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City review of Fifth Street safety goes to the people

A four-lane Charlottesville thoroughfare with a median that has been the center of conversation and controversy after several fatal crashes is up for neighborhood discussions and redesign.

Community members have been pushing the city to do more to ensure safety after several fatal car accidents on Fifth Street. 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.

City Council voted earlier this year to reduce the speed limit on Fifth Street from 45 to 40 miles per hour.

City traffic engineer Brennen Duncan said changing the speed limit alone isn’t going to help prevent the reckless driving that causes fatal crashes. That’s why the city is looking at five alternative designs for Fifth Street.

“The first option was what was developed in 2018 as part of this street corridor plan then, but that really didn’t address a lot of the concerns that have come up with the more recent fatal crashes. So we’ve worked with the consultant to kind of come up with these other options,” Duncan said.

Community members participated in two public input sessions at Tonsler Park Monday to share their concerns and get an idea of what can be done to make the road safer.

“I am very concerned about pedestrian and the bike infrastructure in Charlottesville, and also concerned about climate change. And I think in this project, we have an opportunity to encourage people to drive less,” said city resident Aileen Bartels. She said she liked the options presented that included protected bike lanes.

Matthew Gillikin, city resident and leader of community advocacy group Livable Cville, said he wants to feel more comfortable that his family is safe walking and biking on Fifth Street. He said he often avoids the area when walking with his children due to traffic safety concerns, and that his wife takes a longer bike route to work in order to avoid Fifth Street.

“I like that the city is actively pursuing meaningful changes to the design of the road, specifically I like that they’re exploring ways to slow down traffic and to create safer facilities for bikers,” Gillikin said.

The first option presented at the meeting includes an enhanced bike and pedestrian lane and restricted crossing U-turns. The second option is similar to the first, but adds a two-lane roundabout.

The third option utilizes a “road diet,” which Duncan said is an industry term for limiting the number of lanes and therefore limiting the number of vehicles on the road at a time. The fourth option expands on the road diet model by adding a one lane roundabout.

A fifth option focuses on low-cost safety measures that can be added, such as flashing speed signs and flashing yellow lights.

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

“SmartScale is one of the best sources of funding for these types of local projects in the state. So that’s why we’re aiming at it, why we’re trying to secure the funding,” said James Freas, the city’s director of Neighborhood Development Services.

Duncan said community input will help inform the design that is submitted for funding.

“We’re just trying to get a feel for which of these options community members either like or don’t like and possibly how we can maybe tweak some of these options, or combine two of the options to get a better option,” he said. “That’s the input that we’re looking for, and we’re on a pretty aggressive timeline.”

The city also conducted an online survey of community members to inform the options. Duncan and Freas said some of the main concerns they heard from the community include reducing crash rates, fixing congested intersections and being able to safely move through the corridor to work or school, especially with children.

Community members can learn more about the various options and provide input up through May 6 by visiting


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