Help Make Bike Month 2015 the Best Yet

6 Apr

Bike-Commuting

Bike Month is just a few weeks away!  Bike Walk RVA is hosting a volunteer gathering this coming Friday, April 10, 6-7 pm (with socializing afterwards), Richmond Bicycle Studio, 1717 Summit Ave.

Here’s what they say:

May is National Bike Month, and 2015’s will be the BIGGEST ONE EVER. We need your help!

Please join us for a fun, quick, and action-oriented meeting to figure out how we can work together to pull this off. Food and drink will be provided.

Click here to RSVP.  Hope to see you there!

A Wall on Broad?

2 Apr
From Bike Walk RVA.

From Bike Walk RVA.

This is not about bicycling per se, but could certainly affect people on bicycles as well as those traveling by foot downtown.

You probably know that the city is working on a Bus Rapid Transit project — funded by a federal grant — planned to run from Rockett’s Landing to Willow Lawn, primarily on Broad Street (learn more about the project here).  This kind of bus both physically resembles and works a bit like a trolley, but without as much infrastructure needed.  There will be more substantial but also widely spaced stops where passengers can buy tickets and board the bus from a platform.  In the downtown segment, it will travel on a dedicated bus lane.  This helps to make these busses more “rapid,” along with technology that allows the driver to control traffic signals.  That could be very nice for the bus passengers but maybe not so great for folks trying to cross the street.

There has been a lot of back and forth about the route, where the stops will be, and a number of other things.  One thing that hasn’t been addressed much yet is how the busses and stops will impact pedestrians and bicyclists along this part of Broad.  There are lots of people on foot and bike there already — and if BRT is successful there will be more and more.

Bike Walk RVA raised this issue in a recent blog post asking whether BRT threatens to create a wall on Broad Street that would actually make the street more dangerous — including for the people using transit. Two public meetings about BRT are being held next week — a perfect time to ask planners what they have in mind for keeping pedestrians and others crossing Broad safe:

Monday, April 6, 6-8 pm, at University of Richmond Downtown, 626 E. Broad Street, Suite 100

Tuesday, April 7, 6-8 pm, at the Department of Motor Vehicles, 2300 West Broad Street

See this GRTC post for more details.

The Case for Bikes and Bike Share at ODU

30 Mar
Protected bike lane (cycle track) in Bogota, Colombia.  From https://cbuscyclechic.wordpress.com.

Protected bike lane (cycle track) in Bogota, Colombia. From https://cbuscyclechic.wordpress.com.

In case you might have missed it last weekend, the regional public radio program With Good Reason highlighted bicycling last week in a episode called “Pedal Power.”  The first segment is an interview with Ralph Buehler, a Virginia Tech professor in Urban Affairs and Planning, who does a nice job laying out benefits of building bicycle infrastructure so that everyone can use a bicycle as a transportation option, and some of the reasons we have yet to do that in the U.S .

The episode also highlights the bike share program at Old Dominion University and explores the growing popularity of e-bikes, bicycles with electric motors that allow a wider range of people to use a bike for transportation in a wider array of contexts.

Bike Walk Award and Southside Family Ride

21 Mar

Bike Walk Rocks

This may be old news to those avid RTD readers among you, but our own Bike Walk RVA beat out eight competitors to win this year’s People’s Choice Award for Best Advocacy Organization in the U.S. from Bicycling Magazine and the Alliance for Biking and Walking!  Congrats to Bike Walk RVA!

If you read this blog you have some idea of what the organization has been up to that attracted the nomination in the first place, but the RTD report offers some highlights.  And clearly they have some strong support in this region and elsewhere, since the final victory was based on voting.

The competition included local and state-level organizations from Pittsburgh, Buffalo, Minneapolis, San Diego, Delaware, Georgia, not to mention the Cascade Bicycling Club in Seattle, where Bike Walk’s director Max Hepp-Buchanan got his start before begin lured to Richmond.

Southside Family Walk and Bike 

One of the things that Bike Walk RVA has done to earn this recognition is to start Bike Walk Academy, an 8-week training session meant to encourage and educate citizen advocates for bicycling and pedestrian issues.  This is a really valuable program because an advocacy organization is only as good as its supporters and local advocates.

