Richmond was given a path to follow to cycling success and it involved something that city isn’t historically known for: Taking immediate action. We’re good at paying for studys, but can we follow through and make change? “Everyone just assumes Portland has always been a great place ride a bike, but it hasn’t always been that way,” said […]
Richmond was given a path to follow to cycling success and it involved something that city isn’t historically known for: Taking immediate action. We’re good at paying for studys, but can we follow through and make change?
“Everyone just assumes Portland has always been a great place ride a bike, but it hasn’t always been that way,” said Champe Burnley of the Virginia Biking Federation to the crowd Tuesday night at the event entitled “Could Richmond be the next Portland?”
Burnley, Mia Birk, Eric Weis, Tim Miller, et al, knew they had a captive, attentive and energetic audience as at least 200 people registered for and showed up for the two-hour cycling-friendly event at the Science Museum of Virginia – including many by bike. The crowd included city councilwoman Ellen Robertson, whose district includes the Cannon Creek Greenway, one of the keys to Richmond’s own greenway efforts.
Birk was the final speaker of the night, and she started her presentation and book discussion by having the audience stretch. She figured the crowd was essentially a peloton waiting to follow her to making Richmond a bike-friendly city, just as she had done in Portland as Bicycle Program Manager.
She said she had to overcome tongue-in-cheek tough love from her stepfather when he found out she got the job in 1993: “This environmental crap ain’t going to work for y’all hippies,” he told her in his best Texas accent.
Of particular interest for Richmond, the transformation of the riverfront was “key to waking up Portlanders to the ability to change the city” to more cycling-friendly, she said. “Places we play and work go hand-in-hand with transportation” leaders discovered, and they begun to be more attentive to landuse plans, including creating new laws demanding that bike and pedestrian considerations were to be included in all new construction.
One of her first efforts began with bike racks — they were sub-standard, hidden, inconvenient and there weren’t enough of them. Plus, she had to convince Portland’s leaders that biking could be a transportation mode and that bikes weren’t just for children.
Richmond needs to begin here as well and a message to the crowd from this night of cycling was clear: The change has to begin with the citizens to continue to ask for pedestrian and cycling-friendly streets, support cycling initiatives and to continue to remind Richmond-area leaders that we don’t just want to drive everywhere we go.
With the potential for the 2015 UCI World Road Cycling Championships to be held in Richmond, the city has just three years to get cycling-friendly fast. Portland did it, Birk said — so why not Richmond? For more on the 2015 effort, see the Richmond Times-Dispatch article.
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The first speaker of the night was Eric Weis of the East Coast Greenway Alliance. “There’s all kinds of stuff cooking in Richmond,” he said, revealing that City of Richmond trails manager Nathan Burrell led him around town on a bike tour during his one-day visit. He included a few of the shots from around Belle Isle and the Capital Trail and spoke about the plans for the area to become part of the 2,900-plus miles of the ECG.
“The East Coast Greenway exists to connect cities,” Weis said, adding that we should expect to start seeing the ECG signs around Richmond this year.
The ECG is touted as a great tourist draw, connecting tourist attractions, historic sites and vistas by using old railbeds, roadways and separate on-road pathways, he said. One of the goals of the roadway is to provide bikers with a safe place to ride “without worry of traffic and automobile danger.”
The non-profit ECG has been around for 20 years, in 16 states and has thousands of supporters, Weis said. It promotes local trail use, and the work to create and network the trails is done at the local level.
Typically, the East Coast Greenway is built from the following:
- Abandoned rail corridors
- Revatilized urban waterways
- Canal towpaths
- Utility corridors
- Existing right-of-ways
About 74 percent of the ECG is on-road. “Virginia’s percentage is a little behind the curve” with a lower percentage of on-road pathways, Weis said, in part due to the rural nature of the Commonwealth. It can be harder to convince civic leaders to commit large amounts of funding in remote areas.