Floyd, a Street Cyclists Can Call their Own

Design options for the Floyd Bicycle Boulevard include car diverters like this...
Design options for the Floyd Bicycle Boulevard include car diverters like this…

by James A. Bacon

The City of Richmond doesn’t have many tangible results to show for its bicycle-friendly policies so far. Painting white bicycle symbols on a few streets to designate sharrows — lanes where cars should be on the look-out for bicycles — contributes only marginally to making streets safer for cyclists. But the city soon could create a street corridor that prioritizes bicycles over cars.

City Council voted last month to ask the Commonwealth Transportation Board to approve the Floyd Avenue Bike Boulevard project to improve bicycle and pedestrian mobility on Floyd Avenue in the city’s Fan and Museum districts.

As described in Richmond Connects, the city’s strategic multimodal transportation plan, a bicycle boulevard is a low volume, low-speed street that is “redesigned with features to further reduce the speed and volume of traffic and give priority to bicycles.”

speed lumps like this...
…speed lumps like this…

The plan would convert Floyd to a bicycle boulevard for 27 blocks between Dooley Avenue and Laurel Street. The details remain to be seen. But traffic “diverters” could be installed at intersections to force local car traffic from Floyd onto other streets after a block or two. The diverters would be designed so that bicycles could ride through them. Another technique for slowing speeds might be to install speed lumps — like speed bumps but with cutouts for bicycles. Traffic islands at intersections are another option. Good signage and lane markings are critical.

“Residents and businesses would still retain access [to Floyd Avenue] but in some cases that access may be less direct than before the conversion,” states the transportation plan.

...and traffic signals like this.
…and traffic signals like this.

Floyd Avenue is  well suited for such a project. The mainly residential street has a low volume of automobile traffic at present, and is little used by commuters driving into and out of Richmond’s central business district. The bicycle boulevard would terminate at Virginia Commonwealth University, where it would plug into the bicycle-friendly VCU campus. Moreover, it would run 27 blocks through the Fan and Museum districts, two of the most densely settled  neighborhoods in Richmond, where cyclists can access a wide range of amenities.

The Richmond Metropolitan Planning Organization has recommended approval of $50,000 to pay for preliminary engineering. Assuming the scope and cost of the project stays on target, the MPO will recommend approval for the balance of the project cost, an additional $300,000. Eighty percent of the street makeover will be funded through the federal Transportation Alternative program; the city will pay the rest.

The Fan and Museum districts have a fair volume of bicycle traffic already, but streets are not designed to accommodate bicycles. Cyclists blowing through intersections are a frequent irritant to drivers. It is hoped that many cyclists will divert to the Floyd Bike Boulevard, where they will come into less conflict with cars.

Some residents of Floyd Avenue likely will complain that tilting the rules of the road in favor of bicycles and against cars will inconvenience them and diminish their property values. But the bother to motorists is marginal. And it is entirely possible that enhancing bicycle accessibility could bolster property values. This project will make an interesting experiment. I hope that city officials track property valuations over the next several years. Floyd Avenue could well prove to be the template for other bicycle boulevards.

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29 responses to “Floyd, a Street Cyclists Can Call their Own”

  1. squier13 Avatar

    It’s no more true to say Richmond’s streets weren’t designed for bicycles than to note they weren’t designed for mass motoring, either. The city suffers from the terrible affliction of mandatory motoring-itis with it’s choking mess of one-ways, 7-laners and car parking, none of which belong in a traditional urban environment. Most of Richmond’s streets are quite mutilated beyond their original design. The well-intentioned concept of the Floyd Ave bike boulevard is an attempt to bring the transport system back into balance.

    My criticism of the bike boulevard concept is that it will only further concentrate auto traffic on other Fan streets and make them even less safe for pedestrians and cyclists. The idea is something of a zero-sum game because it isn’t part of a larger policy to reduce vehicle miles traveled in the city. American planners often think in terms of corridors but in a traditional city like Richmond we need to think of the overall transport network or system. Every street should be safe for pedestrians and cyclists and accessible to local motor vehicle traffic. Chopping the city up into corridors by transport mode doesn’t work in a traditional city, it messes up the urban fabric.

