Bike Walk RVA Academy Round 2

26 Jan

bike-walk-rva-newsletter-bannerLast fall Bike Walk RVA held its first academy — an 8-week course for people passionate about making it safer and easier to get around Richmond by foot or bike.  The goal is to help those people make connections with like-minded folks and learn more about how to help get better infrastructure and policies for those kinds of transportation.  Graduates from the first academy have been holding meetings in their neighborhoods over the last couple of months to help build that community further.

They’re now accepting applications for the next round — a new group of Richmonders to go through the academy and join the growing ranks of advocates.  They ask for a commitment of eight two to three-hour sessions, along with passion for these issues and residence in the city (there will be sessions of the academy specifically for residents of individual counties later).

If you’re interested, check the details and submit your application here.  The deadline is January 30.  
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What’s Up with Floyd?

24 Jan

Following the deferral of a decision on the Floyd Avenue bike-walk street on Tuesday, BikeWalk RVA has started a petition to the Planning Commission urging its members to pass the Floyd Avenue bike-walk street project.

As Style and the RTD both report, the Planning Commission decided to delay a final vote on Floyd until February.  After the plan was voted down by the Urban Design Committee, Public Works came back with some additions to address issues the UDC had asked them to deal with back in September.  The text below from the Tuesday meeting’s minutes suggests that the commission wants Public Works to address them still more definitively and in more detail:

The Commission stated that they would like to see the following issues raised by the Urban Design Committee included in the plan when it returns at the February 17, 2015 meeting:

(1) Addressing a lower speed limit for the length of the project. This would be in the form of a recommendation to City Council.

(2) Committing to a full planting plan including street trees along the extent of the bike/walk route.

(3) Making the project fully accessible with accessible ramps along the corridor.

(4) Addressing unique signage and pavement markings and identity that celebrates this as a bike/walk trail as part of a larger way finding effort.

(5) That the project be evaluated 12 months after the completion of construction and adjusted as needed, and that that evaluation involves the public and a presentation to the Planning Commission.

(6) That the project address lighting along the length of the corridor.

(7) That the project more fully considers the impact on parking and considers limits on types or permits of parking specifically in Zones 1 and 2 of the project.

The Commission also requested the applicant to include the following issues raised by the Commission in the plan when it returns at the February 17, 2015 meeting:

(1) Explore pedestrian initiated signals at Belmont and Harrison.

(2) School X-ing or Ped-Xing markings replace one of the sharrow markings on each block.

(3) Safety should be the first priority.

 One the one hand I am happy that Public Works is being asked to beef up the design.  I’ve commented before on their tendency to take the minimal route when it comes to bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure.

But I’m also worried that DPW (in coordination with the Bike-Ped coordinator Jake Helmboldt and their consultant from the Timmons Group) may not be in a position to fully address all of these in a few weeks.  The first item is pretty easy — they’ve expressed direct support for lowering the speed limit.  And they could commit to prioritizing accessible ramps along Floyd.  Extra markings for crossings should not be too tough.

It’s less clear that the budget and coordination with other departments (Urban Forestry, Public Utilities) are there to incorporate the tree and lighting issues.  Those particular items, if I’m not mistaken, involve a bit of moving the goal posts: I’m pretty sure that those were not mentioned previously.  The additional signage is something I’ve supported, but Public Works’ point was that the city (via Planning and Community Development) is working on a wayfinding system and signage on Floyd should be worked into that plan.

Hopefully with clear expressions of support from us and some more detail on the things that Public Works can deal with in 30 days, we’ll see a vote in favor of the project mid-February.  Thanks to all of you continue to follow this saga and help Richmond get its first bike-walk street.

Floyd Update – Your Help Needed One Last Time (Hopefully)!

14 Jan

If you’ve been following the Floyd Avenue bike-walk street saga you know that the city’s Urban Design Committee voted to not recommend the design last week (see previous post).  Some of the news coverage has suggested that it went that way because committee members were deferring to the concerns of residents.  They could have done that back in September.

What they did instead back then was recommend various additions to the plan to strengthen Floyd’s identity and safety for pedestrians and bicyclists.  The design presented to them last week contained none of them.  It was voted down not because committee members are against the idea, but because the engineers basically ignored them. (See the committee’s report saying as much here).

The Good News

Here’s the good news: according to an email from Max Hepp-Buchanan of BikeWalk RVA, this rejection spurred some soul-searching and the traffic engineers are now including some of those additional design elements:

Over the weekend, Public Works received about 80 emails from people like you asking for an improved design before January 20 so that the project will gain the support of the Planning Commission and we can move on to implementation. Thank you!  What you did worked — I met with the engineers in Public Works yesterday to iron out some of the design details we think would make the project a better bike-walk street for everybody.

