An Unfortunate Turn in Bike Lane Debate

This sign is perfectly clear, right?

As almost always seems to happen in Richmond — and it’s disappointing — a neighborhood debate in Northside over a planned dedicated bicycle lane may turn into something else.

“Given the economic environment, the needs of people, anything that limits access to more affordable transportation options does everyone a disservice, but particularly people of color,” said Najeema Davis Washington, who co-founded Black Women Bike in 2011.

I wrote about the proposal at the start of this month, taking a skeptical stance.  This column in today’s Richmond Times-Dispatch by Michael Paul Williams included that quote at the top to set the tone. He has one basic hammer, and everything is a nail. In this case I think he might be hitting his thumb.

A proposed Richmond City Council ordinance would stop the plan to take two lanes of Brook and dedicate them (with barriers) for bikes 24/7. It was set for the July 23 agenda but delayed, perhaps to gather more information on impact or to reconsider alternatives. I sometimes see the patron, Council President Chris Hilbert, around the condo building where we both live and haven’t pressed him for details on the delay.

My primary purpose in writing the first column was to raise the issue, because I think most homeowners in the area were unaware. I also had seen the problems on Franklin Street, and admittedly people are getting used to the new configuration (but they do not like it). Williams’s column in today’s paper is the first mention of Brook Road in that medium, and the more people who know, the better. (One Richmond TV station has also covered it.)

I also brought it up because transportation is probably the issue that addicted me to this blog, as Bacon and I wrangled over highway taxes, etc. Apparently, there are federal funds available to encourage localities to take perfectly good highway lanes out of service – who knew? I’ve learned the phrase road diet!

The people who have the biggest stake in this issue are the property owners along the route, and most of the properties are single or multifamily residential. Many more apartments are coming. Many homeowners park on Brook, lacking driveways or alleys. The proposed bike lanes run from the Gilpin Court housing project up to Henrico County, past Virginia Union University and Union Seminary and a hospital. It is a very diverse neighborhood, which is one reason I like it. I’m sure people of color are on all sides of this discussion, and some homeowners will welcome this because it will divert traffic somewhere else.

Just yesterday I drove up Brook and a tractor-trailer was waiting to turn left at a light at a big intersection. It had its butt end sticking out in the traffic lane. It’s a long wait for that turn light and if that had been the only lane for cars, a multi-cycle backup would have resulted. Maneuvering around it reminded me of my concerns. My opinion matters less than those of people directly on Brook or the closest side streets. As a city taxpayer, however, it might matter a bit more than an advocate from DeeCee.

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7 responses to “An Unfortunate Turn in Bike Lane Debate

  1. Unfortunately , I agree that making this about race is bad and wrong…

    However, a couple of data points :

    1. most of the same folks who hate bike lanes and bikes on the road , also hate things like traffic calming and round-a-bouts – both things that make them slow down and provide some level of accommodation to other drivers, bicyclists and pedestrians.

    2. – Just back home after 8500 miles of driving – on all kinds of roads from interstates to rural to city streets and my assessment of drivers is confirmed; there are way too many jerks and yahoos who don’t give a flip about other drivers much less bikes and pedestrians.

    3. we camped mostly but spent some nights at motels and let me tell you that trying to get across a street on foot (orbike) to get to a restaurant is a life-threatening exercise EVEN WITH pedestrian buttons because some drivers cannot behave themselves even then…

    So the bottom line is we have tilted roads to serve cars and made travel on foot and bike – just downright dangerous in addition to inconvenient.

    We are truly a “FAT” society. Other countries – most other countries support bikes and pedestrians and most of those countries are less FAT than us, in better health, and live longer.

    We CHOOSE to be FAT and drive cars but we’re not satisfied with ruining our own health – we insist on threatening those who want to walk and bike.

    It’s way past time to change this.

    Our streets – rights-of-way that government has taken from citizens – belong to ALL modes of travel – not just cars and most certainly not just for jerks and dumb asses who choose to drive rather than walk or bike themselves.

    should I continue on here to make myself more clear? 😉

  2. When someone tries to make an matter like bicycle lanes an issue of race, I’m immediately turned off. Does everything have to be about race in the United States today? When everything does become a matter of race, then it should not surprise the social justice warriors that some people are pushed into the arms of someone like, oh, I don’t know… maybe… Donald Trump. Or worse, like Jason Kessler or other Alt-Right figures.

    On the substantive issue of the bicycle lane, I can see the point of view of people lamenting the loss of lanes for traffic and parking. We have competing priorities, and there needs to be a balancing act. In the long run, are we better off creating viable pathways for bicycles, electric bikes, scooters and other non-automobile vehicles? I think we should give this a chance — and see how it works out. The key is to not be dogmatic but pragmatic. If the bike lanes don’t live up to expectations, then we should convert them back. If the city has set no clear expectations by which to judge the success of the project, then that’s a problem.

  3. re: ” In the long run, are we better off creating viable pathways for bicycles, electric bikes, scooters and other non-automobile vehicles?”

    this does not work for folks who want to walk or use bikes for transportation to/from actual real-world places like work or grocery, school, etc..

    Bike Trails are basically enclaves with hard borders beyond which – if there is no infrastructure are not suitable and downright dangerous to use.

    Here’s the question folks need to ask and understand the answer.

    Why does VDOT – ALLOW bikes on most roads – even roads that are clearly unsuitable/dangerous? What’s the core law that does not allow them to post roads with “Bicycles Prohibited” signs (other than Interstates)?

    What’s the basic law that says bikes ARE allowed on roads – even roads without bike lanes?

    Need to answer that question.

  4. In the Philadelphia area, the bikes road on the road shoulders, which were only two feet wide. Even children had sufficient control for the narrow bike lanes. The shoulders also helped reduce road maintenance. The only accidents of which I was aware were due to bicyclists suddenly turning into the path of the automobiles.

  5. Something like that would be great. Even something like Brookland Park Blvd nearby, which has a painted lane for bikes between parking and traffic, but without the barriers. It’s the barriers that really worry me, although I now know that they are flexible and designed to have the emergency vehicles drive over them when needed. Some fire truck comes up behind me I’m pulling over and crossing them. I’d rather get a ticket for that than impede an emergency vehicle.

  6. shoulders for bikes is actually a bad idea unless there is regular maintenance to remove sharp objects that accumulate there – that’s why many who bike on a regular basis will avoid the shoulders.

    Also – if the designated bike lane is not continuous – and it’s existence invites the use of it – and it actually has breaks in it and is not wholly continuous – then at those break points – bikes will come back out into the roadway.

    But no one has answered the question I asked – and it does have an answer and the question is – why does VDOT not just go ahead and outlaw bikes on roads except where they have bike infrastructure that provides safe access?

    Why does VDOT not explicitly outlaw bikes on roads that have no separate bike infrastructure? There is an answer to that…. VDOT is happy to provide it…

    basically bikes are the same legal rights to use roads as cars. That’s the law.

  7. In Virginia bicycles are vehicles according to the statute that defines vehicles and a person riding a bicycle has all of the rights and duties of a driver of a vehicle, unless the context of a provision clearly indicates otherwise.

    Source: Va. Code Ann. §§46.2-100; 46.2-800

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