    -Stuart in Jackson Ward

    1. RVAGates Avatar

      Your line of thought about the zero-sum problem is great, except a few key facts can provide more light.

      (1) Floyd Ave. has hardly any traffic now (according to DPW’s car counts). The high number of stop signs favoring cross traffic, combined with the slower speed limits (esp. around the school), have already driven the traffic to Main/Cary and Monument/Broad. So, the project won’t have much of an impact on increasing motor vehicle traffic on those routes.

      (2) This project is part of the City’s larger multimodal plan that is in the works (draft available at links posted in Jim’s post above), which is designed to impact the other side of the zero sum issue you outlined and encourage the reduction in vehicle miles travelled. As part of that, the city is planning a network of bike infrastructure in order to support car drivers who would rather be bike riders. When you are in traffic in Carytown (which really is very minimal compared to similar city neighborhoods throughout the U.S.), imagine how much better it would be if a dozen of those drivers had chosen instead to ride their bikes down Floyd Ave.

  2. “Every street should be safe for pedestrians and cyclists and accessible to motor vehicle traffic.” Nice ideal, Stuart. I agree with you. But how? What should those streets look like?

    Here’s a political reality: Richmonders will not tolerate a massive redesign of their entire street system. Change will have to be incremental or it will never work politically. The Floyd Avenue Bicycle Boulevard represents an incremental step forward.

    While the boulevard concept may push a few cars onto other Fan streets, the number is not that large, and Fan streets aren’t congested anyway. What it can accomplish is encourage more VCU students, professors and employees to bicycle to work, thus taking cars off Fan streets.

  3. alicroft Avatar

    “Some residents of Floyd Avenue likely will complain that tilting the rules of the road in favor of bicycles and against cars will inconvenience them and diminish their property values.”

    One pro-bicycling argument I’ve heard over and over is the added benefit of a stronger sense of community. Get on a bike, walk around… just get on your feet and you’ll smile and say hello to the people around you, instead of getting angry at them for driving too slowly.

    I’m all for this boulevard — Bacon, you’re correct. Change has to happen incrementally. Some is better than none in my book.

  4. larryg Avatar

    Actually I kind of like the basic concept. why not provide streets that can convey cars but also people and bikes without people and bikes put at extreme risk?

    I’d like to see a rural version also.

    but there is one major fly in the ointment and that is larger trucks, fire engines, moving vans, delivery trucks and garbage trucks.

    We went through something similar to this when talking about Smart Growth with minimum-width streets and the fire dept people were quick to
    point out that major equipment especially with ladders was not sized for the smaller streets.

    but you can have wider streets with plastic stanchions that could be run over by emergency vehicles but illegal to do so with non-emergency vehicles.

    such “islands” or “corridors” could provide some (not perfect) level of protection for bike and ped except the one or two idiots that would mow it down.

    I also like on-demand ped/bike light buttons and I’d put cameras there to get the scofflaws.

    I LIKE an approach that is FOR something and has legitimate justification and this does.

    1. RVAGates Avatar

      Right on Larry! BTW, the term for the type of transportation facilities that you are asking for is called “complete streets.”

      1. larryg Avatar

        well I did go look at “complete streets” but it seems a little loosey-goosey in terms of concept and design although I “get it” – I’m not exactly sure how you get the public on board with it unless some local group produces a design for the road proposed.

        but I like the idea overall that streets are made more friendly and safe for ped, transit and bikes… even if it makes them less friendly for cars.

        we have a car-centric landscape for the most part these days but I can tell you that locally – whenever anyone advocates bike/ped improvements, the pro-car boo-birds show up to talk about limited transportation funding being squandered on worthless things.

