Archive | August, 2012

Meeting Tonight: River Road Bike Friendliness

27 Aug

I just picked this up from the Richmond Area Bicycling Association message board, from RABA’s advocacy chair Bud Vye.  If you can make it out despite the late notice, that would be great!

Here’s the text of Bud’s message:

I have just learned that Tuckahoe District Supervisor Pat O’Bannon is holding a public meeting tomorrow (Monday, 8/27) evening @ 7 p.m. at the River Rd. Baptist Church, River Rd. & Ridge Ave. (just west of U of R) to discuss the need for bike lanes/paved shoulders and/or sidewalks on the section of River Rd.that was recently straightened. The RABA Board is meeting at the same time, so I can not be there, but it would be very helpful if we could get some cyclists who ride that section of River Rd. (particularly if they are Tuckahoe District residents) at that meeting to express some concern and support for a widened shoulder or bike lane. I do not personally ride that section, but have been told by some who do that the straightening project did not really improve the cycling situation (which wasn’t that good) but only gave the motorists a longer sight distance ahead so they could drive faster. Anyone who is able to attend might want to introduce yourself to Charlie Reed (he’s about 6’7″ tall and easy to spot) who lives along that section, is a cyclist, and has been trying for years to get a shoulder or lane to improve the cycling conditions on the major cycling route from the west end out to Goochland. Also, I would appreciate a report of what transpired from anyone who can attend.  Bud Vye, RABA Advocacy Director


For Your Information and Amusement

27 Aug

In a recent post I linked to a commentary by Times-Dispatch editor Tom Silvestri calling for real commitment to improved bicycle-friendliness in the region.  Silvestri also requested that each of the jurisdictions in the Richmond metro area submit responses to the following questions:

1) What have you done to make your municipality a better place for bicyclists to safely use the roads for recreation, commuting and sport purposes?

2) What plans are in the works for further improvements?

3) By 2015, how many miles of your roads could be considered bike-friendly?

Two localities have submitted their responses: the City of Richmond, and Henrico County.  The piece is somewhat buried (in my view) on the RTD site, so I’m linking to it here.  I think it’s fair to say that the city’s response is informative and the plans substantial, even if the execution has been somewhat slow so far and the provision of infrastructure beyond signage and shared lane markings (sharrows) remains uncertain.

The response offered by Henrico County is, in contrast, amusing in my view.  The response to question #2 is as follows:

  • Working with VDOT to complete 15 miles of the Virginia Capital Trail (Route 5 in Eastern Henrico from the Richmond city limits to Charles City County line) scheduled for completion by in 2014.
  • North Gayton Road (between Bacova Road and Pouncey Tract Road): One mile of mixed-use trail scheduled for completion by Henrico County in 2012.

Henrico has actually done much more to block or otherwise sabotage the Capital Trail.  But the punch line is that the response to question #3 is (drum roll) 16 miles.  Sixteen miles in all of Henrico County.  15 of that is the Capital Trail.  Only 1 mile — ONE MILE —  will actually be built by the county.  And I’m sure that mile will be very useful for getting around…

Okay, maybe this is unfair.  After all, the distances and land use in Henrico, like most other suburban jurisdictions, do not for the most part lend themselves to cycling for transportation.  Who knows, maybe one day someone could bike from a mixed-use development in “Downtown Short Pump” to a rapid transit bus stop to get to downtown.  But that would be very much the exception.

But why should this worry me?  The people in charge of managing the region’s transportation system have very little on their minds other than continued suburban sprawl and car traffic, so that’s where the investment is likely to go: to road widening in the counties.  More specifically, the Richmond Area Metropolitan Planning Organization’s 2035 long-range transportation plan is based on made two erroneous projections: 1) that the car will remain the absolute king in the area as far as transportation goes, and 2) that the city population will grow about 10% in the next 25 years while most of the counties will grow by somewhere between 40% (Henrico and Chesterfield) and 90% (Goochland, Powhatan, New Kent).  See the report here, especially the table on page 9.

Here’s the problem: they’re using 2008 data and assuming 2035 will be more or less a version of 2008, just with growth expanding in rural areas where there is still room for more subdivisions.  Something called the housing crash happened just around 2008, didn’t it?  And at the same time there’s been a lot of buzz about both Millenials and Baby Boomers moving back to urban centers.  One of the main reasons is not wanting to rely on a car.  The fairly long list of recently-completed and planned apartment and condo buildings in Richmond attest to the trend.

