Looks like a Taking, Feels like a Taking

Bike valet parking outside the Northside Richmond bike lane briefing.

The parallel struck me early in the meeting – this is like the pipeline process.  The people who want this bike lane are not deterred by what it does to the people and businesses directly on the route and disregard all concerns as unfounded.

Of course, the property owners along Richmond’s Brook Road do not actually own any of the pavement which would be converted from multi-vehicle use and dedicated to bicycles only. This may not qualify as a taking. But as they try to maneuver out of their driveways through the bike lane, see the one remaining travel lane occasionally blocked by emergency or service vehicles, and wonder if anybody will ever buy their house in the future, they will feel like they lost something.

Some of them came out to a community meeting Tuesday night to say so but found themselves up against the same kind of organizational techniques so effectively used in favor of the pipelines. The proponents had turned out their crowd and had people there to park their bikes and hand out shirt stickers.  When the moderator asked for questions, proponents instead made statements of strong support. It was a while before an opposing view was heard.

Joe Citizen just walking into a neighborhood meeting these days without planning and preparation and inclined to politely follow the rules is going to a gun fight with a pen knife.

The Experts were all for it, of course – city engineers and planners.  They’ve done their studies, thank you very much, and don’t need any more.  The “road diet” concept is Settled Science.  There is a consensus among 92.3 percent of traffic engineers (I made that number up) that adding bike lanes by eliminating car lanes stops speeding and saves lives (I didn’t make that up, that got said several times.)

It was just eerie how easily you could have substituted the Atlantic Coast Pipeline for the Brook Road bike lanes and little else said would have changed.  The bike lanes have federal agency blessing!  There is even federal funding!  Anybody who doesn’t fall in line is just not rational and need not be taken seriously (which explains the rude behavior poured on the Doubting Thomases who did speak).

The Richmond Times-Dispatch story on the meeting was abysmal, just rotten reporting. I don’t know the reporter, but he missed half the story. He implied all 250 people came to speak up in favor of the bike lanes, but plenty in the crowd did not join in the applause for statements of support and several made excellent point in opposition.

My bet is the reporter didn’t even know one of the speakers with concerns was former Secretary of Transportation Pierce Homer, and not quoting any of the many others raising questions was just shameful bias. On the other hand, the paper’s photo essay included several shots of skeptics, including Homer. But that didn’t tell the reader what was being said.

The pedestrian, bicycle and trails coordinator for the city staff, Jakob Helmbolt, made some telling statements. Most of the opposition flows from concerns the lanes will disappear just as surge of growth is expected. But when somebody asked about the huge open tract at the north end of the route near Azalea Avenue, ripe for commercial development and traffic growth, Helmbolt said he would consider that “at the time of development – that’s when the traffic impact study occurs.”

This 301-unit complex going up on Brook Road has proper zoning to expand.

Of course, once Brook is on its “diet” any developer may go elsewhere. Proponents even claimed that cutting down the road to a single lane each way will stop future apartment development. If they made that official with zoning changes, some of the opposition would melt.  But tell me again why that would not be a taking?

Somebody asked about turning right across the bike lines and Helmbolt dismissed that with: “The signalized intersections will have dedicated right turn lanes which will be shared,” he said. But there are scores of intersections without signals and all those private driveways. That’s the problem.

Big property owners on the route who were represented in the room but said nothing included Virginia Union University, a rapidly-growing private school, the Virginia Commonwealth University Children’s Hospital and CSX, which has a major gated crossing at the southern end of the bike lane route. A woman representing the industrial properties near those tracks, who will see their freight trucks restricted to that single lane and forced to turn across the bike lane, expressed strong opposition.

The meeting was all sparked by a proposed ordinance seeking to block the bike lanes, reversing earlier votes of support from City Council with less attention paid. Just when that ordinance might be taken up for a vote, or when the bike lanes will be created if it fails, never came up. I’m sure many are hoping that once the work is done and gas starts flowing, oops, I mean the bikes start using their protected lanes, things will quickly be forgotten.

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8 responses to “Looks like a Taking, Feels like a Taking

  1. This is a complex issue – but it is not at all comparable to land taken from one owner and given to another for their own for-profit venture.

    We talk often here about “socialism” but there really is nothing more “socialist” than land taken from private owners – over the years – for roads that then ostensibly everyone, every citizen without regard to ancestry or economic status or anything else, can use – and that involves more modes of movement than just cars. Who says that cars have superior rights to use roads? Those who own cars do but we did not take the land originally from private owners just for roads. Even the Byrd era secondary roads -also “belong” to bicyclists… no?

    so what gives owners of autos the superior “right”?

  2. I’m a big supporter of building biking infrastructure… but with conditions. If you’re going to go on a “road diet,” taking traffic lanes away from cars, it would be nice if people actually use the bike lanes. Will they? If they do, the change might be worth it. If they don’t, the project is senseless. I would like to think that the City of Richmond will be measuring bicycle traffic to see if it lives up to expectations.

    Another key issue revolves around the relationship between roads, bike lanes and land use. The main intellectual justification for bikes comes from environmentalists and Smart Growthers, who also support denser, mixed-used development — so-called “walkable urbanism.” Northside Richmond is pretty low density, mostly large-lot, single-family dwellings, and precisely the kind of neighborhood that should be ripe for Smart Growth redevelopment. But you can’t redevelop at higher densities if you don’t have the transportation network to support it.

