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Opponents of renaming Boulevard for Arthur Ashe propose alternate honor; Brook Road bike lane prohibition advances
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Opponents of renaming Boulevard for Arthur Ashe propose alternate honor; Brook Road bike lane prohibition advances

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A Richmond councilwoman’s push to rename the Boulevard for Arthur Ashe Jr. met with pushback from her constituents Tuesday, who pitched an alternate way of honoring the tennis star.

About a dozen residents and business owners on the Boulevard told a City Council panel Tuesday that they objected to formally renaming the street for Ashe. Instead, they proposed what they called a compromise: an honorary designation with signage, which would prevent the residents from having to formally change their addresses.

“We want to honor Arthur Ashe while protecting our historic neighborhood,” said Sue Patow, a Boulevard resident. “We’re proposing a win-win situation.”

Kimberly Gray, who represents the area on the council, proposed the formal name change last year in what she said could be a demonstration of the city’s progress toward racial reconciliation.

She dismissed the suggestion for an honorary designation, saying it was insufficient for someone of Ashe’s stature.

“This is a beautiful Richmond story that I believe should be preserved in our history, and it should be done in a way that we permanently and profoundly designate [the street] for him.”

Michael Jones, the 9th District councilman, agreed.

“If you’re going to honor him, honor him,” Jones said. “If he is the native son of Richmond, let’s do right by him.”

The council’s Land Use, Housing and Transportation Standing Committee advanced the measure to rename the street with no recommendation after a lengthy public hearing that saw a dozen people speak against it. About 10 people spoke in support of the idea.

Ashe was born in Richmond in 1943. Barred from playing on the tennis courts at Byrd Park because he was black, he honed his craft in Battery Park in North Side. He went on to become a champion, winning Wimbledon, the U.S. Open and the Australian Open.

The city erected a bronze statue on Monument Avenue in his honor in 1996. He remains the lone person with a tribute on the street who is not associated with the Confederate States of America. An aging athletic center, which opened in 1982 on the Boulevard near The Diamond, is also named for Ashe.

Changing the street name would cost an estimated $330,000 for new city and highway signs. Those costs would be shared among the Richmond Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the Virginia Department of Transportation and the city, a Richmond Department of Public Works official said.

The full council will take up the matter at its Feb. 11 meeting.

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In other business Tuesday, the council panel advanced a measure that would prohibit the addition of new bike lanes on Brook Road in North Side.

The ordinance, proposed by Gray and Council Vice President Chris Hilbert, would stop lanes from being added to a stretch between Charity Street and Azalea Avenue.

Using federal grant money, the Department of Public Works is planning to convert one lane on each side of the four-lane thoroughfare into floating parking, separating the remaining lane of vehicle traffic and new bike lanes that would be buffered by paint and posts.

The city put in place a similar setup on Franklin Street between Belvidere and North Ninth Street last year, using floating parking to create a barrier between vehicle traffic and bike traffic.

The lanes have drawn the ire of some homeowners and business owners along the Brook Road stretch, who say they will snare traffic and create difficulty accessing driveways.

The council members’ effort to halt the plans has, in turn, frustrated cyclists, who say the lanes would make the busy road safer for them to ride on.

Gray called the plans “flawed.” She said Mayor Levar Stoney’s administration hasn’t altered the designs to address the concerns residents in the area have raised.

She and Hilbert sent a letter to Stoney this month with a petition that includes 276 signatures from people who live or work in the area and oppose the project. It requests the city develop a plan to address the residents’ traffic and safety concerns and identify an alternate route for the lanes.

Jakob Helmboldt, the city’s pedestrian, bike and trails coordinator, said blocking the project at this point would waste $85,000 the city has already spent on designing the lanes. It could also hurt the city’s chance of getting federal or state transportation money for bike projects in the future, he added.

“We feel that like we’ve come up with an approach that balances the needs of all roadway users that’s not going to displace traffic,” Helmboldt said.

The full council is scheduled to take up the issue at its meeting on Monday.

mrobinson@timesdispatch.com

(804) 649-6734

Twitter: @__MarkRobinson

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