  5. squier13 Avatar

    Reverting the one-way streets to their natural two-way operation has been part of the City’s comprehensive plan for literally decades so it’s frustrating to hear people denigrate the concept as some kooky ideal the people won’t tolerate. The whole point of the one-way system is to move autos through the city at high rates of speed so they create in effect these urban freeways that are dangerous to people and bad for the neighborhoods they are imposed upon. Slowing down traffic speed and improving traffic routing is a more holistic approach to improving safety for peds and cyclists in the city, even though it isn’t as sexy as high-concept bike boulevards. Like I said it has been part of the plan since at least the mid-90’s but for whatever reason the city leadership is powerless to act on it.

    1. Good point about the one-way streets.

  6. Neil Haner Avatar
    Neil Haner

    Property values… hmmm…

    Last time I checked, the best real estate in downtown Charlottesville is property facing the downtown mall; no cars allowed. Yes, this is residential and not commercial, but the same tenants hold true.

    I agree, alicroft, homebuyers will put a premium on their street being car-free. Safer for their kids to play, safer to walk the dogs, much quieter. Yes, there will be some hassle with parking, but nothing a few good urban planners can’t work out.

    1. RVAGates Avatar

      I don’t know Neil… What property owner doesn’t love speeding vehicles using their front yard as a way to bypass congested streets a few blocks away. Who would ever want to own property on a quiet street where their kids could ride bikes safely? I mean, I’m sure those houses with driveways onto those major state highways have much higher property value than those poor schleps who have to navigate cumbersome turns in their cul-de-sac developments. ;-D

  7. Arthur Striker Avatar
    Arthur Striker

    Complete waste of money. If, as stated: “Floyd Avenue is well suited for such a project. The mainly residential street has a low volume of automobile traffic at present, and is little used by commuters driving into and out of Richmond’s central business district,” then there’s nothing to fix, is there? The only problem with the current set up that is cited, cyclists blowing through intersections, will only be exacerbated by such a project. As it is, Floyd is a low-traffic street which parallels a major east-west route without impinging on it. Generally speaking, the only cars in Floyd belong to residents and will continue to be a presence despite the new design. The speed limit is already 25, which is not really an issue for most commuting cyclists who go about that speed themselves. The only true danger to cyclists in the current setup is car doors being opened into their paths, a danger which will continue as long as there is on-street parking (which isn’t going anywhere without HUGELY disrupting the area). This is ultimately a solution in search of a problem.

    1. RVAGates Avatar

      Complete waste of money.— Arthur Striker

      Actually, the costs for bicycle boulevards are far less than most other types of transportation projects. They are an especially inexpensive method for reducing congestion when compared to adding more capacity for vehicles. There are many driving commuters who would convert to bike commuters if they had better confidence in safety. Plus, bike blvds are less intrusive, and cheaper, than adding bike facilities to busy roads used by motor vehicles.

      The only problem with the current set up that is cited, cyclists blowing through intersections, will only be exacerbated by such a project.— Arthur Striker

      Cyclists blowing through intersections is quite a problem indeed. So is drivers blowing through intersections. Bike blvds safely address this by changing stop signs into roundabouts, where you can safely, and easily, get through an intersection without having to stop.

      So, yes, this project will encourage bicyclists and motor vehicles not to stop and wait at intersections. But not only will it reduce travel times for both, it will actually increase safety. That’s thinking outside the traditional transportation paradigm.

      The only true danger to cyclists in the current setup is car doors being opened into their paths, a danger which will continue as long as there is on-street parking… — Arthur Striker

      Yes, that is a significant danger to cyclists (albeit certainly is not the only danger), which is significantly decreased on bike blvds. However, bike blvds significantly decrease this risk by increasing space between parked cars and bicycles.

      This is ultimately a solution in search of a problem.— Arthur Striker

      I think this family and all these lists of people would disagree.

      But if you’re looking for another problem… how about reducing congestion at a much lower cost than other alternatives?

      — Arthur Striker

      1. larryg Avatar

        re: ” There are many driving commuters who would convert to bike commuters if they had better confidence in safety. ”

        there are many people who have errands to run that would bike if they had safety.

        I like the idea that we’re not doing something for bikers – we’re doing something for those that want to bike their errands and commutes.

        right now – actual real bike transportation is the step child of bike “recreation”.