Public Works has promised to present a path for getting a posted speed limit of 20 MPH along Floyd Ave, implement unique pavement markings, signage, and branding that signals to drivers that Floyd Ave is a special place for walking and biking, and conduct a speed and volume study after six months to make sure everything is working right (and if it’s not, a plan to fix it).

It’s clear that the engineers at Public Works are feeling the heat — finally.  I’m especially encouraged that there is a clear plan to evaluate how Floyd is doing once everything’s in place and make changes accordingly.

What You Can Do

The immediate issue is to make sure that the improved design gets approved by the Planning Commission at their meeting next Tuesday, 1/20.  Here are two things you can do to help make sure that happens:

1.  Send a letter of support to Jeff Eastman at the City of Richmond. Just a few sentences will do. He’ll pass your comments on to the Planning Commission members.

2.  Show up at the Planning Commission meeting on Tuesday, January 20, 1:30 PM, in the 5th floor conference room of City Hall and tell the commissioners in person that you support the project.

Reasons that I can see for supporting the project include:

• It is an important first step for Richmond to try out a type of bike- and pedestrian-friendly street that, once we determine what works best, could help make all of Richmond a better place to live.

• It will move us further in the direction of establishing a network of bikeways that would allow people to get anywhere they want to go safely.

• It will send a signal to everyone that bicycling and walking have a valued place in the city and that the city is serious about promoting them.

If the Planning Commission passes the plan, we can finally get going on implementing it.  If they vote it down, city council could override them.  We can’t be sure of that.  It would be best to get the plan passed by the commission.

 

 

Future of Floyd Project Uncertain

9 Jan

Sorry that my first post of 2015 is a downer: as reported today by the RTD, Richmond’s Urban Design Committee voted yesterday to not recommend the Floyd Avenue bike-walk street project.  It still has to go to the Planning Commission and could end up in city council, but the 7-2 vote against it certainly doesn’t help.

The project has faced a number of challenges from early on.  On one side you have (according to polls) a numerical majority of neighborhood residents supporting the project, but a small number of vehement opponents who not surprisingly make their voices heard at every opportunity (note the number of posts from the same 3 people in response to today’s RTD article).  If that were not enough, you have city traffic engineers in charge of the project — who are neither very experienced with or deeply invested in creating good bicycle infrastructure — finding reasons to not include features that would make it a really good project.

Although the RTD coverage does not make it clear, the latter issue accounts for a good portion of UDC opposition.  In fact, back in September the commission sent traffic engineers back to the drawing board with several recommendations for changes (coverage here), none of which were included in the plans presented to the UDC on yesterday.

Those recommendations included using highlighted shared lane markings, more and clearer signage to “brand” Floyd as a bike-walk street, and lowering the speed limit to 20 mph.  Tom Flynn, the city’s chief traffic engineer, has insisted that he can’t lower the limit, but others have suggested that the city has the power to do so regardless of what the usual formulas would justify.  This is part of the problem we face in Richmond and elsewhere: laws and standards that were not intended or designed to take into account much of anything other than car traffic being used to block good ideas.

Special signage for a bicycle boulevard in Berkeley, CA.  This is one of several recommendations from the city's Urban Design Committee that traffic planners did not include in the final design.  From http://www.studiolimage.com.

Special signage for a bicycle boulevard in Berkeley, CA. This is one of several recommendations from the city’s Urban Design Committee that traffic planners did not include in the final design. From http://www.studiolimage.com.

I and some other advocates have been worried about this project being watered down by the traffic engineers, and that is essentially what has happened.  If there’s a way to force them to make at least some of the called-for changes, I’d love to see it happen.  BUT: what I really don’t want to see happen is that the engineers effectively kill it, and that’s what we’re facing at this point.

Given how hard it is to convince Richmonders to embrace something novel, I’m willing to take a watered-down project for now — with the knowledge that I and others will fight to make changes and make it better down the road.  If the Floyd project dies now, it’s not just that it will not be in place to show off for the 2015 crowds.  It could be many years before we could take it up again.  And all of the struggle and planning over the past couple of years will be down the tube.

I would love — and expect to eventually get — a great bike-walk street on Floyd.  But knowing Richmond, at this point I’m willing to take a far-from-perfect version.  Let’s hope the Planning Commission sees it that way too.

Distraction and Privilege on the Road

3 Dec
Photo by Nate Flu, Flickr Creative Commons.

Photo by Nate Flu, Flickr Creative Commons.

In his most recent “Why Richmond, Why?” column, Phil Riggan takes on the issue of distracted driving.  For anyone who even contemplates riding a bicycle on Richmond streets, this is a huge issue.  I cringe every time I see someone using a cellphone, whether I’m driving a car or a bicycle, and that doesn’t begin to cover all of the other distractions.

