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September 6, 2013 7:33 AM   Subscribe

Inspired by the NYT Pulitzer prize-winning “Snowfall” report, the Charlottesville VA paper the C-ville Weekly decided to "take our last best shot at untangling the Gordian Knot that is the Bypass problem" in one long, media-rich article.
posted by Potomac Avenue (43 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
That was way subtler and more tolerable than Snowfall was. I approve.
posted by Rory Marinich at 7:38 AM on September 6, 2013


Hahaha awesome! I grew up in Charlottesville and this has been a perennial controversy since before I was born. It was always understood in my family that the local government would never give up on this, and it would never get built.
posted by selfnoise at 7:40 AM on September 6, 2013


Hahah they want to spend $240,000,000 to build their road. Meanwhile, if you go the Amtrak website and enter "Charlottesville" as a destination, it just plays an endless looping fart noise.
posted by Ghost Mode at 7:44 AM on September 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


There's kind of already a bypass though, isn't there? When I was in school and took cab rides to the airport, they never took 29.
posted by LionIndex at 7:49 AM on September 6, 2013


By the way, the fact that an alt-weekly in a small city had the resources to do this is also telling. Cville is an oasis of money and white, middle class yuppie dreams in rural Virginia, with all the good and bad that brings.
posted by selfnoise at 7:49 AM on September 6, 2013


(Charlottesville does have an Amtrak station.)
posted by nangar at 7:53 AM on September 6, 2013


This seems to be built on Wordpress — anyone know of a plug-in that does this?
posted by beagle at 7:54 AM on September 6, 2013


I drive through there once or twice a year, usually during holiday rushes, from DC to Charlotte, NC, to avoid the I-95/85 madness. Sure, there's a bit of a bottleneck, but it's never awful. Traffic flow would improve with better lane usage, I think, better traffic engineering, especially around the Walmart. Use all the lanes, folks!
posted by MrMoonPie at 7:55 AM on September 6, 2013


(I know it does. Otherwise you wouldn't even be able to enter on the Amtrak website to get the fart noise. The point is that it doesn't matter because any non-road based transit service in this area is garbage.)
posted by Ghost Mode at 7:57 AM on September 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


What MrMoonPie said. I drive through there maybe once a year and never have an issue, but the larger issue seems to me to be that this is a textbook case of a road that will just lead to increased sprawl and a dying downtown. It doesn't really solve any problems. It just creates more down the road (so to speak)...and about $40 million per mile is just flabbergasting.
posted by idb at 8:17 AM on September 6, 2013


Traffic flow would improve with better lane usage, I think, better traffic engineering, especially around the Walmart. Use all the lanes, folks!

Traffic flow would improve with better traffic engineering around the Walmart is true in every large town/small city I've ever lived in.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 8:18 AM on September 6, 2013


Completely unrelated to the content of the article, but wow, this page design is gorgeous. And readable on a mobile device. Well done, C-Ville.
posted by ashirys at 8:21 AM on September 6, 2013


The NYT "Snowfall" report was exciting, but it lacked the drama of Robert's Rules of Order.
posted by Drab_Parts at 8:22 AM on September 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


IT'S A BYPASS, YOUVE GOT TO BUILD BYPASSES
posted by entropicamericana at 8:23 AM on September 6, 2013 [10 favorites]


I live in the Northern Va. area and frequently have to drive down 29 to Lynchburg where my mom lives. I've been doing it for 20 years now, and I've seen what happened to 29 north of town. I've seen it close up. And at length.

If I were President, we wouldn't be talking about Syria right now. My first official act would be cruise missile strikes on Charlottesville.

There's no point in building another bypass if you're just going to let them line it with shopping malls and box stores and weird theme restaurants that are just going to be inappropriately styled cheapass Chinese joints in five years like what they did with 29 north of town.
posted by Naberius at 8:26 AM on September 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


My first official act would be cruise missile strikes on Charlottesville.

