Cherry Avenue runs for a mile and a half through central Charlottesville and serves as a major roadway for people seeking to get to the University of Virginia Health System. It also runs through a residential neighborhood and passes by both Johnson Elementary School and Buford Middle School. That’s not the only reason people have been asking for the speed limit to be lowered, but it’s a big reason for why it’s happening now.
“Especially with the renewed push for safe routes to schools and the recent school bus shortage, staff’s attention has been redirected to some of our older efforts,” said Brennen Duncan, the city’s traffic engineer.
The reduction of the speed limit is also high on the list of tasks the Fifeville Neighborhood Association would like the City to undertake.
“The neighborhood association is very much in support of changing the speed limit to 25 miles per hour and certainly excited to see the recommendations for any reduction but very much hoping you all will consider reducing the entire portion of the road that’s under consideration for new speed limit to 25 miles per hour,” said Sarah Malpass, vice president of the Fifeville Neighborhood Association.
Duncan’s recommendation was to lower the limit to 25 miles per hour from Cleveland Avenue to Roosevelt Brown Boulevard and to 30 miles per hour from the section from Roosevelt Brown to Ridge Street.
“This is much more of a commercial nature and connects directly to Ridge Street with its speed limit of 40 miles per hour which was recently reduced and is on the direct route to the UVA hospital,” Duncan said.
Hearing the concern of the Fifeville Neighborhood Association, City Councilor Brian Pinkston asked a question.
“What would be the objection to lowering the section from Ridge Street to Roosevelt Brown by another five miles an hour?” Pinkston asked.
“I believe the objection is if you do so you are creating a situation in which police has to enforce a speed limit that probably not be adhered to,” Duncan said.
Vice Mayor Juandiego Wade said he used to make similar recommendations for speed limits when he worked for Albemarle County as a transportation planner. He supported Duncan’s recommendation.
“I concur with staff, I literally did hundreds of these when I did planning for the county for a lot of neighborhood streets in the county,” Wade said.
Mayor Lloyd Snook said he didn’t want to second guess city staff, but pointed out a problem.
“The crosswalks at the bottom of the hill by Tonsler Park are some of the most dangerous crosswalks we’ve got in the city right now,” Snook said, while also acknowledging the steep grade that descends down from Ridge Street.
Traffic calming efforts have already taken place at that location, including narrowing lanes, installing a bump-out, and putting in a rapid flashing beacon.
Pinkston said he would support 25 mph all the way to Ridge Street.
“People in the neighborhood have asked for that,” Pinkston said. “It seems like a small thing to do. Perhaps it sets up a situation where it can’t be enforced. I know that there are going to be more good things happening on Cherry in that area and the small area plan called for that.”
In recent years, there’s been a resurgence of activities at Tonsler Park, including a vibrant basketball league that attracts hundreds of people on game day. A new trail connecting Tonsler Park to Blue Ridge Commons and 7 ½ Street will open on October 1. Woodard Properties has purchased the former Estes IGA and plans to redevelop it, and are currently updating the façade of the Cherry Avenue Shopping Center which the company purchased in July 2021.
With Councilor Sena Magill absent, Michael Payne’s vote would determine if the item would get a majority, if there would be a stalemate, or if the matter would be deferred to another meeting when all Councilors were present.
“I would say my instinct is that 25 mph the whole way would be the best but because I’m not a traffic engineer and I have absolutely no knowledge of that work, I have a really hard time feeling in any way confident about that instinct because I have no idea what the implications or engineering reasons for the recommendations are,” Payne said.
That left a stalemate, and both Pinkston and Snook opted to support Duncan’s recommendation rather than wait for a deciding vote. The new speed limits will go into effect next week.
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