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Richmond paves the way for new bike lanes

A person bikes down Franklin Street
A person bikes down Franklin Street in Richmond's Monroe Ward. The city is planning to add bike lanes to several roads that are being repaved across the city. (Photo: Katharine DeRosa/VPM News)

Richmond is using road repaving as an avenue to install new bike lanes through spring 2023. 

The city began building bike lanes “in earnest” around 2010, said Bike Walk RVA Director Brantley Tyndall. Increasing the number of bike lanes in the city is integral to increasing bikers and their safety, Tyndall said. 

More than 50 miles of bike lanes already exist in the city. Streets being considered for new lanes include West Marshall and North 25th streets, and German School Road.

“One of the kind of founding philosophies of bike safety, and I think this works for walking as well, is the more you see people biking, the more you expect to see people biking and you give them their due deference and yielding and conscientiousness,” Tyndall said. 

Infrastructure is essential to accessible biking, Tyndall said, but creating it can be time consuming and expensive, which makes these new lanes more efficient.  

“There are roads that are already going to be repaved and they have to put lines down somehow, so they just choose to put the lines down differently as part of those bike lanes being installed,” Tyndall said. 

This isn’t completely cost free, though, as the designs, equipment and paint must be paid for. 

There are five different types of bike lanes in Richmond: Standard bike lanes offer no protection between cars and bikes; contraflow lanes go against traffic; buffered lanes offer a few feet of space; protected bike lanes include some type of barrier between cars and bikes; and shared-use paths are car-free, multi-use recreational paths. 

Standard bike lanes have proved unpopular and dangerous, such as the one on Lombardy Street near Kroger, Tyndall said. 

“Everyone’s got some kind of different level of comfort, but the bike riders we see nowadays are people who have an overwhelming amount of bravery when they’re not biking in bike lanes,” Tyndall said. “They rationalize taking their own safety into their own hands.” 

Many of the planned lanes serve to connect already existing bike lanes, potentially increasing the number of people who use bikes to commute or for errands. However, during this “methodical” expansion, some areas of the city have been neglected, such as Southside. 

“After a few years of that development, you realize that the river becomes a big barrier and that there hadn't been that kind of investment on Southside,” Tyndall said. 

Once the bike lane on Westover Hills Boulevard is completed, he said further expansion into Southside would be the logical next step. Current bike lanes slated for construction in the area include Walmsley Boulevard, among others. Tyndall said he’s hopeful these lanes would create more equitable access to multimodal transportation. 

Doug Allen, a transit advocate, said he understands that the type of expansion the city is planning takes a long time to build, but he’s still eager to see existing routes be connected.  

“I think what I would really love to see, personally, is improving the connections between neighborhoods and areas,” Allen said. 

Allen lives in the Museum District, which he said is one of the more bikeable and walkable areas of Richmond. Connections allowing people to bike from one neighborhood to another, while avoiding dangerous intersections, would reduce the number of people using cars, Allen said. 

“Basically, the more you separate the bike lanes from car traffic, the more comfortable more people are going to feel using it and the higher usage it’s going to get,” Allen said.