Archive | June, 2012

Good News and Bad

29 Jun

The relative infrequency of posts lately is not due to the lack of important cycling-related stuff happening — just summer family travel, in some cases to places without internet access.

Speaking of places without internet access, our most recent trip included camping at Grayson Highlands State Park and a wonderful ride on the Virginia Creeper Trail, a rail-to-trail in southwest Virginia.  Since we had small kids along, we did a roughly 17-mile section of the trail from Whitetop Station to Damascus that amounts to a long, slow descent of about 1500 feet.  That section of the trail runs near and in many places crosses over beautiful Laurel Creek, and at the time we were there, the area was thick with white rhododendron blossoms.  The 5-6 hour drive from Richmond is definitely worth it, especially if you plan to take advantage of the great hiking, camping, canoeing, or fishing in the area.  The Grayson Highlands park has some mountain biking trails of its own, and there are probably others nearby.

Closer to home, you may have started to see some new bike racks installed in a few locations in downtown Richmond, including on Grace Street near Pearly’s and on Broad near The Camel (maybe this will help a bit with some of the recent parking issues).  There are many more to come; these particular racks were installed over existing headless parking meter poles, while later ones will be installed on meters with heads, or bolted to the ground in places where these are not available.  Even on existing meters, which often serve as bike racks, this makes it much easier to lock your bike securely, and each one easily accommodates two bikes.

Additional good news is that Sportsbackers and Martin’s have decided to up the cycling ante with the Tour of Richmond, to be held October 6.  There will be a century (102 mile), metric century (58 mile), and 29 mile option.  They apparently will keep time, so the more competitive among you can see how you match up against your rivals!  See the press release for more info.  And if you’re willing to get out tomorrow (June 30) despite the heat and would rather ride in circles, you can head over to the Pedal to the Metal fundraiser event held every year at Richmond International Speedway to benefit the Richmond Police Athletic League.

Okay, now to the bad news.  Bicycling and walking did not fare well in the compromise transportation bill announced yesterday.  To make a long, sad story short, much of the funding for biking and walking was traded away as a concession to keep unrelated provisions regarding the Keystone XL pipeline and the regulation of coal ash out of the bill.  See this statement from America Bikes and the Safe Routes to School National Partnership for more details.  Some funding remains, but states can now opt out of what was once a requirement to spend a percentage of highway funds on beautification, bike accommodations, and the like.  Fortunately this is only a 2-year bill, so there will be time to gear up for the next battle in 2014.

Bring the Kids – Part I

19 Jun

It’s best to try cycling with your child after her or his neck is strong enough to hold up that cute head plus helmet — usually after the first birthday.

There’s more to say about bicycling with kids than will fit in one post of tolerable length, so this will be an introduction.  I’ve posted previously about Safe Routes to School and the incredible decline in the number of children who bike or walk to school over the last 40 years.  But there’s also the issue of cycling with the littler ones in the city.  If people have safety concerns about themselves and older kids, I can only assume that many would find it irresponsible to ride with a small child anywhere but on an off-road trail.  There are interesting and in many ways quite distorted ideas about safety in this country that I’ll touch on below but get into more deeply in a later post.  For now I’ll share a bit about my own situation to start off the discussion.

I live on the north side of Richmond just north of Laburnum Avenue, and when I’m able to, I take my 3 year-old son to daycare in Jackson Ward by bike.  It’s about 3.5 miles and takes about 20-30 minutes, depending on how many stops we make along the way to check out something — like I-95 bridge repair, building demolition, or something else fun.  I stick to residential streets as much as I can, but can’t avoid Brookland Park Boulevard and Brook Road for part of the trip.  Brook has some fairly fast traffic depending on the time of day, but a very wide right lane with not many parked cars (perfect place for a future bike lane!).

Am I totally nuts to ride with him in such places?  If you’re inclined to think so, consider this.  When given the choice he always opts for the bike over the car, and I think the reason boils down to this: he gets to interact with his surroundings and with me in ways that he would not be able to in the car.  He asks to ride down the bumpy cobble-stone street near his daycare and then we both listen to our rumbling voices as we roll over it; he asks to stop and watch the jackhammers rattling away under the highway; he waves at pedestrians as we pass by; he feels the wind in his face.

Biking is one of the best things we do together, and it certainly is the best way for us to get somewhere together.  Is it perfectly safe?  No.  But neither is transporting a child in a car, no matter how big it is.  In fact, driving big cars on big roads tends to give people an exaggerated sense of safety that makes it more dangerous for everyone.  More on this later.

The best discussion of the safety issue I’ve found is at totcycle.com, written by a father and pediatrician who bikes with his kids all around Seattle and beyond.  He also has a great guide to bike seats and other options for kids of various ages.

