Ride Richmond is holding its annual bike swap event at the VMFA on Saturday 8/23, 10 am to 4 pm. Come and check out vintage and used bikes and parts. If you have just a couple of things to sell, you can add it to the community swap area.
The Virginia Capital Trail Foundation just released a great little video called “I’m a Cyclist!” It conveys in an upbeat and very Richmond-focused way a basic fact that is easily forgotten on the road: people on bicycles are people — and all kinds of people at that. I’ve considered getting one of those jerseys with “I’m a Dad” on the back to convey the same message. But why is that necessary?
People in traffic — especially in motor vehicles but sometimes using other modes too — find it easy to forget that they are sharing space with other human beings. A person on a bicycle (or a pedestrian or other car driver, for that matter), all too easily becomes something less than that — an obstacle, an irritation, an “idiot,” or worse.
Bicyclists seem to be the “other” (a lesser being, not where they belong) even more than pedestrians precisely because we share space with cars more; and more than other motorists because, well, we’re not fellow motorists at the moment and we go a bit slower.
The basic, usually unstated notion that people on bicycles are not equal and don’t have the same right to the road underlies a lot of the arguments against bicycle infrastructure. This is the only way I can make sense of the statement that seems to come up in every debate of this sort: “I’ll be okay with this when bicyclists stop breaking the law.” I won’t go through the whole rebuttal again, but of course people who see themselves as drivers (and not bicyclists) would never say that about other drivers, would they? It’s hard in this country to imagine the inverse situation, but doing so underscores the point: if roads were made primarily for bicycles, imagine bicyclists saying, “We shouldn’t widen this road to make room for cars because they don’t always come to a complete stop at stop signs.”
Cars themselves limit our perceptions of other road users too — by putting us in our own little world, hiding our faces, making us unable to communicate with others much. And that in a very high-stakes, very social activity of getting around on public streets. If you think of it this way, it’s really kind of crazy: let’s put you inside a machine that weighs many times more and can travel many times faster than a human body can on its own; and even though this makes your movement much more dangerous to yourself and others, you’ll be constrained in your hearing and sight, and the primary means of communication you’ll have are one loud sound and a couple of lights.
The Message our Streets Send
It also doesn’t help that our society and our roads themselves discourages motorists in particular from seeing bicyclists and pedestrians as equals (much less the comparatively vulnerable road users they are). Try to imagine what it would be like if our streets were made to give pedestrians and people on bicycles the same or greater priority as cars. They would look very different. As it is, a majority of our streets call out to pedestrians and bicyclists something close to: “Tough sh*t. Your safety is less important than the speed and convenience of those bigger and faster than you.”
People who live on Forest Hill Avenue on the opposite side from the Forest Hill Park had to fight hard, for example, to just get some blinking yellow lights to help them cross the street to enjoy one of the best features of that neighborhood. And it’s less than fully clear that those lights help much. What if — gasp — we had crosswalks with lights that actually stopped traffic every quarter mile or so on a street like that? I can hear the traffic engineers already: “But that would slow down traffic!” Exactly.
Which brings me to a little preview of sorts. Based on some reading and a couple of experiments, I’m working on a series of posts focused on safety and speed. Spoiler: slower is better and really not much slower. More on that soon!
Rvanews just posted the results of a survey sent out by the Fan District Association about the proposed bike-walk street (aka bike boulevard) project on Floyd Avenue. (Find the survey and comments here). No one will be surprised that there is some opposition, but here’s the great news:
66% of respondents signaled support and about 10% remain neutral or unsure. That leaves 24% opposed.
There is also a breakdown of the responses from those who live on Floyd. Here too the numbers are clearly in favor, with almost the exact same percentage as the total in favor (67%) and a minority opposed (21%).
There is one concern expressed in the comments that I share, though: the revised plan does very little to divert traffic from Floyd. I can only assume that diverters were taken out to appease critics who were freaked out by them. I’m a bit worried about Floyd becoming more attractive to car drivers due to the traffic circles replacing stop signs. But I’m also willing to wait and see — and hope that adjustments can be made if needed.
I really hope this goes through, not just because it will be an important part of a network of bikeways eventually, but also because it’s extremely likely that if it’s built life will go on and the fears that seem to animate opposition (disappearing parking, bikes “taking over,” and crazy traffic on other streets) will be shown to be baseless.
Bike Walk RVA just announced an exciting new initiative called Bike Walk RVA Academy. The idea is to educate and motivate new advocates for bicycle infrastructure and education in the Richmond area. There is some movement around these things in Richmond now, but to be sure that we get an extensive and high quality network of infrastructure, we need a strong network of advocates.
From the site:
The Bike Walk RVA Academy of the Sports Backers will develop local walking and bicycling advocates and enthusiasts into grassroots leaders in their communities. We will empower you with the tools, knowledge, and confidence to effectively advocate for new and high-impact bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure projects in your neighborhood – infrastructure that allows people ages 8 to 80 to get where they need to go on foot or by bike…
The Bike Walk RVA Academy is designed to inspire individuals, create a strong camaraderie among bicycle and pedestrian advocates in Richmond, and facilitate ongoing collaboration with the Bike Walk RVA staff of the Sports Backers.
