Archive | September, 2012

Belle Isle Skills Area Official Opening Tomorrow 9/29

28 Sep

Below is the text of a city press release.  Sounds like there were enough volunteers last weekend to work on the street skills facility that some significant progress was made there too.

City to Open New Bike Skills Training Area on Belle Isle

Richmond, VA – The City’s Department of Parks, Recreation and Community Facilities will open its new Belle Isle Bike Skills Area on Saturday, September 29, at 10 a.m. with a celebration that will include a ribbon-cutting ceremony, demonstrations, and tours. The public is invited to attend and to bring their bicycles to try out the mountain bike training area.

 “I encourage residents and visitors to come discover the Belle Isle Bike Skills Training Area as it is another step Richmond is taking to create bike-friendly, outdoor tourist attractions, as we prepare for the UCI Road World Cycling Championships in 2015,” comments Mayor Dwight C. Jones. “The benefits of cycling are tremendous to our city in many ways, including our efforts to encourage city residents to get active and adopt a healthy lifestyle.”

 The new training area is located within the James River Park on Belle Isle across from the Tredegar Street suspension bridge. It includes a beginner and expert pump track, rock gardens, and log and rock skinnies in addition to other features. Bicyclists can learn to handle these obstacles and challenges, which they will find on the trails throughout the James River Park, in a controlled environment.

“This site, which has been built largely with the labor of volunteers who love mountain biking, will provide a place to learn and practice mountain biking skills and introduce the fun of mountain biking as a recreational activity to a much larger audience,” said Dr. Norman C. Merrifield, director of the department.

In addition, while this new facility provides “off-road” training, the city also has plans to add an “on-road” training component on Belle Isle adjacent to this site. The on-road training facility will provide a place for children and adults to become competent bicyclists, as well as learn and practice the skills needed to ride safely in an urban environment.

“The James River Park is already known throughout the East coast and internationally for its outstanding network of urban mountain biking trails. Now with the addition of this skills area Richmond has enhanced its reputation as a ‘bike city,’” said Jakob Helmoldt, the city’s bicycle, pedestrian and trails coordinator.

Organizations that provided volunteers who helped construct the new training site, as well as in-kind donations, include the Friends of the James River Park, the James River Outdoor Coalition, the Richmond Mid-Atlantic Off-Road Enthusiasts, the International Mountain Biking Association, Virginia Bicycling Federation, Hands-On Greater Richmond, SportsBackers, Altria, Luck Stone, Tektonics Design Group, Sattler Creative, Alpine Trails, Dreaming Creek, and Green Side Up Landscaping.

The Belle Isle Skills Area is free to use and is open from sunrise to sunset. For more information, call (804) 646-5733 or


Car Free Week

24 Sep

Turns out that last week was Car Free Week!  Who would have thought?  I didn’t know until a couple of days ago.  And that’s telling.  A number of cities and states in the U.S., and many more in other countries, do all sorts of things to encourage people to get out of their cars and onto transit, bicycles, their feet, if not for an entire week, then at least for a day now and again.  Richmond and the state of Virginia, eh, not so much.  In this state, the localities, especially the cities, are much more likely to be forward-thinking about transportation, so maybe we can convince Richmond to take this on next year.  Click here and here for information on Car Free Week and Car Free Days.

The first of the two links is to an article with a video at the end showing a motorist following two cyclists on a rural road for what seems like an eternity, laying on the horn the whole time.  What strikes me most beyond the intensity of the motorist’s antipathy to cyclists is the relative calm of the guys on bikes.  I don’t know if I would have kept my cool for that long.

Photo by Phil Riggan,

But back to the topic of cars, commuting, and cities.  Last week also saw inaugural activities for Park(ing) Day in Richmond.  The basic idea is to take a little of the enormous space usually devoted to storing automobiles (and that space is proportionally really enormous in downtown Richmond) and turn it into a little urban oasis on some kind.  In many cities folks just put money in a parking meter and then set up a little lounging area or a place to play a game.  Richmond’s version on Main Street near VCU was more carefully coordinated with the city.

Grist has some photos of some of the creative things people in other cities came up with.  Another little sign of what could be a trend: not of banning cars, as some people seem to fear, but of starting a conversation about the incredible costs and relative inefficiency of our all-but exclusive focus on cars as transportation.

