Nearly fifty people turned out on Friday morning to ride in a temporary one-block bike lane installed by Richmond advocacy group Bike Walk RVA. Volunteers wearing “More Bike Lane” t-shirts rang cowbells and cheered as riders of all ages rode by, with the youngest participants in child seats attached to a parent’s bicycle.
The temporary lane, marked by traffic cones and volunteers wearing, was installed at 9 AM in front of the Downtown YMCA. Construction of a permanent two-way bike lane will begin on March 19, a long-delayed addition to the small bike infrastructure network in the city.
Bike Walk RVA organizer Louise Lockett planned the event to show support for more bike lanes. “We’re excited [for the new lane], but we need a whole network,” she said. The construction of the new lane will create a four-mile route linking the Fan via Floyd Avenue to the State Capitol. She said one of the next priorities would be a route connecting Northside and Southside.
“People came out despite the wind,” she said. “We’re all just really excited for more bike lanes.”
Audrey Short, a daily bike commuter, agreed with Lockett and thought more infrastructure would let more people bike. “I use my bike to commute to VCU from Northside every day,” she said. “I think more people would bike if it was safer.”
Another rider, Tara Fitzpatrick, rode through the lane next to her 4-year-old son on his way to preschool. It’s a familiar trip that she said would be improved by a lane. “We live in Jackson Ward and commute every day by bike. Unfortunately, he has to ride on the sidewalk now. We’re stoked about the new lane,’ she said.
She’s been an advocate of the lane for years, and said it’d taken a lot longer than she originally expected. “I hoped we’d have more time to commute by the bike lane, but it’s his last year in preschool.”
Bike commuting is how her family gets around, and it influenced their decision to buy a home on Brookland Parkway, which has a bike route that will connect them to their next school. “We sought out a home with a bike lane in front of it,” she said. “I’m looking forward to our new commute there.”
Another participant was Jim Hill, who retired from his job as a city planner with the City of Richmond in 2015, and came out because of personal experience. “I’ve been riding bikes downtown since the ‘80s,” he said. “I’ve been doored [hit by an opening door], moved into the curb by a bus, you name it. I support anything that improves safety.”
A passerby who declined to be named described the event as “charming,” but said she worries about losing parking spots. The Franklin Street bike lane will not remove the parking spots; it will be built between the parking area and the sidewalk. Cyclists at the event thought that the loss of some parking spaces would be resolved by an increase in people biking instead of driving.
“Bikes don’t take up a lot of space. The more of them you have, the less parking you need,” Fitzpatrick said when asked about parking. Even congestion, she said, could be addressed by building bike infrastructure. “Every time I use a bike lane, I see other people using one too. We’re less visible, I think a lot of people don’t realize how popular bike infrastructure is or how many of us there are.”
Hill, the former city planner, talked numbers when asked about parking, saying, “With the population forecasts for the city, I don’t think we can sustain a two-car per household model. We don’t have the space to park all those cars.”
“Bikes carry the same number of people with a smaller footprint, and mass transit carries even more,” he continued. He said cars would still have a place in Richmond, but to continue growing in a sustainable way, “we need a new model, one that’s more equitable, with functioning alternatives to single-occupancy motor vehicles.”
The new lane comes at a time when River City residents are increasingly aware of distracted driving and a sharp rise in traffic fatalities. A new local website, VisionZeroRVA.com, lists recent traffic fatalities and historic numbers from the Virginia DMV. According to those numbers, fatalities increased from 63 to 95 from 2014 to 2017, which follows the national trend.
Short talked about safety when asked about parking concerns, describing bike infrastructure as part of a broader social goal toward collective safety. “It’s not an us versus them thing, bikes versus cars. I drive too. I have a kid, we go grocery shopping with my car,” she said. “This is about coming together and creating options. We’re all just trying to get somewhere, and we all want to get there safely.”
Photos by David Streever
This story has been updated to note that the parking lane will remain to the side of the new bike lane; the original estimate has been corrected after viewing video from the event and recounting participants.