommended that the Chamber take an active role in working with their members to determine what the business community can do to address this troubling situation.
I look forward to seeing some action from everyone involved in the housing and local mortgage lending businesses to identify what the problems are in our community, and to work collectively toward eliminating any discriminatory practices. The time for action on this matter is now.
Sunday, July 15, 2007
What is up with this? The concert wasn't until that evening. Some sound and stage equipment was being unloaded on the stage area while I was there, but there seemed to be no reason that the public space needed to be blocked as best I could tell - especially with so many hours until actual show time.
I commented on the use of this space as part of my May 21, 2007 Squeaky Wheel column entitled "Pavilion creep: Speak up about Mall takeover" in the HooK. Not only hasn't the use of that space been reconsidered now that the construction of the Transit Center is completed as planned, but it appears the hours that the mall is closed to pedestrians has been extended.
Charlottesville's comprehensive plan recently approved unanimously by the planning commission expresses the need to enhance pedestrian opportunities throughout the city. Allowing the pedestrian mall to be closed all afternoon for no apparent reason is clearly not consistent with enhancing pedestrianism.
The photo above was taken at about 2:00 pm and there was absolutely no activity behind the barriers that would be affected by pedestrians walking on the brick pathways or connecting to Avon Street to go toward Belmont. Does this imply that the east end of the mall will be closed to pedestrians for all of the weekend afternoons when there is a Pavilion concert that night? I hope not, and I will check that out as best I can with Pavilion management and city staff. Walking through an obstacle course is can be challenging, but being stopped at barriers on a sunny Saturday afternoon fo no apparent reason goes well beyond that for me. I was not the only surprised pedestrians. While I got my camera to shoot the photo, a pedestrian couple also seemed to be concerned that they couldn't walk beyond the barricade to their destination further east from there.
Saturday, July 14, 2007
1. This project has been demonstrated not to meet traffic needs in the city and will result in significant congestion (as demonstrated by Charlottesville's own consultants).
2. This project is the so-called 'No Build' alternative in the totally separate Route 250 Interchange at McIntire Road project and the city's consultants have clearly stated that this road project does not meet traffic demands. Remember there is no guarantee that the interchange project will solve these congestion problems if it is ever built.
3. A significant portion of the eastern portion of McIntire Park will be unusable as parkland and the noise created by the anticipated traffic will elevate noise levels in that whole section of the park to levels not suitable for quiet park activities. The noise issues with this project and other related park projects has not been shared with the public as part of this decision.
4. A new stormwater management alternative has been suggested to meet the stormwater flows related to putting the road through the park, but this includes integrating these flows into Schenk's Branch itself. The engineering findings for this plan is not yet available, and it is not clear yet what the stream pollution impacts of this new plan will be on Schenk's Branch that ultimately flows to the Chesapeake Bay.
I hope Charlottesville's residents will check out what is being proposed by reading the background material on this council item, and bringing their thoughts and concerns to council on July 16.
This is clearly a time for council members to demonstrate leadership. If I were on council, I would not even consider granting this easement to VDOT prior to having all of the relevant decision information available for consideration by the public and the council in forms that can be readily understood. Preliminary engineering for the project has not been completed, no clear statement of what benefits are to be gained from moving this project forward is available, and no indication of how this project will help us reach council's 2025 vision has even been addressed. I request that council show leadership on this issue and not simply implement this project because it has been 'on the books' since the 1960's.' I ask council to make decisions based on what is best for the city's future and not to move along projects without demonstrating their value in meeting future sustainable development, environmental protection, and regional transportation goals. I feel that this project proposal is inconsistent with all of these goals and should not be supported.
The only way to address McIntire Road Extended and the Route 250 Interchange at McIntire Road projects is to combine them into one project and consider that project on its ability to meet our regional transportation needs. Frankly, I do not believe that either of these projects work as separate projects, and do not believe that the combined project will fare any better. When will council as a whole start asking these questions and demand reasonable answers. Council members Norris and Lynch have both expressed some concerns along these lines, but the majority of council appears to be content to allow the forces behind these projects to get their support even without clear indications of how these projects can benefit the city.
