Cycling Rolls through Chesterfield, but Will it Reach the Finish Line?

bicyclesBy John Szczesny

It’s official, maybe: 360 new miles of bike paths and trails in Chesterfield County. Whether the plan endorsed this week by the Board of Supervisors in a 3-2 vote ever gets funded (and built) remains to be seen, but there’s no doubt cycling advocates scored a big victory.

Given county staff’s initial price tag — pegging the per-mile cost of bike paths between $250k and $1 million — early odds had favored denial in the low-tax, conservative Republican stronghold that sent Dave Brat to congress.

There remains strong opposition from residents who argued against the scope and astonishing cost of the plan. The growing county has multiple competing budget demands, and it’s fair to ask where bike paths should rank compared to education, public safety, infrastructure, and other concerns. But with over 1,000 petition signatures and a vocal lobbying effort in favor of the plan, county residents clearly want safe bicycling facilities in auto-dominated Chesterfield.

It remains to be seen whether county officials can acquire all the necessary right of way to construct the pathways, as any missing link could doom an entire trail. As innocuous as bike paths may seem, this complex project likely will require the services of outside engineering consultants for overall project management and full-scale paving, grading, and drainage plans. In addition, recently enacted and more stringent EPA storm water requirements must be reckoned with.

Cycling proponents can savor victory for now, but there’s still a bumpy road ahead in Chesterfield. So far they’ve proven willing and able to hang on for the ride.

Share this article


(comments below)


(comments below)


7 responses to “Cycling Rolls through Chesterfield, but Will it Reach the Finish Line?”

  1. This is one of those projects that only government can accomplish. Cost is a huge consideration, and I suspect that somebody will have to show there is a big enough benefit to justify the expense (saved gasoline, auto costs, allowing those who now are prohibited from driving (susp. licence) to have gainful employment, etc.,). I would love to be able to bike the several miles to shop, something I can’t do now because it would only be a matter of time, and a short time, before I was killed. While I realize that this eventuality would not trouble very many on this blog… Anyway, I doubt the project will ever happen. Maybe a pilot project? Yeh, ok, but please, not like the high speed train to nowhere in the middle of California’s Central Valley.

    1. What I find encouraging about the board vote is that it indicates a growing enthusiasm for bicycling among Chesterfield residents. What I find discouraging is the high cost — in the realm of $150-$200 million — and also the lack of any reference to the connection between bicycling and land use density.

      Given current low-density settlement patterns, bicycle paths will function as a recreational amenity, not a transportation alternative. Sure, it’s great that people will enjoy the opportunity to get exercise, but potential destinations are so scattered and so distant that it’s hard to imagine many Chesterfield residents using the paths to commute or run errands. The only thing that would give me any reassurance is if Chesterfield planners tied the investment in bicycle paths to density — specifically targeting the most densely settled areas in the county — and made a point of linking land uses (residential, commercial and retail).

      1. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
        Reed Fawell 3rd

        I agree with your comments. As planned, per your description, this project can only be defined as a luxury. Thus, given the vast amounts of public monies required (in itself inexplicable), should not those amounts of money be devoted to causes reaping the public far greater benefit, as you suggest?

        Does not Chesterfield have higher priorities, ones that serve the same purposes (biking for health, convenience, and profit) but serving places instead that will provide far higher impact for the public good?

        I say this as a cyclist who, if living in Chesterfield, would use and enjoy that $200, 000, 000 bicycle trail as much as anyone there, just as I enjoy the Kenwood Md to Georgetown bike trail here in DC and surrounds.

      2. A couple of reactions. First, retrofitting trails into existing dense neighborhoods is expensive. It’s obviously easier and cheaper to plan a bike trail and get it into the comprehensive plan EARLY, ahead of development, which suggests doing so well ahead of developed density, although it makes sense to relate the trails to PLANNED density. Is that part of what’s planned here, and is some of that large dollar amount for construction intended to be spent in the more distant future; or is this a plan designed to serve only today’s neighborhoods?

        Second, and related, if this is a plan to serve only today’s neighborhoods, what will be the mechanism for expansion? Bike trails ought to be an inducement for attracting and shaping future development, not merely responding to it. E.g., Reston, Herndon, Leesburg and Purcellville.

        1. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
          Reed Fawell 3rd

          Yes, bike trails should be well and sensibly integrated into an overall holistic plan, whether urban, suburban, or rural. Bike trails are not well built in gross substitution and replacement of other modes of transport, except in limited circumstances. Options and choice needs to prevail in most all cases, depending on individual circumstance. Plus costs of bike trails should balance their function short term, mid term and far into the future, understanding that costs can vary greatly, depending on many factors.

          Its always best to build for the future, if at all possible. This can drastically reduce cost and allow bike trails to help jump start, feed and sustain sensible development or redevelopment. Then bike trails built right can create long term value, of all varieties, long into the future, in lieu of wasting money while diluting urban function all at the same time. Hence beware of Bike Right of Way religion, such as recently infected Arlington County.

  2. LarrytheG Avatar

    well I certainly would not want to see Crazy mangled even though he probably deserves it for his ultra rude comments to Les… but I too have the same desire to ride and the same fear, I’d be killed.

    but here’s the deal.

    Virginia collects a billion dollars a year from the general sales tax not the gas tax.

    I say that give bike riders and other non-auto folks some right to that money for non-auto mobility.

    and in terms of “value” – that’s pretty subjective in some respects.. given the millions, billions, we spend – to do what? shorten travel time or reduce congestion for folks who choose to drive 50 miles to work SOLO in a car?

    No fear in Spotsylvania, the tea party BOS will not allow a penny to be spent on bike or ped trails.. dead as a doornail and then some.

  3. Sure it’s a plan with an uncertain future. Sure there are potential pitfalls. But, Yay! It’s got this far, I sure hope they can keep the momentum going. People needs bike/hiking trails that aren’t simply glorified sidewalks, and if built into the planning process I feel confident their presence enhances property values far more than their cost. Just look at the W&OD trail across Arlington and Fairfax into Loudoun: once there are one or two good bike trails the politicians and developers find how much demand there is for them and their constituency builds; but getting over that initial hump is hard work.

Leave a Reply