That would mean that you destroy all Bodos in existence, which would be considered an act of terror and treason, so you'd be booted from office by an angry coup immediately.
posted by Flamingo at 8:29 AM on September 6, 2013 [8 favorites]


Traffic flow would improve with better lane usage, I think, better traffic engineering, especially around the Walmart. Use all the lanes, folks!

Traffic flow would improve with better traffic engineering around the Walmart is true in every large town/small city I've ever lived in.


Worth noting, the Wal-Mart/Sam's Club are located just north of the intersection with Rio Rd (pronounced rye-oh) that keeps getting mentioned in the article as one of the best places to put an overpass. In the large aerial shot at the end of the article, the really big, divided, 8-lane road angling from top to bottom is Route 29, and the view is looking south. Wal-Mart and Sam's Club are the large buildings in the center foreground of the image. A ways beyond them, Rio Road intersects the 29 where the 29 has the dogleg; just to upper left of the intersection is the Fashion Square Mall, which is one of the only enclosed malls in the area - most other shopping areas are big strip malls.

There's no point in building another bypass if you're just going to let them line it with shopping malls and box stores and weird theme restaurants that are just going to be inappropriately styled cheapass Chinese joints in five years like what they did with 29 north of town.

Yeah, but that's a separate issue from the bypass itself and solvable through zoning. But you're correct, if you're going to do the bypass, you can't really allow commercial zoning anywhere near it.
posted by LionIndex at 8:42 AM on September 6, 2013


I approve missile strikes of Bodo's. They won't toast my goddamn bagel.
posted by emkelley at 8:44 AM on September 6, 2013


See? See? I already have a coalition of the willing!

mom? yeah, it's me. i'm just calling to say that real soon now i'll be able to visit more often. because i know you like that. i love you too, mom
posted by Naberius at 8:54 AM on September 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


Actually, I was wrong - Wal-Mart is actually out of the bottom of the frame. The giant building at the bottom of the photo is Lowes.
posted by LionIndex at 8:54 AM on September 6, 2013


No, you're right. It is the Wal-mart. Wal-mart's parking is east(ish) of the building itself and Lowe's parking is south(ish) of the building itself.

The section of 29 just north of Wal-mart (including a new bridge over the Rivanna) was widened not too long ago (10 years or so?) and the traffic pattern just north of there around Forest Lakes has changed with the commercial development of that area in the last five or six years - addition of a Whole Foods, Target, Kohl's, etc.

The whole situation is a pretty mixed bag which definitely shakes out along various parties' interests. It's interesting to see how some folks are trying to pass the buck when they say things like "It's out of our hands now."

One side note - I read the print article when it came out. The digital format is pretty incredible and added a lot to the story. Also, C'ville has not one but two alt-weeklies.
posted by Gronk at 9:35 AM on September 6, 2013


Whoa! That is great! I hope they come up with an above-board and suitable solution to their problem, and I hope this little paper keeps putting out material like this.
posted by Mister_A at 9:43 AM on September 6, 2013


If you're using Chrome, enter the Konami Code.
posted by djb at 9:50 AM on September 6, 2013 [7 favorites]


If you're using Chrome, enter the Konami Code.

AHAHAHHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH works in Firefox too and also AHHAHAHAAHAHAHAHA
posted by Potomac Avenue at 9:56 AM on September 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


I drive through there maybe once a year and never have an issue

I guess it depends on what you call an issue. When I was at UVa in the late 80s and early 90s, traffic on 29 between Mem Gym and Fashion Square seemed pretty wretched to me. Sure, it wasn't as bad as 395 in NoVa or 401 in Toronto, but pretty unreasonably bad for a town that size.

(Doesn't mean a bypass makes any sense)

but the larger issue seems to me to be that this is a textbook case of a road that will just lead to increased sprawl and a dying downtown.

