Safe streets require dollars. But who holds the wallet?

Earlier this week, the Sherwood Park Civic Association hosted a “Northside Neighborhoods Traffic Study Rally” at the Richmond Police Training Academy. Over 100 people packed the standing-room-only classroom. We attended mostly to listen, but learned a few things along the way. 

Several of the opening speakers from some of the surrounding civic associations made clear at the beginning of the meeting that the purpose of the “rally” was not to revisit the topic of whether bike lanes or new residential development is good or bad for the neighborhood, but rather how traffic will flow safely through Northside in light of these forthcoming changes. 

A screenshot of the meeting invitation that was distributed by one of the participating civic associations.

Rather than a play-by-play of the meeting (boring), here’s the gist of what we heard from the folks in the room who chose to speak up:

  1. Northside residents want safer streets. 👍
  2. Northside residents want a comprehensive traffic study. Fine. But are we going to take into consideration people riding bikes, buses, or walking as “traffic”—or are we just going to study the movement of cars through the neighborhood? 🤷‍♀️
  3. Some people still don’t want the Brook Road bike lane, even though they want slower speeds and safer crossings. 🤔

People also wanted to know the status of when the Brook Road bike lane is going to be installed and since nobody from the Department of Public Works was in attendance (weird), the best info we got is that “it is happening”. 

Finally, there was some confusion about who is responsible for getting the funding to pay for the traffic study (which may we may not even need). Clearly, professional “traffic engineers” must conduct the study and they obviously have to get paid, but who is responsible for allocating that money? The Mayor? City Council? A wizard with a cauldron full of gold coins? This is where things got interesting. The call to action from the meeting organizers was: “Email the Mayor and make sure he puts this in his budget”. But, wait a second, doesn’t City Council control the budget? Isn’t that, like, their job? And weren’t two councilmembers sitting right there? A neighborhood resident asked this very question and the response from the councilmembers was…not clear-cut. 

Turns out, Section 6.10 of Richmond’s Charter is pretty clear on this matter:

§ 6.10. Action by council on budget generally.

After the conclusion of the public hearing, the council may insert new items of expenditure or may increase, decrease or strike out items of expenditure in the budget, except that no item of expenditure for debt service or required to be included by this charter or other provision of law shall be reduced or stricken out. 

So, yeah, if you want money in the budget for something in your neighborhood (may we recommend traffic calming measures, safer crossings, and kid-friendly bicycle infrastructure), email the Mayor. But you should also email your City Councilmember because Council can amend the budget in anyway they see fit and ultimately puts their stamp of approval on what stays in, what gets cut, and how much taxpayer money is used.

The State has pulled their plan to sever Richmond’s bike network…for now

Earlier this week we wrote about the State’s plan to redesign 9th Street, and, in the process, put a huge hole right in the middle of our Downtown bike network. That plan was unacceptable, and you let them know. 

Great news: Your advocacy totally worked! As of today, we’ve received word that the State’s Department of General Services has withdrawn their proposal for 9th Street until further notice, and it will NOT be heard at the October 10th Urban Design Committee meeting. This is a positive step that’s due, in no small part, to y’all’s willingness to get involved in the civic process.

But we’re not done!

While the possibility of building a safe east-west passage for folks to get through Downtown on bikes survives, the work to make it a reality still remains (this is when we ask you to get involved once more and throw yourselves into the gears of City and State government).

Please take two minutes and email Richmond representatives Del. Jeff Bourne and Sen. Jennifer McClellan and let them know that any plan for redesigning 9th Street or Bank Street must include a safe and protected bike path connecting the existing bike lane on Franklin Street to Bank Street all the way through to 12th Street.

Remember, the Department of General Services answers to the General Assembly, and, while they’ve pulled this particular plan for 9th Street you can bet your back bike fender that they’ll eventually come back with another plan. We need to let Richmond’s elected officials know that any future proposal for redesigning the streets around the Capitol needs to prioritize Richmond’s planned bike network. 

Thank you for your continued advocacy!

The State’s proposed redesign of 9th Street will sever the downtown bike network

As part of the ongoing work to implement changes and improvements to Capitol Square, the state government—specifically the Department of General Services (DGS), which answers to the General Assembly—has released a new plan that will sever a critical bike connection between the eastern and western parts of the city. This overreach by the state, as currently planned, runs counter to Richmond’s Bicycle Master Plan and will leave a hole in the City’s bike network that prevents safe connections between the Franklin Street bike lane, the Capital Trail, and points east…likely forever.

