BLACKSBURG—Shadow Lake Village residents and neighbors expressed their displeasure regarding biker safety on Shadow Lake Road, and their disappointment over the new, but pedestrian-hostile University Boulevard development and delays in the Huckleberry Trail extension at Tuesday’s Blacksburg Town Council meeting.
Citizens cited what appeared to them to be an overall disconnect between the town’s walkable, bikeable comprehensive plan intentions and they deem to be the car-centric results.
Members of the Lazar family, who live in Shadow Lake Village, each took a theme in their presentation to the council. Molly Lazar pointed out that Shadow Lake Village had “at great expense” put in a bike lane on Shadow Lake Road, yet the neighboring developer was not required to continue it, forcing walkers and bikers to choose between the walking in the road or wading into a ditch.
“For-profit builders have put in nothing,” Ms. Lazar said. “Development has made it unnecessarily difficult for neighbors, many of whom are older and low-income who walk with their groceries on that road.”
Anne Larson, a parent at Blacksburg’s New School weighed in to point out that non-profits seem to be held to a standard to which for-profits aren’t.
“We put in a sidewalk to no where. Eleven years later, we’re still waiting [for developers to continue it],“ she said.
Larson also mentioned the peculiar positioning of the new sidewalk ringing the Blacksburg Golf Course, explaining the brand-new sidewalk just ends, decanting dog-walkers, joggers, and bikers into the tangle of streets at Cohee and Palmer.
“How are these decisions being made?” she asked.
Ms. Lazar’s husband, Peter, took the pointer next to cite portions of the Blacksburg comprehensive plan and the contradiction between its stated goals and the car-centric results of the new University Boulevard development.
Presenting photos of the corner at Price’s Fork Road and University, demonstrated that, with no pedestrian access to shops on the Price’s Fork frontage, people had resorted to crashing through the landscaping. Lazar held that the promised project emphasizing walkability, had not reached that standard.
“Is this smart, sustainable growth?” he asked.
Lazar’s eldest daughter, a sophomore at Blacksburg High School, recalled, as a 5th grader being excited about the prospect of biking to school with her friends on the Huckleberry Trail.
“They talked about a path by 2014,” she said.
A second Lazar daughter said, “I am 13. I was so excited to be able to bike to school. Then plans changed and it was hard to bike and walk without worrying about being hit by a car.”
Following the Lazar family, a Shadow Lake neighbor, also a medical doctor, presented safety aspects and data associated with pedestrian injury and fatalities on roads without sidewalks, emphasizing the vulnerability of children.
“Spleens, livers, lungs crushed. Head injuries. They never recover even if they survive. Parents families, society. Everyone pays the price,” she said.
She contended that cars and people – even bikes and people – have a hard time accommodating each other.
She held that, while the Town of Blacksburg has made a formal commitment to pedestrians, their waivers and exceptions to developers have let them dodge responsibility. “One of the purposes of society is public safety,” she concluded.
Other neighbors told ironic stories of returning from the Blacksburg Sustainability Week events down vanishing bike lanes with lines rubbed off by indifferent traffic. “It’s a health and safety issue,” they said.
The presentations to the council were consistently civil and helpful. One Shadow Lake Community resident expressing her disappointment that town had not followed through with an intention of sustainability suggested, “Could we at least have a shoulder?”
The disconnect appears to be between the comprehensive plan’s lofty intentions for a sustainability human-centric community and a zoning code “from a previous century” another speaker said. “This is not what we say we want, but this is what we’re getting.”
In response to citizen complaints, Town Manager, Marc Verniel explained decision-making in the University Boulevard shopping district development and development along Shadow Lake Road.
There were discussions of drive aisles and parking, by-right development and zoning.
“We make suggestions, but they’re not binding,” said Verniel.
Suggesting that the changes would be complicated, he said, “this is not just a tweak.”
Verniel referred to the Hucklebery Connector as “an on-going saga” explaining that the project, despite $200,000 in state grants, had been bogged down by regulation.
However, he and others on the council encouraged the Lazar family, especially young Lazars, to participate in the Corridor Committee, a group of citizen-appointees who make decisions concerning the preservation, use and expansion of Blacksburg’s greenways, corridors and bike-walkways.
“That committee meets on the third Wednesdays at 7:30 in the morning,” said councilman John Bush. “We’re going to do an update on the bike path Master Plan at the end of November work session.”
These criticisms came fast on the heels of the council’s self-congratulations for and approval of a townhouse infill on Marlington Street.
“This is exactly the kind of development we want on the transit line. Walk to businesses. Thanks for being creative, “ Krisha Chachra said.
“Thank you for not maxing out. I think the scale of this is modest. It’s more of these projects that we need,” Bush said.