Time to Get Real about Quality of Richmond’s Bicycle Infrastructure


The Richmond region has a long way to go before it can truly be considered a bicycle-friendly town. The entire region has only 18.25 miles of paved bike lanes — “sharrow” lanes marked with bicycle icons don’t count — and those lanes are fragmented, unconnected to a broader network.

In 2015, hundreds of thousands of visitors are expected to descend upon the region for the World Road Cycling Championships, creating an “urgent need” for the region to upgrade its bicycle infrastructure.

That’s the appraisal of a new report by Sports Backers, the organization dedicated to transforming promoting an active lifestyle in the Richmond region. The report couched its findings in diplomatic language. I’m under no such obligation. Let me give it to you straight.

The region has 146 miles of dirt trails, but most are unpaved. A third of the total mileage is located in Pocahontas State Park on the region’s periphery, and none of the trails form a cohesive network. That’s not so bad if you’re a recreational mountain biker but the trails are pretty worthless if you’re relying upon bicycles to provide utilitarian transportation. The paved Virginia Capital Trail, which will link Richmond and Williamsburg, is another tremendous asset. But it, too, is free-standing, not part of a network.

The study details the fragmentation of the region’s bicycle assets: 164.2 total miles of bike trails split into 55 mostly unconnected segments.

Will Richmond be ready for the world bicycling championship?
Will Richmond be ready for the world bicycling championship?

“The lack of significant plans for more paved trails in the region will ultimately limit the use of bike infrastructure in the community,” the report states dryly. “Paved multi-purpose trails provide the ultimate level of safety and separation from motorized traffic that provides freedom to bikers as well as runners and walkers.”

The fragmentation might not be a long-term problem if there were a long-term, region-wide plan to tie the pieces into meaningful whole. But there is no plan. Not a single local government has a comprehensive plan for bicycling, the report notes. The City of Richmond is working on one — that’s about as good as it gets.


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5 responses to “Time to Get Real about Quality of Richmond’s Bicycle Infrastructure”

  1. Hokie Avatar

    True, no local government has a comprehensive plan dedicated to bicycling in the Richmond MSA, but the region and several localities give some lip service to bicycling. A regional bike plan was developed through the PDC in 2004 and an attempt was made at updating it in 2009. It was up to the local governments to include these suggestions in their individual comp. plans and I have found several instances of this, including New Kent and the City of Richmond. I’m sure others have done likewise, but I’m too lazy to check every locality.

    As such, I’m a little confused by this report as there does seem to be a regional plan that has been adopted by at least some of the localities in the Richmond MSA. The issue as with most things in our lovely Commonwealth is funding. Until the recent transportation spending overhaul there wasn’t a dedicated fund or push for bicycle accommodations; instead, these facilities were generally added at the time of reconstruction or rehabilitation of a facility (even this practice has only started within the last ~25 years). This problem is exacerbated by the fact that secondary streets, which are generally more bike-friendly, are reconstructed less often.

    Keep in mind the study you linked to several days ago that declared Virginia the most bike-friendly in the South. We may not be Portland, but in my opinion our Commonwealth is doing a fine job of adding bicycle facilities where it can, when it can. While many may not be in place at this time, keep in mind that there wasn’t an emphasis on these facilities until relatively recently. In my mind complaining about the lack of bicycle facilities is a bit like complaining about the absence of high-speed internet in rural areas, just give it time…

    PDC: http://www.richmondregional.org/MPO/MPO_Div_Cats/bikeped.htm
    New Kent: http://www.co.new-kent.va.us/DocumentCenter/View/741
    Richmond: http://www.richmondgov.com/planninganddevelopmentreview/documents/masterplan/05Transportation.pdf

  2. larryg Avatar

    well.. yes.. we have bike plans in our area – out the wazoo…

    we have maps out the wazoos with prospective lines on them labeled “future bike trail”.

    every couple of years they take the maps out, dust them off, and tweak the lines then put them away again.

    there is no dedicated source of funding and as Hokie said – the “plan” is that when VDOT widens a road or builds a new one that the bike stuff will be included.

    they work a lot like sidewalks do. A developer will put in sidewalks – that end at the boundary of the development and the plan is to have it continue when the next development is put in.

    The so-called TE – Transportation Enhancements Federal money under Safetu has changed a lot under the new transpo Plan -Map-21 and not for the better.

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – no matter what one thinks of the new transportation taxes – the fact that more of it will now come from sales tax – ought to give proponents a better built-in argument that bike users ARE now going to pay taxes that could/should be used for other transportation LIKE bike infrastructure.

  3. DJRippert Avatar

    Well, it will certainly be an embarrassment if thousands of bike riding fans show up and there’s nowhere to ride the bikes!

    Farifax County is even more frustrating. The Cross County Trail runs for 40 miles, most of it off-road. The county has used undevelopable land in the flood plains of multiple creeks for much of the trail. Unfortunately, the trail surface varies from paved trail to dirt path through the woods. On the dirt path sections trees fall down and block the path, some of the creek passings are only above water when the creek is low, etc. It seems like the county is stuck at about 80% complete. At the risk of sounding anti-environmental: bulldoze a 10 ft wide path, put down blue dust and build a few low weight bridges. That’s it. So close but so far.

  4. larryg Avatar

    the more we go on – the more I realize what a priceless jewel the C&O bike trail is…. it’s a symbol of what we used to be able to do – that we can no longer do.


  5. Lots to say on this, but I’ll just start off with a thanks to Jim for the plain language version. Virginia has some bright spots when it comes to cycling (Harrisonburg, Arlington, VCU), but mostly it’s on the wrong end of the curve.

    Funding is definitely an issue (and always will be), but there are lots of things beyond funding that make a difference. A VDOT that actually accepted that bikes are a legitimate transportation choice for many (now, and many more, in the future) would be a good start (and free!). A VDOT that bothered to consider whether striping additional bike lanes/sharrows/etc (practically free) whenever it repaves a section of road would also matter. Frankly, I’ve just about completely given up on VDOT (a luxury that I’ve got in Arlington, where we control most of our roads). Hopefully not everyone will follow my lead on that.

    As to the CCT, DJ, paving the entire thing would be awful. Most of the dirt portions are great recreational singletrack, and don’t serve any primary destinations. I think it would be much easier to piece together better on street or (new) MUT routes rather than try to pave the CCT from top to bottom (and yes, I realize that this position puts me in opposition to many of my NoVA cycling advocacy brethren). And yes, I’ve ridden it top to bottom. And back again. Many times.

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