Archive | November, 2012

Riverfront Plan in Danger

25 Nov

Church Hill People’s News has posted an alert that last-minute changes have been requested by property owners/developers that could effectively send the entire Riverfront Plan back to the drawing board and scuttle any work on realizing it for the time being.  The CHPN announcement includes a link to the plan if you want to take a closer look.

The plan includes a number of measures of particular interest to cyclists, including a conversion of the Vepco levy into a bridge for pedestrians and cyclists that would extend all the way from Brown’s Island to the southern bank of the James, as well as language that requires pedestrian and bicycle accommodations on any restored or new Mayo Bridge, among others.  Some other features that are not specifically bike-related would nevertheless be great to have in place for the 2015 cycling championship, and in any case would be great for the city.  The draft before council is the product of over two years of study and negotiation, and as happens with most such plans, many of its provisions have been qualified or made more tentative due to concerns of traffic folks, property owners, and others.

Apparently property owners associated with Mayo Island and the USP/Tarmac property (below Libby Hill) have requested further changes that would eliminate all mention of park land in these places.  My understanding is that their interest in developing their properties has been accommodated already in the plan (it mentions using the properties as parks or for development), but the changes would take the possibility of the city acquiring these properties for parkland off the table.

These changes could have been requested earlier but were not.  My impression is thus that the real goal is to keep council from voting on the plan before the deadline of 12/3, which would basically send it back through the planning process and prevent any money from being spent this year on realizing any of its recommendations.  I can understand property owners’ desire to develop their land (if that’s their real goal), but stalling the plan entirely for their sake would be a big mistake.

The best thing you could do would be to attend the council meeting tomorrow.  Otherwise, contact your council representative prior to the meeting.  Click here for council members’ contact info.



What’s Up in the Bottom?

13 Nov

The Partnership for Smarter Growth is hosting its annual River City Saunter in Shockoe Bottom this Thursday, November 15 at 5 p.m.  Although this is not a bicycling-specific event, transportation will be a part of the discussion about the future of the area.  The city’s bike-ped coordinator Jake Helmboldt will be presenting.  Click here for more details and to rsvp.

Catching Up

13 Nov

I usually focus my posts here on a particular news item or issue, but sometimes that — along with time constraints — means that too many things end up sitting on the “I need to post about that” list.  So I thought I’d try doing a periodic “round up” of things I’ve come across or have been sent my way but haven’t made it into a post yet.  Enjoy!

Richmond on the League of American Bicyclists Blog
Having awarded Richmond Bronze level status as a bicycle-friendly community, the LAB recently posted an informative interview with Richmond’s bike-ped coordinator, Jake Helmboldt, and Champe Burnley of Virginia Bicycling Federation and co-chair of the mayor’s bike-ped commission.  It’s a good overview of the city’s cycling past and the opportunities and challenges we face in reaching for that gold-level status by 2015.

Another Force for Cycling: BikeRVA
I stumbled onto a piece in the printed version of Grid magazine introducing BikeRVA.  I had not heard about this effort and still know no more than the piece includes, so here’s a bit of what the piece has to say:

Leveraging the RVACreates platform, and using the World Championships as a target date, and @Bike_RVA on Twitter are platforms for members of the community to share ideas to increase biking.

Richmond-based consultancy the Frontier Project, in collaboration with a growing number of partners at Richmond 2015, are currently finding ways to make these ideas happen. As with all social innovation projects, the key to success is rapidly implementing small, incremental ideas that layer one on top of the other to create significant change. The ideas have been pouring in at a steady rate, and many are highly doable.

Among the great ideas already listed: a downtown bike history trail (not the history of bicycling, but a trail to tour Richmond’s historic sites); a “2015 Charter” in which businesses would pledge to expand their bicycling amenities by 2015; bike repair stations at city libraries; store and coffee shop discounts for cyclists; a “buy a bike donate a bike” program to provide bicycles to low income individuals; and last but not least, a challenge to VCU art students to have the fellows on Monument Avenue on bicycles for the duration of the 2015 championships.

Bicycling Stamps
Did you know there are bicycling stamps?  A friend forwarded the announcement to me, which includes a much broader justification than just “celebrating cycling.”  Maybe a way to add a little “message” to your holiday cards?

The Patron Saint of Bicyclists
I’m generally inclined to emphasize the relative safety of bicycling, but accidents do happen, of course.  Well, if you are inclined to seek a bit of extra comfort and protection from saints, look no further than the Madonna del Ghisallo.  There is a chapel in the Lombardi district in central Italty devoted to her, which sits on a hill that has also figured in numerous bike races.  Check out this post on veloreviews for a more detailed account, which follows an announcement of a “blessing of the bicyclists” event held in San Francisco.  (I’m pretty sure the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in NYC also does this every year).

