Conversations

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.

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