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!

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