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Charlottesville considering road diet as part of Fifth Street solutions

Charlottesville drivers may find themselves on a diet.

One proposed solution to crashes on Fifth Street could include limiting the number of vehicles that can drive on the road at one time. During a joint work session between Charlottesville’s City Council and Planning Commission Tuesday, city officials discussed a potential “road diet” model.

“Road diet” is an industry term for limiting the number of lanes on road to limit the number of vehicles driving on it at the same time, according to city traffic engineer Brennen Duncan.

The proposed road diet would decrease the number of lanes on Fifth Street by creating a dedicated bus lane, dedicated bike lane and one driving lane divided by a median. This model also includes two sidewalks.

The city is in the middle of a six-month study that started in March that will lead up to an August deadline for the city to submit to the Virginia Department of Transportation a SmartScale project application to fund redesign of the road.

City staff conducted speed studies and an analysis of crash data. The study also included two online surveys and in-person community input sessions held in April.

City staff and consultants used the study to build upon a 2018 corridor study to develop options for a redesign. While city officials didn’t vote on a specific option, and most commissioners and councilors felt the options needed tweaking and further studies, there was some support for the road diet option pending consideration of problems.

“I lean toward the road diet, but I do have a concern of us doing that with the level of information we have now. It does seem that more study and information is needed. I’m particularly concerned if there are unintended consequences for the surrounding neighborhoods and if there will be increased traffic through them,” councilor Michael Payne said.

Other options include the addition of an enhanced bicycle and pedestrian lane with restricted crossing u-turns, and addition of roundabouts.

Commissioner Hosea Mitchell said he’s not “too geeked” about any of the options, and was not a supporter of the road diet.

“I have concerns about congestion from [Interstate] 64 that cut through traffic,” Mitchell said of the road diet option. He said he understands desire for another study, but he also thinks the city needs to look into solutions that can be implemented quickly.

“We need to act quickly. We need to do something,” he said.

Based on the current study, city staff said the pros of the road diet are consistent speeds throughout the road, and separation for bikes and pedestrians. But the cons are that a road diet could lead to significant congestion and queuing under the existing conditions.

“I’m not delighted with any of the options,” commissioner Jody Lahendro said. “I would lean toward the road diet, but I would strongly request an alternative be looked at that somehow opens up the bus lane during rush hour for traffic.”

Duncan said after a study is done on the impacts of the road diet option, he may be able to recommend the road diet option to Planning Commission and City Council.

The city has been working toward a redesign of Fifth Street for several years, but recent fatal crashes on the road have given renewed urgency to the project. Community members and organizations have been lobbying the city to do more to prevent future tragedies.

Seven people have been killed in accidents on the road in the last six years. Most recently, a Richmond woman was killed in a New Year’s Day crash on the road.

Four people were killed in 2020 in accidents on Fifth Street. Rahmean Rose, 23, was killed in a motorcycle collision, and Dustin Parr, 30, was killed in a reckless driving crash. Devin Stinnie, 28, and Rashod Walton, 23, were killed in a car crash later that year.

Eric Betthauser, 43, a music teacher at Western Albemarle High and Henley Middle schools, was killed by a drunken driver in 2016. Quintus Brooks, 20, was killed in a crash in 2018.

Following the January fatality, City Council voted to decrease the speed limit on Fifth Street from 45mph to 40mph.

City staff will need a resolution of support from City Council for a redesign proposal prior to the Aug. 1 deadline for SmartScale project proposals.


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