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New UVa student group pushes for better transit, transportation

On March 28, a woman was hospitalized after she was struck by an SUV while using a crosswalk in front of the University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education building on Emmet Street.

The night of Jan. 12, a man was struck and killed while walking his bicycle down Ivy Road near construction on UVa’s new School of Data Science building and hotel-conference center project.

That same month, Ethan Van Berkel’s car was totaled on Jefferson Park Avenue because another motorist ran a stop sign and hit him.

Van Berkel, a second-year urban and environmental planning major at UVa, said things need to change not just in one single mode of transportation — but all.

Jefferson Park Avenue, where Van Berkel totaled his car, is a prime example, he said.

“I drive on Jefferson Park Avenue; I bike on Jefferson Park Avenue; I walk on Jefferson Park Avenue; I take the bus on Jefferson Park Avenue,” Van Berkel told The Daily Progress. “All four modes are horrible.”

So last month, he and nine other students at UVa launched Move UVa, an independent student organization that is advocating for more equitable and sustainable transportation infrastructure that considers the well-being of drivers, cyclists and pedestrians on and around university Grounds.

“I feel like the university and city are not doing enough to meet the needs of, not only the student population, but the city as well,” Van Berkel said. “I feel like the university can do much better in those areas.”

Van Berkel said the organization wants to see pedestrian infrastructure separate from vehicular traffic and would like to see the bus services on and around Grounds have a wider coverage that includes more student housing locations.

“We spend a lot of time analyzing student neighborhoods, because we are still within the city of Charlottesville,” Van Berkel said. “At the same time, the university should be held responsible and should be tasked with assisting the city with these projects.”

The group is not unlike — and its early proposals are similar to — Livable Cville, a Charlottesville-based advocacy group that has been pushing for better urban planning and safer roadways in the city.

But Move UVa, as its name would suggest, has a more consistent refrain that the university must be a voice in the transportation and transit discussion with the city.

UVa has promised there are several projects are in operation and even more in the works to improve transportation on and around Grounds.

“While it is fare-free for all at this time due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Charlottesville Area Transit (CAT) system has a reciprocal ridership agreement with the University to make CAT rides free for UVA staff, faculty, students and health system staff with ID, broadening accessibility for our community members to more of the greater Charlottesville area,” UVa spokeswoman Bethanie Glover said in a statement to The Daily Progress on Wednesday.

Bike lanes and mixed-use paths currently support circulation around Central Grounds and West Grounds for cyclists, Glover said. The bicycle network also connects Central Grounds and West Grounds to bicycle facilities in the city of Charlottesville. Glover added that the university offers amenities to support cyclists which include fix-it stations, shower stalls in buildings, bike storage and bike racks on University Transit Services vehicles.

“UVA employs several strategies to enhance pedestrian safety, including grade-separated pedestrian bridges to help avoid vehicular-pedestrian conflict, flashing beacons, and lighting throughout Grounds,” Glover said.

Glover said UVa is in the middle of several projects that will include improvements to pedestrian and cyclist safety. The new Contemplative Commons multipurpose building at the Dell on Emmet Street will feature new pedestrian bridges that extend east to allow safe access across Emmet and west to access the McCormick Road Dormitories, creating a new connection from Newcomb Plaza to West Grounds residence halls.

The bridge over Emmet is not expected to open until spring of 2024, according to university project manager Sarita Herman.

The university’s construction along Ivy also has planned pedestrian, bicycle and transit accommodations along the north and south sides of the road, Glover said.

“Plans are in the works to make the McCormick Road corridor safer for pedestrians, cyclists, and people with disabilities,” Glover said. “In the Central Grounds segment of the corridor, raised table crossings and upgraded curb cuts have been implemented to meet Americans with Disabilities Act standards, and rapid flashing beacons and a 4-way stop were added.”

Construction on McCormick Road in West Grounds is also set to improve transportation through the area: widening sidewalks, upgrading curb cuts and installing a raised table crossing.

UVa has two more phases of the McCormick Road project planned for the Chapel Triangle and the ramp from Emmet Street that will improve infrastructure for pedestrians, people with disabilities and cyclists, according to the school.

Glover added that the university is developing plans to improve access for those with disabilities from the visitor garage on Emmet Street to Central Grounds.

The fledgling Move UVa still has to iron out the details of its organization, but Van Berkel said he and his peers already have a list of their own ideas and projects they are prepared to propose. He said they plan to present that list to UVa leadership and Charlottesville City Council by the end of the spring semester or during the next fall semester.


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