Franklin Street Bike Lanes Coming Next to Residential Brook Road

Franklin Street facing toward Capitol Square. I waited hoping to see a bike. The white truck is parked in the former travel lane.

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.

New configuration of five-way intersection at Brook Road, Fauquier Avenue and Laburnum Avenue with dedicated bike lanes on Brook.

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.

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29 responses to “Franklin Street Bike Lanes Coming Next to Residential Brook Road

  1. It will be interesting to see if these new bicycle lanes do much to increase the number of cyclists on the streets. I’ve been a big supporter of building bicycle infrastructure — but I also believe in evidence-based public policy. If we create all this bicycle infrastructure and new cyclists don’t materialize, perhaps we should re-think what we’re doing.

    What might work in Amsterdam, Copenhagen, New York or even D.C., might not work in Richmond. Land use patterns are critical. The cost of automobility (car ownership, parking) is critical. Climate is a factor. The availability of mass transit is a factor.

  2. They did the same thing in downtown Norfolk. They replaced lanes along the Ghent section that were heavily traveled to be one lane with a bike lane. Never have I seen bike riders on them.

    It should be if they don’t show up, they turn it back into a car lane. If you have 10 – 20 bikers, sorry, that is not enough to undo the traffic snarls, backups, just for some to have bike lanes.

    Its even worse with some residential areas thinking that they need a bunch of stoplights and 25 mph roads when the subdivision and none of the living areas are sitting on a 4 lane road designed to carry traffic from a 2ndary artery. 10 people walking their dogs to go from the north subdivision to teh south is not worth it to what happens with the traffic. Traffic needs to move, people need to adjust.

  3. Ha ha – welcome to the world of smart growth by progressive oppressive political dictat. Now wait for them to take away all or your parking by hook or by crook. Meanwhile, the most of us remain clueless as to their ultimate agenda, we just want to feel good and do the right thing like most innocents do while they are led to their slaughter.

    Word to the wise, Keep your mandated parking, increase it as advisable which will be in many places that are still undeserved, and be wise where it is no longer deemed necessary, so as to maximize flexibility of future uses.

    Challenge most bike paths. Most are a great waste of money you don’t have, or if you do, give it back to the taxpayer. IE remember Arlington County, the vast wastage there spending other peoples money on extravagant feel good progressive green bike nonsense even in a successful smart growth community.

    • Remember this current crew of smart growth folks had nothing what-so-ever to do with Arlington’s new smart growth downtown. Fortunately they were not around at the time to screw the place up.

    • “Challenge most bike paths. Most are a great waste of money…”

      I’ll tell you what a waste of money is. Parking. Free on street parking. Large surface lots that are mostly unproductive. Expensive parking garages.

      And you are moaning about a few bike lanes being an insurmountable inconvenience.

      • Don’t believe everything you read. Or are told.

        For example, the truth is that properly deployed, parking spaces are huge generators of wealth, critical to the life and vibrancy of many urban areas. In addition, parking spaces properly deployed eat huge amounts of traffic.

        Conversely, improperly deployed, bike lanes and paths can be hugely inefficient, both within themselves, and highly disruptive. Cities are not zero sum games.

  4. Of course parking is needed. But to gripe when some on street parking is repurposed for other uses such as bike lanes is wrong.

    In your comment above, change “parking spaces” to “transit” and you’ve got something.

  5. If the ultimate outcome is that the parking on Brook Road goes away and the two travel lanes remain, that outcome works for me. But it might not work for the residential properties with no driveways or alleys providing an alternative. And even with a driveway, I wouldn’t want to back out and have to cross that bike lane and pull into a single travel lane. Homeowners may see a reduction in the value of their property, along with the loss of a convenient place for them or for delivery or repair trucks.

    People don’t know about this. I’ve been asking around. This needs a reconsideration with the property owners paying attention. Designing for bikes in the first place makes great sense, but trying to retrofit existing streets is another matter.