Now is the time to let the City and the General Assembly know that they cannot allow the Department of General Services screw up downtown Richmond’s bike network. More on that below, but, if you’re in a hurry, feel free to email Mayor Stoney (RVAmayor@richmondgov.com) something along the lines of: “A safe and protected bike path connecting Franklin Street to Bank & 12th must be part of any proposal to redesign the area around the Capitol. The City should do everything in its power to alter the State’s current plan for 9th Street.”

Here’s what DGS has planned: They want to build a dedicated vehicle slip lane and floating sidewalk on the east side of 9th Street between Grace and Franklin. To do this, they’ll take the right-most lane on 9th Street and flip-flop it with the sidewalk, creating a protected place for vehicles (similar to that of the Federal Reserve entrance on E. Byrd Street) entering the Capitol while maintaining a sidewalks for folks walking up the hill or catching the bus. Essentially, this removes a travel lane from 9th Street (more on that later) and would also make 9th Street a one-way, northbound street from Canal Street to Leigh Street. This will also create a dual-left turn from Franklin onto 9th Street, which is double the murder trouble for people trying to cross the street right there.

If you can wrap your head around engineering diagrams, here’s what it’ll look like:

State, Y U NO LIKE BIKES?

The purpose behind DGS’s plan to remake 9th is, ostensibly, safety and security. From their application to UDC (UDC 2019-26):

To modify both vehicular approach and screening capabilities for vehicles seeking entry to the Capitol Campus. To harden the security of Commonwealth Gate #1 thereby addressing security concerns and vulnerabilities that currently exist to pedestrians and Commonwealth of Virginia facilities (i.e. the State Capitol and the Governor’s Mansion).

Unfortunately, this proposal punches a huge hole into the City’s long-planned bicycle network and prevents a safe and easy connection from the Franklin Street bike lane to Bank Street and points east. If 9th Street is modified as shown, there is no safe way to ride a bike from the Franklin Street bike lane on to Bank Street. Your safest bet is to dismount, walk across 9th in the crosswalk, walk down the sidewalk to Bank, and get back on your bike. This sounds terrible, unrealistic, and will most likely result in an uncomfortable mixing of bikes and pedestrians. The alternative most folks will end up taking is to exit the Franklin Street bike lane a couple streets early, which unnecessarily puts riders in mixed traffic and obviates several blocks of our city’s best bike infrastructure.

Additionally, because DGS’s plan already includes removing a vehicle travel lane on 9th Street, the likelihood of taking another lane to build a bike lane on 9th—something that’s been recommended in the Bicycle Master Plan since 2014 (see below)—is close to zero.

Here’s what we want: A safe and protected bike path connecting Franklin Street to Bank & 12th. This is what’s recommended in Richmond’s Bicycle Master Plan, and it opens up both east-west and north-south connections for folks on bikes—plus it just makes a ton of sense. The Department of General Services’ proposal breaks existing and future bike connections, puts people on bikes in unsafe situations, and prioritizes vehicular entry into the Capitol Grounds over the people who use Richmond’s streets every day.

Ahhhh that’s better. A simple, safe way to move east-west through Downtown by bike.

There are a couple of different ways to go about creating a safe bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure on 9th Street, but it all begins with getting DGS to modify their current plan to include safe bike infrastructure.

So, if you’d prefer that the State government not waltz into town and blow up our bike network, here’s how you can help:

  1. The City’s Urban Design Committee will consider this plan on October 10th. Email the UDC secretary, Josh Son (Joshua.Son@richmondgov.com), to let them know that you do NOT support the current proposal. Shoot for something simple and short, along the lines of: “A safe and protected bike path connecting Franklin Street to Bank & 12th must be part of any proposal to redesign the area around the Capitol.”
  2. The City’s Planning Commission will consider this plan on October 21st. Email the Planning Commission’s secretary, Matthew Ebinger, (Matthew.Ebinger@richmondgov.com), and let them know that you do NOT support the current proposal. Feel free to use the same email you sent to UDC.
  3. One of the Mayor’s roles—and something he talks about frequently—is being a champion for Richmond across the street at the General Assembly. This is a perfect opportunity for him to do just that, and you can let him know you’d like to advocate for the City’s bike network by sending an email to RVAmayor@richmondgov.com.
  4. Finally, since this is a State plan, you can email your representatives at the General Assembly and ask them to get DGS to change their plan. You can find your legislator’s contact information here.
Look at all of those bike lanes we should have Downtown!