Council need to hear your thoughts on July 16. I hope you will be there to speak, else send council your thought by email or by telephone.
Tuesday, July 10, 2007
Our proposed comprehensive plan proposes protecting our parkland. Are the benefits from this road project sufficient to justify sacrificing this parkland? It is hard to know. I am still not convinced that there is much in the way of benefits to be gotten from this project. Remember, the project for which this land is to be used does not include an interchange, and should an interchange be included, additional parkland will be consumed for that project.
I had no idea how expensive campaign material production might be, but I assure you the your contribution will be used efficiently in getting out my campaign message to Charlottesville voters.
I believe our city council clearly needs to exhibit active leadership in meeting our community's challenges and I hope you will consider my past leadership in choosing your council canditates on election day - November 6, 2007.
I will focus on the following major themes in my council campaign:
• Public Involvement - Council has to communicate clearly, fully, and promptly on council matters, so residents can actively shape Charlottesville’s future.
• Transportation - Public transportation needs to grow with the city, and as part of a regional system.
• Growth/Environment - City services overseeing building and development must protect cultural and historic resources, preserve our local and global environment, and promote a healthy lifestyle.
• Engage Neighborhoods - Neighborhoods must be engaged in council decisions that affect their homes and businesses.
There are many issues before council now relating to use of our parks, transportation choices for our future, enhancing our tree cover, protecting our streams and water resources, and responding to traffic and historic preservation in our city neighborhoods. I will provide in this blog my ideas on many of these issues, and will be encouraging our current council members to take actions consistent with the city council vision 2025 and the long term goals of Charlottesville's residents.
Now is clearly a time we need leadership from council. Is our current council up to that challenge? I believe I can provide much needed leadership on council and to promote council decisions that truly are consistent with our future goals.
Monday, July 9, 2007
My July 8 blog noted that I thought this easement request was to allow relocation of utility lines - but it is apparently an easement for the whole McIntire Road Extended project through construction. Who says a dollar can't get you much anymore?
What does this mean?
Exactly what I asked myself and I hustled over to City Hall to get the information - with some minor success. Jeanne Cox, clerk of council, provided me with some of the relevant material that included a draft of the easement agreement "prepared by VDOT under supervision of the Office of the Attorney General." But, the draft agreement states:
"WHEREAS, it is proposed by the Commonwealth to extend or improve City roadway, McIntire Road Extended, Project U000-104-102,R201, from Route 250 Interchange to Melbourne Road in the City of Charlottesville, Virginia."
It appears to me that the Attorney Generals Office believes that Route 250 Interchange is an already approved project, which it is clearly not. In fact, VDOT and the City both state that the interchange and the road are two totally independent projects and are being carried out independently. This is a major contradiction to me. And although you (like me) are probably not an attorney, you likely agree that this wording links these projects together. I question if the Commonwealth Attorney's are simply using casual language here, but in fact making the ending point of the interchange and the starting point of the road somewhat ambiguous.
Under a section called "Additional Consideration" there is the following statement:
"The Grantor [note: this is the City of Charlottesville] by the execution of this instrument acknowledges that the plans for the project as they affect its property have been fully explained to its authorized representative."
I haven't yet figured out who the authorized representative is yet, but I will try to find out and let you know. I am curious to find out if in fact the authorized representative understand how the plans for the project affect McIntire Park. I have been searching for this information for some time, and answers are extremely hard to come by. It is not even clear from the information I could gather today that VDOT has even done an engineering analysis of the stormwater management capacities for the proposed revised plan.
I was unable to find out what is being brought before concil on this matter. The city guideline is that citizens can't get a copy of the staff report or recommendation to city council until it is provided to council. That won't happen until tomorrow at 3:30 at the latest. Given that council may in fact be taking the first action associated with committing right of way for the McIntire Road Extended project. This is the point at which the Virginia Code defines as the city approving the project - and if in fact the project does not happen, that the city can be asked to repay all of VDOT's expenses to date on the entire project. That is several million dollars.
