Opposition mounts to bike lanes

Jeremy Lazarus | 9/21/2017, 7:10 p.m.
Jackson Ward residents and business owners are fighting back against city plans to allow bikes exclusive use of one lane ...

Jackson Ward residents and business owners are fighting back against city plans to allow bikes exclusive use of one lane of 1st and 2nd streets, which comprise the main commercial district for the historically African-American section of Downtown.

The proposal is one of the first pieces of legislation that Mayor Levar M. Stoney introduced after he took office in January.

But the backlash from Jackson Ward residents and two City Council representatives, Kim B. Gray, 2nd District, and Ellen F. Robertson, 6th District, have stalled the $300,000 project and the federal funding that largely would pay for it.

The plan calls for extending the existing bike lanes from the Lee Bridge along 2nd Street to Duval Street and along 1st Street, part of the plan for creating a network of cycling lanes across the city.

The mayor’s proposal claims that both streets, which have four lanes — two of which are used for parking — have excess capacity that would allow one lane to be dedicated to bikes.

That view has not won many fans. The Historic Jackson Ward Association, the area’s civic group, has voted to oppose the mayor’s bike plan for the area, a strong indication of the lack of interest.

Hippodrome Theater owner Ron Stallings and other business owners see creating an exclusive lane for bikes as creating greater traffic congestion and greater trouble for customers trying to find street parking, which already is in short supply.

Mr. Stallings said the construction of the Eggleston Plaza apartment and retail complex at 2nd and Leigh streets has given everyone an education on the problems that are created when the four-lane street loses a lane, even for a short stretch.

He said the project tied up part of one lane on 2nd Street between Leigh and Clay streets, creating traffic backups and delays.

He also said that delivery trucks for the area’s restaurants struggle to find room to unload food and beverages. “They have to park in the front because we don’t have alleys,” he said.

Ms. Robertson said she is disappointed that Mayor Stoney introduced the legislation despite a promise to her and Ms. Gray to wait until Jackson Ward residents and business owners could be consulted.

Ms. Gray, who is seeking to kill the mayor’s plan based on the feedback she has received, views the lanes as creating a negative impact. She has suggested using 3rd Street as an alternate route for exclusive bike lanes, but Ms. Robertson said that might not be an option.

Ms. Robertson said there are concerns about using 3rd Street because it handles traffic coming into Richmond from the interstate. She also indicated that the Greater Richmond Convention Center, which fronts on 3rd Street, also is not thrilled with the idea.

The Virginia Department of Transportation is reviewing comments from a recent community meeting, she said, and is to offer city officials a proposal for review. She said she is awaiting VDOT’s recommendation.

Another option would be to have a shared lane for vehicles and cyclists.

Mr. Stallings said he would not oppose that kind of road-sharing option and believes that might be acceptable to others.

“We just can’t lose a travel lane,” he said.