  6. According to VDOT’s traffic counts for Brook road the segments talked about only see about 10k cars a day.

    http://www.virginiadot.org/info/2016_traffic_data_by_jurisdiction.asp#R

    That’s well under the recommended threshold recommended by the Federal Highway Administration for “Road Diets”. Which usually take lightly-used four lane roads and redesign them to be two lanes without any impact on trip time.

    https://safety.fhwa.dot.gov/road_diets/guidance/info_guide/ch3.cfm#s335

    So you could take away a traffic lane and just tear it up and plant a garden and see the same results but instead the city is putting in a bike lane mostly for the traffic, safety, health, and environmental benefits. All of those things easily justified by the data rather than any “moral” position.

    And again the data seems to clearly point out that a bike lane will work well here and can replace one of the travel lanes without any impact on trip time. That seems far more reliable to me than wondering about the “culture” of bike riding in Richmond or other cities.

    If there is confounding data I’d like to see it because it hasn’t been brought up by anyone I know of yet.

  7. The data point not reflected is the large Canopy apartment complex going up at Westwood. None of us in the neighborhood expect that to stop at 301 units, because that huge open Westwood Tract is a highly attractive spot for more high-density use and the owner (the seminary) needs the bread.

    Also since 2016 the Veritas private school right across the street from the apartment complex has grown, and it has a major plan for continued growth and development of the portions of the former medical complex it now owns. The “transportation plan” for that school is parents pick up and drop off twice a day, a twice-daily sight that would give global warming alarmists heart palpitations.

    Absent those two elements you might expect Brook to stay fairly stable. But growth is coming. Traffic on Brook will blossom just as this travel lane goes away. The 2016 data is meaningless.

    • Excellent points above and below, Steve –

      All cities and communities to thrive must be looked at and be built holistically, so as to create living, breathing, thriving, and growing organisms that generate and spin off cumulative advantages for all of its citizens, inhabitants of all sorts, kinds and ages.

      Thus, when building such places 2+2 must = 6. And that 6 must be squared, and then it and its result must be replicated again and again for exponential growth. This demands flexibility. The room and drivers to breath, to grow, to adapt, to emerge anew, to build upon surprises time and again, and emergent opportunities, to be what that place and its inhabitants, want to be by reason of their own unique being, identity, and genius.

      Hence, no one planned NYC – but what it is today was somehow built into the fabric of its community, its warp and woof. This demands imagination, vision and drive built on serious study, experience of real communities past and present, trial and error, and a willingness to let go. Successful cities are not built on FAD. Or ideology, or diktat, or fear, or greed, or demand. They are built on whim and fancy and unrelenting ambition, though often within a wise vision and aggregation of opportunities stumbled up and or seen by the genius of a few, that the many buy into then put on steroids.

      So for example:

      In growing urban areas, including those in transition from other uses, the arrangement, mix, and facilitation of new residential is often key. This use is often the genesis of thiving life within a community and its prospects for its future – what breathes life into the communities with all its potential, known and unknown, the endless and incredible array of life that spins out of the God force and in all its endless variety, how life is encouraged to mix, and match, and interact, generate and regenerate amid, within, and among all its interchangeable parts. Here we speak of magic. How it is loosened to flourish, driven by its own nature.

      dBut we need give that life the hothouse it needs to thrive, surprise, and delight us. Creative use of low rise, mid-rise, and high rise residential for here to eternity are typically essential amino acids and building blocks to the start and growth and sustainability of such communities.

      So for example,

      People much be lured into those communities. They must be irresistible. They must spark the very best instincts and primal needs of people so much so that demands and costs nearly always rise, generating new growth and adaption that replicates older growth in newly creative ways.

      Thus for one of many examples:

      PARKING PROPERLY DEPLOYED is America today essential to spark this growth. Such parking will eat traffic while it spins off wealth, health, and opportunity in all directions. Do not shut down the very ingredients that critical of growth of healthy cities. Do not punish people. Open up their world to unimagined opportunities that create unique places.

      How to we think about doing this with parking?

  8. The argument about “use” can and is used to argue against putting in sidewalks in greenfield development especially in the suburbs and it’s basically wrong because while it may take years – eventually both sidewalks and bike lanes – non-auto infrastructure than supports mobility for walking and biking – becomes well used and contributes heavily to that “walkability” that Jim often touts.

