Expand the Plan

3 May

RichmondConnects

Earlier this month I attended a public meeting on the most recent (and probably next-to-last) draft of the Richmond Strategic Multimodal Transportation Plan, branded as Richmond Connects.  I posted shortly after that meeting that the plan includes some great recommendations for bicycling infrastructure, but it is less ambitious than it should be.  The plan lacks ambition, I suspect, for two reasons: 1) it has been shaped by city departments that have not truly embraced the idea of making bicycling a major form of transportation in the city; and 2) the city and consultants did not do adequate public outreach.

I should make one correction to the previous post, however: I stated that the plan includes two cycle tracks (bike lanes separated from traffic) and one bicycle boulevard.  Upon closer inspection, the plan does include two other possible cycle tracks as part of road diets proposed for Grove Avenue and Hermitage Road.

That said, I stand by my point that the plan should aim higher with respect to infrastructure that will allow any- and everyone to feel safe using a bicycle to travel through the city.  As a recent piece on the site The Atlantic Cities points out, we have to be conscious of making biking in the city less scary for average people by providing as many low-stress routes as possible.  That means including calm or calmed neighborhood streets in our network and making sure that when someone must cross or ride on a major street, they have more than a stripe separating them from traffic.

Thus my suggestions for revision to Richmond Connects.  I included some more specific suggestions in my email, but I’m including here only the more general and in my view more important ones.  If you are in agreement with any or all of these or want to provide your own feedback on the plan, email them to Scudder Wagg (SWagg@mbakercorp.com).  Comments are being accepted until May 10.

You can also contact your council representative and tell her or him: 1) Richmond Connects needs to be more ambitious in its recommendations for bicycle infrastructure; and 2) we need a Bicycle Master Plan to lay out in greater detail a “road map” for bike infrastructure improvements.  Council contact information:

1st District: John Baliles, 646-5349, email.
2nd District: Charles Samuels, 646-6532, email.
3rd District: Chris Hilbert, 646-6055, email.
4th District: Kathy Graziano, 320-2454, email.
5th District: Parker Agelasto, 646-6050, Facebook.
6th District: Ellen Robertson, 646-7964, email.
7th District: Cynthia Newbille, 646-3012, email.
8th District: Reva Trammell, 240-5050, email.
9th District: Michelle Mosby, 646-5497, email.

Excerpt from my letter to the consultant and city staff:

As a bicycle commuter and cycling advocate, I am excited to see that the plan includes a number of substantial bicycle infrastructure projects, as well as some complete streets proposals that would include the introduction of such infrastructure.  I share with other advocates and (I presume) your firm conviction that in order to make bicycling a widely popular, “normal” mode of transportation in the city, we need to create an extensive network of facilities that make it safe and comfortable for any Richmonder to take advantage of the benefits of bicycling (and in doing so benefit the city as a whole).  Used in the appropriate context, facilities separated from other traffic such as cycle tracks, off-street paths, bicycle boulevards, and buffered lanes serve this purpose best because they provide a low-stress environment for cycling.  This is precisely the approach now being pursued in U.S. cities focused on expanding ridership and thereby bicycle mode share.

I would add that public support for devoting city funds to bicycle infrastructure is strong and widespread.  Recent public meetings organized by city staff to solicit citizen input on budget priorities confirm this.  To my mind this sentiment likely coincides with a widespread desire among Richmonders to use a bicycle for transportation but remaining hesitation to do so due to the absence of infrastructure that would allow them to feel safe doing so.

With this in mind, I think some adjustments could be made to the bicycling recommendations in the plan to make the vision of a bike-friendly Richmond a reality.  Given that this plan sets priorities for the next 20 years, the number of bicycling accommodations should be expanded, with an emphasis on providing the most low-stress urban bicycling environment possible.  This should include taking advantage of the existing street grid to achieve a dense network of facilities that will provide all cyclists with multiple options for making their way through the city.

My general suggestions are as follows:

• State in the plan’s general description of bicycle infrastructure recommendations that the city’s goal should be an extensive network of low-stress bicycle facilities that will allow people of all ages and abilities to use bicycling for transportation.

• Include in these recommendations that in order to achieve this goal, the most low-stress facility feasible for a given context should be adopted, and provide a priority list from most to least stress-free options.  If we consider protected bikeways as desirable (as the suggestions for cycle tracks on Franklin and Main among others suggest), we should not expect cyclists to travel several blocks to be able to use such a facility.  We should maximize the number of protected bikeways and create as dense a network as possible.  Where separated facilities are not feasible, robust traffic calming should be included as part of the treatment.  It is clear from recent experience in Richmond that shared lane markings (or sharrows) have a limited impact in attracting riders, especially on arterial roads like Boulevard.

• Recommend the creation of neighborhood byways to complement facilities on major roads.  Neighborhood byways have been described as follows:

A ‘Neighborhood Byway’ combines techniques such as enhanced pedestrian crossings, pavement markings, signs, and landscaping and street trees to create connections between places residents are likely to walk or bike. Byways typically run parallel to and between busier streets while still allowing local vehicular traffic.

This could include traffic calming measures or the creation of local bicycle boulevards.  Such facilities are important because they provide a lower-stress alterative to major streets and enhance safety on neighborhood streets.  They also contribute to a denser network that allows for more direct routes to desired destinations, rather than assuming that cyclists will travel blocks out of their way in order to access a primary route.

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3 Responses to “Expand the Plan”

  1. Amy George May 6, 2013 at 12:25 PM #

    I actually made a ‘stress’ map of Richmond streets for bicycling. I’ll email it to you this week.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Floyd Avenue Bicycle Boulevard | Bikeable Richmond - June 7, 2013

    […] for a couple of years now.  (See previous posts on Richmond Connects and the bicycle master plan here and […]

  2. Calls to Action | Bikeable Richmond - May 13, 2013

    […] Plan that incorporates substantial input from local cyclists and others in the community.  (See my recent post on why the bicycle infrastructure section of the Richmond Connects Multi-Modal Transportation Plan […]

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