29 already doesn't go through downtown. Doesn't come remotely near it. Downtown Charlottesville is well east of there on Business 250 and SR 20. *checks* Yay, still right!
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:58 AM on September 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


this is a textbook case of a road that will just lead to increased sprawl and a dying downtown

You have to keep in mind that Charlottesville is not like other places (where what you say would be mostly true). Downtown Charlottesville isn't going anywhere. Downtown is UVA. It doesn't cater to the people who live in Charlottesville - they either abandoned it or were shouldered out long ago. Downtown caters to an entirely different class of people who show up in Range Rovers and sip wine on the porches of charming little B&Bs with their offspring who are studying law or business administration nearby, and they admire the old brick buildings and they talk about "heritage" and the Cavs season, or maybe Thomas Jefferson. I don't know what the fuck they talk about, but I won't miss them when I've turned the place into a crater.

It's a totally different world from outer Charlottesville which is indeed all sprawl as the working and the barely managing to hang on middle classes drive up and down the road from one nationally branded and engineered consumer experience to the next until they've met their quotas and are allowed to commute home and get some sleep before it all starts over again in the morning.
posted by Naberius at 10:22 AM on September 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


beagle: This seems to be built on Wordpress — anyone know of a plug-in that does this?

Looks like a custom theme (CSS and JS to make the fancy stuff happen) that they built specifically for this essay. The CSS is built using Foundation but the Javascript has been minified, hard to tell if they're using existing plugins or writing their own code. Sorry!

posted by Zephyrial at 10:30 AM on September 6, 2013


There's no point in building another bypass if you're just going to let them line it with shopping malls and box stores and weird theme restaurants that are just going to be inappropriately styled cheapass Chinese joints in five years like what they did with 29 north of town.

That's true, but shouln't be the case if it's a limited access road, which is what I thought the plan was. I've done this drive, from Northern VA to Danville, dozens of times. There's essentially zero sprawl on the Danville bypass, or the Lynchburg bypass, or the Amherst bypass, or even the part of 29 which bypasses downtown Charlottesville.
posted by dsfan at 10:32 AM on September 6, 2013


I wasn't as precise as I should have been when I said "downtown". I meant in a more generic sense. I strongly suspect that the businesses that get bypassed by the bypass will die and you'll get big empty buildings and strip malls with one tenant hanging on while the new interchanges get all the growth until someone suggests that another bypass is needed.
posted by idb at 10:38 AM on September 6, 2013


Charlottesville is lucky to have two alt weeklies that are interested in pursuing local news and features (they did excellent work with stories that went national like Pat Kluge Goes Bankrupt, The Board of Visitors v. President Sullivan at UVa, The Alcohol Beverage Commission busts 20 Year Old Women For Buying Water, etc) AND a great non-profit journalistic entity (here's their coverage of the western bypass) dedicated to news government, growth, development, education, etc. that has been a fantastic resource for the past few years. (There are other good independent weeklies that serve more outlying areas that are also quite good.)

I have strong feelings about the Western Bypass; this latest invocation of it represents a plan that is largely unchanged after 35+ years even though the population has boomed, traffic needs and patterns has changed, and the number of affected people and companies is dramatically larger. To many people, this might indicate that a plan be reviewed and updated to take into account these facts. To the supervisors who suddenly reanimated it, that didn't seem necessary. The northern terminus is not north enough; the southern terminus is oddly placed.

The current 250/29 bypass was built and almost immediately had to be amended (adding the Barrack's Road exit ramps; creating that "temporary" set of on and off-ramps that has been there for 40+ years to go west on 250 near Birdwood even though there is an less-used official exit 125 feet away ... featuring, among other things, a shortened merge lane and a bridge footing just beyond the merge, an exit which people generally avoid). If this bypass is built, we will just be repeating history by installing a road that will not serve the current population adequately today, much less tomorrow. I think a bypass that smartly avoids the sprawl would be lovely, but this is not that bypass.