    Yes, it’s a change and yes it’s an “affront” to those who love their autos and seldom walk and bike but geeze… people who are provided with safety infrastructure for biking and walking WILL use it after it becomes a standard feature.. happens all the time but the auto-lovers grousing does too~ another name for it is “stroad loving”.

  9. But that projected growth is definitely not going to add the 10k+ trips needed to actually push the road above the limits recommended by FHWA. Unless the traffic studies in those applications assumed every household in those apartments would have more than two cars and still make multiple trips a day.

    Short of a massive upzoning of the entire corridor there’s just no way you can get to the traffic levels like that. In which case I might argue that a bike lane is insufficient but even then you’d want to use the space you have to beef up public transportation through the corridor and that might call for a bus lane instead.

  10. I don’t give a flying leap what FHWA recommends. If the purpose of all this is not to accommodate bikes, but is merely to achieve some silly idealistic goal of closing down the number of lanes available for cars under some “road diet” nonsense, now I’m really going to make the effort to stop this cold. Thanks for the glimpse at the real agenda.

    • Good comment, and stop it cold. Then, later, another opportunity and challenge might well unfold, namely:

      How to we build this place so that a bike lane or other bike facility is both highly efficient and highly affordable, because our newly build urban place now is spinning off great amounts of wealth and health, opening up options not viable before?

      Lesson: good planning and execution, including sequencing, is a gift that keeps on giving to a place’s future. Bad planning, execution, and sequencing destroys a place and a region’s future.

    • Steve, of course that’s the intended purpose. Arlington County demonstrates that perfectly. What used to be pleasant four-lane arterials that criss-crossed the County have been “road-calmed” nearly everywhere down to two lanes (one in each direction), with on-street parking reduced and intersections deliberately made more difficult to manuver and “humps” inserted on these major roads to deter people from even entering these unwelcoming neighborhoods. Yes, there are bike trails as part of this mix. Some of them go into dead-ends where nobody lives, but they are part of the mix because they provide an excuse to take away traffic lanes and convenience.

      And why? Perhaps in part because it responds to the biking lobby and the mass transit lobby and the “walkable urban” lobby. I too want pedestrian safety, and enjoy dedicated bike paths, and bike lanes on local streets to connect them (but not the heavily traveled main streets where Arlington is putting them). But the main reason? Because it makes Arlington streets essentially undesirable for commuters and shoppers from surrounding Fairfax County and Falls Church City to cut through, as alternatives to the hopelessly choked lanes of I-66 and US 50 and the GW Parkway — the widening of all of which, Arlington County has consistently opposed. But will Arlington County admit these are the real reasons for all those bike lanes and road-calming measures? Is Arlington trying to impose a “road diet” on the rest of NoVa? Maybe this helps put those extraordinarily high tolls on in-bound I-66 in perspective: people beyond Arlington’s boundaries have no practical alternative but to cross through Arlington to get to the District, whereas Arlington is openly hostile to them and doesn’t give a damn about the problems beyond its boundaries that result.

      I have a hard time translating Arlington’s attitude towards automobiles to Richmond, but that’s what you are describing. Just as Azalea Mall and Regency Mall represent the failure of the auto-centric suburban commercial model, a City designed to be hostile to automobiles can easily go too far in the other direction. What will happen? Just as in NoVa, the commercial growth is no longer in Arlington but in Tysons and beyond, to places like Lorton and South Riding and Ashburn. There, the planners’ movement for “urban walkability” meets the inexorable demand for automobile convenience. Perhaps the result is “stroads” but personally I’ll put my money on the Fairfax/Loudoun solution, with Arlington becoming a distinctive residential enclave handicapped by a declining commercial tax base and avoided by most non-residents.

      • Wonderful, Wonderful, Wonderful comment, Acbar. And right on target.

        Three very short comments:

        In my memory, and like you I was heavily involved in region at the time:

        The opening of Dulles toll lanes and I-66, those revolutionary roads working in tandem for grand ill affect by reason of poor planning, these together forced and accelerated these issues that were ignited earlier by Beltway and Dulles Airport, including in Arlington.

