Monday, July 18, 2005

Charlottesville's Bike Alternative

While the city of Charlottesville experiments with bus service and synchronized traffic lights (see post below), local advocacy groups are pushing for greater consideration of bike paths. According to the Daily Progress, a 20-year plan prepared by the local Metropolitan Planning Organization, "calls for $6 million in bike-friendly improvements, including $3 million for trails, $1.6 million for bike lanes and sidewalks and $1.2 million in road, rail and water crossings, including a $225,000 pedestrian bridge over the Rivanna River that would connect Darden Towe and Pen parks."

Completion of work on a Downtown Transit Center should free up federal alternative-transportation funds to begin work on the bike paths soon.

Admittedly, bike paths aren't for everyone. With a high percentage of university students, many of whom can't afford to buy cars, Charlottesville is a special case. The university provides a large bike-friendly sanctuary in the city, maintaining extensive bike racks all around the grounds. there are other communities like Charlottesville. Every university town should make bike paths a priority. Even larger metro areas might be surprised at the response if bike paths made it easy and safe for cyclers to peddle to work.

Local governments should think about ways to reward developers who include bike paths in their development plans. All the better if the bike paths actually connect with one another.

14 Comments:

At 9:13 AM, Blogger Will Vehrs said...

Some things I've wondered about bikes:

1. Why aren't many bikes made that have some "cargo" capacity? Lots of folks could ride a bike to a local store if the bike had some capability of hauling a bag of groceries.
2. Why aren't employers urged to make riding a bike to work more of an option by endorsing casual dress policy and/or adding a locker room where someone could quickly clean up after a ride in? Lockers where someone could store some clothes would be nice ... ride a bike two or threee days a week, exchange clothes on the days when driving in?
3. Why aren't there park and go lots near bike paths that lead somewhere ... park your car, walk up to your bike that's under a small shelter where it can be unlocked?

 
At 11:51 AM, Blogger Jim Bacon said...

Will -- three great ideas! Equip bikes with saddle bags over the rear wheel to accommodate a couple of bags of groceries. I'll bet any self-respecting bicycle store sells that product already. There may not be not much of a market for it now, but there could be if we became a more bicycle-friendly country -- like the Netherlands.

Regarding bicyle-friendly companies... Some companies are. I remember interviewing Motley Fool a few years ago, and they described how a large percentage of their employees rode mountain bikes to the office in Old Town Alexandria. Biking attire was permitted in the office. (I didn't ask about the showers!)

On Park-and-ride lots... It's worth a try, wouldn't you think? A shelter for parked bikes. How expensive could that be? But you'd have to make sure the park-and-ride lot was accessible by bike without the rider risking life and limb. Thus, bike-path connections might be a necessity.

 
At 3:01 PM, Blogger Bob Burke said...

The Netherlands is a good example - a bit beyond what Americans are ready to try but still, the Dutch are perfectly willing to ride bikes to and from work and carry groceries, etc. Amsterdam's main roads are lined with dedicated bike paths, with their own traffic lights!
I rode a bike to work for nine years and it's a perfectly civilized way to get around. And stop with the showers already; it's not the Tour de France.

 
At 9:07 PM, Anonymous Paul said...

I love bike paths. I'm all for this.

I do wonder though...isn't Charlottesville bike friendly enough already? I attended UVA a couple years back and I never had any problems riding my bike anywhere and everywhere. I'm curious where these paths whether $5 million is worth the cost...

 
At 12:26 AM, Blogger Ray Hyde said...

I grew up in the highly bike friendly community of Martha's Vineyard. It wasn't always bike friendly. I can remember in the early days of tourism there when it was considered great sport to lean out of your pickup window for a little fanny slapping.

Such conduct would get you a life sentence today.

Times change and bikes, unlike walking are a rational form of short distance transport. precisely because they can carry at least some cargo.

Bike security remains a problem, even in places like Beijing and Singapore. Will Vehrs is on to something.

MV fought bike trails until the bike traffic became so great it interfered with auto traffic.....

Showers and attire may be the main impediment to biking. I have a USDA friend who has biked 13 miles to the office for decades, but he showers and changes when he gets to work. Biking to washington is not the tour de france, but neither does washingotn have the climate of France or Amsterdam. Remember the air conditioning crisis in France?