A couple of things could happen as a result of this ill-informed planning.  Investment in infrastructure (read more roads and lanes — the bicycling and public transit sections of the plan are little more than empty gestures) to serve this projected growth could push things in the direction of, well, that kind of growth.  Fait accompli.  Or it could just be money down the toilet that could have gone toward making cycling and public transit (which both benefit from the other) more viable options, not to mention development oriented toward those kinds of transportation.

That plan is in place for now.  Let’s hope that the writing (data) on the wall in the near future is clear enough to shift the priorities.  Or we may just have to stage a mass bike-in at their office in Chesterfield County.  In the meantime, we need infrastructure in the city that will make cycling safer and provide a sense of safety for the many who just won’t use a bicycle for transportation without some separation from cars.  That kind of infrastructure would make the city center’s renaissance a fait accompli.

Riverfront Plan

22 Aug

A call posted recently on Bike Forest Hill’s Facebook page.

Over the past few months the firm Hargreaves and Associates worked with local planners to develop a comprehensive plan for the riverfront in Richmond.  The final draft of that plan can be found here.  There are things to quibble with, but there is a lot to like.  The vision is to make the riverfront more accessible and a central place of recreation and social life even more than it is now.

There are several aspects of the plan that will impact cyclists.  One is the proposal to widen the walkway that now goes part way out into the James on the former Vepco levy and extend it across the river — to convert it into a bridge, in effect.  There are a few other recommendations for making areas near the river more bicycle-accessible, such as putting a ramp rather than stairs on the Manchester Bridge.

Now the plan is being considered by the Planning Commission before being sent on to city council.  The commission put off a final vote on the plan after a previous meeting to look more closely at a couple of issues, including how the proposed Echo Harbor site is designated in the plan.

Another proposal that has received less press but is just as important is to put the Mayo Bridge on a “diet.”  Road diet is something many cities are now doing to give greater priority and make safer conditions for pedestrians and bicyclists, and to make their urban spaces more inviting in general.  In this case it would remove one lane on each side to create a much better situation for cyclists and pedestrians.  This goes hand in hand with the proposal that Mayo Island (currently under private ownership) could become a central recreational space for Richmonders, and maybe even a site for staging the 2015 cycling championships.  And with some adjustments to traffic patterns, the Manchester Bridge could easily handle the car traffic that would presumably no longer be on the Mayo.

Here’s the problem: traffic engineers, who often represent the biggest obstacle to changing roads for the benefit of non-motorized users (not just in Richmond), say that the capacity of the Mayo Bridge cannot be reduced this way because it’s part of Route 360 and must be maintained as something more like a highway, presumably because a military convey needs to be able to use it — just in case, you know.

This is really important for a number of reasons, but the most important one is that putting the Mayo Bridge on a diet would send a crucial signal that 1) it’s necessary and worthwhile in some cases to move some priority away from cars and toward other users; and 2) making bridges over the James friendly for pedestrians and cyclists is a crucial aspect of making the city as a whole better for these users.  At the moment the options on Richmond bridges are far from ideal.

So, if you can possibly make it to the meeting on Tuesday, 9/4, please do (I unfortunately cannot get away from work that day).  It’s really important to have many bodies and voices there to make the case.  If you really can’t make it, consider writing to members of the Planning Commission with your thoughts.

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Next Steps

15 Aug

The death of cyclist Lanie Kruszewski has really put the spotlight on the issues of bicycle infrastructure, safety, and the relationship between cyclists and motorists.  Style posed the question “Is Richmond a Bike-Friendly City?” and the answer appears to be “Not yet!,” although this doesn’t prevent quite a few of us from riding anyway.

Richmond Times-Dispatch editor Tom Silvestri renewed his long-standing call for Richmond to get serious about becoming bike-friendly in an eloquent commentary.  I especially appreciate his highlighting the need for a cultural-psychological change among motorists – to “scrap” what he calls the “out of my way mentality” and widespread impatience on the road.

In a separate RTD piece focused on a possible off-road bicycle path that would run between the University of Richmond and the Country Club of Virginia, I was happy to read Richmond City Councilman Bruce Tyler quoted as saying: “More and more people are using bicycles as an alternative to cars.  It’s an issue we’re going to have to address.… Richmond, Chesterfield and Henrico are going to have to discuss how we’re going to deal with that reality.”  Indeed.

Unfortunately, Henrico does not appear very interested in helping to develop this “macro” approach, so the city should by no means wait for the counties to come around.  Patricia S. O’Bannon, Supervisor for the Henrico district that includes River Road, explained that a “bike path” had been considered for parts of the road, but residents rejected it while expressing support for a “walking path.”  (It’s very unclear here what is meant by “bike path” and “walking path.”  I assume they want no bike lanes, but do want something like a sidewalk?).

