Biking & walking around Richmond region needs to get easier

Cars driving in a buffered bike lane on 9th Street in downtown Richmond.

Cars driving in a buffered bike lane on 9th Street in downtown Richmond.

I like to ride my bike. I don’t always have the time to ride, but I’ve made it a habit to ride my bike on errands and on my bike commute to work.Despite the cold winter weather and snow, as of Feb. 13, I’ve ridden about 125 miles this year, with about 25 percent of those miles coming in Henrico County, where I live. I’m healthy and able-bodied, but not all of us are so lucky.

Sports Backers’ Bike Walk RVA organization is helping encourage localities to become more active and friendly to biking and walking. It is hosting four informal “Bike Walk Talk” happy hours throughout Henrico this month.

I recently attended the first of the talks at the Innsbrook Capital Ale House and wrote about it in my Why, Richmond, Why?!? column for the Richmond Times-Dispatch. The crowd of nearly 50 participants discussed their cycling, running and walking needs and wishes in the county.

There were many positives and negatives discussed about Henrico’s biking and walking infrastructure. Retrofitting to incorporate new infrastructure will likely be expensive, especially if land has to be purchased for widening.

The city has a bike master plan. Chesterfield has approved a new bikeways and trails chapter to its comprehensive plan. While those plans aren’t written in stone, the idea behind planning for bikes and pedestrians is to guide development of infrastructure. For bike and trail networks to thrive in a region like ours, the localities have to work together to connect everything.

Read the article for the full report from the Bike Walk Talk. As one participant put it, “we’re trying to retrofit a 1950s auto suburb,” lamenting the need for residents to drive most everywhere they go. He was concerned that it could take a generation or two to move past that mind-set. That goes for all of our localities, not just Henrico.

I didn’t address one major topics that has concerned me about the way we have developed our suburban sprawl in the Richmond region. We all moved out to the suburbs, into sheltered, cul-de-sac neighborhoods. While many of us sought these enclaves for protection, to get away from traffic and urban bustle, what we really did was shelter ourselves from a healthy lifestyle. Most of us have to drive to do everything we do. Shopping, school, work, restaurants, even recreation. We drive to it all.

One of the main reasons we drive is due to the way we developed our neighborhoods oriented toward the automobile. Most communities don’t have safe ways to walk or bike. We usually have to follow the streets, most of which don’t have sidewalks or protection from speeding vehicles. Many neighborhoods could use pathways out of the cul-de-sacs and cut-0ff communities that would make it more inviting to bike and walk, especially for families. It would help encourage more non-vehicular trips and more walking and biking, which would promote a healthier lifestyle.

I also recently wrote about driving in bike lanes, part of an ongoing series of reader questions I’ve been trying to answer.

Why begrudge the cyclists their bike lanes? Richmond has nearly 1,900 lane miles within the city for vehicles to drive along, but only about 24 bike lane miles.

As Richmond continues to make progress with improving bike infrastructure, the number of bike lanes will grow. There will be more protected and buffered bike lanes. Hopefully we’ll see more multi-use trails like the Virginia Capital Trail.

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2 Comments

Filed under My life, Uncategorized, Urban Planning

2 responses to “Biking & walking around Richmond region needs to get easier

  1. deeandmurphy

    I live on a wonderful, quiet street on the south side. Near Forest Hill, it’s part of the bicycling route in this part of town. The streets here are probably from the 1950s you speak of in your post: narrow and without sidewalks. I would love to walk to get my groceries but there aren’t connecting sidewalks to get me to them on Forest Hill. The sidewalks that do run along my part of Forest Hill are narrow and in disrepair. Which brings me to some of the people with whom I work: the disabled. Have you ever tried to navigate sidewalks that are bumpy and uneven using a manual wheelchair? Not only is it next to impossible but it’s dangerous. In future conversations about biking and walking Richmond, might the needs of the physically disabled be included?

    Thank you for being among the voices working toward a better future for this beautiful city.

    • Great point, and certainly one that gets ignored. Sidewalks in many areas of the city — in particular along busier streets near parks and public spaces where people tend to be most of the time — need more attention and maintenance. I say that before even considering people with disabilities. Thank you for mentioning it.

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