        For example, the I-66 constriction and placement decisions, as I remember them, were driven by local grass roots activists there and by the acquiescence of a weak and compliant Secretary of Transportation. The effect, short and long term, of these decisions were to largely obliterate what had been a workable secondary, tributary, and neighborhood network of roads that had worked and adapted well since Arlington’s explosive growth starting with explosion of Federal Government under Teddy Roosevelt, and then put on steroids by WW1 and next magnified by FDR in the 1930s plus WW2.

        Now, suddenly much of this elaborated road network was gone or chopped up oe blocked by these awful 1970s decisions that came to pass on or about 1980, most particularly across the board in Arlington County.

        This was the first phase. Below is the second phase.

        The smart growth NIMBY phase in Arlington, call it phase 2, started with the Disney Battlefield Battle that brought in from out of town a new crew of highly skilled and committed activists flying under the Smart Growth banner who immediately took credit for what they had nothing to do with, the birth and initial execution of the Ballston to Rossylyn Corridor. This ignited the slow corruption of one of the most successful downtown redevelopments in the history of the United State. This corruption was in full swing by 2000. This was thanks in part to an invasion orginally gestated on the east coast by the infamous Paris Glendening governorship in Maryland. He’s imported the smart growth theory from the west coast, only to claim later that he invented Smart Growth, like he claimed to have have invent most everything else he did in government, your typical university professor run amuck.

        Thirdly, you say “personally I’ll put my money on the Fairfax/Loudoun solution, with Arlington becoming a distinctive residential enclave handicapped by a declining commercial tax base and avoided by most non-residents.”

        THAT IS A most interesting statement, it dovetails what I recall suggesting on this website four or five years ago with regard what was happening in Arlington re: its new war on parking in Rossslyn, the Columbia Pike Corridor debacles, the corrupt government scandals re local trolleys and bus stops, not to mention out of control bicycle regimes big and powerful and expensive enough for the Big Apple (NYC). Now you have nailed it and updated it.

        And you have expanded it county wide, and thrown in a possible Fairfax / Loudoun solution. I get Loudon. Maybe even Fairfax. There is much here to explore and chew on – location, location, location, for one. The big elephant in the room for another. He’s going to Fairfax/Loudoun. That seems likely now.

  11. Projects can have multiple purposes. Obviously the bike lanes are going to be there for the benefit of cyclists.

    But the claim made that Brook Road will face increased congestion when a lane is taken. The data, provided by both VDOT and FHWA (neither of which is in charge of the project so it’s a pretty neutral source) suggests that is not the case.

    You don’t have to agree with anything that FHWA does of course but to do so you have to ignore a lot of the evidence out there about what to expect from a project like this.

    I don’t know why someone would do that when it suggests that you can create safer space for cyclists without asking anyone to sit in extra congestion. That’s a win/win in my eyes.

  12. I would not call FHWA “idealistic” in any way, shape or form. They’re pretty much down the line on the engineering.

    People who like their cars tend to think that roads are for them and infrastructure for biking and walking is a “convenience” for others rather than basic mobility infrastructure – which it is – in my view.

    I’m a car lover .. but I also bike and walk… and when I do bike and walk – I usually have to go somewhere where cars are kept under control because most drivers do not “share” the infrastructure but rather drive as if it is dedicated exclusively to cars and the bike/walk stuff is just “optional”.

    Anyone who has actually tried to bike or walk to a destination for mobility rather than recreation knows what an often life-threatening problematic thing it can be – drivers whizzing by so close at such speed that it’s a worrisome thing.

    So I support any/all efforts to provide good, safe mobility infrastructure for all modes… and I actually do think one reason Americans are fatter and flabbier than other countries is that we are so car-centric – goes directly to our overall health care costs…

    • I agree with you about the health consequences, etc. But people looking for a place to eat dinner, or a movie to go to, or a home to buy with an easy commute, think about how to get there by car, and what to do with the car when they get there. Only in NYC/Brooklyn have I seen a lifestyle so hostile to automobiles that mass transit really becomes the preferred mode for getting around on a day to day basis — and even there, people move away from the City once they have kids, unless they have the incredible good fortune to be able to afford a personal staff to manage the hassles for them. Urban walkability is fine as a concept and needs encouraging; but in this country we need that along with automobiles.