Unfortunately, Bruce Tyler seems to validate this kind of skepticism toward bicycle infrastructure: “It affects curbs, gutters, drainage, drop inlets,” he said. “It can alter the feel and look of a neighborhood.”  What is that supposed to mean?  If it’s meant to imply that you get traffic calming effects, less traffic and pollution, and higher property values, then sure.  And adding bicycle infrastructure does not necessarily require rebuilding a road!  Definitely some room for education here.

Yet another recent RTD piece highlights cyclists’ concerns and the efforts currently underway in the region to improve bicycle-friendliness.  The city has quite a bit planned, but  again, it’s not terribly encouraging in the counties.  Chesterfield has and may continue to add bike lanes to some roads when they are widened or repaved, but this seems like a piecemeal and very long-term approach.

And what are our regional planners up to?  The piece points out that the Richmond Regional Planning District Commission has allocated funds toward the Capital to Capital Trail.  Great!  But that’s it?  Nothing about planning routes or infrastructure beyond that.

This is closely related to the lack of coordination in public transportation, which is another key piece of the puzzle if we want to make bicycling a real possibility for a large portion of the population.  A recent commentary by Rev. Benjamin Campbell in Style makes a powerful case for regional public transit.

The bright side I see in this is the following: more and more people, especially those now in their 20s as well as some baby-boomers on the verge of retirement, want to live in walkable, bikeable communities and not depend so much on a car to get around.  If the city really works to put in infrastructure that is both safe and conveys a sense of safety to those who would like to bike for transportation but remain fearful, it will be supremely well-positioned to attract more of those people.

If you have any recommendations, words of encouragement, or interest in what the city is doing, be sure to come to the mixer planned for this Thursday evening 8/16, from 6-8 p.m. at CousCous on Franklin Street.  Meet other cyclists, advocates, and the city’s own bike-ped coordinator Jake Helmboldt, and show your support for better bicycle infrastructure. Hope to see you there!

Bicycling Mixer August 16

10 Aug

The goal of this event is to get all cyclists under one roof, and connect people with those that make things happen in the biking community. Many of the advocates from Virginia Bicycling Federation, who lobby at the General Assembly every January for favorable cycling laws, will be present, as will Jake Helmboldt, Richmond’s Bike-Ped Coordinator.

See you there!

Bike Corpses

10 Aug

Photo from

A recent piece published on the magazine Good‘s web site describes an art project that documents the hundreds of presumably abandoned bicycles in New York City.

As much as I can appreciate the aesthetic appeal here, I’m more interested in two other things.  The first is how NYC actually deals with these bikes.  Here are the criteria used by the city’s Department of Sanitation (and this only after someone has called to complain about the bike):

“According to the DSNY, a bike must be locked on public property and meet three of the following five criteria to count as abandoned: the bike is crushed or unusable; is missing parts other than a seat or front wheel; has a flat or missing tires; has damaged handlebars, pedals, frames, forks, or rims; or is rusted throughout more than three-quarters of its body. The DSNY told Transportation Nation that ‘upon inspection by our field supervisor a large percentage of the bicycles don’t meet the criteria to be classified as derelict.'”

This is a bit of a problem in Richmond, too, so perhaps we can take these criteria as a starting point for developing a derelict bicycle policy here.

My other interest is what happens to the bicycles that are removed.  Well, in NYC they are taken to a salvage yard.  Not every derelict bicycle can be rehabilitated, but it seems like a terrible waste of frames and parts that could be reused.

Hopefully New York (and maybe Richmond?) will soon have an earn-a-bike program like the one run by Bikes Not Bombs in Boston, recently described in Bicycling magazine.  I won’t try to summarize all of the detailed, well-written piece, but suffice it to say that local kids and teens get to keep a bicycle that they build from the frame up from recovered parts.  Not surprisingly, the benefits go beyond bike repair skills and getting a bicycle.  Now that’s recycling!

Position Your Position

9 Aug

Having good judgment on where to ride — where on a given road to position yourself — is one of the most important aspects of cycling safety.  I’m struck, though, by how many otherwise cautious and considerate cyclists position themselves in unsafe ways, especially riding too close to parked cars.  It’s understandable in a way: even confident cyclists have a hard time getting past the idea that they need to get out of the way of cars on the road, and so they ride too far to the right.

This is just one of several aspects of lane positioning discussed in a piece I put together in collaboration with Michael Gilbert of RideRichmond.  Check it out on the Virginia Bicycling Federation site.