By Mary Jane Gore
On one side of Preston Avenue, heading up the hill from Washington Park, there’s a row of tightly packed, eclectic houses. On the other side, the road is bordered by an ivy-covered embankment.
Residents of the area are concerned about a planned bike lane, which would run up Preston on the east side—the side with the houses—and eliminate street parking for the people who live there. They argue that the other side of the street would be a better choice, because no existing parking places would be involved. They’re also upset about the way they learned of the potential change—from fliers posted on telephone poles along Preston Avenue.
“Before COVID, the first question everyone asked when coming by was ‘where do I park?’” says Boo Barnett, a homeowner on the street. “I have had people call in frustration and say ‘there are no spaces available, I’ll come later.’ The street is quieter now, but it will roar back.”
Nancy Kraus, an architectural historian and homeowner in the neighborhood asks, “Where will delivery, plumbing, electrical, HVAC, medical, and other services park?” She points out that “there are acres of land” on the opposite side of Preston, and says “there is no ill effect to putting the bike lane on the other side of the street.”
Kraus also points out that the houses are historically important, as some of the few remaining dwellings from the late- nineteenth-century Black neighborhood Kellytown.
Amanda Poncy, bicycle and pedestrian coordinator for the City of Charlottesville, says she has also heard complaints from people who live just off Preston, for example, along Hemlock Lane or in the Robinson Woods development on Cabell Avenue. Competition for spaces would increase in front of these homes if the bike lane disrupted the larger road. Adding to the stress is another proposed development, currently in the planning stage, which would create several more housing units on Cabell and provide just one off-street parking place for each unit.
Bike lane proponents have also weighed in. “This is a high-stress route [for cyclists] due to the volume and speed of vehicles using it,” Poncy says. “Providing a bike lane will reduce the stress level on the route.”
And it’s a convenient time to install the lanes: The side of Preston with the houses is slated for repaving in the spring, and lines for bike lanes could be painted at the time of repaving. Cutting in to the embankment on the other side is a more complicated project.
Poncy and Peter Krebs, an urban planner and Albemarle-Charlottesville community organizer for the Piedmont Environmental Council, notes that a bike lane is more protective for cyclists pedaling uphill toward Rugby Road.
Krebs, who works to connect the city and county for safe bike and pedestrian routes, says that what can be done now to encourage cycling and walking is especially important during the COVID-19 pandemic, when there is more demand to be outdoors pursuing safe activities. He says the project is also important from another health standpoint—reducing vehicle miles will help “to get in front of climate change,” and help people be more healthy.
Homeowners Barnett and Kraus both emphasize that they aren’t against the bike lanes, but they are opposed to the removal of street parking for residents who need the parking spaces. Barnett says that the city should postpone public discussions “until the neighborhood knows the impact that the new large units [on Cabell] would have on an already strained parking system.”
Krebs says it will be feasible, but not for a long time, to install a sidewalk on the opposite side of Preston, and that the project overall is not perfect and calls for creative responses.
In addition to angst about the possible bike lane, homeowners don’t like the way they found out about it. Poncy says that whenever parking might be removed, the city posts information about a two-week comment period on streets or other structures nearby.
Kraus says, “If I had not walked up and down the street, I would not have seen the posters.”
“The two-week comment period was over the Thanksgiving holiday, during COVID-19,” Barnett says. “The city can get in touch with you if you don’t clean the snow off your sidewalk or if you owe taxes. So, the city can get in touch if they are going to take away your parking, and they chose not to.”
Poncy says the period for public comment will extend until an ultimate decision is made next year. “Given the amount of public comment we have received, the city will be conducting further studies in this area and will notify homeowners once this occurs,” Poncy says. The next round of assessments will likely take place in February.