The City and the County both have a long history of dodgy traffic planning and approval issues (Who in their right mind approves the most visible exit from a parking lot to cross an exit ramp to get back onto the main road? Who gives a developer their own exit stoplight, but doesn't make them move it 15 feet to line up with the entrance main Post Office, instantly making it more accessible to get to and leave said post office?), especially when the interests of developers can be fanned. If I wanted to depress myself, I'd look to see who has been buying up land between Barracks Road and the Schools.
posted by julen at 10:40 AM on September 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Oh god, this smells just like the tunnel project that's underway here in Seattle. Right down to the research contradicting the claims about what the road will do.
posted by tychotesla at 10:40 AM on September 6, 2013


29 already doesn't go through downtown. Doesn't come remotely near it. Downtown Charlottesville is well east of there on Business 250 and SR 20. *checks* Yay, still right!

Sure, but 29 is where all the commercial development has happened. Downtown is (or used to be) full of all the categories of stores that the "category killers" kill. So, if you're the kind of person who's concerned about losing your local indie bookstore, that bookstore would more likely be located downtown or somewhere on Main/University in shopkeeper-style brick building, while Barnes & Noble will be in a power center on 29, sucking its business away. The complaint about Wal-Marts forcing downtown businesses to close was never that they were building the Wal-Marts dowtown - they're always built just outside of town, and then draw all the traffic away from the core.

That's true, but shouln't be the case if it's a limited access road, which is what I thought the plan was. I've done this drive, from Northern VA to Danville, dozens of times. There's essentially zero sprawl on the Danville bypass, or the Lynchburg bypass, or the Amherst bypass, or even the part of 29 which bypasses downtown Charlottesville.

And it can probably be that way here too, but you'd need to restrict development along the corridor and all the east-west access roads to the bypass to keep the sprawl centered on the existing stretch of 29 and not allow the gravity of traffic heading for the bypass to suck development that way.
posted by LionIndex at 10:43 AM on September 6, 2013


I grew up just outside of Charlottesville, and my mom just spent most of her career as an elected official trying to avert the bypass. She's still fighting it now. Weird to see this issue show up on Mefi.
posted by gingerbeer at 11:03 AM on September 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


this is a textbook case of a road that will just lead to increased sprawl and a dying downtown.

It seems more like a second bypass to me. The pattern is, first the highway (state route) goes through downtown. Then it's rerouted and the bypass route is straight, wide and has lots of auto-oriented businesses with parking. Fast forward to today, and that first bypass is congested and full of traffic lights. So you build the second bypass, which is an expressway.

I drove through Sandpoint, Idaho on US 95 this past week and was surprised to find a bypass. *That* was a textbook bypass of downtown. I went in to the town on the way down, and it still seems like a nice place with street activity. On the way back home I zipped right past it and felt a little guilty.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 11:08 AM on September 6, 2013


That's true, but shouln't be the case if it's a limited access road, which is what I thought the plan was. I've done this drive, from Northern VA to Danville, dozens of times. There's essentially zero sprawl on the Danville bypass, or the Lynchburg bypass, or the Amherst bypass, or even the part of 29 which bypasses downtown Charlottesville.

This is true, though my experience is more with the Amherst and Lynchburg bypasses.

This issue pretty much was raised right around the time my family moved to Charlottesville and the entirety of my life up until I left town for college has been filled with the mythical 29 Bypass. It existed like some kind of local inside joke, a reference to things that were always talked about but never expected to happen. The celerity in which the events have unfolded astonished everyone in my family (I learned from my parents who still call C'ville home). Unless something throws a complete wrench in the plans, I don't see it not happening at this point, especially since the Commonwealth is pretty much gung ho on it.

