Day #052: Protected bike lanes

Motorists are one party who stand to benefit the most from protected bike lanes.

Inspired by Michael Bierut’s 100 Day Project, 100 Days to a Better RVA strives to introduce and investigate unique ideas to improving the city of Richmond. View the entire project here and the intro here.

  • Idea: Protected bicycle lanes–lots of them, and quickly.
  • Difficulty: 2 — Plans are in the works to add some lanes, but enough lanes need to be added to create network effects and a meaningful alternative to automobiles.

Richmond’s ever-growing population of cyclists is still stuck between a sidewalk and a hard place. Mere-mortal riders who are too scared to ride in the flow of traffic where they legally belong frequently elicit responses from pedestrians, and the braver “spandex/fixed-gear” crew often attract tailgating, honks, or dirty stares.

Every day, Richmond approaches a critical mass of cyclists despite a lack of infrastructure. It’s time to add a meaningful network of protected bike lanes for the sake of all forms of transit.1

While tangible changes have been slow to come, Richmond is finally talking the talk of bike. With the 2015 UCI Road World Championships on the horizon, the city is planning plenty of bicycle infrastructure, but all the sharrows and unprotected lanes in the world won’t amount to enough change.

As Jeff Speck regularly says, protected bike lanes are what it takes to get riders, those not wearing spandex, on a bicycle. If Richmond wants spectators during hot September 2015, or commuters in khakis, or a family of four to seek alternatives to the automobile, then buffered bike lanes are the only option.2

Speck goes further by saying every biker on a sidewalk is a vote for protected bike lanes. I’ll amend that by saying every upset driver is also a vote for protected bike lanes. In Richmond, there’s clearly a large population of people, on two wheels and four wheels, who implicitly support buffered bike lanes.

Complete streets mean options. Some people walk, some people ride, and some people drive. One party who stands to benefit the most from protected bike lanes is the motorist. In New York City, smart street design lowered car commute times in one area by 35% while bicycle traffic increased 160%.

The return on investment for buffered bicycle lanes exceeds almost any improvement for automobile traffic. Earlier this year, Jon Lugbill told the RTD, “$3 million is needed for 20 miles of lanes and trails to connect the cycling dots in Richmond.” For comparison, the bill for the new Huguenot Bridge was $54.5 million, and the 2014 Richmond District Pavement Resurfacing project will cost $112.6 million for 126 lane miles of asphalt and 73 lane miles of concrete.

Phil Riggan did a great job explaining the problems facing buffered bike lane funding in his Why Richmond, Why?!? series. Unfortunately, state funding for road maintenance is based on moving-lane miles. When Richmond pays for bike lanes which can reduce moving-lanes, they face the double whammy of spending money to lose money.

Riggan advocates adding language to VDOT codes for bike lanes. The alternative is narrowing car lanes to make room for bike lanes, which has the added benefit of slowing vehicular traffic organically.

Protected bike lanes enable regular folks to get from point A to point B without breaking a sweat or any bones. Buffers benefits pedestrians, cyclists, and drivers. Moving forward, with any luck cyclists will literally be stuck between a sidewalk and a hard place–in city/state-funded protected bike lanes.

Love this idea? Think it’s terrible? Have one that’s ten times better? Head over to the 100 Days to a Better RVA Facebook page and join in the conversation.

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  1. To be fair, there are plenty of people–including the city’s Jakob Helmboldt and Sportsbacker’s Bike Walk RVA–who are fighting the good fight for cycling in Richmond. 
  2. Of course, intersections need to be designed correctly as well. 
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Aaron Williams

Aaron Williams loves music, basketball (follow @rvaramnews!), family, learning, and barbecue sauce.

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