Archive | June, 2013

Biking in the City

18 Jun

The city of Richmond now has an official web site focused on biking and walking in RVA.  Check it out here.  In addition to news on infrastructure developments and events like this coming Saturday’s RVA Streets Alive, it includes some handy tips and answers to FAQs on topics like locking your bike, requesting a rack in front of your business, and what sharrows really mean.

While we’re on the topic of riding in the city, Grist has posted a fun new video “Biking in the City (Tips for the Bicycle Curious)” that covers the basics in an engaging way, with cool music and in just under 4 minutes.  Consider sending a link to any bike curious folks you know.

Another recent post on Grist highlights some creative things being done in Chicago, San Francisco, and elsewhere to do a bit of education among car drivers and bicycle riders on how to coexist with one another.  In the U.K. they are even including skills and knowledge about driving around cyclists in driver education!

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Open Streets Coming Next Saturday 6/22

14 Jun

RVAStreetsAlive_logo_8fin_VERTHopefully you’ve already set aside a chunk of your day next Saturday 6/22 to head out to Richmond’s first-ever open streets event, RVA Streets Alive.  Organized by Sports Backers, the event is free!

From 10 am to 3 pm, a 2.5 mile loop connecting the Mayo and Manchester bridges will be closed to auto traffic and open to anyone who wants to bike, jog, skate, ride a unicycle, walk on stilts, or whatever else you can think of that is not motorized.  At this point it looks like there will be at least 50 vendors set up along the course, many of which will be offering not just information but also fitness-related activities.

The idea originated with “ciclovia” in Bogota, Colombia, which occurs every Sunday.  American cities, including New York and L.A. but also many others, have recently embraced the idea, and the events have attracted ever-growing numbers of participants.

Although the event is not just about bicycles, this kind of event can offer a reminder of how invigorating riding a bicycle is, and what it feels like to ride without having to worry much about cars (kind of like when you have bike boulevards, cycle tracks, and other separated bike facilities).

It’s also not just about fitness.  Although “community” is an over-used word, getting a big cross-section of Richmonders out on the streets together, enjoying their city and being outdoors, can’t be a bad thing.  And it’s just a great way to experience the city too.

Hope to see you at Streets Alive — and given that parking in the area is limited and may cost you something, why not ride a bike to the event?!

Cycle Smart Initiative + Commuter Challenge Results

13 Jun

Ride Richmond has just announced an exciting new initiative called Cycle Smart to promote cycling and cycling safety.  They have a bunch of great things to offer: bike rodeos for kids; brown bag lunch sessions at offices interested in bike commuting; safety classesbike commuter mentoring for individuals who would like to try commuting; and a road skills course in development with the city on Belle Isle in the old nail shed.

If you can think of anyone who might be interested in any of these, mention the initiative and tell them to contact Ride Richmond at richmondcyclesmart@riderichmond.net for more information.

Commuter Challenge Grows

Ride Richmond has also announced the results of its second annual Bike Month commuter challenge, and they are impressive.  The event is clearly growing and will no doubt continue to do so.

• This year a total of 178 people signed up and logged commutes — that’s up 78% from last year!

• Those people logged a total of nearly 13,000 miles of bike commuting for the month of May!  That’s an average of 90 miles per participant over four weeks.

• The top employers with respect to employee participation in the challenge were VCU/VCUHS, City of Richmond and RPS, University of Richmond, Virginia State Agencies, and the Federal Reserve.

Again this year Ride Richmond gave away a Giant bicycle to a lucky participant (a drawing from among participants), along with a bunch of t-shirts and grab bags.

Floyd Avenue Project in the News

11 Jun
Bicycle boulevard in Palo Alto, CA.  From Cyclelicio.us.

Bicycle boulevard in Palo Alto, CA. From Cyclelicio.us.

The Floyd Avenue bicycle boulevard project is already making waves!  As the RTD reports in a featured story today, the Metropolitan Planning Organization for the Richmond region has approved funding for initial design and planning as well as public outreach.  That’s great news!

I’m both excited and anxious to see how the plan is presented and received.  This is the first bicycle infrastructure project the city has undertaken that would have a really transformative effect on bicycling and the street itself.

According to the RTD, John Baliles, who represents some of the neighborhood that would be affected, is positive but also (understandably) withholding judgment until the details are clear.  Although bicycle boulevards have been implemented with great success in many other U.S. cities, this is very new to Richmond, and local residents will need to have their concerns heard.

As someone pointed out to me recently, Richmond already has a small example of this kind of infrastructure: a diverter located at the intersection of West Seminary and Watkins on the north side prevents their use as through streets.  This was not done in a way that directly benefits cyclists, so I can only assume that it was done for traffic calming.  But it shows that this kind of infrastructure is 1) feasible and 2) desirable for reasons other than just making cycling easier.

The Floyd Avenue project will be real test of whether city leaders can make the case for significant infrastructure and really follow through — and perhaps after that kick things into a higher gear.  The reality is that many other cities are moving faster and more dramatically in making themselves more bike friendly.

