Westhall and Westlake residents have seen traffic and speeding problems increase dramatically in their neighborhoods over the last few years as an extension of Eastern Avenue connecting Park Ridge Drive to Westhall Drive exposed the area to an influx of through-traffic. After residents began to complain to the county about the problems but made little progress toward solutions, relative newcomer Marc McKenney decided to try using his public administration background to bring the disparate groups together.
“I’m kind of a ‘government nerd’ and especially love the concept of local government, so I thought maybe an actual stakeholder meeting to address these issues might help,” said McKenney. He contacted White Hall Board of Supervisors representative Ann Mallek, who helped arrange a meeting with members of the county’s Community Development team, VDOT, and the Albemarle County Police Department to come see the problems for themselves and to hear residents’ perspectives.
More than forty neighbors assembled with the county representatives on November 19 at a small park on Summerdean Road, a narrow residential street just west of Eastern Avenue. The residents described the behavior of drivers who speed recklessly on Eastern and snake down Summerdean to Brookwood Road on their way to and from the Crozet Park area and western Crozet. Neighbors pointed to a flattened road sign on a nearby sidewalk, and relayed a story about two cars recently caught drag-racing along a wide, flat stretch of Eastern Avenue. They’ve also witnessed a shocking number of cars ignoring stop signs at several intersections.
“I live at the southern end of Park Road,” said McKenney, “and we could stand at the intersection of Westhall Drive and Park Road and watch a dozen cars blow through the stop sign in a 20-minute period.” Ann Mallek commented that the ACPD has performed 39 different traffic patrols in the Westhall area since September, so although police are not ignoring the problem, they can’t maintain a constant presence.
Neighbors said that the traffic problems make biking and scootering dangerous for their kids, especially when trying to cross Eastern Avenue as residents of Westlake must do to catch the school bus. “The intersection of Summerdean and Park Road is a bus stop that picks up 18 kids, and there are lots of dump trucks and construction vehicles barreling through there,” said McKenney. “We are not against connectivity, but let’s do this right. There’s a lot of planning but they’re not really looking at the bigger issue here—the safety of our community and our children.”
Local residents asked officials about the possibility of adding “traffic-calming” measures such as speed humps, traffic circles, and additional stop signs in the neighborhood. As the assembled throng strolled through the neighborhood and stopped at the stub of Eastern Avenue, which will someday become a connector to Rt. 250 through Cory Farms, the county’s Director of Community Development Jodie Filardo was direct. “Eastern Avenue was designed to be a throughway,” she said, “so we don’t want to add things that will slow traffic down along here.” Filardo noted that once the Rt. 250 connector is open, the situation will become more acute.
A slight rise in the long, straight-shot section of Eastern Avenue leading to the connector point has led to severe sight-line restrictions from both directions. As the road has not yet been “released” to VDOT control, the developer (Stanley Martin) undertook a repair of the road recently that neighbors said made no difference. “I hate to say it this way,” said McKenney, “but mark my words someone is going to get hit, and I hope to God it doesn’t happen. Someone has to be responsible and ultimately the buck stops with the county.”
County officials answered questions and took notes at every stop along the neighborhood tour, so residents are hopeful that their concerns will be addressed. At her Town Hall meeting later that evening, Ann Mallek acknowledged the problems and encouraged everyone to “work together to be careful and safe everywhere, but especially in these densely populated neighborhoods with narrow streets and large numbers of children on scooters and bikes.”