Bicycle initiatives gearing up ahead of 2015 races

With the collegiate cycling races under our belts, what can we expect in the lead up to 2015?

Lee Kallman isn’t shy sharing his thoughts about last weekend’s 2014 USA Cycling Collegiate Road Nationals.

“It went awesome,” said the public voice of Richmond 2015, the non-profit group that successfully bid for the 2015 UCI Road World Championship. “It went really well.”

That’s a huge relief for Kallman because the recent three-day cycling event was a critical test run for the nine-day UCI world championship races in 2015 that’ll bring to the city an estimated 450,000 spectators and 1,500 cyclists while a combined TV audience of 3 million watch on.

To prepare for next year’s event, Richmond 2015 and sporting events company Medalist Sports upped the ante of last weekend’s collegiate races. “Historically, collegiate nationals is not of this scale,” Kallman said. “And we really raised the bar because part of our process in testing for the world championship, so things like follow vehicles for the athletes and just the general atmosphere” were used to best simulate next year’s event.

A chief concern ahead of the race was educating the public about no parking areas and street closures. “It’s always tricky finding that balance between making people aware of traffic and not scaring them off,” Kallman said. He thinks efforts in the lead-up to last weekend’s event worked. “We didn’t have the traffic issues that people were thinking there would be…we did a good job of getting the word out about things.”

He said Richmond 2015 is currently undergoing a debriefing period involving businesses that were directly affected by the races. Individuals may also contribute their opinions about last weekend’s races in this survey, which organizers will consider as they tweak next year’s event.

Ironically, next year’s nine-day event likely won’t inconvenience Richmonders as much as the three-day collegiate event. “The hours that the collegiate race spanned [eight hours on Friday, nearly 12 on Saturday] are greater than any days in the world championships,” Kallman said. “There are some days we’ll have two events going on, so some of those weekdays it’s a couple hours in the morning, it’s a couple hours in the afternoon…Some of the time trials could be two to three hours. Others might be a little more than three.”

Courses used last Friday and Sunday will be re-used in 2015, which gives Richmonders a leg up in dealing with closed streets and no-parking areas. “There’ll be some differences with traffic and roads being opened and how that worked because there’s more infrastructure around the [UCI] world championships,” Kallman said.

For instance, more fencing will line routes than last weekend’s race. The finish line on Broad Street will also look different. “We’ll have a number of international broadcast outlets set up with their operations there, we’ll have significantly larger VIP hospitality tents, more much in terms of officials, judges, and timing. All sorts of temporary buildings that’ll be set aside, and a lot of grandstands as well,” Kallman said.

But the 2015 event isn’t just about thrusting Richmond into the global consciousness . It’s also about making the city more bike-friendly for residents long after international eyes look away.

“2015 is more than a bike race,” Kallman said. “A big part of that opportunity is bringing bikes to the forefront.”

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The man leading efforts to bring them to the forefront is Jakob Helmboldt, the city’s pedestrian, bicycle, and trails coordinator. One of the most obvious benefits of hosting cycling events is having smoother roads.

“One of the things I’m sure folks have noticed is lots of re-paving has been going on,” Helmboldt said. “That’s one of the upsides of hosting an event like [UCI 2015], is that we’re not having to build separate infrastructure. It’s more a matter of getting our existing infrastructure in shape, which is going to be used the rest of the time in daily routine.”

The blueprint for improving city infrastructure will be the Bicycle Master Plan. The city recently released a final draft of the plan as an interactive wiki-map, asking Richmonders to solicit feedback on specific aspects of the plan. “Now that we have this master plan almost wrapped up, this will be a template and blueprint for where we go moving forward so we can build it in to our more routine processes,” Helmboldt said.

He added that he and others within the City are “working internally with Public Works to line up a number of projects that are a lower barrier to entry” to starting off in a lower gear before cranking up to world-class speeds.

Some of those projects involve city bridges. “None of our bridges have been designed to get a bicyclist comfortably across,” Helmboldt said. In particular, he’s eyeing the Leigh and Manchester bridges to “better channelize bike traffic across [them] and have some dedicated space” for bicyclists. He also hope the City will select a contractor later this summer to refurbish the Martin Luther King bridge to better accommodate bicyclists.

Helmboldt said that the City is also moving forward the design and construction of their end of Virginia Capital Trail, a 51-mile trail that will end the in Shockoe Bottom.

One of the more ambitious plans that’s been in the works is the Floyd Avenue “bike boulevard.” On May 19th, council members and City officials will take part in a public meeting to outline and discuss plans (PDF) to decrease traffic on the street from Monroe Park to Carytown, thereby making the street more bike friendly. Kallman said the project serves as an “entrée into this advanced world of urban cycling and bike lanes.”

Bicycles on the road aren’t the only issue. Helmboldt said that the City has installed roughly 140 bike racks across the city, from spots within Carytown to outside storefronts of En Su Boca.

The City will install 200 more racks in the near future. Helmboldt is especially pleased that the city won’t tap an out-of-state supplier for the parts. Instead, the City is working with its Workforce Development Initiative. “One of those programs is getting folks certified as welders and metal fabricators,” Helmbodt explained. The City works with a local company to source the metal and materials that trainees will use to create the bike racks.

Helmboldt is also scouring the city for six potential locations for the city to install bike corrals, on-street parking for bicycles “where you have a high bike parking demand, but you don’t have the sidewalk space to accommodate a larger bike rack,” he explained. “No Parking” areas are often ideal for corrals, because the road space is already available, and motorists typically don’t have trouble seeing through the bike corral to spot traffic.

Although the above projects aren’t set in stone, and discussion with council members and the public will continue on specific projects, Helmboldt believes the 2015 event is pushing forward bicycle initiatives.

“It’s created a lot of dialogue and it’s certainly galvanized support amongst a lot of folks,” Helmboldt said. “If we’re going to have this global bike presence…we want to be seen as a city that recognizes the utility and transportation value of cycling.”

“We want [UCI 2015] to be a legacy so that the event doesn’t come to town and then that’s it. That this carries momentum forward.”

photo by Eli Christman

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Nathan Cushing

Nathan Cushing is a writer, journalist, and RVANews Editor.

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