Albemarle Supervisors agree to test out a car-free Free Bridge Lane

The Albemarle Board of Supervisors has endorsed a plan to convert a roadway along the Rivanna River into a car-free zone called for in the Pantops Master Plan. 

“Free Bridge Lane is a low-volume, unstriped local street that extends for approximately for half a mile from Darden-Towe Park at the northern end to U.S. 250 at the Southern end,” said Jessica Hersh-Ballering, a transportation planner with Albemarle County. 

On Wednesday, Supervisors agreed to proceed with a pilot plan to halt vehicular traffic on the road in favor of a promenade. That idea comes out of a desire from the Pantops Community Advisory Committee, a group that helped shepherd the plan. 

Poet Sarah Robinson is a former member of the Pantops Community Advisory Committee who is pleased that Albemarle County is implementing the project. 

“When I was walking by the river when I first built in Riverside Village, this vision came to me of a place that could be poetry in motion,” Robinson said. “A promenade if you will where cars no longer were by the river. Where pedestrians and strollers and bikers and birdwatchers could envision seeing the river, enjoying the beauty of the river.” 

The promenade is one of two design concepts for how to transform Free Bridge Lane. The other is converting it to a one-way street, but staff is recommending a pilot project to test out the promenade.

“We have about 15 feet for the promenade and this promenade space would be shared by bicyclists and pedestrians,” Hersh-Ballering said. “There’s a lot of space leftover for amenities on either side as well as a bio-retention area which gets at that stormwater management component that was identified in the Pantops Master Plan.” 

If the pilot becomes permanent, there would be parking lots at either end. If this was to become a reality, Albemarle County would need to take ownership of the roadway from the Virginia Department of Transportation.  Staff wants to proceed with the promenade. 

“We’d like to direct the consulting team to develop a final concept design and cost estimate for a Free Bridge Lane promenade,” Hersh-Ballering said. 

The pilot project would make the minimum necessary improvements to close the road to vehicular traffic.  There’s no cost estimate yet for what that might cost and Hersh-Ballering said Supervisors would need to formally approve the pilot once it is developed. 

Dick Ruffin is the chair of the Pantops CAC and he asked Supervisors to imagine Free Bridge Lane in the summer of 2033 if they decided to proceed. 

“Ten years hence,” Ruffin said. “The promenade is alive and active and full of people young and old. Public art and other amenities go along that stretch from Darden-Towe to Riverbend. Through the efforts of the new Pantop Trails Crew, invasive species have been largely eliminated, mostly mitigated in that stretch. The Old Mill Trail is now open all the way to North Milton.”

Ruffin’s vision also includes a small pedestrian bridge across the river allowing people to walk to a restaurant on the west side of the River in Charlottesville. Different trails from all across Pantops lead to this area. 

“More important, the Rivanna River has become a focal point for this community,” Ruffin said. 

Ruffin said Supervisors’ decision to proceed with the promenade will help that vision come to fruition. 

The idea has the support of Rivanna District Supervisor Bea LaPisto-Kirtley.

“I think this is something that we can give back to the community, a beautiful, beautiful promenade space for everyone,” LaPisto-Kirtley said. 

Hersh-Ballering said staff cannot just move the project forward without a cost estimate which will be generated as part of the pilot design. 

Before you go: The time to write and research of this article is covered by paid subscribers to Charlottesville Community Engagement. In fact, this particular installment comes from the March 3, 2023 edition of the program. To ensure this research can be sustained, please consider becoming a paid subscriber or contributing monthly through Patreon.

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