November 17, 2020: Virginia hits another one-day record for COVID cases; Council talks about 5th Street's future

  
0:00
-12:20

Today's Patreon-fueled shout-out is for the Plant Northern Piedmont Natives Campaign, an initiative that wants you to plant native plants in yards, farms, public spaces and gardens in the northern Piedmont. Native plants provide habitat, food sources for wildlife, ecosystem resiliency in the face of climate change, and clean water.  Start at the Plant Northern Piedmont Natives Facebook page to learn how you can prepare for next spring.  

*

There is no caveat placed on today’s count of 2,125 new cases of COVID-19 in Virginia this morning from the Department of Health. That’s now the highest one-day total without an asterisk, higher than the 2,103 reported on November 7. The seven-day average for new daily cases is 1,693. 

The percent positivity for PCR tests continues to rise and is at 7.4 percent today, up from 7.3 percent yesterday and 6 percent on November 7. 

Another metric that demonstrates the rise of cases in Virginia is the total number of new cases per 100,000 of population. The statewide figure today is 259.3, up from 169.5 a month ago on October 17. 

The number of people confirmed to have died of COVID in Virginia is now 3,835. That’s 413 more people since October 17. 

In the Blue Ridge Health District, there are another 23 cases, bringing the seven day average to 24. The percent positivity rate for PCR tests dropped to 2.1 percent from 2.7 percent, but that is in part based on an additional 4,668 tests processed yesterday. 

Looking around the rest of Virginia, the city of Roanoke posted a record 82 cases this morning reported another 5 deaths today. The city of Lynchburg reported 41 cases today and 43 cases yesterday. Their total number of cases per 100,000 population is 311.7. The city of Harrisonburg reported 35 new cases, though that number is nowhere close to their one-day total of 143 on September 8, 2020, around the time James Madison University returned to in-person instruction. 

Tazewell County reported another 28 cases today, and their total number per 100,000 population is 570.3 Roanoke County reported another 64 cases, and their 14-day metric is 456. Wise County reports another 23 cases today, and their 14-day metric is 826.1. 

Looking at percent positivity rates throughout Virginia.  Keep in mind this is just one metric and it alone does not give a full picture of community spread.

  • Central - 6.3% 

  • Eastern Region - 6.4%

  • Far Southwest - 16.4%

  • Near Southwest - 10.2%

  • Northern - 8%

  • Northwest - 5.7%

*

Charlottesville City Council spent about an hour last night discussing ways to address speeding concerns on 5th Street Extended, a four-lane highway that heads south from downtown Charlottesville that has seen more residential neighborhoods built over the years. 

One person concerned with recent crashes on 5th Street lives around the intersection at Bailey Road. 

“I walk on 5th Street almost everyday,” said Kristen Lucas. “I bike to work sometimes on 5th Street. And I walked out my door when there was a crash and someone had passed away on 5th Street and I strongly support changes to 5th Street to make it safer not only for drivers but also for pedestrians and bikers and those that are living on this road.” 

Lucas and about 1,400 other people signed a petition to ask Council to push for changes to the roadway. She said she wanted more than for the city to limit the speed, and she supported roundabouts and other traffic calming measures.

Traffic engineer Brennen Duncan wrote a report that outlined how vehicular speed has played a role in the five fatal accidents that have taken place in the past four years. 

“It’s my assertion that there’s really not a speeding problem with the posted speed limit of 45 but I have said in my report to Council that we do have a corridor that allows for higher speeds for those that want to break the speed limit,” Duncan said. 

Duncan’s suggestions for short-term solutions include reducing the speed limit to 40 miles per hour and additional lighting. Mid-term solutions could be informed by studies such as a 2018 study of the entire 5th and Ridge Street corridor.  

Joan Albiston of the Willoughby neighborhood singled out a specific intervention that she favored. 