The Bike Walk site has more details on topics/skills to be covered and dates.
The eight two-hour sessions of the academy are offered free of charge, but there is an application process and limited capacity.
If you’re talking about becoming bike-friendly, a recent article in the RTD says we are indeed on our way. As much as I find myself deeply frustrated on some days at the slow progress and compromises, I keep hoping that we’ll turn a corner soon and the pace will pick up (and I’ve come to understand if not fully accept that the process is going to be slower and farther from perfect than I’d like).
One of the best signs is that citizens successfully convinced members of city council to put a total of $4.5 million for bike infrastructure and the Brown’s Island Dam Walk into the budget. And the city is close to completing a full-fledged bicycle master plan that will hopefully be approved as part of a multimodal transportation plan called Richmond Connects.
The Virginia Capital Trail is also making some visible progress. I’ve heard that construction of the trail has finally begun in Henrico for the New Market Heights phase, and the sections in Richmond and Varina are due to be completed by fall 2015.
By all accounts the most recent meeting about the Floyd Avenue bike-walk street went much better than the previous one, where vocal opponents derailed the agenda. The latest meeting held last week , where design details were revealed, was for the most part much more civil (see coverage here and here). The project is not a done deal, but it seems like it has a good chance of moving forward.
Let’s hope that Richmond does kick it into a higher gear — otherwise Chesterfield County may take the lead in bicycle infrastructure. Chesterfield recently started process of developing its own Bicycle and Trails Plan. The plan web site includes a link for a survey if you’d like to weigh in. Rumor has it that even Henrico is starting to see the light. The city has significant advantages for biking for transportation by virtue of density and a good street grid, but it would be great to see a regional bike network.
This is it, folks! Proposed design details for the Floyd Avenue bike-walk street (aka bike boulevard) project will be presented and discussed this coming Tuesday July 15, 6:30-8 pm, at the Virginia Historical Society. This is not a final design, but will include more specific recommendations compared to previous meetings.
If you support this project and the expansion of bike infrastructure in Richmond, please make a point to come to this meeting. It’s especially important for residents near Floyd to make their voices heard, but we can use all of the support we can get.
The last meeting in May made clear that there is a very energetic and vocal minority intent on seeing this project killed altogether. They clearly don’t want to discuss the project except to say they reject it. We need to show the relevant council members — Samuels, Baliles, and Agelasto — that many people strongly support the project, even if they may have concerns about some details.
We can do this!
Thought I’d try to bring together a few recent blog-worthy items with this title — possibly intriguing either fans of Dostoyevsky or the crime section of the RTD.
Three Feet Law is in Effect!
It’s now official: if a motor vehicle is passing you on the road, they need to give you at least three feet of space. Virginia law was previously two feet, but now we’re in line with most of the rest of the country.
Even if you do not choose to affix a yard stick to your bike (although that would be an interesting way to test adherence to the law), the law can still help you. It sends a signal that drivers need to be cautious when passing bicycles. It can also help if you end up in an accident as the result of someone passing too closely.
Virginia Bicycling Federation has bumper stickers to help spread the word, along with more details on the law.
Richmond city council passed a new ordinance over a year ago to deal with issues of bike parking and “dead bikes” — those remnants you sometimes see locked to signs posts or racks and taking up space while they are slowly stripped and rust away. (See an earlier post here for details on the law).
Maybe this reveals a little of the “get off my lawn” in my personality, but these bikes really get to me, especially when they’re attached to one of the racks installed by the city. The combination of letting a good bike go to waste and taking up a parking spot just pisses me off. It doesn’t help that in one case I decided to go straight to police headquarters to ask about removing some of them and received a response along the lines of “That’s not our job.”
I’m happy to say that the city is supposedly working out some of the kinks in dealing with these bikes: according to Richmond.com, “the See Click Fix website is now the preferred route for reporting dead bikes. When reporting, make sure to include “abandoned bikes” or “dead bikes” in your submitted issue.” That will help those compiling a list of bikes to tag and then remove.
Seems crazy that so many bikes rot away while other people have to deal with losing their transportation to theft. The RTD just reported that about 500 bikes were reported stolen last year in Richmond, and about 28 a month are swiped in the Fan alone.
Bikes usually get stolen because they’re locked with a flimsy lock or not locked properly. Most bike thieves go for the easiest targets. The advice in the RTD piece is a good start: use a good lock, lock to something solid, and register your bike so you can claim it if it’s recovered. A small tree is not a good bike rack, and the law mentioned above also made it illegal to lock your bike to a city tree (it’s really bad for the tree too). A good lock is a quality U-lock.
The city of Richmond has a page devoted to secure and legal bike parking, and there are lots of lock reviews and other blog posts on the subject. This one takes the unusual step of interviewing bike thieves in NYC and asking some of them to try their luck with various locks. The bottom line: a strong U- lock on your frame and back wheel, and possibly a cable or second lock for your front wheel is the way to go. Cable locks and standard chains and padlocks can be broken in a matter of seconds, a couple of minutes at most. Locking just a wheel, around the stem or handlebars, or the fork is pretty much an invitation to theft.