  13. It is really unfortunate that your post, as well as a number of the comments, are framed as an Us vs. Them argument, rather than one framed around data and informed ideas about urban growth and planning. When you write sarcastically, “I’ve come to understand that as a driver I am morally inferior to bicycle riders” you muddle a legitimate discussion about the future direction of our city by conflating it with your personal experience with a subset of cyclists. You refer to supporters of bicycle infrastructure as “idealists” (as if idealism is somehow a bad thing) even though, unlike you and other opponents of the bike lane plan, these so-called “idealists” actually have a substantial amount of data to support their position when it comes to the Brook Rd. bike lane.

    I am a resident of Northside, live off of Brook Rd., and enthusiastically support the plan to create protected bicycle lanes along both sides of Brook Rd. My wife and I both own cars, and we both drive on Brook Rd on a daily basis. We don’t have a driveway and park on the street in front of our house. We also own bicycles, which we ride, with our young son, mostly for recreation. We would all ride more–from our house to our local pool, to Hardywood, downtown to Brown’s Island, Belle Isle–except that to do so safely requires us to take an indirect, circuitous route to avoid Brook Rd, or else take a more direct route down Brook, which involves risking our lives. I have been hit on my bicycle while riding on Brook-twice–and have had more close calls than I can count.

    Like you, we pay taxes for our roads. We think bike lanes along Brook Rd. will improve our lives and the lives of countless Northside residents, especially those who can’t afford a car and use a bicycle as their main mode of transport. We think they will make our neighborhood and city more attractive, more livable, less congested and less polluted. We also think they will make the roads much safer for cyclists. Sure, these are our opinions, but these opinions are supported by exhaustive data, neutral traffic studies, and years of community input and planning. The arguments in your post against these bicycle lanes aren’t supported by the evidence.

    Additionally, Hilbert’s ordinance is an insult to responsible governance, and an affront to his constituents. Citing no new data or evidence, the ordinance, if passed, will bar the construction of ANY bike lane on Brook Rd. Forever. It is Hilbert’s MO: he did the exact same thing several years ago regarding the Laburnum traffic circle. Just like Laburnum, he has offered no alternative solution, only the status quo.

    • I just a few hours ago had yet another biker blow through a stop sign in front of me. She waved and smiled, as if that made it ok. She should get a ticket. There should likewise be enforcement for vehicles that break the rules and hurt bikers.

      As a resident off Brook for 5 years who drives Brook I was never consulted and my main goal now is to be sure people know. I think some accommodation can be made but the current plan to replicate E Franklin is not workable and will never be justified, unless the main goal is that “road diet” concept.

  14. Doesn’t matter. Hilbert has already decided to oppose the bike lanes. Multiple constituents have cited all sorts of data compiled by traffic engineers and he doesn’t care. It’s exactly the same as his “I don’t see how removing a traffic light can help slow traffic” comment on the Hermitage/Laburnum roundabout.

    If you’re opposed to the bike lane you may think this is great. Me, I’ve grown tired of elected officials citing “common sense” or relying on verbal quips – “where does the traffic go?” in the process of dismissing data-driven arguments. It’s even more depressing when you consider how often these “common sense” arguments usually support the status quo — cause, you know, everything in RVA, VA, and the USA is going swimmingly.

    However you feel about the bike lane, the pattern of elected officials dismissing scientific data when making policy decisions is not good for the long-term health of the nation.

  15. Shocking that he would be interested in the views of his general constituents, the people who use the road every day and in some cases have done so all their lives. There is a clearly a strong corps of advocates for this, but it is questionable how many live in his district or even the city. There is no question that some traffic on Brook would end up on Chamberlayne or on the cut-through streets.

    Again, I knew zero about the proposed Laburnum-Brook traffic circle (was it there or Chamberlayne?). Had I known I would view that intersection as a pretty good candidate for a circle. My only beef with the traffic circles is the city needs to settle on a pattern, because it seems different circles work different ways leaving drivers even more confused.

    Following City Hall a bit more closely may be one of my goals on this blog.

  16. So the issue is not about the impact of the bike lanes but about the process the city took in getting the project up and running?

    That’s a very different issue from whether or not the bike lanes here will “work” as intended without negatively impacting traffic.

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