With this project having been clearly identified as unable to meet the traffic demand by the city's own consultant, makes granting this easement a very serious and questionable step. The conditions placed by council that must be met before approving this road have not been met. This looks to me like a set up for disaster.
Although I can't get the description of what is being proposed until tomorrow at 3:30 at the earliest, it appears that the revised design of the stormwater portion of the project development is being used as a front to get council to commit to the construction of an unworkable road.
So, what would I recommend?
As I have been recommending for years now, the only rational solution to our future transportation needs is to combine the McIntire Road Extended and the Route 250 Interchange at McIntire Road projects into one project. This combined project can then be evaluated against other regional transportation alternatives - like an eastern connector road between northern and eastern Albemarle County. Also, the possibility of not building the combined project at all might be the best regional solution where an eastern connector and enhanced public transit (trolley and bus) might be a far superior and efficient choice.
Building a road though McIntire Park is a major project, and I believe some clearer idea of what is going forward is essential. I will ask city council to get the facts before they act. I hope you will do the same.
Saturday, July 7, 2007
I was surprised to find a Legal Notice in today's Daily Progress (July 7, 2007, page C2) that announces a July 16, 2007 public hearing "regarding the proposed conveyance of a temporary construction easement across City-owned property (McIntire Park) to the Virginia Department of Transportation, related to the Meadowcreek Parkway project."
I won't be able to find out what the full text of the proposed resolution is until Monday July 9, but I am assuming this resolution - if passed - will allow VDOT to do utility relocation work in McIntire Park as part of the McIntire Road Extended project. This is yet another step toward sacrificing a portion of our most significant parkland for a road that has been demonstrated to have unacceptable operating characteristics on opening day of the proposed roadway. The city's own consultants have developed a simulation model demonstrating that anticipated traffic on that project would result in what is called 'Level-of-Service F' performance in all directions of traffic flow at the intersection of Route 250 Bypass and McIntire Road.
Some say, "not to worry," the Route 250 Bypass Interchange at McIntire Road is going to save the day. But city council continues to insist that these projects be kept totally independent of each other. Councilor Lynch recently proposed to council a request to combine these projects to reflect that the road and the interchange are intimately connected and it is hard to defend that either one of these projects should be built without the other. But council continues to promote the projects as completely independent. Major assumptions are being made that these two projects - each with significant design challenges - will somehow turn into a successful transportation improvement. I have not yet seen any analysis that even suggests this to be true, and we have not yet seen the extent of the environmental impacts the combined projects will have.
It appears that council is on the verge of moving forward the McIntire Road project with an at-grade intersection while conditions previously set by council remain unsatisfied. I find it impossible to see how this step is at all consistent with the City Council's recently adopted Vision 2025 statement.
Clearly this is a time where we Charlottesville residents need to lead our current council. We need to demand that the McIntire Road Extended project and the Route 250 Bypass Interchange project be combined into one project, and that it be considered against other regional transportation alternatives that will meet the transportation needs of our community between now and 2025.
I hope you will read the Vision 2025 statement and determine for yourself if this project is at all consistent with our current community goals. I also hope you will attend the July 16 public hearing and express your considered opinion - whatever it may be.
Friday, July 6, 2007
I have been involved in this project as an interested citizen stakeholder since its inception and I am curious who is actually pushing this project ahead of the development of the full range of project design alternative.
Council was asked by staff to select a recommended preferred design alternative for the Route 250 Bypass Interchange at McIntire Road from a set of several alternatives developed by the RK&K consultants and considered by the project steering committee. This set of alternatives is not complete! In fact, at least two additional park avoidance alternatives are yet to be developed by the consultants to meet the federal section 4(f) parkland protection requirement.