This is not to downplay the need for really good cycling infrastructure to help encourage a sense of safety and make cycling safer.  If we can put infrastructure in place (that includes measures to slow traffic down) where parents feel comfortable getting around with their kids on bicycles, then we’ll know we’ve really made it as a bicycle-friendly city.  To my mind that will involve more than installing bike lanes, although that’s a good start.  It will involve creating more “complete streets” that give priority to pedestrian and cyclist safety and comfort.

In the meantime, if you’re considering cycling with a little one and are not ready for busier roads, try to find a route using residential streets to get to school, playground, local coffee house, or wherever.  And consider working with your school to get a Safe Routes to School grant (assuming it does not get nixed from the federal transportation bill), which can be spent for a wide range of measures to make walking or biking to school safer.

A Final Word on the Capital Trail

15 Jun

I promise the next post will not be about either the Capital Trail or the federal transportation bill.  Although those things are really really important, too much of anything can be, well, too much.

The Times-Dispatch published an illuminating piece today on the controversy surrounding the Varina Section of the Capital Trail.  I thought it was worth highlighting because it clarifies the history of the conflict between the separated path vs. widened shoulder options.  Basically, a non-VDOT study done at some point recommended a widened shoulder, and Henrico embraced that recommendation, but that option was never a real option from VDOT’s perspective — basically because it would not be consistent with the rest of the trail and would significantly undermine its appeal and utility.  The piece also points out that the separated path, since it runs on only one side of the road, will actually affect fewer landowners and require less right of way than a widened shoulder on both sides of Route 5.

The article includes pdf’s of the proposed alignment and contact information to submit your comments to VDOT, which will be accepted through tomorrow (6/16).  The RTD piece gives the impression that the Varina supervisor Tyrone E. Nelson sees the separated path as a done deal, even if he’s not prepared to actually endorse it.  That’s encouraging, but it’s still worthwhile to reinforce support for VDOT’s design with a quick email.

To read the full article click here.

Capital Trail Trouble

14 Jun

The public information meeting on the Varina section of the Virginia Capital Trail held last week did not go so well.  I’m not sure exactly how it went down (I was unfortunately out of town), but according to reports there was a very vocal minority opposed to the proposed alignment as a separated path.  Comments are being taken until this Saturday, June 16, so please take a minute or two to write a message today to VDOT expressing your support for the separated trail.  This is it folks: if opponents win this, the Richmond end of the trail will be a nice little prelude to an uninviting widened shoulder on Route 5 through Henrico.

Below is the text from an email sent out by Capital Trail Foundation Executive Director Beth Weisbrod, with suggested text for emails to VDOT:

We need your help.

As you may have heard, VDOT held a public input meeting last week regarding the 10 mile Varina section of the Virginia Capital Trail.  Trail supporters easily outnumbered opponents, but the opponents had the floor for the bulk of the meeting.  In most cases, their opposition was based on inaccurate or outdated information.  But their voices were heard.

At the meeting, people were encouraged to fill out comment forms so their input would be counted.  The public comment period is open until June 16.

Please take the time to write an email supporting the trail, its proposed alignment as a separate trail on the north side of Rt. 5, and its completion by mid-2014. Also, please circulate this message to all of the people you know who would be willing to send in an email and be counted.  Henrico County zip codes are important, but not necessary.

Here are two samples of emails, but feel free to create your own.   Otherwise cut and paste, edit as you wish, and send to the email address below by midnight Saturday, June 16.

Thank you for taking the time to add your support!

Beth Weisbrod
Executive Director,
VCTF

Email:

info@virginiacapitaltrail.org and put: “Varina phase” in the memo line.

Sample #1

Dear Mr. Reichert,

Thank you for VDOT’s work on the Virginia Capital Trail. This project will be a great asset to residents of the Commonwealth as well as visitors. With each section that is finished, more and more people of all ages are using the trail for a variety of purposes.

As a frequent user of the trail, I strongly support the proposed alignment and feel that the separation between the road and trail is extremely important to the safety of the users and the trail’s attractiveness as a tourist destination. I hope the alignment through Varina will be approved as proposed so it will be complete by 2014.   And when the World Cycling Championships come to town the following year, Richmond can proudly show the Virginia Capital Trail to a world-wide audience.

Sincerely,
[NAME AND ADDRESS]

Sample #2

Dear Mr. Reichert:

I support the current alignment of the Virginia Capital Trail as it passes through eastern Henrico County and Varina.  This trail has been in development for over 7 years, and people of the region eagerly anticipate its completion.  The proposed alignment has been well designed, with a sensitivity towards keeping the rural character of eastern Henrico intact.  It is also an alignment affecting the fewest private landowners, while still maintaining a safe separation from Rt. 5.  This separation is critical to the trail’s value to the community.  Children riding bikes, bird watchers, and those enjoying the historical attractions will share this trail with runners, walkers and cyclists.  But only if it is safely separate from cars.