  8. onelasttime Avatar

    The car d0ors aren’t a problem as long as you’re riding three feet or so to the left. I think that in it’s current composition Floyd Avenue is fine to ride on, but a bike boulevard would induce some demand from potential cyclists to afraid to share the lane with cars.

  9. Nicholas Avatar

    The mainly residential street has a low volume of automobile traffic at present, and is little used by commuters driving into and out of Richmond’s central business district.

    So what is there to fix? As a resident on Floyd Ave, I can tell you traffic on Floyd is not a problem. The only problem on Floyd is visibility around certain intersections that do not have 4-way stops and bicyclists blowing through the intersections that do.

    I would submit that it is a bit shortsighted for a “multimodal” transportation plan to propose creating a ghetto for bicycles; one can picture a driver yelling at a bicyclist on Grove to use the boulevard a block away. Grove is already pretty busy during rush hour and now you’ll just pile more cars onto it from the folks trying to get away from the Carytown grocery stores. While convenient for certain cyclists moving east/west, I don’t feel that this would do much to change the city’s road culture for the better.

    There is a school of thought that suggests that removing as many lane markings as possible (such as double yellow lines, shoulder markings, or sharrows) on residential streets encourages people to drive slower because they have to pay attention — and might encourage safer passing, since crossing the needless double yellow on Floyd to give room to a cyclist seems to be commonsense but is ambiguously illegal and makes some drivers nervous. (I can’t find any clear statement on it for Virginia.)

    Bike boulevards aside … we’d be better off simply *paving the street* in the Museum District. What a hot mess that stretch is!

  10. JNPed Avatar

    As an individual who does not own a car and rides a bicycle, walks or uses public transportation to get to and from work each day I really have just two observations:
    1) Even the original post points out it is already a low traffic street which begs the question – is this really what Richmond should be spending its limited resources on? And my response is a resounding NO.
    2) One of the greatest hazards I consistently observe not just on Floyd but throughout the Fan is the consistent failure of BICYCLISTS to observe basic traffic laws. I believe the greatest improvement to cyclist safety would be to begin enforcing traffic laws for cyclists and to institute a mandatory helmet requirement. These changes will make tangible improvements in safety for all.

    1. Tom Bowden Avatar
      Tom Bowden

      JNPed, here’s some new info for you:

      Say what you want, but mandatory helmet laws are bad policy based on bad data. A mandatory helmet law for drivers would be a much better policy by discouraging unnecessary driving and saving thousands of lives ever year. Those who push for mandatory helmet laws are demonstrating the “zero risk bias.” It’s just one of many cognitive biases that result in bad public policy and irrational behavior.

      The health benefits of cycling for both riders and the greater number people who would be killed as a result of increased driving far outweigh the risks of riding with or without a helmet. Helmets can protect against certain injuries in a narrow range of crashes, but they are not a panacea nor are they the most important component in bicycle safety.

      Here is a link to some more information for you:

  11. squier13 Avatar

    Mandatory helmet laws don’t reduce the number of injuries to cyclists, they reduce the number of cyclists on the road. This has been proven everywhere it’s been tried which is why it’s such a terrible idea.

    From all these anecdotal stories of bicyclists being the greatest hazard known to Richmond since the evacuation fire, “blowing” the stop signs (at 7mph?) and not wearing their should-be-mandatory styrofoam safety hats, one would be lead to believe MCV is constantly flooded with bicycle crash victims and gruesome head injuries. But that’s just not the case.

    The issue is not that cyclists aren’t being more-safer-enough and getting injured, it’s that would-be cyclists don’t feel comfortable riding on roads that are only designed for autos. So we need to fix that by providing some bicycle facilities, particularly on roads with speed limits above 25mph.