The consultant prepared a white paper entitled "Applicability of Section 4(f) to the Route 250 Bypass Interchange at McIntire Road (IMR) Project" in the past month or two stating that "as required by Section 4(f), the project team will evaluate alternatives that avoid the use of Section 4(f) resources. The alternatives evaluation will look at alignment and design shifts that avoid use to all resources (i.e. “total” avoidance) as well as avoidance of specific resources."
I question the appropriateness of council selecting any alternative from an incomplete set of alternatives - be it 'preferred', 'recommended preferred' or whatever. The consultant claimed at the council meeting that these alternatives have been considered to some degree, but are following a totally separate review process and will not be made available until in the fall at the earliest for public review. So, why is council selecting now? Is council leading here, or are they following proponents of a more limited choice of design alternatives?
I suggested in my comment to council that it will only be appropriate to take any action of this type after the consultants prepare the environmental assessment document as required by NEPA, and the section 4(f) analysis as required under the U. S. Department of Transportation Act of 1966, and an opportunity for the public to review and comment on the full set of options is provided.
Only Councilor Norris understood the folly of selecting any alternative before all of the necessary candidate designs are even available for consideration.
Council recommended alternative C1 by a vote of 4-1 (Councilor Norris the only no-vote).
I encourage all interested Charlottesville and Albemarle County residents to visit the project website at 250interchange.org to see details of the project.
Thursday, July 5, 2007
It was a treat to hear Sheri Iachetta singing in both English and Italian (accompanied on the accordion by Matty Metcalfe) for the occasion so all had an opportunity to sing along.
I believe cultural and social events with our sister cities are terrific, but there are also some great opportunities for learning much more from each other. One thought I have been exploring, in light of many people in Charlottesville expressing concerns about our city budget, is to compare the sources of revenue and the expenditures for the current budgets of all of our sister cities (Poggio a Caiano, Besancon, Pleven, Charlottesville). I am curious to see what differences and similarities exist among the revenues and expenses for the four cities. Perhaps we all can get some ideas from each other and develop better budgeting practices in the future.
Being a candidate for city council is taking much of my time of late, but I would love to collect this data and prepare a simple comparison among the four budgets - and see how they address the vision statement for each city. Simple pie-charts for each budget might provide interesting insights and opportunities. Perhaps one of you readers of this blog - with similar interest and some available time - might be interested in exploring something like this and sharing it with us all. As a future council member, I would certainly encourage the city staff to explore the budget strategies of our sister cities and determine if we can benefit from their experience and creativity.
Tuesday, July 3, 2007
- Citizen Advocate
- Engaged Planner
- Professional Problem Solver
- Lifelong Learner
It is now four months until the Charlottesville VA City Council Election that will occur on November 6, 2007. I plan to share with you through this blog a broad range of information about me, my candidacy, my thoughts on the council campaign, where I stand on current and emerging issues before the city council that will shape our lives in Charlottesville, and other material I believe will help you be an informed voter on election day - November 6, 2007.
I have also set up a campaign website at http://home.earthlink.net/~kleemanforcouncil/ and encourage you to visit there from time to time between now and election day. There is much to do in preparation for the campaign. Background material to prepare, palm cards to design, material to distribute to potential voters, people to call, meetings to organize, forums to attend, and much, much more. Fortunately, I have friends and supporters to help me in many of these tasks. I hope you, too, will appreciate what I offer as a candidate for city council and will help me become your city councilor and an active voice for Charlottesville's citizens on council.
I am running as an independent Candidate and if elected will be the first independent candidate ever to be elected to the Charlottesville City Council. I hope my success in getting elected will encourage others to run as independents in the future. I look forward to a positive and lively conversation about the future of Charlottesville in the campaign and ask you to support me in this effort.
I have little experience in blogging, but I anticipate posting to this blog will be another fun and educational experience along with the many other campaign experiences ahead.
Your comments, suggestions, and ideas are always welcome. You can send your thoughts to my campaign email address at firstname.lastname@example.org