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Trying Out a Protected Lane on Brook Road and Loving It

5 May
Wouldn't it be great to be able to do this all of the time?

Wouldn’t it be great to be able to do this all of the time on Brook Road?  To encourage people of all ages and abilities to use bicycles to get around as well as have fun, we need spaces separated from cars (and lowering that speed limit wouldn’t hurt either).

About 80 riders of all ages turned out for the first-ever Spring Fun Family Ride on May 3.  

The event was organized by Bike Walk Northside and Bikablerichmond.com to encourage bicycling for fitness, transportation, and fun — and to highlight the need for a protected bicycle lane on Brook Road to connect Northside neighborhoods with VCU and downtown.  Rag and Bones Bicycle Co-op was on hand to help riders with bicycle adjustments and give away free bikes, and Holton Elementary School Principal David Hudson was joined Bike Walk RVA Director Max Hepp-Buchanan as costume contest judges.

Thanks to all of our volunteers, including Bike Walk RVA folks and Union Presbyterian Seminary for lots of support!

Winners of the costume contest got free tickets to the Children's Museum of Richmond.

Winners of the costume contest got free tickets to the Children’s Museum of Richmond.

Members of Rag and Bones Bicycle Co-Op were helped by bicycle guru Kirk O'Brien  in taking care of adjustments and repairs.

Members of Rag and Bones Bicycle Co-Op were helped by bicycle guru Kirk O’Brien in taking care of adjustments and repairs.

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Richmond’s First Bike-Friendly Business District Coming to Northside

30 Apr

BikeFriendlyBusinessDistrict_Bellevue_FINAL

There are a lot of ways to encourage people to use bicycles to get around: building bike lanes and providing parking, organizing rides, and providing incentives, to name a couple.  The idea of a Bicycle-Friendly Business District (BFBD) is to encourage or take advantage of bike-friendly conditions, and give people a little extra nudge to make that shopping or restaurant trip by bicycle by offering them a discount or some other perk.

For the month of May, a total of 10 businesses (and counting) on Bellevue and MacArthur Avenues in Richmond’s Bellevue neighborhood are participating in Richmond’s first BFBD.  From the Bike Walk RVA press release: “It will serve as the city’s first self-proclaimed bicycle-friendly business district, and participating businesses will offer discounts and other special deals for people who arrive by bike during the month of May. Participating businesses will be identified by window-clings displayed in their front windows starting May 1.”  Most are offering discounts of 10% for those who arrive by bike, and some are doing a raffle for cycling customers.

So hop on your bike and ride — down the block or across town — and support these bike-friendly businesses while saving some $$.  A map of participating Bellevue businesses and nearby bike racks can be found here (participating businesses highlighted in green).

Busy Bike Month

1 May
Photo: New York Times.

Photo: New York Times.

Thanks to all of you who have written to council members and the mayor in support of amendments to the mayor’s budget to fund the Brown’s Island Dam Walk and other infrastructure.  If you haven’t had a chance to do so, click here asap so they’ll see your message before the 3 pm meeting today.

How Will You Celebrate Bike Month?

Bike Month 2014 looks like it will be the best yet.  As mentioned in a previous post, Bike Walk RVA got people together to plan their own rides and other events to celebrate Bike Month.  You can check out all of them on this handy calendar.  There’s something for everyone: lunch rides, donut rides, family rides and bike parades, a tweed ride, women-only rides and workshops, and much more — not to mention this weekend’s races and the Cap2Cap ride on May 10.  Or just find opportunities to ride your bike somewhere instead of driving!

There are also workshops for people who have considered bike commuting but would like more information and encouragement.  In cooperation with Active RVA, another Sports Backers initiative, Bike Walk RVA is hosting three seminars.  Please share with anyone you know who might be interested:

May 7th at the Boulders on Southside. 5:30pm.
May 8th at Innsbrook for West End riders. 6pm.
& May 21st at MeadWestVaco downtown. 5pm.

According to the release published on rvanews:

Commuting by bike is something we can all aspire to and it’s chock-full of benefits. It kickstarts your heartbeat, makes your first hours at work much more alert and energetic, and can sometimes even be quicker when you trade traffic jams for neighborhood short cuts.