While it’s probably impossible to prevent all distraction, it’s worth reminding ourselves and others that, when we’re behind the wheel of a machine that weighs a couple of tons and can very easily take someone’s life (including our own), it’s worthwhile to cultivate a degree of attentiveness proportional to those stakes.

That’s both important and difficult because, as Riggan suggests, most of us drive so much that we 1) try to do all sorts of other things while driving, like texting or phoning or eating; and 2) get so used to driving that we get a bit lazy and develop bad habits because it hasn’t resulted in anything terrible yet.  People are also inclined to think that their driving is good compared to other “bad drivers,” which also reduces vigilance.

How most of our streets are for pedestrians.  Now imagine some scaffolding along the edge to represent a bike lane… From the Swedish Road Dierectorate.

Who gets priority on our streets?  Ironically, the least vulnerable of those using them: cars.  From the Swedish Road Dierectorate.

Privilege on the Road

One way of thinking about distracting driving is not just as a bad habit, but as a symptom of privilege.  This goes back to a  point that I like to hit on quite often — because like other kinds of privilege, it’s generally taken for granted by those who enjoy it.  Our roads are designed mainly for cars and only secondarily if at all for other users.  The fact that Complete Streets policies have become a trend in the last few years is an indication of just how incomplete they’ve been for the last several decades, and for how long the problem was not seen as a problem.

I was reminded of this issue last week by a fascinating blog post entitled “What Riding My Bike Has Taught Me About White Privilege.”  I wish I had written it.  I say that because I’ve had exactly this thought a number of times: riding a bicycle on American streets is kind of like being a minority in American society.

But almost immediately after thinking of that comparison, I thought, “It would be hard to talk about that without sounding like a well-meaning but oblivious white person saying something like ‘I know what race discrimination is like because I experience the same kind of thing when I ride my bike.'”  That would be lame for many reasons, to put it mildly.

The author of the post makes clear that you can think of this comparison without pretending to equate minority status on the road with minority status in a broader, social sense.  His aim is really to suggest a way to talk about privilege to people who have it.

Trying to talk to people about privilege is hard because if they feel they are being blamed personally for it, they tend to shut down or get defensive to avoid feeling guilty.  But comparing our roadways to the structure of our society is helpful in this case, I think: no individual car driver is to blame for the way our roads are, but it’s way too easy for most of them to keep using them and not think that much about those marginalized by that system.

This is good for those of us interested in bike advocacy to keep in mind for two reasons.  The first is that white middle-class people and neighborhoods tend to be over-represented when it comes to advocacy and infrastructure.  Second, thinking about our roads this way might help us find better ways to think and talk about the built-in imbalance in our roadway system.

Humanizing People on Bikes

21 Nov

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The advocacy group People for Bikes recently launched a media campaign to do just that.  In a way it seems odd that humanizing people on bicycles would be necessary.  We’re right there, sitting on the saddle, not looking particularly like an object or animal most of the time.

But the mentality encouraged by our fast-paced habits and road design, among other things, makes it easy to see people on bicycles, not to mention pedestrians and other motorists, in one-dimensional terms.  They become an obstacle, a menace, or just a stupid *&%$.  The key thing is that you stop seeing commonality and see only how they are not like you: a bad person in one way or another.

It’s hard to not also begin seeing car drivers in this way when you’re on a bicycle, especially when they bear down on you, pass too close and fast, or cut you off.  It also doesn’t help that a person inside a big metal box is hard to see and communicate with other than through crude gestures.

It may sound a bit flower-child-y, and this is not going to make our streets safer by itself, but trying to keep a three-dimensional view of each other on the road could help.  We’re all people on our way somewhere, wanting to get there in one piece.

Fun Rides Coming Up

11 Nov

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One of the many benefits of being able to use coffee houses as my office a couple of days each week is being fairly well-informed about local events via those cluttered bulletin boards.  Otherwise I might not have known about two group rides coming up that sound like lots of fun!  (By the way, if you are planning a bicycling-related event, feel free contact me via the Contact link so I can help promote it).

The first is a Tweed Ride organized by the Art Deco Society of Virginia (see flyer above for details).  The standards are, I think, not super strict for things like this: the idea is to get a bit of an early 20th century retro feel while also pointing out that one can have fund riding a bicycle with absolutely no lycra.  I’ll admit I’ve never been on a Tweed Ride before, mainly because I have a tweed deficit.  But maybe I can scare up something tweedy or tweedish in my closet.

The second is a Bike Parade put together by a group I had not yet heard of called Ride On RVA.  It’s coming November 22 at 2 pm, meeting at the VMFA and riding through Carytown to celebrate cycling and promote safety in Richmond.  The Facebook event page is here.  Hope to see you out there!

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