The academy graduates have formed groups to work on issues in each region of the city.  The southside group has been meeting with residents and working on organizing local residents and getting better bike lanes and cross walks.  They are also holding a family bike and walk event for next weekend, on Sunday 3/29, 1:30 p.m.  See details below.

bike_ride-426x550

A Load of Pretty Good News

24 Feb

Unless city council decides to torpedo it, the Floyd Avenue bike-walk street is going forward (see RTD story here and a very detailed account of how it worked out in a blog post by Max Hepp-Buchanan here).  The Planning Commission approved a modified plan yesterday.  And although the General Assembly killed a few bike-friendly bills, they also approved a couple, and blocked some that would have been very unfriendly.  We owe a huge thanks to the advocates from Virginia Bicycling Federation and Bike Walk RVA, along with many others, for these successes.

Modified Floyd Plan Passes

With Floyd, the city officials and consultants were apparently able to convince commission members that they had addressed concerns raised in the previous meeting, including: better signage etc. at some of the crosswalks; more specific plans for ADA sidewalk ramps, lighting, and filling tree wells; and making sure the street is marked as special corridor for people on bicycles and on foot.

The plan that passed also contained a couple of recent changes, most notably the replacement of four traffic circles with raised crosswalks at Strawberry, Rowland, Plum, and Harvie.  They will look something like this:

 

It’s kind of like a speed hump, but not as high, and also serves to highlight the crosswalk.

I was hoping raised crosswalks would find their way into the plan anyway.  They were included to address concerns of some local residents (and their council reps) and commission members.

I’m really not crazy about how much a few vocal property owners seem to be able to sway their council representatives, especially given the large majority of residents who expressed support for the plan earlier.  (Along with the fact that the few “parking spaces” they are so worried about are actually illegal and dangerous).  But getting involved more seriously in bike-ped advocacy has brought home to me the reality of what is so often said about government: it’s messy and you have to be prepared to 1) compromise, 2) to think long-term.  It’s also crucial to be just as vocal and persistent as the opponents.

We have to work on many fronts to build up support for this kind of project so that it doesn’t continue to be a major battle.  Educating and lobbying council members, electing folks who are sympathetic, having a master plan, and many other things will tilt the balance in our favor over time.

General Assembly Successes

This years successes prove especially clearly that persistence is key when it comes to the GA.  Most of what was passed this year has been proposed before, but a bill getting past of the various hurdles depends on a bunch of things that have to align just right.

Check this VBF post for the full run-down, but here are the highlights:

• Vehicles can now legally cross a double yellow line in order to give the required 3 feet of space to people on bicycles and other slower road users.

• Localities that decide to do a road diet (reduce motorized travel lanes to create a bike lane) will not lose state transportation funding for doing so.  (Previously the state only counted pavement used for motorized traffic).

• Existing law for following too closely now also applies to non-motorized vehicles.

A couple of particularly worrisome bills also died.  One would have made it illegal for someone on a bicycle to be on a road if there is a bike path nearby.  This would have banned cyclists from parts of Route 5 where the Capital Trail is, for example.

Some others, like imposing a penalty for dooring a cyclist, and requiring hands-free technology when using phones etc. will no doubt come back for another try next year.

Life in the Slow(er) Lane

15 Feb
Slow-Zone-thumb

A newly installed neighborhood slow zone in Brooklyn, NY, as part of NYC’s Vision Zero program. From BrooklynBridgeParents.com.

 

This is the last in a series of 3 posts focused around a simple idea:

We’d all benefit from slowing down.

(The two previous ones are here, focused on recent reports about the relative safety and danger of bicycling, and here, about a new movement called Vision Zero that seeks to reduce traffic deaths of all kinds to zero):

The Costs of Speed

I’m very much in favor of protected bike lanes and good sidewalks and paths, but people in cars or on foot or on bicycles still have to interact with motorized traffic even with the best sidewalks and bike lanes.  Slowing all traffic down would be the easiest and possibly most game-changing thing we could do to make things safer and more inviting for everyone, and make our communities more livable in the process.