But it can take a little help to get started. That’s where Active RVA comes in. To support more Richmonders to use their bikes for commuting and running errands, we’ll help you to pick safe routes, learn how to navigate traffic, and get advice on what gear (if any) you could use to feel more comfortable.

These gatherings are informal with time to socialize, drink and chat. And we’ll make sure that you leave feeling more prepared to experiment with a bike commute you’d like to try. Plus, they’re FREE!

Connect RVA

If all of that were not enough, Bike Walk RVA has also just announced a new initiative called Connect RVA.  According to Richmond.com:

Bike Walk RVA has announced the launch of Connect RVA, “a multi-year, regional campaign to make Richmond, Chesterfield, Henrico, and Hanover better places to walk and bike for everyday activities,” according to a release. Connect RVA is now gaining traction in the city of Richmond and has recently become an official legacy project of the Richmond 2015 UCI Road World Championships.

“The Connect RVA project is a perfect example of the kind of legacy that we had hoped would emerge as a result of hosting the World Championships and a benefit for the entire community for years to come,” said Tim Miller, COO of Richmond 2015, the organization behind the effort.

What better long-term legacy could there be for the 2015 races?  It’s great to see this kind of collaboration in the effort to ensure that Richmond becomes a truly bike-friendly city.

Bike Master Plan

Word is out that the Bike Master Plan for the city is coming together, and there will be a public meeting this month to get input on the routes and infrastructure choices for Richmond’s bike network.  More on that soon!

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.

$$$ in Your Pocket

2 Oct
From biketoworkblog.com.

From biketoworkblog.com.

Hopefully that tag line did not lead anyone to suspect that a spammer has hacked my blog.  I’m not going to promise you big money working from home or ask you to send money to me to get more money later.

Here’s the thing: unless you make a lot more money than I do, having between $7,000 and $11,000 extra dollars per year would be a pretty big deal.  That’s at least $500 per month that you could spend on fun.  Or a house.  Or paying off your college loans.  Or an awesome vacation.

Where is Your Money Going?

You probably see where this is going.  According to the American Automobile Association (AAA), in the U.S. the average car costs $9,000 in fuel, maintenance, insurance, depreciation, and taxes.  (See the CNN coverage here).  No, that doesn’t include the cost of buying the car in the first place.

If you drive a small car the yearly cost is closer to $7,000 per year; a larger SUV or equivalent costs over $11,000 annually.  If this seems hard to believe, I’d encourage you to make a spreadsheet and enter in every gas purchase, insurance payment, repair, oil change, etc.  It’s easy to not see how much these “little” costs add up, not to mention that major repair bill that comes now and then.

And what does the average bike cost to operate?  About $300 per year, and you can easily lessen that by learning to do some of the maintenance and repair yourself — and maybe canceling your gym membership.  So the average car ends up costing you about $25 a day to use; the average bike less than $1.  Even factoring in the cost of other transportation, including bicycling and transit along with the occasional car rental, you’d still be thousands of dollars ahead with one less car (the average American household owns 2.28 cars).

Location, Location

“But this is Richmond!” you are most likely saying.  How easy or difficult it is to go car-free or car-light does depend on where you choose to live.  Unless you live in West Broad Village (the “new urbanist” development where Whole Foods is) and never leave it, most of Richmond’s suburban areas are designed in a way that makes it very difficult to get around by bike.

But many neighborhoods the city proper, including its older suburbs like Ginter Park and Woodland Heights, are within easy walking distance of restaurants and shops and biking distance of most everything else in the city.  And of course it makes a huge difference if you live on a bus line or biking/walking distance from work.

Of course you may still want or need to drive somewhere not accessible by bike.  It’s not an all-or-nothing proposition.  My family of three (two adults and one child) gets by on one small car mainly because my wife bikes to work and I bike to a car pool.  But we’re also not crazy about biking the little one to school in pouring rain or snow, and we have a deep affection for Trader Joe’s (we’re still keeping our fingers crossed for a bikeable second location — maybe at the old bus depot on Cary?).  Sometimes we even throw a bike on the car rack and do some of a trip by car and part by bike.  Even just choosing to use your car less will save you money on fuel, maintenance, and depreciation.

