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Richmond plans 'cycle track' bike lanes downtown

Richmond plans 'cycle track' bike lanes downtown

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Jakob Helmboldt, left, addresses bike enthusiasts at the intersection of Floyd Ave. and Vine St., using cones to point out possible road improvements to enhance biking.

The city of Richmond is planning to create barrier-protected bike lanes from the Monroe Park area to Capitol Square, a project that would span 15 downtown blocks.

The “cycle track” project, expected to cost $300,000, would run 15 blocks along Franklin and Main streets from Belvidere Street to Ninth Street. The goal is to connect the Virginia Capital Trail to the proposed Floyd Avenue bike boulevard, which comes up for a critical Planning Commission vote today.

Design details for the protected lanes are scarce because the project is just getting started. The bike lanes could be set between a row of street parking and the curb, according to city officials. That would allow parking to remain and provide protection for cyclists.

The bike lanes would follow the one-way traffic patterns on the two streets, with an eastbound lane on Franklin and a westbound lane on Main.

The administration of Mayor Dwight C. Jones introduced legislation to the City Council this month that would authorize the city to accept $240,000 from the Virginia Department of Transportation while putting up $60,000 in city money as a local match. The VDOT funding, which stems from a federal transportation alternatives program, is allocated in conjunction with the Richmond Regional Transportation Planning Organization.

The city funding would come from money already allocated to bike lane improvements.

Jakob Helmboldt, Richmond’s bicycle, pedestrian and trails coordinator, said the funding ordinance is a necessary step before the city can start doing studies and engineering to flesh out the project.

“The timeline is really kind of fluid at this point,” Helmboldt said.

The proposal is scheduled to go to the Planning Commission today. A City Council hearing is scheduled for Jan. 26.

Richmond is taking steps this year to bolster its bicycle infrastructure before hosting the UCI Road World Championships, an international bicycling event expected to draw an estimated 450,000 spectators in September.

The Floyd bike project is perhaps the most pressing endeavor, but it has run into trouble.

Envisioned as a bike- and pedestrian-friendly east-west route through the Fan and Museum districts, the Floyd project suffered a setback this month when the city’s Urban Design Committee voted 7-2 to reject the final design. That recommendation was made to the Planning Commission, which will decide today whether to move the project forward, insist on changes or send city staff members back to the drawing board.

The plan, generally supported by cycling advocates, originally called for diverting car traffic to other streets, but it has morphed into a project focused largely on slowing vehicles with traffic circles and curb extensions. The changes were made largely as a response to concerns from Floyd residents, many of whom still oppose the plan because of parking, access for emergency vehicles and other issues.

Two council members whose districts would be affected by the project voiced differing opinions Monday.

Councilman Parker C. Agelasto, 5th District, said he hopes the city staff implements some of the 16 recommendations made by the Urban Design Committee and Planning Commission in previous reviews, including a suggestion to reduce the speed limit in the corridor from 25 mph to 20. He also said he would like to see the city adopt a policy that would require it to include additional maintenance funding for landscaped additions such as traffic circles.

“So that we’re not relying on the generosity of a nearby neighbor to maintain the infrastructure,” said Agelasto, who lives on Floyd in the Fan.

City officials have suggested that neighborhood groups could take care of plantings in the traffic circles.

Councilman Jonathan T. Baliles, 1st District, said it’s up to the Planning Commission to decide if more changes are needed, but his constituents have mostly been supportive.

“The majority of people that have let me know their opinion on it west of the Boulevard are in favor of the idea,” said Baliles, who lives on Floyd in the Museum District. “Not everyone, but there’s been far less worry and concern than there is down in the lower Fan, especially closer to VCU.”

Councilman Charles R. Samuels, whose 2nd District also would be affected, could not be reached for comment.

Today’s Planning Commission meeting begins at 1:30 p.m. in the fifth-floor conference room at City Hall.

No matter what the Planning Commission decides, the City Council could take the rare step of intervening to overrule the outcome.

City officials are hoping to have the Floyd bike project finished in time for the cycling event in September.


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