I recall 29's expansion and the proliferation of bumper stickers which said something along the line of "Sorry I'm late for X, took 29!" Even after they finished 29's expansion, it really didn't result in a major difference in traffic at that time, back in the late 80's I think it was (early 90s?). The biggest problem I notice when I go home periodically is just the volume of cars have dramatically increased, adding more driving time to every spot I want to go to in my short stays. A part of me wants to think, "Oooh, the bypass will make a difference!" but I'm pretty sure it won't. The biggest difference on a local scale would be for everyone on the western side of town who want to go hit up the big box stores on the northern side of town, like Sam's Club or Target or TJ Maxx, etc...and also get to the airport a lot faster.

Right now, there is a default bypass in the form of Georgetown to Hydraulic to Rio to either 29 or even push it to the road that runs between Wal-Mart and Sam's Club. You can also hop on 64 and use it as a default bypass, too. Neither are perfect, but when you don't need to hit up something on 29, they do the trick of avoiding the worse traffic.

I also find the idea of these interchanges kind of crazy and probably a complete loss cause. In one spot, a brand new high end shopping center (new imax movie theater, brooks brothers store, etc...) just opened up a year or two ago. I don't see them wanting to risk the disruption a major interchange would cause in its construction. All the major retailers with corporate or large financial backing are sorted along these routes.

Also, the bypass in no way would affect the downtown. The Downtown Mall (enclosed, pedestrian mall now) is a destination unto itself, where businesses either managed to survive the original shift of retail from Main Street to 29 (where the Mall, Barrack's Road, Seminole Square, Albemarle Square, Rio Hill are all located), or entered afterward and will survive because they're niche or original / desirable enough to make people want to visit them. Their clientele won't be stolen away by other retail developments, and they won't move to those, either. It's an entertainment sector.

The chief problem is the population and the transportation authorities in Charlottesville have really only had one answer to the increase in traffic - lane expansion and more traffic lights.

Anyways, I'm still bummed over the Ragged Mountain Dam deal. I went walking back into the woods which I had wandered through most of my childhood and found the area around the reservoir just annihilated by the project.
posted by Atreides at 11:25 AM on September 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


I have lived in Charlottesville for 10 years and transit issues in this area seem neigh impossible to achieve consensus. We recently broke ground on a boondoggle of a roadway called the Meadowcreek Parkway that has been in the works for 40 years. It has been in and out of court (and fashion) a dozen times but it is being built. Some love it and others hate it.

I worked with a group (www.cvillerail.org) for a while to improve train options in the area. We have increased commuter train lines between Charlottesville and DC but there is more to be done. No one believed that morning and night service would be used, but it is a profitable line now.

I've seen bike lanes go through a terrible fight and afterward traffic studies confirmed that more people commute to work in the area because of them. It seems like every good idea has to go through a ring of fire to get done around here.

The going theory is that a handful of people own as much land as God in the area and the politics of land use is pretty much governed by how these blue bloods will make out for selling land in the deals. I honestly don't know if that is the case, but it seems plausible. What I do know is that no square foot of asphalt gets a chance to harden in Charlottesville without an embarrassingly bitter fight.

I couldn't honestly tell you if the bypass is a good idea or not. In this way I'm probably like most people in the area who don't make a big stink about it one way or the other. It does however irk me a bit to see such a staggering amount of money proposed for something that has very little consensus about whether it will be a beneficial project for the community. On that note I'm inclined against it but nobody is asking my opinion.
posted by dgran at 11:47 AM on September 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


By the way, the fact that an alt-weekly in a small city had the resources to do this is also telling. Cville is an oasis of money and white, middle class yuppie dreams in rural Virginia, with all the good and bad that brings.

Not really—their parent company folded their other paper in town today.
posted by waldo at 3:01 PM on September 6, 2013


I know it does. Otherwise you wouldn't even be able to enter on the Amtrak website to get the fart noise. The point is that it doesn't matter because any non-road based transit service in this area is garbage.