New bike parking on Grace Street!

Check out these new, rad-looking bike racks on Grace Street—a commercial corridor that, until today, had no bike parking.

Thanks to Venture Richmond and Bike Walk RVA for making this happen. Also thanks to the Richmond Volunteer Bike Squad (not a real thing, but totally should be!) for putting them together and getting them installed.

The southeast corner of Grace and 4th Streets.
The southwest corner of Grace and 5th Streets.
He who takes the pics, gets to put his new bike in all of the pics.

Let’s not build bike lanes that end in parked cars

When I first started biking in Richmond a few years ago, I used the Lombardy bike lane almost daily. It’s not a perfect piece of infrastructure (it could be wider in places and would be better with physical protection) but it’s a critical and well-used connector from Northside to the Fan. Biking in this lane offers a pleasant (if brief) vacation from cycling in traffic but it ends abruptly, dumps cyclists onto Broad Street, and forces them to merge with vehicular traffic (which is challenging, dangerous, and uncomfortable).

The dreaded Forced Merge Into Traffic at Broad Street.

The moment Where The Bike Lane Ends was almost always the worst part of my bike commute. If I didn’t love biking and weren’t incredibly stubborn, one or two experiences like this might have pushed me off my bike and back into my car—and I’m young and able-bodied. Moments like these must be even more terrifying and frustrating for those who are less-abled or more risk-averse. If our streets and bike lanes are really for people of all ages and abilities, what happens at the ends of bike lanes is critical. Bike lanes should never force cyclists into sudden, dangerous situations.

When I first encountered The End of the Lombardy Bike Lane, I was new to bicycle planning. I wondered why anyone who cared enough to build a bike lane in the first place would design one that dumped cyclists into Broad Street. Now I can guess why: on-street parking spaces. Anyone who has attended a public meeting about any project that proposed removing on-street parking spaces knows that re-purposing public space from low- or no-cost private vehicle storage to public mobility space angers a vocal minority. But it’s important to have this difficult conversation about how we use public space.

On Lombardy, 30 parked cars stand in the way of having safe, continuous, dedicated bike lanes south of Broad to Monument Avenue (on both sides of the street). If the entire public street space on every one of those eight blocks were dedicated to moving people (on bikes) rather than storing personal vehicles, it would be safe and comfortable for anyone to bike from Virginia Union University (including everyone from Northside who uses the coming-soon Brook Road bike lane) all the way through the Fan. Letting these parked cars continue to occupy prime public space means the difference between people on bikes feeling vulnerable and nervous and those same people feeling safe, comfortable, and welcome. Creating a safe, protected bike lane along Lombardy, as part of a wider network, would encourage more people to bike.

People on bikes being forced to bike around parked cars on Lombardy between Broad and Grace.

Obviously, The Lombardy bike lane would be an even more useful connector if it continued, on both sides, to Park Avenue or the Floyd Avenue Bike-Walk Street or even (gasp) all the way to where Lombardy ends at Cary Street. But on each block, there are a handful of parked cars.

How a protected bike lane along Lombardy to Monument Avenue might look.

The benefits of improving cycling networks are numerous and well-documented: they’re great for business, boost property values, improve health, make everyone safer and reduce congestion for everyone (yes, you read that right—building bike lanes reduces congestion for vehicles too, a statistic you’ll understand if you’ve ever driven behind someone forced to bike in the car lane).

So let’s re-think the way we use our incredibly valuable (and limited) street space. Should it be used for static vehicle storage (parking) or dynamic human movement (a bike lane)? Shouldn’t our public spaces promote public safety, health, and mobility? So let’s look at Lombardy south of Broad Street and make the corridor safer and more inviting for people biking.

The number of vehicles parked in space that could be a protected bike lane on 0.25 miles of Lombardy.

Live on a play street instead of a die street

Streetfilms has a new video up about Life on a Dutch Woonerf. In Dutch, woonerf means “living yard,” and, as you’ll see in the video, streets which prioritize people are excellent places to live. NACTO calls these Residential Shared Streets, and has a bunch of recommendations to turn your neighborhood street into a place safe enough for children to play, ride around in a cool bike squad, or get into just the right amount of kid-appropriate mischief.

Do streets like this exist in Richmond? If so, tell us! More likely, you probably have an idea for where such a street could exist in your community with the right improvements. Yeah, tell us about those, too!