A bid to nix a North Richmond bike lane encountered spirited pushback Tuesday from more than 250 people, many of them cyclists, who said the project would make the road safer for them and pedestrians if the project moves forward.
Richmond City Council President Chris Hilbert, who represents the 3rd District, and 2nd District Councilwoman Kimberly Gray are attempting to halt plans for new bike lanes on Brook Road between Charity Street and Azalea Avenue.
Using federal grant money, the Richmond Department of Public Works plans to convert one lane on each side of the four-lane thoroughfare into so-called floating parking, separating the remaining lane of vehicle traffic and new bike lanes that would be buffered by paint and pylons.
The city instituted a similar setup on Franklin Street between Belvidere and North Ninth Street earlier, using floating parking to create a barrier between vehicle traffic and bike traffic.
In June, Gray and Hilbert introduced an ordinance to prohibit bike lanes along Brook. Allowing the project to move forward as currently designed, the ordinance states, “will cause traffic congestion by removing an existing lane designated for motor vehicle travel or otherwise hinder the efficient movement of motor vehicle traffic, and reduce safety for travelers.”
Mayor Levar Stoney’s administration opposes the ordinance. The measure prompted an outcry from the city’s cycling community at Tuesday’s meeting, held at the Richmond Police Training Academy on Graham Road.
Susan Miller, a 2nd District resident, said her husband cycles to his job at VCU Medical Center using the new Franklin Street lanes. The lanes made it easier for him to navigate, even if it required drivers to make an adjustment. She asked Gray to withdraw the ordinance opposing the Brook Road lanes.
“I understand this takes some time to get used to for cars, but I think this is a small inconvenience for my husband’s life,” Miller said.
Current plans to accommodate the lanes call for the elimination of two traffic lanes on the four-lane road. Planners and traffic engineers working with the city administration said converting the lanes would not result in gridlock for drivers, or more congestion at intersections. Nor would the changes impede emergency vehicles or first responders from reaching their destinations.
What the project would do, the traffic engineers said, is reduce speeds significantly among the 8,000 to 12,000 cars that travel on the road each day. While the speed limit is 35 mph, cars routinely travel in excess of 45 mph on the stretch. Lower speeds would make it easier for cyclists and pedestrians alike, say supporters of the lanes.
“Right now, I don’t want to ride on Brook Road because of the traffic,” said Susan Ann Glass, a cyclist.
Gray and Hilbert said they had requested that Stoney conduct a comprehensive study of the bike lanes’ impact on traffic. The engineers and city staffers in attendance said the effects had already been studied as a part of a three-year-long planning and design process.
Gray said she had heard complaints from constituents who would have to contend with the changes that the project came as a surprise to them.
“The information has not flowed to the people who will be impacted the most by this,” Gray said. “The residents — it is glaring that they didn’t know anything about this project.”
Plans for the Brook Road lanes were outlined in the city’s Bike Master Plan, dating to 2015.
Some longtime residents on the street or in the area who were in attendance at Tuesday’s meeting said they had reservations about the plans. They worried that if — or when — the neighborhood continues to grow, a single lane for cars on Brook Road would not be adequate.
“The community is concerned,” said Harris Wheeler, who said he, too, was a cyclist and had lived in North Side for 35 years. “It’s not ‘We hate bikers. We don’t like bikers.’”
The council’s Housing, Land Use and Transportation committee is set to weigh the proposal on Tuesday.