That's not even a little bit true. I take Amtrak to Washington D.C. very frequently, with a choice of two morning trains and two evening trains. A new train was added a few years ago, with the line extending south to Lynchburg, and about to be extended to Roanoke. We have a great local airport, without any naked-scan machines, served by Delta, US Airways, United, and American Airways, with frequent flights to Dulles, Charlotte, Chicago, and JFK.

The bypass situation (or, rather, bypass bypass, because we're building a bypass around our bypass) is a terrible mess, but that doesn't mean that we aren't doing well with other methods of transit.
posted by waldo at 3:05 PM on September 6, 2013


Downtown Charlottesville isn't going anywhere. Downtown is UVA. It doesn't cater to the people who live in Charlottesville - they either abandoned it or were shouldered out long ago.

What in the world are you talking about?

We have two downtowns. There's "The Corner," originally the independent town of University, VA, located west of Charlottesville. That's the corner of 14th and University Ave, located across from the old entrance to the University of Virginia. The Corner district is the downtown for UVA. That's bars, restaurants, gift shops, etc., backing up to apartment complexes and single-family homes turned into student housing. 95% of the residents in this neighborhood are students. (Here's that spot on a map.)

Then there's "downtown," anchored by The Downtown Mall. This is the real downtown, in the sense that it's where offices are, people own homes, there's a grocery store, there are ten times more businesses, etc. It's separated from The Corner by a ten-block span of West Main Street. It backs up to a pair of large public housing complexes, and is just a few blocks from a third. (Here's that spot on a map.)

Downtown is not UVA. Downtown is people like me. (I from Charlottesville, but went to Virginia Tech, so I'm pretty sensitive to the presence of UVA-related things.) Downtown is the opposite of abandoned—famously vibrant, often featured in travel guides, glossy New York Times Magazine articles (I was accidentally in the cover photo of one), etc. Walk along the Downtown Mall on a Friday night, you'll see poor people, rich people, and hordes of middle class kids. The city is 20% African-American, and you'll see that well represented on a stroll through downtown.

I don't know what Charlottesville you're talking about—the one you boast about "turning into a crater"—but it's no Charlottesville I've ever been to. I don't think I'd like it very much at all.
posted by waldo at 3:21 PM on September 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


I live just a dozen miles west of Charlottesville, and it is indeed fascinating to read about the locals on Mefi. This article is the most lucid post on the story behind bypass that I've seen. Thanks for posting.
posted by 4ster at 6:06 PM on September 6, 2013


All of us C'villians should have a Meetup.

Just not on 29.
posted by Gronk at 6:38 PM on September 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


The by-pass will be bad for the Republicans as it will allow liberal Charlottesville to expand. Fools have destoryed themselves.
posted by humanfont at 7:13 PM on September 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Not really—their parent company folded their other paper in town today.

I'm all up for alt-weekly papers, but I had one gripe with The Hook. I never found any evidence other than quotes going back to the founders of the paper that "The Hook" was ever a nickname for Charlottesville. I went so far as to question my neighbor (now passed), who had lived in Charlottesville since at least the 50's if he had ever heard the term used and he claimed ignorance. Thus, whenever I saw a copy lying around at my parents' house or around town when I visited, I wanted to point and scream, "Fraud!" It's entirely possible there is some citation, a source, a year book from UVA, which drops the line "The Hook," but I can't find it online. And so, an ongoing issue, a perennial conflict of mine for whenever I visited my hometown, has now been resolved.

I do know my parents enjoyed reading it, tho', so I'm sure they'll miss it.

Anyways...I'll stop before I start my screed about how everyone needs to stop moving to the town I visit on a bi-annual basis because I'm getting sick of all the traffic. (Yep, brought it back around to the topic of the thread!)

Oh, and for people who haven't been back for a while, Legends in the mall is now gone. So is McDonalds (I really miss the bizarre butterfly collections and the self-playing piano).
posted by Atreides at 10:21 AM on September 7, 2013


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