This story and accompanying video about Indianapolis from Urban Velo is alternately envy-inducing and just plain inspiring.  Republican mayor Greg Ballard — yes, cycling is not just a “liberal” thing — has taken his city in just five years from 1 mile of bike lanes (sound familiar?) to 75, and is aiming for 200 (!) miles of lanes and trails by 2015.  He has also transformed downtown Indianapolis with a multi-use “cultural trail” running through the heart of it.  Wow.  And he’s very explicit about why: to attract the kind of people that make a city vibrant, and the companies that want to recruit that kind of people.  Also sound familiar?

I can only hope that wariness about trying something new in Richmond does not overwhelm the very positive aspects of this project.  It happens very often with new trails (think Capital Trail) and bike boulevards that people are initially wary or even fearful, and once it’s in place they love it and wonder why they were ever skeptical.  Even if we’re not moving as fast as some other cities, the Floyd Avenue project could open the door to some bigger and better things for cycling in Richmond.

Floyd Avenue Bicycle Boulevard

7 Jun
Image from NACTO.

Image from NACTO.

If you’ve been reading your occasional dose of bikeablerichmond.com posts like a good boy or girl, then you know that the city is pursuing a bicycle master plan to supplement the bicycle component of Richmond Connects, a multi-modal transportation plan that has been in development for a couple of years now.  (See previous posts on Richmond Connects and the bicycle master plan here and here).

Given how soon (in bureaucratic time) the UCI World Cycling Championships are coming and how much the city would like to put forward a bike-friendly face to those thousands of visitors and television viewers, it makes sense to get going on some projects even before the bicycle master plan is finished and approved.

Enter the Floyd Avenue bicycle boulevard (already included in Richmond Connects)!  Although it was on the agenda at the last city council meeting it did not spark much discussion because council was only asked to approve a resolution allowing the city to seek approval from the Commonwealth Transportation Board.  The project got a bit more attention a couple of days ago, however, when local political blog Bacon’s Rebellion included a very supportive piece on the project.

Example of bicycle boulevard infrastructure in Long Beach, CA.  Image from bikelongbeach.com.

Example of bicycle boulevard infrastructure in Long Beach, CA. Image from bikelongbeach.com.

What is a bicycle boulevard?  Basically it is a low-volume street that is redesigned to give priority to bicycles.  So, unlike a bike lane or cycle track, a bicycle boulevard does not create a separate space for bicycles per se, but instead makes the whole street better for cycling by prioritizing bicycles.

Usually this is done by adding features that both slow car traffic and in some cases divert it to other streets.  Think of it as major traffic calming with bicycles in mind.  People who live on Floyd will be able to drive up to their homes and park on the street just like they always do; but motorists would have to use Grove or another parallel street to get through the Fan.  The Fan is a perfect place for a bicycle boulevard precisely because there are plenty of parallel streets that provide an alternative.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Jim Bacon’s post sparked some discussion that gives us a taste of the debate that will ensue when the project is discussed in neighborhood associations and other public forums.  The main critical points so far include: 1) Why should we make things safer for cyclists when they break the law all the time?  2) Why spend money on this if the street is already low-volume?  3) Bike infrastructure ghettoizes cyclists and will convey the idea that they don’t belong on other streets.  Why not just slow traffic down everywhere?  4) What about fire trucks and other larger vehicles that need to get through?

1) Hopefully you know the drill in response to the first one: Do we argue against infrastructure for cars by citing statistics on how many drivers fail to stop completely at stop signs, exceed the speed limit, text while driving, blow through the intersection just after the light has turned red, etc. etc.?  Would we accept the argument that we should not install crossing signals for pedestrians because many of them jaywalk?  No.  Education and enforcement for cyclists is completely unrelated to whether we should build infrastructure for them.  Let’s move on.

2) The second point is more serious.  The simple answer is: Floyd and similar streets are still not calm enough to get a lot more people to use a bicycle for transportation.  The goals of this and other infrastructure are to make things safer, but also to encourage more bicycling by providing a low-stress environment — a greater sense of safety.  Another crucial thing here is that Floyd will eventually be part of a city-wide network of various bikeways.  It should be judged not just on its specific merits but also as one part of a growing network.

3) I would love citywide traffic calming, but I doubt that in the foreseeable future the city will be willing to put a 20 mph limit on Broad Street and invest the resources required to enforce it or totally redesign the street.  I also think that, a few cranky people aside, drivers will come to accept that cyclists sometimes have to use streets other than the ones specifically set aside for them.  More bike infrastructure, along with other efforts, will change the culture in Richmond over time.

4) I don’t have the engineering background to weigh in here in great detail, but if making Floyd a bike boulevard would make it impossible for emergency vehicles to get to a house there, I can only assume it will not be done.  As it is, many U.S. cities, including Los Angeles, have installed bicycle boulevards in recent years without this issue standing in the way.