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.

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