Bike Lanes

“A true bicycle network is one that can be safely used by a child.” – Enrique Penalosa, former mayor of Bogota, Colombia

Yes, Richmond is painting a few bike lanes on a small number of streets. But I believe this is a bad idea. The more I read the more convinced I become that this will neither increase the number of bikers nor significantly improve safety.

The video below is about NYC, but its lessons are applicable here. It’s long, but well worth watching for the numerous arguments made against on-street, non-separated bike lanes. At the very least, watch the first 40 seconds.

Certainly NYC traffic is almost infinitely worse than Richmond’s, but I can imagine if we had a bike lane on Broad St. downtown the results wouldn’t differ dramatically.

This video pushes separated bike lanes- where either concrete barriers, medians, or a simple painted buffer protect cyclists from traffic. It shows a number of cities/countries which have adopted such a strategy:

  • Boulder
  • Montreal
  • Bogota
  • London
  • Copenhagan
  • Holland
  • Italy
  • Sweden

I’m convinced by the number of hits and comments I get every time I write about biking in Richmond, as well as by the number of cyclists on the street, that we could actually change Richmond if we tried; we need to institute some kind of safe, city-wide biking network.

Who’s with me?

I personally would like to see bike roads, which you can read about here.


Richmond has been creating a few bike lanes recently. On Lombardy, there’s a short stretch with a painted bike lane, and Southside Richmond and Chesterfield have a few. They look like this:


This is wonderful. My main wish is that we would create a well-planned network of lanes that could provide safe biking routes all around the region.

However, as part of my good ideas series where I dream about what could be realized here in Richmond, I want to discuss something far better than bike lanes: bike roads.

In my former hometown of Vancouver, BC, the city took entire streets and turned them into bike routes.

These bike routes are traffic-calmed streets that are optimized for biking in numerous ways: Stop signs are removed or turned to keep bike traffic flowing, many signs alert automobile drivers to the presence of bicycles, and traffic-calming devices are used to keep cars from using the route for more than a few blocks at a time. Here’s some pictures:

Routes are well signed.

More signs & road stencils.

Traffic calming device enabling bikes, but not cars, to continue down the street.
All photos by Matthew Blackett for Spacing Magazine, used with permission.

The truly revolutionary aspect of this approach to bike routes is evidenced in the last picture: the traffic-calming devices. Most devices in Vancouver are simpler and cheaper than the one pictured above- many use a simple concrete barrier which has a cut-out for bikes but prevents cars from using the road as a through-route. But the main point of the bike routes is that the entire street is designed primarily for cyclists, not for cars.

The Vancouver network is also quite extensive.


You can see a full map here [PDF].

In Richmond this could work by turning roads that run parallel to major routes into bike roads. For example, Floyd Street in the Fan which parallels Main and Cary. Or Grace St., which parallels Broad.

Downtown, perhaps Marshall could be utilized. In Church Hill, 24th could serve as the North/South Route, and Marshall could be the East/West route.

Local traffic and folks who live on the road are still able to drive down their street, just not for more than a few blocks at a time. And no cars can use it as a through-route.

Other cities are using this approach, including Albuquerque which just passed a “Bike Boulevard” ordinance, Palo Alto, and Berkley.

Here’s a promotional video for Albuquerque’s campaign:

So my latest good idea from another city is to forget the bike lanes, and give us entire streets!

And just to continue promoting the glories of Vancouver, here’s a quote from the city’s transportation department on their transportation priorities:

City Council has set a list of transportation priorities in the following order: pedestrian, bicycle, transit, movement of goods, and private automobile. All existing and new projects in the City are evaluated with these priorities in mind and are developed to accommodate them, wherever possible.

Will someone remind me why I moved back to Richmond?

Portland, Oregon is in the midst of a heated debate about – bike lanes!

Sadly, it’s a conversation Richmond can’t have- as we have no network of bike lanes in the city.

Several tragic accidents have occurred recently in Portland when cars or trucks turned right at an intersection where there was a bike lane. Two cyclists were killed in the month of October.

At one intersection where 2 accidents recently occurred, one fatal, right turns by cars have been banned.

That’s right, cars have been banned from turning! Imagine that in Richmond- I think we’d probably issue an emergency ordinance banning all bikes from the road.

Stories of the tragedies can be read here.

The debate centers on how cars should turn right at intersections with bike lanes. In Oregon, they’re required to stay in their own lane and yield to cyclists. [Click on the graphic for flash animation from the Oregonian newspaper.]


In California, turning cars merge into the bike lane at intersections.


Many cycling activists oppose letting cars into the bike lanes, claiming that “We’ve got to train motorists to respect the bike lane.”

The police, on the other hand, argue, “Motorists have been conditioned for 100 years that no one is going to pass them on the right.” Therefore, drivers shouldn’t be expected to check for bikes passing on the right at an intersection.

Although I’d like to be a purist and claim that motorists need to learn to share the road, when they don’t share, the consequences for the cyclists are severe. So I suppose I’d advocate for changing the law to the California style for the protection of the cyclists.

That’s an imperfect solution, however, as this youtube video from California shows:

Any of you have experience biking in these two types of bike lanes? Which do you prefer?

When was the last time you did what your TV told you to?

When was the last time your TV told you to do something good?

VDOT and the Virginia Capital Trail Foundation are building a 55 mile bike & pedestrian trail linking Williamsburg, Jamestown, and Richmond – the current and former capitals of Virginia.