This probably seems like a crazy idea to many because as a society we put a premium on time and therefore on speed, and because we’ve just gotten used to traveling relatively fast, especially in cars.  Driving 35 or 40 on a street like Boulevard, for example, feels normal because the street is designed that way, everyone else is driving more or less that speed, and that’s what we’re used to.  As I’ve suggested in earlier segments of this series, however, we pay a fairly high price for that — or we indirectly force others to pay it — in lower levels of safety for everyone, as well as the danger and unpleasantness of going by foot or bicycle.

The crazy thing, when you think about it, is that we’ve accepted that the way we handle traffic now is worth large numbers of deaths and injuries among people in cars as well as others.  There’s no way to prevent all collisions, but it’s odd that significant loss of life and limb are regarded as acceptable costs for driving the way we do.  And we know — it’s been proven over and over — that slower speeds make for fewer deaths and less severe injuries for people in cars as well as on bike and foot.

As reported earlier, a number of countries and now several U.S. cities have begun to say that this cost is too high — in the form of a program labeled Vision Zero.  It basically means taking measures to reduce traffic deaths to zero.  This signals a welcome and monumental shift away from accepting those costs that we’ve previously treated as an unavoidable reality .  It says, “We don’t have to accept death and injury as inevitable consequences.  We can prioritize safety and still have a functioning system that works for everyone.”

Inaugurating a new Arterial Slow Zone in NYC on a major commercial street.

Inaugurating a new Arterial Slow Zone in NYC on a major commercial street.his includes is slowing down traffic on “arterial” streets like Boulevard.  I would argue that you could slow down traffic  in Richmond and it wouldn’t make a very big difference in the time we spend traveling, but would make a big difference in safety and quality of life.

 

This includes is slowing down traffic on “arterial” streets like Boulevard.  You could slow down traffic everywhere in Richmond and it wouldn’t make a very big difference in the time we spend traveling, but would make a big difference in safety and quality of life.

“But I’m in a Hurry!” Experimenting with Slowness

It comes down to this: the difference between 20 and 30 mph, or 30 and 40 for that matter, is not that big in terms of travel time, especially when you’re driving through the city.  You usually can’t maintain a higher speed for long in any case due to signals and other cars, and the time difference in the end is no more than a few minutes.

I did an experiment last spring with the help of some friends over at Bike Walk RVA to test this out.  For purely self-serving purposes (having a nice lunch at a favorite spot), we decided to test how long it would take to get from Union Hill to a restaurant in Carytown, a distance of about 4 miles.  We did this on multiple occasions, always leaving near 1:15 p.m. from Union Hill, comparing “slow,” “normal,” and “fast” car driving as well as more “law-abiding” vs. “law-bending” bicycling.

Car vs. Bicycle

The first test: car vs. bicycle.  I imagine that one reason some do not embrace riding a bicycle for transportation is that doing so would take up too much time compared to driving.  So my partner-in-experimentation and I left Union Hill at the same time (1:15 p.m.), I on a bicycle and he in a car, selecting somewhat different routes through the city (not using the expressway).  Driving at the posted speed limit and taking into account time to park, it took him 18 minutes to arrive at the door of our destination in Carytown.  As the one on a bicycle I stopped at all stop signs and signals, and rode at what is for me a normal pace — neither leisurely nor hurried, probably about 12 mph.  It took me 26 minutes.  So, not surprisingly, driving a car was faster.  But for getting halfway across down it was a difference of only 8 minutes.  And unlike my partner, I had already burned off some of the chips I ate for lunch.

Speed Limit vs. Slow Driving

The second test was driving the speed limit vs. driving slower.  I drove the same route that my partner did on another day at the same time of day, but kept my speed at 20 mph or below the whole way.  I drove mostly on Main Street through downtown and the Fan.  It was actually hard to compare my speed to the speed limit because there are very few signs indicating the limit.  The one sign I could find on Main St. between Shockoe Bottom and Belvidere read 25 mph.  Given the general understanding that speeding a bit over the limit is normal and won’t get you in trouble, I would bet that the average speed is usually 30 mph at least.

There were certainly times that I felt self-conscious going that slow, feeling like a slow poke getting in everyone’s way.  It shows how hard it can be to resist “going with the flow” of traffic and how strong our sense of “normal” speed is.  The result?  It took me a whopping 22 minutes to travel the same route — 4 minutes more than going the speed limit in a car, and only 4 minutes less than on a bicycle.  5-10 mph difference probably doesn’t seem like a big deal, but it can make a big difference, actually, in terms of reaction time and whether someone you hit lives or dies, not to mention how the street feels to more vulnerable users.