When Not to Share
The illustration below is from UrbanVelo via Commute Orlando.  Apparently the image was originally created for a cyclist who was pulled over for not riding along the curb of a 12-foot lane.

Storm Creates Commuters

7 Nov

Cyclists on the Brooklyn Bridge. Photo by Benjamin Norman, New York Times.

What do you do if you live in a major city where all of a sudden an extensive public transportation goes almost completely out of commission, gas becomes scarce, and tunnels for cars impassable?  Well, for short distances, you walk, which many New Yorkers do anyway.  But for many the solution has been to dust off that bicycle usually used for the occasional jaunt.

A good number of New Yorkers have started to commute by bicycle in recent years.  That number may increase, according to a recent New York Times article, as people who never considered commuting by bicycle are forced to do so by circumstance, and then find out that they really like it.

The fact that New York has added a lot of bike infrastructure in recent has contributed significantly to the increase in bike commuting pre-Sandy.  As I reported in a recent post, recent research has demonstrated more clearly than ever before the link between good infrastructure and the number of people cycling for transportation.  Another recent study conducted in Vancouver and Toronto and published in the American Journal of Public Health suggests that people not only perceive bike lanes, cycle tracks, and other infrastructure to be safer than sharing lanes with cars, they actually are safer.  They can reduce the risk of injury by 50 percent.

Interestingly, the article outlining the study suggests that the most crashes involving bicycles and cars occur where cyclists share lanes with cars on major streets where parked cars are present.  In other words, the biggest risks are being hit by an opening door (getting “doored”) or by a car moving out of a parking space into the travel lane.  If the number of cyclists I see riding with a foot or two of parked cars is any indication, a lot of riders don’t take this threat seriously.

Of course even if we install bicycle infrastructure in Richmond that rivals the best in the country, there will be streets without sharrows or lanes where the cyclist has to judge independently where to ride relative to the parked cars.  On narrower streets in Richmond, like in the Fan and downtown, that often means riding in the middle of the lane, or at least five feet or so to the left of the cars.  Remember that even if you’re far enough to not run smack into a door, it could still knock you out into the path of a car behind you.  Or your evasive maneuver could lead you to veer out into traffic.  You need to be far enough out that you would not need to swerve if a door opened suddenly.

Cycle tracks carry the least risk, according to the study.  Situations without parked cars and other facilities separated from cars — paths and traffic-reduced bike boulevards — also increase safety a lot.  This is where we need to be aiming our sights in Richmond: cycle tracks or bounded/buffered bike lanes that separate cyclists from parked cars and traffic on major streets; bike boulevards in more residential areas like the fan and Church Hill, and bike paths or greenways where possible.

Although it did not involve a situation with parked cars, Richmond has unfortunately seen yet another cyclist fatality, this time on Mechanicsville Turnpike.  The RTD reports that the investigation is still underway, but we know that a 65 year-old man was traveling southbound on a bicycle when he was hit and killed by a panel truck.  This is precisely the kind of suburban arterial road that is often the most dangerous for cyclists and pedestrians, because they are built only with car traffic “throughput” and little else in mind.

2nd Street Connector: A Lost Opportunity?

1 Nov

The 2nd Street connector, which apparently is now under construction, has been controversial for a number of reasons.  It has been portrayed as a project whose main goal is to shorten the commute of Dominion employees by a couple of minutes.  It has also been criticized for damage to a brick wall that is part of the historic canal.  A lot of the discussion has been on the Oregon Hill neighborhood site here.

A less-noted problem is that the extension has no bicycle lanes or other accommodations, and a sidewalk on only one side.  A recent letter to the editor of the RTD raised this issue:

As I biked home recently and saw the Second Street connector road under construction, I pondered the design, which calls for two narrow travel lanes and a sidewalk on only one side of the road. This road will connect Second Street just north of the Lee Bridge to Tredegar Street and descends at an extremely steep grade.

The lack of an uphill bike lane and sidewalks will increase delays for motorists and compromise safety for everyone. This new road is in the middle of the city and immediately adjacent to Belle Isle, the Canal Walk and the James River Park System — some of the most popular places to walk, run and bike in the city. For even more evidence that a sidewalk on both sides of the street is needed, look no further than Tredegar Street itself, which lacks a sidewalk on the north side and has a worn dirt path there instead. Fixing this is one of the recommendations in the new Riverfront Plan. What about the thousands of pedestrians who descend this hill to attend the Folk Festival?

Dominion employees will probably have the most time to ponder the road design as they wait behind bicyclists traveling uphill at 5 mph, a problem that would have been easily avoided by adding a mere 5-foot bike lane. It is always more expensive to retrofit a road than to build new, so please, Richmond, let’s stop being pennywise and pound foolish.

John Bolecek.

Hard to see why this street would not be designed as really pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly.  Hope this is not a precedent for future new street projects in the city.