    1. JNPed Avatar

      I would like to see the data supporting your opinion, since all the research I can find points to a very different conclusion. I believe the following sites and research studies may be enlightening to you.
      From: http://www.headinjuryctr-stl.org/statistics.html :
      • About 75% of all bicyclists who die each year die of head injuries
      • 85% of head injuries in bicycle accidents can be prevented by wearing a helmet
      and from https://sites.google.com/site/bicyclehelmetmythsandfacts/ :
      “The mother of all studies, it looks at 16 case controlled studies [the specific publications are available in the below link]. http://depts.washington.edu/hiprc/practices/topic/bicycles/index.html
      Attewell, 2001. Results provide clear evidence of helmet benefits. Helmets reduce risk of head, brain, facial injury, and death.
      Kelsch, 1996. Bicycle helmets reduced the incidence and severity of head injuries.
      Finvers, 1996. Strong prospective effect of helmets for serious head injuries. Protective effect of helmet underestimated due to exclusion of ICU cases. None of the ICU cases wore helmets.
      Acton, 1996. Oral maxillofacial injuries frequent. Design modification helmets need such as a lightweight chin protector.
      Thompson et al., 1996. Bicycle helmets are effective for all bicyclists regardless of age and regardless of motor vehicle involvement in the crash.
      Thompson et al., 1996. Helmets protect against upper face and middle face injuries. Use of two control groups thought to “bracket” the true effect of helmets on risk of facial injury.
      Maimaris et al., 1994. Helmet use significantly reduces the risk of sustaining a head injury, regardless of type of bicycle accident. Some evidence refuting claims that helmet users are either more cautious or take more risks than non-users.
      Thomas et al., 1994. Helmet use significantly reduces the risk of upper head injury and loss of consciousness in a bicycle crash.
      McDermott et al., 1993. Helmet use significantly protects against head injury.
      Spaite et al., 1991. Helmeted riders over 33 times less likely to sustain a major head injury and over 16 times less likely to have an ISS (injury severity score) >15 than non-helmeted riders.
      Thompson et al., 1990. Significant protective effect among helmet users for serious upper facial injuries compared to non-users.
      Thompson et al., 1989. Helmet use protects against risk of head and brain injury by 85% and 88% respectively compared to those not wearing helmets. Population-based control group provides the best estimate of helmet effect. ”

  12. larryg Avatar

    re: “removing painted lines will make people be more careful”

    true – but there is another element out there that will see that as all the more reason to drive even wilder than they do now!

    you have this weird effect – that some drivers are already timid and almost demand more “guidance” and invariably they will have some wild-eyed, hair-on-fire guy behind them…. going nuts.

    The timid run up behind a bike and will not cross the line to pass – true – but taking that line away is going to make them even more uncomfortable and more timid in my view. Timid folks are the ones who get in the left lane and drive the speed limit and won’t let others pass except on the right – and that’s exactly what will happen – count on it.

  13. A couple of points that might help assuage the concerns of those skeptical of this project:
    • The issue is not that Floyd is currently particularly unsafe street for cyclists, but rather that it will help encourage the large number of people who would like to get around by bicycle but are concerned about safety to do so.
    • This kind of infrastructure has been proven to encourage more cycling for transportation, so it will help reduce car traffic in the Fan and elsewhere.
    • Keep in mind that this is one piece of a what hopefully will become a city-wide network of various bikeways, including but not limited to bicycle boulevards, that should allow everyone to feel that they can bike through the city with less anxiety. In other words, it’s important to see the Floyd Ave. project as one part of what will become an integrated network.

  14. larryg Avatar

    I realize there are strong opinions …. but I would point out that we don’t run cars down rail tracks nor do we allow any/all kinds of vehicles or pedestrians on interstates much less rail tracks.

    We also outlaw trucks on some routes, do not provide pedestrian crossings on other kinds of roadways ….etc, etc..

    so it’s not like we do not separate modes already.

    so bikeablerichmond’s explanation that perhaps a parallel route for bikes – for point a to point b transportation is not at all unreasonable.

    We’d all (most all) think it would be downright idiotic for a movement of bikers to advocate being allowed to use the interstates or even an active rail corridor – yet in a way, are we advocating something similar when we advocate that bikes be able to use virtually any road?

    I don’t know Floyd AVe but if I lived on one end of it and wanted to get to the other end of it – should I advocate that a busier thoroughfare be modified for bikes – or a less busy parallel road?

    which of the two is more likely to happen and to actually end up providing a viable path for someone to actually use for a bike trip?