The rail and public transit system needs to be a bit better in Richmond to make it easy to go car-free entirely.  And I’ll confess: not having a car for every adult in the house does, occasionally, prove inconvenient.  I’d say once or twice a month it’s a pain for one reason or another.  But for us it’s far from being so inconvenient that we’re willing to take the equivalent of a huge pay cut to avoid it.  Aside from borrowing one from a friend, ZipCar is an option, as is a regular old rental for a longer trip.

Experiment

The nice thing about going car-light or -free is that requires no commitment at all to try it.  All you have to do is decide: this week we’ll leave that extra car sitting and see how it goes.  If you do that, make a list at the same time of what you’d do with a few thousand extra bucks, not to mention the built-in exercise and happiness boost you get from biking.

Using your car less does mean using your bicycle differently, or possibly getting a different bike.  Even a bike imported from Denmark that can carry a week’s worth of groceries costs way less than the cost of maintaining your car for one year.  More on that soon!

Reality Check

16 May
Image lifted from Stylesight.com.

Image lifted from Stylesight.com.

Car Love is on the Wane

Ask a random person whether our culture is changing and my guess is that they will respond with a resounding “Yes.”  Social media and computer technology alone have impacted the way people go about socializing and living daily life in huge ways.  But I’m guessing most people do not immediately include among those changes a decline in driving and affection for cars.  The car traffic in most cities would seem to contradict this, but people following these things closely say we’re at the beginning of a shift away from the decades-long love affair with the car.

A recent post on Grist cites recent studies that confirm what forward-thinking leaders and traffic engineers have already realized: the era of planning communities and transportation around individual auto travel is coming to a close.  That doesn’t mean cars are going to disappear anytime soon, but the trend — especially among millenials — is away from driving and car ownership.  The evidence is pretty clear: despite population growth, the number of miles traveled by car in the U.S. is going down, and there are clear indications that for many young people it’s not just due to the recession.

So why would this be the case?  One author cited in the piece suggests it boils down to two things: Facebook and Brooklyn.  The first makes physical mobility less important to building and maintaining social connections; the second — cities with exciting social and cultural scenes that are walkable, bikable, and have good transit — is where many millenials want to live.

Getting the Region Ready

So the question is whether the people guiding development in Richmond will see the writing on the wall early enough to compete with other “cool” cities.  If bike infrastructure is any indicator, the answer is that the city is already behind, as the recently released Sports Backers Baseline Report made clear (see RTD coverage here).

The good news is that people seem to be coming around.  “Smart Growth” does not seem to be a far-out concept anymore.  Enter Reality Check RVA: an urban planning game/exercise organized by the Urban Land Institute that took place Tuesday at VCU (RTD coverage here).   The game was set up like this: teams of 10 placed legos representing jobs and housing on a map of the Richmond metro region.  The number and “value” of the legos was made to reflect the projection that the region will grow by over 400,000 residents and 200,000 jobs in the next 20 years.  So basically the question was, “Where should all of the housing and offices and other business facilities go?”

I’m not quite ready to claim that everyone is on the same page with this, but I was struck by the fact that  the patterns of development that dominated for the last few decades are no longer viable.  The whole exercise was introduced in a way that made it clear that mixed-use development and multi-modal transportation is the future, so it would have been hard for anyone to insist on more big-box stores and subdivisions along the lines of Short Pump (minus West Broad Village).  That said, I think there’s a widely shared sense that the practice of moving development ever further out for cheap land and building more roads to accommodate that is on its way out.

The main piece missing in all of this is a regional approach to transportation — transit in combination with biking and walking — that will connect Richmond city and the new higher-density, mixed-use developments.

Presentation Today on a Bike-Friendly Richmond

2 May

This is super last-minute, but I’ll be giving a talk today at the main branch of the Richmond Public Library on Franklin Street at 1 p.m.  The focus will be the why’s and how’s of making the city bike-friendly.  If you can take a late lunch or have time it would be great to see you there!