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Bike Walk Northside’s Fall Family Fun Ride

25 Oct

Lots of fun as usual getting on a costume, getting on a bike, and seeing what it would be like to ride a protected bike lane on Brook Road.

Thanks to Bike Walk RVA for lots of support.  I AM RVA, a great new organization promoting bike safety and helping local charities through the sale of very cool helmets, provided great swag and a new helmet for costume contest prizes!

Getting ready to ride on a temporary protected bike lane on Brook Road.

Getting ready to ride on a temporary protected bike lane on Brook Road.

A perfect use for a cargo bike!

A perfect use for a cargo bike!

We should bike with capes on more often!

We should bike with capes on more often!


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 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.

The Case for Bikes and Bike Share at ODU

30 Mar
Protected bike lane (cycle track) in Bogota, Colombia.  From

Protected bike lane (cycle track) in Bogota, Colombia. From

In case you might have missed it last weekend, the regional public radio program With Good Reason highlighted bicycling last week in a episode called “Pedal Power.”  The first segment is an interview with Ralph Buehler, a Virginia Tech professor in Urban Affairs and Planning, who does a nice job laying out benefits of building bicycle infrastructure so that everyone can use a bicycle as a transportation option, and some of the reasons we have yet to do that in the U.S .

The episode also highlights the bike share program at Old Dominion University and explores the growing popularity of e-bikes, bicycles with electric motors that allow a wider range of people to use a bike for transportation in a wider array of contexts.

A Load of Pretty Good News

24 Feb

Unless city council decides to torpedo it, the Floyd Avenue bike-walk street is going forward (see RTD story here and a very detailed account of how it worked out in a blog post by Max Hepp-Buchanan here).  The Planning Commission approved a modified plan yesterday.  And although the General Assembly killed a few bike-friendly bills, they also approved a couple, and blocked some that would have been very unfriendly.  We owe a huge thanks to the advocates from Virginia Bicycling Federation and Bike Walk RVA, along with many others, for these successes.

Modified Floyd Plan Passes

With Floyd, the city officials and consultants were apparently able to convince commission members that they had addressed concerns raised in the previous meeting, including: better signage etc. at some of the crosswalks; more specific plans for ADA sidewalk ramps, lighting, and filling tree wells; and making sure the street is marked as special corridor for people on bicycles and on foot.

The plan that passed also contained a couple of recent changes, most notably the replacement of four traffic circles with raised crosswalks at Strawberry, Rowland, Plum, and Harvie.  They will look something like this:


It’s kind of like a speed hump, but not as high, and also serves to highlight the crosswalk.

I was hoping raised crosswalks would find their way into the plan anyway.  They were included to address concerns of some local residents (and their council reps) and commission members.

I’m really not crazy about how much a few vocal property owners seem to be able to sway their council representatives, especially given the large majority of residents who expressed support for the plan earlier.  (Along with the fact that the few “parking spaces” they are so worried about are actually illegal and dangerous).  But getting involved more seriously in bike-ped advocacy has brought home to me the reality of what is so often said about government: it’s messy and you have to be prepared to 1) compromise, 2) to think long-term.  It’s also crucial to be just as vocal and persistent as the opponents.

We have to work on many fronts to build up support for this kind of project so that it doesn’t continue to be a major battle.  Educating and lobbying council members, electing folks who are sympathetic, having a master plan, and many other things will tilt the balance in our favor over time.

General Assembly Successes

This years successes prove especially clearly that persistence is key when it comes to the GA.  Most of what was passed this year has been proposed before, but a bill getting past of the various hurdles depends on a bunch of things that have to align just right.

Check this VBF post for the full run-down, but here are the highlights:

• Vehicles can now legally cross a double yellow line in order to give the required 3 feet of space to people on bicycles and other slower road users.

• Localities that decide to do a road diet (reduce motorized travel lanes to create a bike lane) will not lose state transportation funding for doing so.  (Previously the state only counted pavement used for motorized traffic).

• Existing law for following too closely now also applies to non-motorized vehicles.

