People who regularly drive downtown Richmond, including many of us who consider ourselves somewhat in touch, were surprised and initially confused by the new dedicated bike lane on Franklin Street that reduced vehicle traffic to one lane after the morning rush.
A similar configuration – except in both directions – is planned for Brook Road on the north side of the city, apparently without any provision for a second traffic lane during peak traffic times. Unless word gets around in advance this time, the result will again be surprise and confusion. If you don’t like what’s happened on Franklin you won’t like what happens to Brook.
Now in my tenth year of city living I’ve come to understand that as a driver I am morally inferior to bicycle riders, and my anachronistic ways are preventing the arrival of Utopia. In nine years I have never once seen a bicycle rider pulled by a cop for running a red light or making an illegal turn, another sign they are a protected class. They are a political force in a blue city.
The Brook Road plan is not new. The engineer drawings are now almost a year old with construction coming up fast, but the City Council members who represent the area, Kim Gray and Chris Hilbert, have sponsored an ordinance to stop it. That brought out bike enthusiasts for a sometimes-heated discussion with Hilbert at a June 28 town hall meeting. The issue will come to a head in future City Council meetings.
People who use Franklin Street regularly are now aware that what was the left parking lane is for bikes only now and the left driving lane became a parallel parking lane (except between 7 and 9 a.m. weekdays). The far right lane is also parallel parking. Vehicles in the single remaining traffic lane are constantly having to stop when a driver ahead seeks to maneuver into or out of one of those parking spaces, and of course traffic is still impeded by the same set of lights and other reasons traffic stops. Bikes of course still use the vehicle lane, too.
My main objection about Franklin, however, is I don’t see that many bikes at all. I’ve seen some, but hardly a flow that justifies taking an entire paved lane for their exclusive use and limiting vehicles to one lane for 158 out of 168 hours in a week. It will be the same on Brook, with thousands of drivers inconvenienced or endangered daily to benefit dozens of riders.
Franklin passes through a business district but Brook runs past several sections of single family homes, and a large apartment complex under construction right in the middle of the proposed stretch will double the residential population and boost traffic. The stretch of Brook involved (from Gilpin Court near downtown to Azalea Avenue on the Henrico line) also crosses two busy east-west corridors, Brookland Park Boulevard and Laburnum Avenue.
Hilbert mentioned the apartment complex as the main reason he has reversed his earlier support for giving bikers two of the four Brook Road lanes. I live a block from Brook on the same block as that complex, and without that development I would be less alarmed. Hilbert is concerned that the upshot will be much heavier traffic on the parallel Chamberlayne Avenue, which is mostly apartments and the main bus route in that direction. He should also be concerned about Seminary and other side streets, which are purely residential and usually narrow.
The idealists think with the dedicated (and certainly safer for them) bike lanes and more mass transit options, usage will grow. There are places where it is probably happening. It might be that with another configuration, or a decision to eliminate parking along Brook in order to maintain two travel lanes, it can happen on Brook Road. This time drivers may assert themselves. Whatever the outcome, this time it needs to happen without surprise.There are currently no comments highlighted.