“I have read the traffic engineers report for 5th Street and I would like to thank them for their recommendations to make 5th Street safer,” Albiston said. “In particular I would like to thank for recommending a flashing yellow area in place of a green light.”

These would be for permissive left-hand turns. Duncan explains the logic behind adding these flashing yellow lights. 

“Nothing changes about the functionality,” Duncan said. “You’re supposed to yield on a green ball anyway but it really has been found that it alerts drivers more they are supposed to yield in that condition.”

For a mid-term solution, Duncan is recommending a roundabout just north of Bailey Road. 

“What the roundabout would do is really put a damper on [high speeds] right in the middle of the corridor where drivers are forced to slow down,” Duncan said. 

Duncan said that 18,000 vehicles use the roadway every day, and more efforts need to be made to get people out of their cars and onto buses. He said there could be as many as 500 more residential units in this area in the several years if undeveloped property is built upon. 

The mother of a man who died in a motorcycle crash had the chance to address Council about the issue. 

“My name is Binta Rose and my son was one of the fatalities on 5th Street Extended,” Rose said. “I had some concerns about that roadway as well. Even though speed may have contributed to his fatality I just had a question about the, I know that you guys are talking about some lighting in the area, and I know that the cars that pull out of the driveways there. My son driving down that road, an SUV pulled out into the traffic so he tried to avoid the vehicle and he hit a tree.”

Rose said the crash happened at night when there was no lighting. She also said she wants the roadway’s character to be less of a speedway. 

Council agreed to the lower speeds and the flashing yellow light. For other solutions, Council will further discuss the topic at a budget work session on the capital improvement program budget on Friday that begins at 1 p.m. 

City Council also approved $100,000 in CARES Contingency funding to go to city employees who have either been laid off or have had their hours reduced. They can request up to $1,000 for assistance, depending on income level. Kaki Dimock is the director of human services. 

“A thousand dollars is certainly helpful and it is symbolic,” Dimock said. “It’s not addressing someone’s poverty concerns. It might be very critical for that month but it’s certainly not a sufficient amount of money to address someone’s ongoing concerns.”

*

Today in meetings, the Albemarle Planning Commission will have a work session at 6 p.m. on technical language intended to translate the vision of an urban Rio/29 area into reality. Michaela Accardi of the Department of Community Development described the existing conditions in the area slated for what is known as a “form-based zoning code.” 

“The area that this planning effort is referring to is about 400 acres around the Rio Road and Route 29 intersection and most of the properties in this area are commercial single use properties,” Accardi said. “The vision for this plan is a connected network of complete streets designed for all types of users, a network of public spaces that are sustainable and usable and enrich the community, and a vibrant and diverse mixture of uses. 

For more on how this vision has worked in other communities, read this very long article I wrote last summer on how Arlington, Leesburg, and Virginia Beach have employed form-base code. 

The Charlottesville Board of Architectural Review meets at 530 p.m. and will hold a preliminary review on the conversion of 1001 West Main Street into a Starbucks coffee chain as well as review of a modification to the approved design at Dairy Central and an intermediate review of a four-story building planned at 612 West Main Street where a University Tire Franchise now stands. (meeting info)

  • The Albemarle Economic Development Authority meets at 4 p.m. Among the items on the agenda will be an update on tourism in the area from Courtney Cacatian, executive director of the Charlottesville-Albemarle Convention and Visitors Bureau. They’ll also vote on a proposal to add public comment at EDA meetings. (meeting info)

  • The Charlottesville Parking Advisory Panel meets at 3:30 p.m. for an update on the future parking structure as well as an introduction of the Parking Action Plan adopted by Council in January 2017 when they purchased the land for said structure at a cost of $2.85 million with no prior public input. (meeting info)

  • The CVille Plans Together initiative will hold another webinar to introduce the draft affordable housing plan to anyone interested. (meeting info)

  • The Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority meets following the Rivanna Solid Waste Authority, which begins at 2 p.m. (agendas for both)