Parking for bicycles, in contrast to that for cars, takes up a lot less space, and can even contribute to public space in the form of artistic or sculptural racks.  Having already attracted attention for some earlier bike rack designs, David Byrne has come up with a cool idea for racks for the Brooklyn Academy of Music.  As home to the VMFA and one of the top-ranked schools in the country for sculpture, there’s no reason why Richmond shouldn’t have a bunch of such useful pieces of public art.


19 Sep

It appears the Times-Dispatch public square on bike friendliness in the region was well attended.  Over 160 people showed up.  Todays story as well as video of the event can be found here.

The RTD also included a story today about the new Huguenot Bridge.  (Michael Paul Williams’ commentary on the lack of planning for transportation beyond cars and highways in the region mentions the bridge too).

The reviews of the new Huguenot are mixed with regard to aesthetics and, most importantly, how bike-friendly the new bridge is.  It includes 10-foot break-down lanes on each side that can be used as bike lanes.  The Huguenot will thus resemble the Lee Bridge in this respect.  It’s much, much better than the old bridge, which had only a narrow sidewalk and no room at all for bicycles other than the main travel lane.

On the other hand, if the goal is to encourage a wide spectrum of citizens to cycle, my view is that more could be done on these and other bridges to either enhance safety and reduce the stress of crossing on a bicycle.  The fact is that on these bridges, motorists see a nice, wide expanse of roadway in front of them and adjust their speed accordingly: they go very fast.  Experienced cyclists may not be flustered by cars passing a few feet away at 50 mph or more, but I think many would find that unnerving.  Such conditions do not project bike-friendliness or allow for low-stress cycling.  And reducing the stress of cycling is key to getting more people to do it for transportation.

To help alleviate this problem, two things could be done.  First, it would be ideal to install a cycle track (separated by a curb) between the sidewalk and the breakdown lane.  That would add 8 feet or so on each side.  Or at the very least (or in addition to the first), measures could be taken to reduce car speeds on these bridges.  Keeping travel lanes narrower would be a start.  Rumble strips could help too.

The biggest potential problem with the Huguenot Bridge, however, is that it remains unclear how safe it will be for cyclists on either side of it.  It’s not apparent that VDOT put much thought into that part, but it may be possible to make improvements before the project is complete.

Bicycle accommodations, even where they are included, still remain secondary in engineers’ and politicians’ minds.  The extra cost of including truly inviting bicycle infrastructure is considered too great, even if it would in most cases increase the overall costs by a small percentage.  Then there’s the remaining car-centric mentality of many engineers and planners.

If you would like to get a humorous take on this problem and haven’t seen the video before, check out the animated short “Conversation with an Engineer.”  It captures extremely well in caricature what concerned citizens, bicycle advocates, and others are up against.  What it doesn’t highlight is that the leaders of transportation departments and those above them, the elected officials, could do something about this if they put the money and political will elsewhere.

Making Things Happen

16 Sep

The RTD published a profile today of Lloyd “Bud” Vye, fellow Richmonder and advocacy director for the Virginia Bicycling Federation.  To the degree that there has been progress at the state level on bicycling in recent years, Bud has assuredly had a hand in it.  He’s also a great example of staying on a bicycle into one’s later years: at 79, he’s still going strong and is hoping to ride the entire Capital Trail after its completion.

Next weekend there is an opportunity for you to make your own mark by helping to create cycling infrastructure in Richmond.  The city is moving forward with creating a road skills facility at the Old Dominion Iron and Nail Factory on Belle Isle.  Next Saturday, 9/22 from 9 am to noon, volunteers will be helping to patch concrete, clean off the concrete floor, and begin stenciling/painting the skills courses on the floor.  Please RSVP to Jake Helmboldt:

There has been quite a bit of press recently surrounding the 2015 World Cycling Championships.  It appears that the old problem of regional cooperation — or more precisely, lack thereof — is showing its face in discussions between organizers and the counties, especially Henrico.  Michael Paul Williams penned a column earlier this week with yet another plea for increased regional cooperation (not just for the races), while a RTD article today reports that planning for the race is “on track.”

C’mon counties!  There is no doubt that you’ll benefit greatly from this event.  And you weren’t involved in the initial bid and planning because, well, you’re not part of Richmond and you seem to like it that way.  I can see finding it hard to justify sinking money into a ball park, but these races are going to bring so much business and exposure to the region, it only makes sense — if only from a self-interested standpoint — to pitch in and make them the best that they can be.  This is the closest the region will get to hosting something like the Olympics, so let’s do it right.

