Archive | January, 2013

Bicycle Action Day Recap

31 Jan

RVA News has a pretty detailed piece on Ride Richmond’s first Bicycle Action Day at the General Assembly.  After the press conference organized by Virginia Bicycling Federation and Ride Richmond, we gathered outside to wait for an opportunity to meet and talk with legislators.

As a first effort this was a great success.  A handful of people have done bicycle-oriented lobbying at the General Assembly for years, but this was the first attempt (that I know of) to combine a ride/rally with a press conference and lobbying effort.

It would be great to see a bigger contingent of cyclists next time.  Part of the idea is to show that we’re not a small “fringe” group or special interest but a sizable group of citizens.  Some lawmakers take us seriously, but many do not.  The best way to change that is to make clear to them that vocal, energetic cyclists are among their constituents.

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Get Bikes in the Richmond Budget

29 Jan

‘Tis the season for lobbying!

There are a few more opportunities coming up to communicate directly to city leaders that we want bicycle infrastructure and other related stuff to be given some priority in the next budget.  Four more MPACT (Mayor’s Participation Action and Communication Team) meetings will take place this week and next week, with the aim of getting public input on spending priorities.  See this link for more information (dates and locations also listed below).  All meetings are 6 pm – 8 pm.

Keep in mind that you do not have to be a resident of the area in which the meeting is being held in order to participate.  Hope you can make it to one!  This is an important way to make our presence known and confirm the importance of spending on cycling.

Wednesday, January 30 (TOMORROW!)
Science Museum of Virginia

Tuesday, February 5
Albert Hill Middle School

Wednesday, February 6
Virginia War Memorial

Thursday, February 7
ESH Greene Elementary School

Reminder: Bicycle Action Day Tomorrow

28 Jan

Hope to see you there!  This is a great opportunity to make legislators aware that we exist and are organized.  See the notice below from Ride Richmond.  Note: the VCU Compass is near the northeast corner of Cabell Library.

BicycleActionDay-2013-01-062

Bikeable Memphis???

26 Jan
Cyclists depart from the Pyramid in downtown Memphis to ride the Bluff City Blues 100 (Katherine Fisher, on Bicycling .com)

Cyclists depart from the Pyramid in downtown Memphis to ride the Bluff City Blues 100 (Katherine Fisher, on Bicycling .com)

Portland.  Minneapolis.  Davis.  Boulder.  New York.  San Francisco.  Seattle.  These are among the cities most people think of when they hear the phrase “bike-friendly cities in the U.S.”

As it strives to be truly bikeable, Richmond can learn a lot from all of these places.  But in some ways a place like Memphis, Tennessee might be a better comparison, even if Memphis is quite a bit larger too.

According to Bicycling.com, Memphis was named one of the worst cities for cyclists in 2008 and 2010.  Okay, so Richmond has never earned that dubious distinction, but one wonders what it might have done in terms of urgency to turn things around: after the second “last place” finish, Memphis’ mayor has taken big steps pretty quickly, such that it is now dubbed the most improved city for cycling.  Those steps have included hiring a bike-ped coordinator and installing around 60 miles of bike facilities, as well as taking the crucial step of adopting a complete streets policy that guides inclusion of bike and pedestrian facilities where streets are being constructed or redesigned.

So far this doesn’t sound radically different from Richmond’s initial efforts, although Memphis’ 60 miles include more actual bike lanes, they’ve been able to move faster in getting them installed, and they have that very-important complete streets policy in place.  So it doesn’t have to take that long to put some transformational infrastructure in place if the people at the top are fully behind it and willing to push to make things happen.

Memphis Mayor Wharton’s push, combined with the challenges of extensive sprawl and a high obesity rate, earned his city a place among a handful of cities participating in the Green Lane Project, an effort of Bikes Belong to “catalyze the creation of world class bicycle facilities in the U.S.”

Of course, this kind of progress does not come without some conflict.  A piece in the New York Times explains that some downtown Memphis business owners have not seen the negative impact they feared from a bike lane they initially opposed.  But folks in a residential neighborhood where on-street parking was taken away for a bike lane are pushing to have the lane removed again — even after the bike-ped coordinator compromised by making it a “Cinderella” lane that disappears at night (when parking on it is allowed).  The Times article points out that residents became disgruntled in the first place because they felt they had not been heard, so one wonders if they would have been less cranky if they had been consulted early on.

One last and especially important lesson is what Memphis has done to use bike facilities to help rejuvenate a struggling commercial districts.  In the League of American Bicyclists’ monthly publication, the city’s bike-ped coordinator Kyle Wagenschutz describes an event called “A New Face for an Old Broad [Avenue],” organized by a neighborhood association:

 Local cycling advocates and business leaders partnered to restripe the street with protected bike lanes, buffers, and green asphalt.  Community members set up temporary storefronts in vacant buildings, and celebrated the history and businesses along the street.

I really like this idea of putting low-cost versions of bike lanes etc. in place to give people a taste, and show what it can do for an area.  Since the event, Wagenschutz reports, donors have provided funds to make this infrastructure permanent and extend it further, and the area has seen a lot more investment, with 10 new businesses having opened up.

I could easily imagine something like this for the two blocks of Grace Street west of the performing arts center, or the blocks of Broad Street that still have more vacant than occupied properties.