Regular vs. “Hurried” Bicycling

As a final test, we asked a volunteer to ride a bicycle a bit faster and without following the rules of the road as strictly as I did (rolling through stop signs, etc.).  It took him a little over 20 minutes.  So going at a slower pace and sticking with the rules of the road cost me about 6 minutes extra.  If you think about the various things you do (or don’t do) in a day that take 6 or 8 or 10 minutes, it’s hard to think that you’re wasting precious time by taking it easier on the road.

Cost of Slowing Down vs. Cost of Speed

I realize that this is not a rigorous scientific experiment.  But the results are not surprising and I think they point to something.  There is a cost to slowing down — going faster and driving less carefully can get you somewhere a bit faster (assuming you don’t have an accident on the way).  And driving a car is somewhat faster than riding a bike.  But the difference is just not that big.

The question for us to ask ourselves is whether the 5 or 10 minutes we may save by virtue of the transportation and driving choices we make are worth the costs.  That can be tricky for us humans to calculate because the costs are not always right in front of our faces — and they may be costs to other people more than ourselves.

The real idea is just to start a conversation that hasn’t been happening much in Richmond yet.  To introduce an idea that many would not even contemplate because the status quo seems, well, so normal: that we might shift our priorities and the way we think about travel in a way that recognizes how much streets are not just places that each of us uses to get where we need to go individually, but really a place of coexistence and given-and-take.

What can you do?  One is to choose to drive slower — at the speed limit or even below, considering how non-motorized folks out there, not to mention people who live along such streets, are experiencing your speed.  The other is to find ways to bring up this radical idea of slowness — nudging friends and family a bit from their sense of normal speed and “where I need to be” toward sharing the road in a more profound sense.

 

Non-Floyd News

10 Feb
Protected bike lane in Long Beach, CA.  From la.streetsblog.org.

Protected bike lane in Long Beach, CA. From la.streetsblog.org.

The Floyd Avenue project has occupied my somewhat limited time to post lately, so there’s a bunch of other cool stuff to catch up on.  Here are some highlights:

Bike Walk RVA has been nominated by Bicycling Magazine for the People’s Choice Advocacy Award.  Vote here for to help this local organization get well-deserved recognition.  Channel 8 News also reported that the Mayor’s Bicycle, Pedestrian, and Trails Commission has been one of the more productive and successful of those formed by Mayor Jones.

The General Assembly is (hopefully) passing bicycle-friendly legislation.  Check out the Virginia Bicycling Federation site here for a detailed account of the legislation and what’s still in the pipeline.  It seems like the general trend (based on last session and this one) is greater support for this stuff.  In past years many such bills were killed in committee, but now many are making it to full senate and house votes.

This year there is a bill to change a policy that discourages the use of road diets (reducing travel lanes) for bike infrastructure by reducing the funding the state provides for roads that undergo such a reduction (see this Why Richmond, Why? column in the RTD for an explanation).  There are also bills making it illegal to door a cyclist (holding drivers responsible for opening doors safely), and to follow a cyclist too closely (the current law applies only to motor vehicles); and there’s one to make it legal for a person in a car to cross a double yellow line in order to safely pass a person on a bicycle.

Protected bike lanes coming to downtown!  The RTD confirmed that at its last meeting the Planning Commission approved acceptance of funding to do design work for protected lanes on Franklin and Main Streets (eastbound on Franklin and westbound on Main) between  Belvidere and Ninth Streets.  This is just the first step, of course, but a welcome sign of robust infrastructure on the way!

Chesterfield is showing real momentum with bike-ped planning.  In a relatively short time Chesterfield County has put together a bicycle and pedestrian plan, which is now open for public comment (see RTD piece here).  In time you could see a lot of multi-use paths along roads in the county.

Pedal party is coming to RVA.  According to RVA News, you’ll soon be able to join 13 of your closest friends on a “bike trolley” aka partly on wheels.  It’s hard to describe (there’s a photo in the RVA News story), but it looks like a covered bar with “stools” (bike seats) and pedals on all sides by which you will propel yourself through the River City.  So you can burn off calories in between brewery stops!

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