Shaffer’s Crossing

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Shaffer’s Crossing

Have you ever been through Roanoke’s Shaffer’s Crossing on foot or bicycle? What ideas do you have to improve it for these modes?

Rivers, mountains, highways, and railroads shape Roanoke and define our roads. Shaffer’s Crossing is a series of tunnels under the railroad connecting 24th St NW and Patterson Ave SW. With the nearest railroad crossing at 10th St, 1.2 miles to the east, or Peter’s Creek, 2.4 miles west to the west, an average of 10,000 vehicles per day plus plenty of pedestrians and bicyclists routinely use Shaffer’s Crossing.

Shaffer’s Crossing poses several problems for pedestrians. Its abandoned, creepy appearance is off-putting.

Boardwalk tunnel

The graffiti in the dark tunnel (only one light works) evokes images of crime and violence.

Pedestrian on the boardwalk

The old boards sag alarmingly with every step.

The steps pose a mobility issue. A chain link fence squeezes the space to less than 3 feet through the northernmost tunnel. South of the boardwalk, there is no buffer between the narrow 4-foot sidewalk and the road.

For bicyclists, the tunnel amplifies the noise of approaching engines. The narrowness of the space feels threatening but, beyond the northernmost 10-foot tunnels, the wider lanes encourage speeding.

Despite the discouraging appearance, Shaffer’s Crossing has high traffic safety! There are no recorded injury crashes in Shaffer’s Crossing in the 2013 – 2017 database. (Sometimes a large tractor-trailer gets stuck in the tunnel, closing the road for a few hours.)

The biggest problem for pedestrians happened a year ago with the collapse of the boardwalk almost halfway into Shaffer’s Crossing. I watched eight pedestrians come through Shaffer’s Crossing in an hour one morning. Neither the “SIDEWALK CLOSED” sign nor the barricade eliminates the need to cross the tracks, and pedestrians circumvent the obstacles the best they can.

Collapsed boardwalk

A fence bearing a “CAUTION SIDEWALK CLOSED” sign barricades the entire width.

CAUTION SIDEWALK OUT

Like most folks, I stepped out onto the narrow wall lining the collapsed boardwalk. Holding onto the wobbly fence, I swung my leg out into the air above the street and hoped to keep my balance. After I was through, I saw a small woman carrying a heavy, squirming toddler. “How do you get around the broken part?” I asked her. “I just step around,” she replied with a shrug. I watched a couple with a baby in a stroller lower the stroller to the street, jump down, push the stroller past the barricade, lift it up to the sidewalk, and climb back up.

Roanoke City plans to fix the collapsed board by replacing the entire boardwalk with a 5-foot boardwalk and removing the steps. They requested permit approval from Norfolk Southern in September.

Is there an alternative to a barricade in Shaffer’s Crossing that protects the City from liability without imposing further danger on people who face the challenges of poverty and low car ownership?

I use Shaffer’s Crossing from my home near Grandin Village to attend meetings at Goodwill, dog-sit for a friend in the Northwest, and visit Northwest endangered historic sites. The Roanoke River Greenway is within a mile of the Northwest and improving Shaffer’s Crossing could bring a fabulous greenway within reach of an impoverished community.

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