A couple of particularly worrisome bills also died.  One would have made it illegal for someone on a bicycle to be on a road if there is a bike path nearby.  This would have banned cyclists from parts of Route 5 where the Capital Trail is, for example.

Some others, like imposing a penalty for dooring a cyclist, and requiring hands-free technology when using phones etc. will no doubt come back for another try next year.

Non-Floyd News

10 Feb
Protected bike lane in Long Beach, CA.  From

Protected bike lane in Long Beach, CA. From

The Floyd Avenue project has occupied my somewhat limited time to post lately, so there’s a bunch of other cool stuff to catch up on.  Here are some highlights:

Bike Walk RVA has been nominated by Bicycling Magazine for the People’s Choice Advocacy Award.  Vote here for to help this local organization get well-deserved recognition.  Channel 8 News also reported that the Mayor’s Bicycle, Pedestrian, and Trails Commission has been one of the more productive and successful of those formed by Mayor Jones.

The General Assembly is (hopefully) passing bicycle-friendly legislation.  Check out the Virginia Bicycling Federation site here for a detailed account of the legislation and what’s still in the pipeline.  It seems like the general trend (based on last session and this one) is greater support for this stuff.  In past years many such bills were killed in committee, but now many are making it to full senate and house votes.

This year there is a bill to change a policy that discourages the use of road diets (reducing travel lanes) for bike infrastructure by reducing the funding the state provides for roads that undergo such a reduction (see this Why Richmond, Why? column in the RTD for an explanation).  There are also bills making it illegal to door a cyclist (holding drivers responsible for opening doors safely), and to follow a cyclist too closely (the current law applies only to motor vehicles); and there’s one to make it legal for a person in a car to cross a double yellow line in order to safely pass a person on a bicycle.

Protected bike lanes coming to downtown!  The RTD confirmed that at its last meeting the Planning Commission approved acceptance of funding to do design work for protected lanes on Franklin and Main Streets (eastbound on Franklin and westbound on Main) between  Belvidere and Ninth Streets.  This is just the first step, of course, but a welcome sign of robust infrastructure on the way!

Chesterfield is showing real momentum with bike-ped planning.  In a relatively short time Chesterfield County has put together a bicycle and pedestrian plan, which is now open for public comment (see RTD piece here).  In time you could see a lot of multi-use paths along roads in the county.

Pedal party is coming to RVA.  According to RVA News, you’ll soon be able to join 13 of your closest friends on a “bike trolley” aka partly on wheels.  It’s hard to describe (there’s a photo in the RVA News story), but it looks like a covered bar with “stools” (bike seats) and pedals on all sides by which you will propel yourself through the River City.  So you can burn off calories in between brewery stops!

Have You Signed the Floyd Avenue Petition?

3 Feb
Bike boulevard with traffic diverters in San Luis Obispo, CA.  From

Bike boulevard with traffic diverters in San Luis Obispo, CA. From

This is a quick reminder that BikeWalk RVA has a petition drive going to help nudge the Planning Commission in the direction of approving the plans for the Floyd Avenue bike-walk street project.  If you haven’t yet done so and would like to express support, click here.

At the last meeting the commission postponed a decision for 30 days to give Public Works traffic engineers time to address commission members’ concerns in more detail.  My understanding is that Public Works is really trying to do this, although some of the things may be hard to incorporate into the plan officially because it is being financed through a federal program that is specifically about traffic calming.

I’m hoping that what Public Works can do will be enough.  As I’ve argued in earlier posts (here and here), it makes sense to make this project as good as it can be.  At the same time, unlike some other projects, this one can involve assessment and further adjustments or additions if it doesn’t work as well as intended.  I’m fine with delaying the implementation of other similar projects until we see how this works and possibly put in place general design standards for future projects of this kind.

Here’s What We’re Dealing With

This is also a matter of accepting some political realities.  There is a small but very vocal group vehemently opposed to this that will appear vindicated by a rejection of the project — even if the reasons the commission might do so are not related much to the critics’ concerns.

