Trapped: Birdwood threatens lawsuit over dangerous exit

Laura Rydin at the Birdwood Road entrance to her neighborhood off of  the 250 Bypass.  She and her neighbors are fed up with only having one entrance to their neighborhood, and only one exit.  The four Do Not Enter signs seem excessive to Rydin and her neighbors.
Photo by: Amanda Maglione Laura Rydin at the Birdwood Road entrance to her neighborhood off of the 250 Bypass. She and her neighbors are fed up with only having one entrance to their neighborhood, and only one exit. The four Do Not Enter signs seem excessive to Rydin and her neighbors. Photo by: Amanda Maglione

The Birdwood neighborhood off the Route 250 Bypass bore the brunt of inconvenience during McIntire interchange construction, with backed-up traffic making it difficult to exit and no easy way to head west. Now the residents say traffic engineers’ refusal to reopen Birdwood Road has had them sliding down a steep and icy Hillcrest Road into the McIntire Road ramp, and they’re threatening legal action if someone gets hurt.

“It’s negligent behavior at this point,” said Birdwood Court Homeowners Association president Laura Rydin. She went before City Council March 2 and said the poorly plowed Hillcrest Road and black ice sent three of her neighbors shooting down a hill into oncoming traffic after the February 21 snow.

“It’s inexcusable to put our lives at risk,” said Rydin, who accused the city of “utterly ignoring our request” and forcing residents to use an unsafe exit while permanently closing down Birdwood Road, which has been there for decades. She presented a petition signed by 41 people to city councilors to reopen Birdwood Road.

The neighborhood of around 50 homes, which surrounds Covenant Lower School, has been unable to convince city and VDOT engineers that its residents can safely make a right turn onto the new U.S. 250 exit ramp from Birdwood Road.

When parents are dropping off children at Covenant, it can take about 20 minutes to get out of the neighborhood, said Rydin. And when a moving van couldn’t negotiate a left turn onto narrow Hillcrest last fall, the whole neighborhood was trapped because Birdwood Road remained resolutely closed, with four signs warning residents “do not enter” onto the U.S. 250 exit ramp.

“Overkill,” said Rydin of the excess signage.

Jeanette Janiczek, urban construction initiative programs manager with Charlottes-ville, insists Birdwood Road must remain closed for the residents’ own good. “This decision was made and reviewed by engineers from the city, VDOT, the Federal Highway Safety Administration and the project engineers,” she wrote in an e-mail. Those professionals agree that this is the safest configuration for all drivers and that no physical improvements can be made to open Birdwood Road, she said.

“This is essentially the city saying that no one knows how to use basic Driving 101 skills when it comes to arriving at a stop sign, looking all around for other cars and then executing a safe right turn,” responds Rydin.

Councilor Kathy Galvin said it was a “very terrifying thought to me we’d have people sliding off into 250.” She’s requested a meeting with City Manager Maurice Jones, Rydin and other concerned parties now that the interchange is built and “we’ve seen what happens with ice and snow.”

Galvin said she’s hearing a frustrated neighborhood. “I was shocked to learn that with the McIntire interchange there was no Birdwood neighborhood steering committee,” she said.

According to Janiczek, the city and engineers met with the neighborhood four times, starting in 2008, although those meetings did not satisfy some residents.

“You’ve got to have a more comprehensive approach than just saying, ‘No, you can’t.’” Galvin, an architect, said community engagement is a major change in how the city does business, and that it has to be done “in a very authentic way.”

She said, “We’ve got to get the right people in the room and work the puzzle pieces to get the right approach. We need to demonstrate we’re serious listening to people and proceeding to do something about it.”

“Just reopen Birdwood,” said resident Rydin. “It was there since 1912 or 1914. Do you want someone to die to prove our point?”