Biketopia and Complete Streets

6 Mar

The city of Richmond already has a lot of what it takes to rival the most bike-friendly cities in the U.S., and what we don’t have is within reach. That’s according to local attorney and cycling advocate Tom Bowden in a guest opinion piece in Richmond BizSense.*

Among the many things we have going for us are reasonable distances between many parts of the city, and a good network of streets. The fact that older parts of the city were developed before planning was centered on the car make them better for biking and walking. Streetcar suburbs developed in the early 20th century are pretty good within their own boundaries, but to get from Woodland Heights or Ginter Park to downtown, for example, requires using what engineers call an arterial road — one designed for cars traveling at higher speeds. It’s precisely those streets that need bike lanes and sidewalks to make them safe and appealing for cyclists and pedestrians.

Complete street envisioned for Portsmouth, Virginia. By Steve Price, Urban Advantage.

Complete Streets
Another way of putting this is to say that Richmond has good conditions to put in place “complete streets” and an effective multi-modal transportation system.  The National Complete Streets Coalition defines complete streets as “…streets for everyone. They are designed and operated to enable safe access for all users. Pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists and transit riders of all ages and abilities must be able to safely move along and across a complete street. Complete Streets make it easy to cross the street, walk to shops, and bicycle to work. They allow buses to run on time and make it safe for people to walk to and from train stations.”

Complete bridges are also really important to connect both sides of the river for cyclists and pedestrians, and to promote enjoyment of the James. Not surprisingly, the city’s older bridges — Mayo and Boulevard — are the most bike- and pedestrian friendly, while the Manchester and Lee Bridges are more like highways. Proposed improvements to the MLK Bridge (Leigh St. Viaduct) are a good model: a more attractive, protected pedestrian walkway and generous bike lanes.

The Mayor’s Pedestrian, Bicycle, and Trails Commission included among its top recommendations the adoption of a complete streets policy that would help ensure that new streets accommodate all users and would encourage retrofitting of existing streets. The results of initial research and public input for the city’s new transportation plan Richmond Connects also highlight complete streets as a vital component of an effective transportation system. Complete streets are safer for everyone, including people in cars.

A draft of the Richmond Connects plan has yet to be introduced, but when it is, I’ll share information on public meetings. This sort of plan is only as good as the public pressure and political will (and funding) to make it happen. The good news is that we already have a lot of the fundamentals in place.

*The piece originally appeared in July 2010.

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