In addition, some of the more robust measures that were considered in early discussions, such as more bump-outs (that narrow the roadway at intersections and prevent cars from parking too close to the corner, which is illegal anyway) and diverters (which would have channeled cars to other streets at a couple of key intersections) were seen by council members and engineers as not having enough public support.  And apparently the fire department sees Floyd as a major route and will not accept speed bumps or anything of that sort.

Council members have the ultimate say about such projects, and they also get antsy if they think too many constituents (especially neighborhood associations) are opposed to something.  In a case like this I’m convinced that it would have been worth the risk, since people very often end up liking such things once they actually see them working.  But then I’m not trying to stay in office.  The point is that the engineers have opted to not include some things that would have done more to reduce speeds and traffic volumes because they were told to.  I’m not usually the biggest defender of our traffic engineers, but I think in this case they are being squeezed between cautious council members and skeptical residents on the one hand, and commission members who want more on the other.

So here’s the way I see it: with something decent in place, we can look carefully at how well it works or not over the first few months as people get used to it, and then if it’s not working as well as we would like, try out diverters or other measures at a couple of intersections on a temporary basis using traffic cones.  Working to convince residents and their representatives to accept this sort of addition would be easier than starting from scratch a couple of years down the road.

What’s Up with Floyd?

24 Jan

Following the deferral of a decision on the Floyd Avenue bike-walk street on Tuesday, BikeWalk RVA has started a petition to the Planning Commission urging its members to pass the Floyd Avenue bike-walk street project.

As Style and the RTD both report, the Planning Commission decided to delay a final vote on Floyd until February.  After the plan was voted down by the Urban Design Committee, Public Works came back with some additions to address issues the UDC had asked them to deal with back in September.  The text below from the Tuesday meeting’s minutes suggests that the commission wants Public Works to address them still more definitively and in more detail:

The Commission stated that they would like to see the following issues raised by the Urban Design Committee included in the plan when it returns at the February 17, 2015 meeting:

(1) Addressing a lower speed limit for the length of the project. This would be in the form of a recommendation to City Council.

(2) Committing to a full planting plan including street trees along the extent of the bike/walk route.

(3) Making the project fully accessible with accessible ramps along the corridor.

(4) Addressing unique signage and pavement markings and identity that celebrates this as a bike/walk trail as part of a larger way finding effort.

(5) That the project be evaluated 12 months after the completion of construction and adjusted as needed, and that that evaluation involves the public and a presentation to the Planning Commission.

(6) That the project address lighting along the length of the corridor.

(7) That the project more fully considers the impact on parking and considers limits on types or permits of parking specifically in Zones 1 and 2 of the project.

The Commission also requested the applicant to include the following issues raised by the Commission in the plan when it returns at the February 17, 2015 meeting:

(1) Explore pedestrian initiated signals at Belmont and Harrison.

(2) School X-ing or Ped-Xing markings replace one of the sharrow markings on each block.

(3) Safety should be the first priority.

 One the one hand I am happy that Public Works is being asked to beef up the design.  I’ve commented before on their tendency to take the minimal route when it comes to bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure.

But I’m also worried that DPW (in coordination with the Bike-Ped coordinator Jake Helmboldt and their consultant from the Timmons Group) may not be in a position to fully address all of these in a few weeks.  The first item is pretty easy — they’ve expressed direct support for lowering the speed limit.  And they could commit to prioritizing accessible ramps along Floyd.  Extra markings for crossings should not be too tough.

It’s less clear that the budget and coordination with other departments (Urban Forestry, Public Utilities) are there to incorporate the tree and lighting issues.  Those particular items, if I’m not mistaken, involve a bit of moving the goal posts: I’m pretty sure that those were not mentioned previously.  The additional signage is something I’ve supported, but Public Works’ point was that the city (via Planning and Community Development) is working on a wayfinding system and signage on Floyd should be worked into that plan.

Hopefully with clear expressions of support from us and some more detail on the things that Public Works can deal with in 30 days, we’ll see a vote in favor of the project mid-February.  Thanks to all of you continue to follow this saga and help Richmond get its first bike-walk street.