A Forum and a Film

13 Sep

Source: RideRichmond

If you read this blog or the RTD much, you know that the paper — especially editor Tom Silvestri — has become a strong and consistent voice in support of making Richmond bicycle-friendly.  After publishing a number of commentaries and calling on the various jurisdictions to explain their bicycle infrastructure plans and policies, the RTD has now decided to focus one of their Public Square events on the topic.  This would be a great time to let your bicycle flag fly and get answers to your questions about how things are coming along.

Speaking of how local jurisdictions are working on bicycling issues, the RTD recently published the response of Hanover County (City of Richmond and Henrico are there t00).  There doesn’t appear to be all that much in the way of plans for specific improvements, but the report does give the impression that the county’s Sheriff’s Department is more aware of and better trained in bicycling issues than RPD.


So what about the film?  All of this infrastructure stuff is super important but, well, a bit dry at times too.  Maybe the Rag and Bones Bike Co-op movie night this Saturday 9/15 can help.  Donations and proceeds from snacks will help support the great work of the co-op.  (They can use your old but functional bike parts too).  And the film is Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles!  Ride over with a group from the VCU compass at 7 pm, or just head straight over to the co-op at 1300 School Street.


12 Sep

I just recently stumbled onto the site of an organization called Bikestorming.  The tag line is “Ride a bike and change the world.”  Started by a Buenos Aires advocacy organization called La Vida en Bici, the Bikestorming site is described as “a collaboration platform to make bicycles the main form of transportation in cities across the planet.”  The goal is 50% mode share by 2030.  Ambitious!  But what a wonderful place Richmond would be if half of its residents (even if we just count the city) used bicycles to get around.  For now the web site has a great library of videos and a few other resources.  I’m excited to see what comes of this.

That 50% mode share might be even more easily attainable with infrastructure like this.  According to Grist, a London architect has proposed a network of elevated bikeways called SkyCycle.  The idea is to separate bicycles from cars without having to reduce lanes or parking.  Given the relative reluctance to spend large amounts on bike infrastructure relative to lane widening etc. in most places, I’m not going to hold my breath for elevated bikeways in Richmond, but it would be cool to zoom along Broad Street above it all!

To find out more about what is actually planned and possible in the near term for Richmond, you can ask Jakob Helmboldt, the city’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Coordinator.  He’s the featured guest at tomorrow’s (9/12) Sierra Club meeting at the Science Museum, 7 p.m.  See this link for details.

Mayo Bridge Experiment

3 Sep

A reader named Susan shared a video on the blog’s Facebook page and it’s so cool I wanted to highlight it further.  Here’s the Vimeo link.  It documents an effort by planning students in Cleveland to envision the transformation of a couple of blocks of Rockwell Avenue into a “complete and green street.”  As you probably know, “complete streets” are ones that are friendly and safe for all users, prioritizing cyclists and pedestrians to the same degree as cars.

Here’s the part that really grabs me: it makes clear that you can try out, say, a separated cycle track on a temporary basis to see how it works!  It’s such a simple and obvious thing, but I’ve never seen an example of this kind of experiment before.  Debates about bike lanes and such are otherwise abstract and occur at the level of drawings and statistics.  This way you can get a very clear and concrete sense of what effects a change will likely have.

So, here’s my thought.  The Planning Commission is meeting tomorrow (see complete info below), and one item on the agenda is the Riverfront Plan.  That plan calls for a road diet on the Mayo Bridge, converting it from four lanes into two, to make it much more bicycle- and pedestrian-friendly.  Why not just try it out for a few weeks?  If traffic engineers are concerned about the effects, well why don’t we do an experiment?  Use temporary striping, bollards, planters, and/or signage to narrow the bridge.  If chaos ensues, then we’ll know.  If people find it really appealing, we’ll have a sense of that too.

Assuming a positive outcome, this could be a good way to convince the skeptics (traffic engineers) that new traffic patterns and bicycle accommodations will actually work and not disrupt things as much as they fear.

Do consider attending the Planning Commission meeting tomorrow if you can make it.  It’s at 1:30 p.m. at City Hall.  Further details are on the official agenda.