So, if the goal becoming a smaller Portland of the east coast seems a bit much, how about a smaller version of Memphis?  We could do a lot worse.

Lots of Legislation

20 Jan

Ride Richmond has a comprehensive list of bills that have been introduced in the General Assembly this session that directly or indirectly pertain to cyclists.  Just scroll down below the Bicycle Action Day (1/29) information — which you hopefully will transfer to your calendar with the plan to join us!

The dooring bill mentioned in recent posts seems to be attracting more attention than others, perhaps because a number of the other proposals, such as a 3-foot standard for passing a cyclist (the law in VA now says 2 feet), have been introduced before.  Or — admittedly I’m being hopeful here — it’s because this is a perfectly reasonable law that has nevertheless attracted strong opposition from some legislators.  For some of the points pro and con, see this recent CBS Richmond report on the Virginia Bicycling Federation site.

The real gist of the law is that anyone opening a car door where there is traffic should be careful in doing so, and could be held responsible if they’re not.  “But that’s unenforceable,” some say.  Well, it is in cases when an accident occurs.  And, like the 3-foot passing law (which gets the same criticism), part of the point is simply to make drivers aware of something and encourage them to be more cautious, not just punish them for not doing something.

It’s hard to resist the interpretation that the opposition to laws like this really lies in the sense that something is being done for cyclists (who for whatever reason don’t deserve it) and against motorists, which in turn goes back to the default idea that roads are really for cars and everyone else should just deal with it.

Update on Dooring Bill

17 Jan

Below is the most recent update from Michael Gilbert, who’s been doing a lot to represent cyclists this legislative session:

SB736, the dooring bill, passed out of the Senate Transportation Committee today 8 (yes) to 5 (no). This is a victory, but the battle is not over. In particular, Senator Watkins showed strong resistance to this common sense bill that benefits all vehicles. If you are his constituent (listed below) please contact him and ask very politely for his support for this bill. Many people in his district bike. He needs to know this is important to his constituents and they will support him on this issue. Please take 2 minutes and send him an email. A sample email is included below.
Senator John Watkins (R-Chesterfield, Richmond)
Phone:
Email:
Map of District:
List of Areas He Represents:
Small amount of Richmond:
Maymont
Byrd Park
Randolph
Oregon Hill
Monroe Ward:
-West of 2nd Street to Harrison Street
-Broad Street, bordered by 2nd and Harrison
-Monroe Ward
-VCU Campus
Lots of Chesterfield County
Powhatan
Aston
Midlothian
Roseland
Charter Colony
The Grove
Stony Point
Huguenot
Bon Air
Powhite Park
Worthington
Warwick
Jahnke
Gravel Hill
Chippenham Forest
Swanson
Forrest View
Westover
Forrest Hill Terrace


Sample Email:
 

Senator Watkins,

As one of your constituents who drives both a motor vehicle and bicycle, I want to take a moment and ask you to please support Senator Petersen’s SB736. This bill applies to, and benefits all vehicles, not just cyclists. I was very surprised to learn that this was not already law, and that 45 other states have a version of this already enacted. That tells me this is near nationally recognized vehicular safety issue. Vehicular safety is not only important to me as your constituent, it’s important to all citizens of our beautiful Commonwealth. Please vote in favor of this bill.

Sincerely,
NAME
NEIGHBORHOOD
CITY, VA

Updates

16 Jan

Dooring Law

The bill mentioned in my last post that would make it a traffic violation if someone opens a car door and strikes another vehicle (like a bicycle) is coming up for discussion tomorrow (Wednesday 1/16) in the Senate Committee on Transportation.  Here are details from the alert sent out by one of the dedicated local advocates who has been following this stuff closely:

Tomorrow at 1:30pm the Senate Committee on Transportation will be meeting at the General Assembly (link here). Senator Petersen’s dooring bill will be presented (summary here). There has been quite a bit of attention on this bill in the press: RVA NewsVirginia Pilot, andWashington Post.

If you can possibly make it to the meeting to make your support known, that would be great!

Virginia Capital Trail

Another update focuses on the Virginia Capital Trail.  In a recent post I discussed the concerns of a Varina man whose property is right next to a proposed realignment of the trail near Dorey Park.  Bill Lohmann at the RTD published a great rebuttal to those concerns on Monday.  The piece recounts fairly significant opposition to the Virginia Creeper Trail (definitely worth the trip, by the way) when it was first proposed, and widespread support for it within a couple of years after it was constructed.  The feared problems failed to materialize, and the benefits were and continue to be significant.  It’s hard to imagine the Virginia Capital Trail turning out any different.

Sports Backers Gets into Bicycle Advocacy

Finally, some time ago I passed on the news that Sports Backers was setting up something called Bike Walk RVA.  Cyclists who participated in the Tour of Richmond had the option of getting discounted entry if they donated to this effort.  Richmond.com recently filled in a lot more detail about this, and it sounds very promising.

Supported by a grant from the Richmond Memorial Health Foundation, Sports Backers will hire a Bike Walk RVA Director who will be tasked with trying to encourage and coordinate regional efforts around cycling and walking, and coordinate support for annual events focused on these activities, among other things.  The release specifically mentions an open streets event, in which selected local streets would be closed for several hours on the model of Ciclovia events that originated in Bogotá, Colombia and have become quite popular in many U.S. cities.  Word has it that the Director will be hired soon and the first open streets event is not far off.