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Bicycle Spoken Here: Hitting The Road, Jack

Richmond.com: Bicycle Spoken Here: Hitting The Road, Jack

By: ALIX BRYAN
Published: October 03, 2011

Folks, the weekly column “Bicycle Spoken Here” is headed to the scrap yard.

I’m on my way out, because my four-month contract is up, and I want to say thanks for reading these past few months. I’m glad to see that the collective conscious is shifting gears in its perception of bikes.

Now that the city has won the bid to host the 2015 UCI World Road Cycling Championships (what a mouthful), we’ve begun to hear a lot about bicycles in the mainstream media, and we’re going to keep hearing about them

Which is a not a great thing—it’s a necessary thing.

Allow me backpedal. Back in May, the editor at Richmond.com asked if I would cover the inaugural event of Richmond Connects (sadly only about 25 people were there).

The event was held as a pecha kucha, which means the presenters had 20 seconds per each of the 20 slides they used to outline their vision of transportation reform.

Fortunately, this meant the night moved quickly, and yet the points were definitely driven home. I was inspired, and convinced my editor that people in Richmond would want to read about bicycles every week.

Guess what? You did. You do. There is a small group of cyclists committed to bike advocacy and education, and a large group of people who bike frequently enough to know how difficult that is to do in Richmond.

Some people even think Richmond has all the elements of a "Biketopia."

I believe you can measure the overall quality of a city per its regard of its cyclists and pedestrians. Bicycling isn’t yet mainstream in America, and the cities that have built infrastructure and implemented policies to facilitate bicycling are often progressive, overall.

So, here’s the question; “Is Richmond progressive?”

And if we aren’t, how do we pedal harder to create the needed culture shift?

How progressive is it that it takes a bid/winning bid—that promises a return of $100 million--to bring bikes to the forefront in our community? Remember, Portland did it for the health of its city and citizens, and they recognized that biking infrastructure actually saves money.

In Portland they planned and built around cycling and walking, and they encouraged people to do so. And the people did so.

Perhaps the answer to my question doesn’t matter. Perhaps people will say, “Who cares what the impetus was, just make the changes.” But things work in tandem, and Richmond has a myriad of problems.

In the great scheme of things, a few business owners will profit from the 2015 Championship races. Sure, maybe the success will launch future regional and national bike championship races.

But we are talking about a bigger race. How do we build charismatic and useful communities, of which bicyclists and pedestrians are a major factor?

Do you start with the lens that biking is good because it brings tourism and international attention, or do you start with the lens that views bicycling as holistic to the future health of city and citizens?

Per capita, the Richmond area ranks near the top for the highest carbon footprint. Local residents collectively drive 30.4 million miles daily, transportation is the second largest household expense, and we just placed 17th for smoggiest cities in the nation.

Richmond is an old city. We’ve run out of places to put roads down here. The roads we do have are in horrible condition. But the city population is growing. So we must examine how we best move people through the city.

Thus, the appeal of more bicycling infrastructure: sharrows, bike lanes and bike racks.

But the real change goes beyond some paint on a road if we really want to see people leave home via bike to work, school, and shopping.

We drive because in many cases, we have to. When we talk about massive changes in transportation, it’s the masses that have to be converted. There’s already a minority population that make biking a way of life.

Take for example, shopping.

Let’s say you live in one of the many food deserts of Richmond. Bicycling to a grocery store becomes a serious endeavor, one that few people are likely to make. Unless you live near Carytown, the grocery triangle of the city, most grocery stores aren’t very close to the home.

Let’s say you live in Church Hill, or even the lower Fan and you need to make a trip to Target. Can you easily bicycle there? Not to get sidetracked but why do stick our head in the sand and let city residents give the counties taxes every time they need to visit a Target or the like?

If simply getting the necessities via bike is difficult, then we’re less likely to see people rely on the bicycle—regardless of whether you give them a bike lane.

We have to learn to successfully link land use and transportation. Reports from Portland, Ore. confirm that business and residential developments can thrive around bicycle-commuter corridors.

It’s a whole new way of developing and experiencing the streets. One that includes density, converting one-way streets, smart planning and eliminating food deserts. It’s not just about bike lanes. It’s a community shift.

Who will emerge as our charismatic leader, like Mia Birk, who fought diligently as Portland’s Bicycle Program Manager? Will it be Jake Helmboldt? Will the city's notorious red-tape allow for the progressive ideas to get through?

When will we make simple changes, like updating the language in Driver Education manuals to be more bike-friendly?

Sure, it’s great we won the bid. But there are bigger stakes—ones needed to hold up the dreams of many that Richmond will become its own bike utopia.

Just some thoughts as I’m headed up the road...and I do think we're all headed the right way.