Archive | March, 2014

Where’s the $$$?

26 Mar
A new bike lane in Memphis, TN, formerly known as one of the worst U.S. cities for cyclists.

A new bike lane in Memphis, TN, formerly known as one of the worst U.S. cities for cyclists. From Memphis Flyer.

It’s budget season in RVA.  The Mayor recently released his proposed budget, and those of us still waiting to see some real action on bike infrastructure are uneasy.  This is the last opportunity to ensure we have a least a few bike lanes in place before the UCI world Championships in October 2015.

Check here for a quick way via Bike Walk RVA to let your representative on city council — which will make adjustments to the budget — know that we need specific, dedicated funding for bike projects.  Read below for reasons you might want to do so.

$100K for Bike Lanes?

Richmond.com’s Phil Riggan raised the reg flag on Tuesday: the Mayor’s proposed 2015 budget sets aside only $100,000 specifically for on-street bicycle infrastructure (along with an additional $50K for more racks).

For most of us that amount of money sounds like a lot, but even considering how cheap bike infrastructure is compared to roads, it’s peanuts.  By way of comparison, the RTD recently reported that the state has spent $300 million on a new Route 460 to connect Petersburg and Suffolk — without a single bit of dirt being moved and without the required permits having been obtained.  The project has now been put on hold.

A bit closer to home, according to a follow-up on Richmond.com published today, the budget also includes $972,000 that is likely there to pay for yet another bridge to Brown’s Island.  I’m not in a position to judge whether that bridge is really needed, but it’s not what we most need when it comes to bicycle infrastructure.

Need for Transparency and Signs of Commitment

That “likely” points to a big problem with the Mayor’s budget that came up recently in concerns that it also does not include funding for the Brown’s Island Dam Walk: the way the budget is presented to the public is far from transparent.  Mayor Jones admitted as much in a statement responding to concerns about his dedication to completing the Dam Walk.

Similarly, the Mayor’s responses to Riggan’s questions in the follow-up piece don’t provide much more clarity or inspire great confidence.  It’s great for the mayor to verbally affirm his commitment to these projects, but those words need to be backed up by specific commitments of funding.

More specifically, the items listed by the Mayor’s spokesperson Tammy Hawley include a number a line items labeled “Pedestrians, Bikes, and Trails Services” but do not specify what they are for — and they still don’t add up to much.  Given that there is a line item for bike lanes elsewhere (the $100K), it’s hard to feel assured that these other funds will be available for bike lanes in particular.  If that’s what they’re really for, why not put them with the $100K.

Some money for bike lane striping may also be embedded in budget items for street repaving and similar things, but that is not the same as making clear that these projects are going to happen.  And while it’s true that the Bicycle Master Plan is unfortunately not yet complete, it’s been clear for some time that the city would need to move forward quickly with some bike lane projects if they are going to be complete by 2015, with or without the plan.

Let’s Be Sure

Given the importance of this last (really first) push to get some real bike lanes in place before millions of people see how bicycle-friendly Richmond is in 2015, we need more than just vague assurances.  Show us the money!  Click here to let your council rep know you support dedicated funding for bike lanes!

 

A Bike Path to Progress

7 Mar
Indianapolis Cultural Trail.  From landscapevoice.com.

Indianapolis Cultural Trail. From landscapevoice.com.

That is the way a recent NY Times article describes Indianapolis’ new downtown Cultural Trail, an attractive bike-pedestrian path that connects “six urban neighborhoods, along with restaurants, bars, public art, parks, and museums.”  Click here for a Streetfilms video about the trail.

Count the Benefits

I’ve sung the praises of Indianpolis’ new Cultural Trail previously here, but the Times article really captures the benefits that have already accrued.  The trail is “putting Indianapolis on the map as a place to see bold innovation,” and “more convention planners are now choosing Indianapolis because of it.”  The trail also includes landscaping that helps manage storm water.

If that were not enough:

The trail has also helped spark a sluggish local economy. Hundreds of millions of dollars in new commercial and residential developments surrounding the pathway have coincided with the trail’s progress…

According to the article, the trail has also helped revive the neighborhoods it connects.  25 new businesses have opened in recent years within five blocks of the trail.  How’s that for an economic development project?

And best of all, it has created a broad-based bicycling culture:

Before the path arrived, Indianapolis didn’t have a mainstream bike scene — just streets designed to improve traffic flow. Now, children and the elderly have joined the spandex swarms of longtime cycling enthusiasts. The pathway has connected people with the places they want to go and encouraged physical activity in a state with the eighth-highest obesity rate in the country.

You know you’re doing something right if children and elderly people are using an urban trail!

The total cost of the trail?  $65 million — paid for with a combination of federal grants and private donations.  So in actual dollars this trail costs less than half what the new baseball stadium and infrastructure improvements in Shockoe Bottom will cost (including interest on the bonds) when all is said and done, and cost the city of Indianapolis itself next to nothing.

No doubt the attention of our city leaders is too focused on the debate over Shockoe development at the moment to take on something of this magnitude.  But how about a bold start as we look toward the UCI championships coming in less than 2 years?

A Modest Proposal

How about something like a Cultural Trail on Broad Street between MCV and Boulevard — right through the heart of the Arts and Cultural District, past many of the galleries frequented on First Fridays as well as VCU’s planned Center for Contemporary Art at Belvidere and Broad?

The People for Bikes blog recently highlighted a simple way to tell whether a street is a good candidate for a separated bike lane: count how many bicyclists you see riding on the sidewalk. My casual observations through the window of Lift Coffee suggest that Broad fits the bill perfectly.  It’s a major corridor for bicycles, but most do not consider it safe enough to ride on the street.

That would be a bold plan that would benefit most if not all citizens of the city, and would have longer staying power than a ballpark.*

*On a side note, let’s hope that if the Shockoe development is built, the city gets creative about transportation.  The traffic and parking nightmares that many envision would be mitigated a lot if a good portion of attendees had a convenient way of getting to the ballpark other than driving a car.

I’m in Love with an ELF

6 Mar
From OrganicTransit.com.

From OrganicTransit.com.

Well, actually not one in particular, but rather the product.  A friend recently pointed me toward a new vehicle that could really take human-powered transport to the next level.

The ELF is basically a small pedal-powered car, not far from a recumbent bike with a shell.  This isn’t the first time someone has put a body of some kind around a pedal-powered vehicle, but as far as I know this is the first one that is designed for most any adult to use easily.  The differences are: electric assist, a shell that protects from the elements (to some degree), and room to carry and lock up a significant amount of cargo.  It has a top speed of 30 mph and can be plugged in for recharging, but also includes a solar panel!  It also has built-in lights and signals, not to mention 24/7 roadside assistance.  (Not sure how that works, but that’s what they say).

The one thing that surprised me — in a less than positive way — is that, according to the FAQ, to incorporate a child seat you have to find a way to rig it up yourself.

As with some cargo bikes, the price might produce an initial gasp: $5K for the basic package.  But if you’re replacing a car or a bunch of car trips, you would make back that money within a couple of years, even if you keep your car.  According to the site, no license or insurance are needed, so aside from maintenance, the cost to keep one is very low.  So who’s going to be the first to own an ELF in Richmond?