People of all ages, interests and abilities already use the completed portions of the trail in Charles City and James City Counties in large numbers.  Even the short half-mile section in downtown Richmond is crowded with people exercising, commuting, enjoying the riverfront and the outdoors.

I urge you to continue the progress so we can begin to enjoy the entire trail by mid-2014.

Sincerely,
[NAME AND ADDRESS]

(Hopefully) One Last Time…

12 Jun

I’m wary of risking bike-blog overdose, not to mention making readers’ eyes glaze over with yet another call to action on behalf of funding for bicycle and pedestrian projects.  It’s just that the House Republicans keep insisting that the new federal transportation bill, which will determine transportation funding and policy for many years, should not include even the previously small amount set aside to help fund local bicycle and pedestrian projects.  Whatever your partisan leanings otherwise, eliminating this funding would have a major negative impact on the promotion of cycling and walking, including for school children through the popular Safe Routes to School program.

So, if you have a minute, go one last time (hopefully) to this link at the League of American Bicyclists and let your senators and representative know that you consider this funding vital.

Dollar Signs

11 Jun

I’ve highlighted the financial benefits of bike infrastructure and bicycling before, as well as the relatively tiny percentage of federal highway funds that go to bike and pedestrian infrastructure.  Now the League of American Bicyclists, together with the Sierra Club and the National Council of la Raza have produced a compact fact sheet that not only captures those numbers really well, but points out that transportation policy is also about social justice.

Here are a few of the most striking numbers:

• It may be hard to believe given our car-centric habits and communities, but fully 1/3 of Americans over 16 do not drive a car for transportation.  There are plenty of different reasons for that, including the choice to live car-free, but for some it’s not a choice: they can’t afford a car (see next statistic).  Lower-income and minority citizens are not always well-represented in bicycle advocacy, but in many places they have higher rates of cycling for transportation than white, middle-class folks.  And then there are all of the older people who reach the point that they cannot (or should not) drive any longer.

• The average cost to operate a bicycle per year is about $300.  The average cost per year to operate a car is over $8,000!  While on average Americans spend 16 percent of their total household budget on transportation (that’s already more than food or health care), that percentage is above 50 percent for low-income Americans.

• That difference — even accounting for the fact that may people who cycle for transportation still own and drive cars — translates into $4.6 billion per year in total savings for those who cycle (that they probably spend on other things).

• If all Americans made just one 4-mile round trip per week by bike, it would reduce consumption of gasoline by 2 billion gallons per year.

Issues of class and ethnicity have also arisen in cities like Chicago and Portland, where (as in many other places) cycling and cycling infrastructure is seen by some as a concern mainly of affluent white folks.  As reported in a piece in Grid Chicago (see also this piece by the same author on Urban Velo), this has sometimes translated into opposition to bike lanes based on fears of gentrification.  In Chicago’s Hulmboldt Park, known as a predominantly Puerto Rican neighborhood, that opposition was overcome with outreach and information, including an organization called West Town that promotes cycling in the area, particularly to kids.  Now the Paseo Boricua has bike lanes as well as new cross walks.

This doesn’t mean that the same thing will happen in response to sharrows and bike lanes in Richmond, but we would be wise to keep in mind that cycling and its infrastructure have powerful class and cultural aspects that go beyond the basic issue of changing habits associated with driving.  Race and class differences structure politics and life in general in Richmond, so we should not be surprised if they come up in the context of cycling too.  But if we are aware of these issues, promoting cycling — along with public transit — can be a very positive thing for all Richmonders, including those in less affluent neighborhoods.

Commuter Challenge Results

9 Jun

Photo: New York Times.

Richmond’s first Bike Month Commuter Challenge was a great success.  Word is that nearly 200 people participated, with a total of 2,526 total miles logged during May.  As Bike-Ped Coordinator Jake Helmboldt reported: “That collectively saved approximately 100 gallons of gas and burned about 150,000 calories, the equivalent of about 1,000 12oz Cokes. General physical and mental health benefits? Uncountable.”

“The highest one week and overall logged mileage total went to Sam A. with a 34 mile round trip commute, resulting in 170 miles in week 1 and 610 miles for the 5 week period! That’s commitment.”

For the two prizes donated to Ride Richmond, participants needed to log at least six days of commuting by bike. A random number generator was used to pick two numbers and based upon the database of participants sorted in alphabetical order we came up with two winners, with first prize of a Giant Escape bicycle going to John H. and an REI Commuter Backpack to Garth M.  Congrats to John and Garth!

For those of you who registered, watch for a brief online survey in the near future so that we can gather feedback on how to make this a better event and more importantly, how we can make bike commuting a more viable option here in Richmond.

Thanks for your participation!  And if you jumped on that bike during May, hopefully you can continue for the rest of the year.