Parts of the trail are already open in James City County: see photos here.

Current discussions are ongoing regarding the exact route and location of the trail in the Varina area of Henrico Co. This is where things get depressing.

First, there’s the timing. According to the planners, the trail won’t open until 2012. And we all know how accurate construction projections are, so it very possibly could take even longer. Call me impatient, but I was hoping for a quicker completion.

Second, there’s Henrico Co. government who seem to be trying their best to design this project to suit their car-dependant needs. Today’s TD outlines the desire of Henrico Board of Supervisors Chairman James B. Donati Jr.:

…he hopes to influence the trail’s design.

He believes the trail should be built as an extended shoulder of Route 5, instead of a swath of pavement separated by grass and landscaping.

He contends a wide shoulder would make Route 5 safer, because it would accommodate cyclists and slow-moving farm equipment, plus give room for delivery trucks to stop without impeding traffic on the 55-mph road.

Now contrast this with the stated purpose of the trail, as outlined by the Virginia Capital Trail Foundation- which is collecting private money to supplement inadequate government funds for this project:

The Trail is designed for non-motorized use and welcomes hikers, cyclists, walkers, joggers, skaters, birders, families taking short day trips and chaperoned school children on eco-field trips.

The Trail will provide safe recreational access to the region and link popular tourism destinations. It will offer cyclists a safe transportation alternative to Route 5…

So somehow in the twisted world of Donati and possibly others in Henrico gov’t, the trail should be open to use by “slow-moving farm equipment” and parked delivery trucks- which is completely incompatible not only with the trail’s purpose, but also with bicycle and pedestrian safety, and presumably the premise under which funds for the trail were secured.

And it’s galling that he argues that this would make a “safer” Route 5. Safer for whom? The only people who benefit from Donati’s vision are those in cars- not those who’re using the Capital Trail.

Can you see groups of school children on eco-field trips dodging tractors and walking around UPS vans while 55 mph+ SUVs and tractor trailers zoom by only inches away? Brilliant idea!

And of course, the newspaper, who we assume was present when Donati made these comments, did not bother to question him on the contradiction between his vision and the trail’s purpose (or if they did, they neglected to report it.) Because, really, who in Richmond doesn’t want to make the world safer for cars, even if it’s at the expense of pedestrians, cyclists, and little school children?

A cyclist in Chesterfield was hit and killed by an SUV on the 12000 block of Hull St. last Thursday. Story here.

This tragedy reminds me that, until the Richmond region comes to its senses and does a better job building complete streets that accomodate multiple transportation options, those of us who bike around here need to be extremely careful. A few stats for you from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration:

  • More than 49,000 bicyclists have died in traffic crashes in the United States since 1932, the first year that bicycle fatality estimates were recorded.
  • In 2004, an estimated 534,883 bicycle-related injuries were treated in U.S. hospital emergency rooms.
  • In 2004, the average age of bicyclists killed was 38.7 years, and the average age of those injured was 28.6 years.
  • Bicycle helmets are 85 to 88 percent effective in mitigating head and brain injuries, making the use of helmets the single most effective way to reduce head injuries and fatalities resulting from bicycle crashes.
  • Despite the fact that nearly 70 percent of all fatal bicycle crashes involve head injuries, only about 20 to 25 percent of all bicyclists wear bicycle helmets.
  • Every dollar spent on bicycle helmets saves society $30 in indirect medical costs and other costs. (Perhaps, therefore, the government should give away helmets with every bike purchase? Not likely.)

I always wear a helmet, and am dismayed at how few others do.  People, seriously, Richmond drivers are insane.  Don’t trust them- wear a helmet.

Will Richmond ever do this:
Bike Lanes

Photo: Separated Bike Lanes

Ever since my Tuesday post about how much I hate cars, I’ve been intrigued by this idea of complete streets that I discovered while researching for that post. The basic idea is that streets should be built for cars, pedestrians, bicycles, and transit. Revolutionary, eh? I’m pretty tired of being run off the road while biking around here- I’ve had so many close calls it’s scary: Car doors opening, SUVs that give you no room, cars turning in front of me- one time on East Main St. an oncoming car turned left and came within inches, literally, of hitting me. Every person on the street stopped and stared.


So far 22 cities have adopted a resolution requiring all new roads to be “complete” and for retrofitting roads when they’re repaved. Several states have adopted similar regulations, although at the state-wide level they seem to have less force, for example several statutes “suggest” that bicycle and pedestrian uses be considered when designing roads. Here’s a list of cities with “complete streets” laws on the books:

Bay Area Metropolitan Planning Organization
Sacrament Co. (including all cities)
San Diego City
San Francisco
Santa Barbara

Colorado Springs
Ft. Collins

Florida :
West Palm Beach

DuPage Co.

City of Cascade
Iowa City

City of Jackson

St. Louis
St. Jospeh


Salt Lake City



VDOT adopted a policy in 2004 which “promote[s] the inclusion of bicycle and pedestrian accommodations in transportation planning activities at local, regional, and statewide levels.” But from the road construction I’ve seen around here, this policy has no teeth.

So what do you think? Will the Richmond region adopt complete street (or similar) policies? Will we ever get a network of urban bike lanes? Do any of you have experience in the cities mentioned above? Or any experience with decent multi-use road construction?