Paul is right. How many people will use the amenity and what is the cost compared with other alternatives? For example the Post compared the intercounty connector with the Dulles rail project:

Dulles Rail $157,000 per daily passenger, ICC $80,000 per car. (Somebody correct me, I'm working from memory.)

What is he price per bike? I'm guessing it is less than cars, but then you have to ask how much money is generated per trip?

 
At 4:26 AM, Blogger Jim Bacon said...

Ray asks the critical question: What is the Return on Investment of investing in bike paths? It's one thing to build bike paths as a recreational amenity. It's quite another to build them as an alternative mode of transportation. We need to develop a means of comparing the ROI from an investment in bike paths vs. investments in roads or mass transit. How much congestion is relieved per dollar spent by building a bike path compared to the alternatives? If $5 million buys you a bike path that 15 people use to get to work, it may not be a good investment. If 150 use the path, then it might be. But right now, we really don't know.

As much as I tout the idea of creating alternative modes of transportation, I'm skeptical that large numbers of people will ride bikes to work.

Personally, I love the idea of riding a bike to work... in the abstract. Until I begin thinking of how sweaty and gross I'd be at the office. When I worked in downtown Richmond for 16 years, there was no place to take a shower. Biking was never an option for me, nor would it be for anyone else who perspires profusely.

Furthermore, only the die-hards want to ride a bike to work in the rain. As a mode of conveyance to work, bicycles are a fair-weather mode.

Finally, if safety is a consideration (and we are a safety obsessed nation), I wonder if bikes are the best option. At my wife's company, three engineer-programmers were tooling around the West End of Richmond on their bicycles the other day and collectively had a bad encounter with an automobile. All ended up in a wreck and suffered significant injuries, some bad enough to keep them out of work. And look what happened to Gov. Warner!

 
At 2:42 PM, Anonymous SDH4VBT said...

I've been told that the Richmond Metropolitan Authority offers parking in its decks for bikes but charges the same $80 a month it does for cars. If true that is just silly. You ought to be able to put at least 4-6 bikes in the same space and charge say $25. make more money and by providing covered and attended space encourage more folks to use them. My main beef with bike commuters, and its a doozie, is the way they ignore traffic rules and signs with impunity. Second biggest, another doozie, is getting stuck in a long line waiting to pass a slow biker on a two-lane somewhat rural road (and plenty of them are carrying urban traffic loads in Chesterfield Co.)

 
At 6:40 AM, Blogger Ray Hyde said...

I always get a kick out of the people who spend $4000 for an ultra-light bicycle and then carry around ten pounds of chain to lock it up with.

 
At 10:37 AM, Anonymous Waldo Jaquith said...

isn't Charlottesville bike friendly enough already

We are, but not in a manner that matches our development patterns. In our downtown (stretching from Main Street's Downtown Mall to the far end of the University of Virginia), you can get around on foot or on bicycle. I did for years, never owning a car until the age of 25. It rarely presented any obstacles to me.

The problem is that we have this...growth. I mean that in the cancerous sense. Running alongside Charlottesville is Rt. 29., an area that was, up until recently, forested land. Because it's all so far from the rest of everything else, this land has been sold off at relatively low rates for the past decade. Now we have miles and miles of identical strip malls. In an effort to make this palatable to our planning commission, developers are, while they're at it, slapping up crappy apartment complexes and vast acreages of McMansions. Every one of these is isolated behind these shopping centers. Every one requires a car to travel anywhere, because they're right on the sidewalkless, four-lane divided highway that is Rt. 29.

The proposal here is that some bicycle-based transportation system be established that is wholly separate from the highway, along which no sale soul would dare commute, cutting straight to downtown, which is where many people hopping in their cars each morning are going, anyhow. Without such a system, these people -- who live 8 miles from downtown -- must drive. That's the fault of a poor development model. Hence the need for something as silly as, essentially, a bicycle bypass.