    If the Brook Road bicycle land discourages redevelopment, Smart Growthers could be shooting themselves in the foot. I’m not saying that is necessarily the case, just that it’s an issue worth examining.

    • Oh my! The sins of Northern Virginia come home to visit Richmond. You want redevelopment to denser, mixed use human settlement patterns but you have neither the space nor the funding to expand the roads. The funding is the easy part … levy ridiculously high tolls on your drivers and add a local surcharge to your sales tax. We NoVer folk t’aint payin’ fer no Richmond roads! That was pretty easy. Space is more difficult. Having just come back from a trip to London I was, once again, reminded of the challenges of density in a place with limited capability to expand the roads. The obvious answer is some form of mass transit rather than constant road expansion. But the whole Richmond area seems to have some odd aversion to mass transit. As far as I know, there is no material use of rail for transit. The Richmond bus system is routinely criticized as unresponsive to the needs. The sprawl into Henrico and Chesterfield is clear despite there being relatively low density areas still within the City of Richmond (even NoVa pretty much filled up DC before anymore recent sprawling).

      What’s River City to do?

      Bite the bullet and admit that it’s urbanizing and will have to spend more per citizen providing modern, urban services?

      Let the City of Richmond annex the more densely populated areas of Henrico and Chesterfield in order to have a sensible split between urban and non-urban?

      Establish a County of Richmond that sits under the City of Richmond and the more densely populated areas of Henrico and Chesterfield?

      Create a Richmond Area Mass Transit Authority to design and ultimately build a comprehensive mass transit system for the urban and urbanizing parts of the Richmond area?

      The problem with Richmond is that too many of the long time residents want it to transform into a walkable, mixed use, attractive area without making any of the hard choices and changes required to make that happen. Richmond’s elite seem content to sit on their porches sipping bourbon and branch water while hypnotized by the past wishing that, after 250 years, Richmond will suddenly transform itself into a walkable community through magic.

      You can have high density, mixed use, walkable communities Jim … you just can’t have them for free or entirely through free enterprise.

    • bike lanes are like sidewalks – if you build them people will use them – but it won’t happen right away and it especially won’t happen if there are “gaps” so that they really can’t be used for real world trips.

  3. Walked in from my workout and the wife said – you already have a comment! Oh, that was Larry, I said – then accurately predicted your response…

    Your right, there are differences. One is that that the people who lose something to eminent domain have compensation, and can contest the offer. The people along the pipeline route all got notice, but there was no real effort in this case to give surrounding properties direct notice. “What, you didn’t read the plans on line? Well, too bad!” I was being a bit unfair to the utilities in this comparison. 🙂

    I think a compromise on this one is possible but first those other folks need to recognize they need to dump this existing plan. It’s a very wide right of way; there can be some way to develop a decent bike lane. But not an entire travel lane on both sides – half the travel lane space.

    Jim, don’t expect any of these people with the “evidence-based” proposal to show interest in gathering more evidence.

  4. Jim –

    You have written a profound article. You have just explained why we all are headed into the crapper. It’s quite simple. Democracy does not work.

    Democracy never has worked. No once. Never. It fails every time. That has been made plain since enlightened history was written down for the first time, at the dawn of Western Civilization, as explained by the Greeks. They told us how Democracy took their Polis into the crapper head first, forever.

    This of course was the great lesson learned from the Greeks by James Madison. He enshrined the Greek lesson into the US Constitution – Democracy is a Fools Errand. One Man One Vote is lunacy. Now we have jumped the tracks into lunacy. It’s mob rule, what you have just described. Men are blind and stupid generally, put them in a group and give it power. Then you got yourself a mob every time.

    So now we of all people are among history’s greatest Fools On Our Fools Errands, headed head first at warp speed into the Crapper.

    Witness the Democratic Party. With the Republicans not far behind.

    • I owe Steve an apology and a hearty congratulations.

      Jim is a such BIKE AND SMART GROWTH GUY it was hard to imagine Steve writing the above article. My congratulations to STEVE for all his success here on the Bog.

      What a HAT TRICK Plus Steve has pulled off here – cub reporter, Chamber of Commerce booster, lobbyist, to public intellectual and Senior Fellow Think Tanker – Very impressive.

      STEVE, you are On A Roll, a big roll!

  5. I think there is still confusion here on this issue.

    Whether you are compensated or not is not the issue if they do take your land and you did not want to sell it …

    That is neither here nor there in the bigger scheme of things of infrastructure TRULY to serve the PUBLIC and not some private venture.

    And when you DO take land to serve the public – does it mean that that land can only be used for ONE KIND of use?

    What made CARs the ONLY valid use of land taken for people to be able to go from one place to another?

    Originally roads were for all modes – from horse/wagons, on foot, and bikes and over time – these rights-of-ways became more and more tuned to the “needs” of cars – at the expense of other modes of use.

    I’m not arguing that bicycles should be allowed on interstates but when we get to places where people live and access to community facilities – then why do we still insist that cars are prioritized and bike and ped where it is “convenient” for the cars.

    As said up thread – when you build sidewalks and bike lanes that are not “connected” and have “gaps” – they’re not really and truly real transportation infrastructure that people can actually use to achieve point a to point b movements.

    That’s the argument.

    Bike lanes and sidwalks are not useful if you cannot really use them for real trips… instead of “recreation”.

    How about MoPeds? Anyone ever got behind one? They usually can’t go any faster than 35-40 but they are “legal” on most city streets. Should they too be “outlawed” ?

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