    I don’t know who bikeablerichmond is but I like his/her thinking a whole lot more than some of the more strident and less flexible voices.

    1. RVAGates Avatar

      larryg is right on… We often separate our modes of transportation for safety, efficiency, and convenience. In fact, that is the transportation norm. {*lightbulb turning on*}

      We need to spread the message loud and clear that it is okay for us to separate trains from bicyclists from cars from airplanes. As long as we give each the attention required to ensure safety, efficiency, and convenience. I wonder if we can’t wrap that concept up in some sort of catch slogan! {*epiphany*} I got it! Our new transportation slogan…

      RVA transportation… separate, but equal!

      Thank you… I know it is pretty good, huh? … I’m not sure where the idea came from… but it does sound vaguely familiar… hold on… {*running Google search*}…

      Oh my… scratch that… seriously, forget I mentioned it… {*hanging head in shame*}

      [DISCLAIMER: The previous post is a joke trying to lighten the transportation debate by tying it to historical controversy. In no way am I trying to belittle that issue.]

  15. […] a couple of days ago, however, when local political blog Bacon’s Rebellion included a very supportive piece on the […]

  16. Got Bacon Avatar
    Got Bacon

    ARRGH! This just deleted my entire response!

  17. Got Bacon Avatar
    Got Bacon

    OK, I don’t want to retype everything so here is the summary:
    Bike boulevards provide priorty route for non-moto users. We provide such routes for cars that in turn make biking unsafe or at least, perceptibly unsafe to the averager person.

    Floyd had all-way stops installed for traffic calming, which is expressly prohibited in the MUTCD. But worse, for a biker, you now have to choose the fast route with lots of traffic and speeding vehicles, or the pleasant route with loads of stop signs. So naturally people ignore the stops, even those that are inclined to typically comply. So the quite street is the inefficient street, taking away the prime advantage of urban cycling.

    As for one way streets? Stuart, as a planning student and bike/ped advocate stop parroting bad info. One way streets are almost always safer than their comparable two way streets. That isn’t opinion, it is fact. Ive been hit twice on my bike; first by a motorist that tried to pass two of us as we turned left (after signaling and waiting for oncoming traffic. The second was the classic “left cross” with a car turning left in front of me. Both of those crash types are impossible on one way streets. Other typologies are also eliminated as a result of eliminating some of the possible turning movements and resulting conflict points. Add in pedestrians and it is even more significant. Left turning vehicles is the single biggest cause of car/ped crashes.

    Here is another benefit of one way streets; more space for bikes. Even without bike infrastructure a motorist can easily pass bikes. On a street with extra capacity a lane can be converted to a buffered bike lane or cycle track. You can’t do that with a two lane, two way street. It all boils down to context and how streets are designed and operated. Some one way streets suck, but typically even more two way streets are bad. Ironically the Downtown Master Plan ignored some of the worst streets, both one way and two way. It was an agenda-driven plan. One admitted downside is that one way streets can result in somewhat indirect routes for bicyclists, that can also be overcome or minimized with other measures and practices.

    1. larryg Avatar

      re: ” loyd had all-way stops installed for traffic calming, which is expressly prohibited in the MUTCD.”

      hmmm.. I see 4-way stops in more than a few places…. can you explain the assertion?

      1. freddy2006rva Avatar

        He means that studies (http://www.ite.org/traffic/documents/aha99b49.pdf) show that use of multi-way stop signs when not warranted (per MUTCD guidelines 2B.07:http://mutcd.fhwa.dot.gov/HTM/2009/part2/part2b.htm) do NOT tend to reduce traffic speeds . They have been shown, however, “to be effective at reducing accidents at intersections that have sight distance problems and on-street parking.” This of course describes many Fan intersections. Of course the reason for the sight distance problem is that we let cars park in crosswalks and way too close to intersections, which the City has tried to address until the Fan District Association howls vociferously and the local council person demands the City stop enforcing its own parking ordinances.

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