 
At 10:13 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I came fron northern virginia which was infinitely more biker friendly than is Charlottesville. I had been riding yearr round to work in DC from N VA for 4-5 years without incident so that when I came to U VA I continued biking to work. I live about 7 miles west of the hospital and thus have to ride along 250 which has no shoulder much less a bike path. I persisted for a year or two but two near death incidents, one involving an 18 wheeler passing me going 65 mph on 250 W without moving over at all and a van that made a left turn into my bike on JPA, have convinced me that it is simply not safe to commute to work by bike in C-Ville. Forget about bike paths that run for a mile and then stop or bike paths along highways--we don't even have shoulders on 250--instead we have a paved road which is bordered by a ditch and often covered by pebles or sand.
If the city and county are serious about making our town bike friendly they are going to have to start spending some money on making the roads wider--for 250 to be one lane in either direction with all the development west of town is just asking for problems.
As far as institutions being bike friendly, I have been stopped several times coming to work at U VA hospital on my bike--certainly not welcomed and looked at funny when transporting it on the elevators at 630am--come on people, those of us who bike to work are saving your enviornment so don't sideswipe us on the roads or make left turns into us when we are going straight across green lights. My final suggestion is that more cyclist carry visible handguns--perhaps that way we can get some much needed respect.

 
At 10:30 AM, Blogger Dutch said...

For Will Vehrs: A couple of answers to your questions...
1) You can get 'cargo capacity' for a bike by buying a bike trailer. These are made by several different manufacturers. Depending on the model, they can carry up to 100 pounds of cargo (groceries, kids, pets, etc.) and attach easily to your bike. Cost varies between $100 and $400. Or, you can build your own with some plans and a few parts from 'junked' bikes.
2) 'Enlightened' communities interested in promoting biking can write provisions to support biking into their local zoning regula-tions (check with Arlington County, VA, for an example of this). For every "X" number of employees (or parking spaces) as a percentage of total employees, an employer must provide a changing room with lockers and showers, as well as a secure bike locking facility for employees who choose to bike to work. Employers who don't put this in their plans don't have the plans approved by the Zoning Board. It's an incentive.
3) California and Oregon lead the nation right now in development and use of such bike parking facilities, but they tend to be sited at major transportation transfer points, such as commuter train stations, major bus transfer points, and airports. The major problem is how to prevent equipment theft (particularly after hours) if the facilities are not attended. Use of local government personnel to 'stand guard' requires tax revenue for support. To use commercial sector labor means a "user fee" must be imposed...and building access may be limited after-hours in order to ensure security. Many communities elsewhere in the country are now considering these types of facilities. The Federal Department of Transportation has more information. Also check with the League of American Bicyclists (Washington, DC) and the City of Portland, Oregon, for more information.

 
At 10:54 AM, Blogger Dutch said...

Here's another thought about 'Dedicated bike trails' versus having to ride a bike on increasingly congested urbanized roads...
Too many local communities defer from spending initiatives for local off-street bike routing, because they perceive no ROI, and in fact fear the risk of exposing themselves to 'planner ridicule.' This is truly unfortunate. Local governments so often are totally unware of state and Federal level financial assistance for creating alternative transportation options. The Federal Transportation Enhancement Act (TEA), which has just been reauthorized, now has a $ 1-1/2 BILLION pot of money available for cost-shared development of off-street bike/pedestrian trails. TEA grant funds are available from the manager of the program, the Federal Department of Transportation. These can be used to develop and connect back-street, off-highway trail networks and to adequately post signs, etc. to direct bikers and pedestrians to these safer routes. Local planners need to forget the 'ridicule risk' and start using these Federal resouces to help plan and develop alternative transportation facilities. And local citizens need to get off their duffs and start showing up at Planning Commission meetings to demand this! These are YOUR communities, so get engaged and involved in helping to create the kinds of places you want to live...

 
At 9:00 PM, Blogger meade said...

you know some of my biggest beefs with motorists are...nearly all ignore the laws such as the speed limit, run red lights ('er the end of a yellow), stop sign, don't pay attention while driving (cigs, cell, lunch) ('er multi-tasking really), don't slow down for old folks, children, pedestrians, and animals and then call it an accident....

and yes I own and drive three motor vehicles...

 
At 1:23 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Once the effects of peak oil hit home, lots of people who never thought they'd be riding a bike to work, or for shopping, will be doing so.

Check out for some information sources on this critical issue.

 

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