During a public forum at City Space last Thursday, about 70 residents gathered with City Councilors and staff to voice their concerns about neighborhoods north of the Downtown Mall. With topics ranging from traffic and pedestrian accessibility to park cleanliness and Downtown police surveillance, officials and staff came away with one common thread: Residents are feeling increasingly less safe in their neighborhoods.
“People feeling unsafe is unacceptable,” said City Councilor Kathy Galvin after the meeting, an installment of the 2010 Our Town Charlottesville initiative, which brings town hall style meetings to every neighborhood throughout the year. “We have to solve this problem and not just get stuck because people can’t get beyond a conversation about civil liberties.”
In addition to traffic concerns stemming from construction and additions like the confusing painted traffic circles on Nelson and Northwood Drives, meeting attendees said they’re less inclined than ever to visit the parks near Downtown.
“This is my neighborhood, and I have really noticed a deterioration,” said Alice Gore, a long-time resident who walks her dog every day and said she’s watched the parks go downhill as they’re overrun by trash, fighting, and loud cursing. “I don’t go into Lee Park anymore. It’s filthy. I feel like I’m walking into someone’s living room…not a public space.”
Other residents added that they’ve witnessed drug deals in the park, and an increased presence of people sleeping and urinating in public view after hours. Ideas like adding surveillance cameras and tightening open hours were discussed, and City Councilor Kristin Szakos noted that an effort to ban smoking from the parks could be put on the table.
Linda Goldstein said she’s still recovering from two surgeries and time spent in intensive care after she was hit by a car in a marked crosswalk on McIntire road near Schenk’s Greenway in February of this year. She first approached the city years ago with concerns about pedestrian safety, and she said not only has she not seen any improvements in her neighborhood, but now she’s terrified to walk near McIntire Road. And with construction of the interchange at McIntire and the 250 Bypass underway, she said she expects the road will only become more dangerous.
“The amount of traffic there now is minimal compared to what could be,” Goldstein said. “How are people going to be safe as pedestrians?”
Charlottesville’s population grew by 8 percent in a year, according to the most recent census, and numbers are expected to continue to climb as developments like CityWalk and the Plaza on West Main attract more residents. But with new development comes an increase in traffic, and officials say growth is only positive if the city remains a safe place for citizens, and Galvin said she’s been hearing the same concerns for too long.
While last week’s meeting focused on the North Downtown area, Galvin said most of the grievances were representative of other city neighborhoods. She and Szakos emphasized that the town halls are good for bringing issues to the city’s attention, but Galvin said she’s not yet convinced that the meetings are serving the intended purpose of solving the problems.
“I want to see that we’re being effective,” Galvin said. “It sounded like a lot of the issues I’ve heard before. Did we not do any better from last year?”