Fantasy and facts
5/4/2023, 6 p.m.
Here are your policy choices:
You can spend $265 million building a paved, 10- to 12-foot-wide walking-cycling trail that would extend 43 miles and link Ashland, Richmond and Petersburg.
Or you can spend the same money beefing up public transit in the Richmond area, enabling buses to run every 10 to 15 minutes on existing routes, adding new routes, extending the current Pulse system to Short Pump and adding a new north-south line along U.S. 1.
Guess where the elected leaders of every locality in the Richmond area have decided to put the money.
Of course, the Fall Line Trail.
Much of the money for the trail is coming from the Central Virginia Transportation Authority. You are paying a higher sales tax and tax on gasoline for car fuel to provide the stream of revenue the CVTA is earmarking for road and transit improvements. Yes, GRTC is getting some money from that source.
But the biggest single appropriation so far from the CVTA is the commitment to provide $108 million to develop the Fall Line Trail.
Today there is a fantasy among our elected officials that there is a pent up demand from the public for more places to get their exercise by walking and riding bikes.
The federal government has led the way with support from Congress. You can see the result in the network of bike lanes City Hall has been developing, following the dictum, “If you build it, they will come.”
Alas, when it comes to cycling, that dictum has not worked out. Ask yourself, how many cyclists do you see using the bike lanes? It is almost a surprise to see anyone using them.
In the Netherlands, 25 percent of the adults commute to work on bikes. No matter how many ways, policymakers in Richmond spin it, commuters on bikes remain few and far between.
That’s also the case with the trails that already exist. A beautiful trail now runs along the Richmond-Henrico Turnpike. It was supposed to inspire walking. It hasn’t. It remains little used and most people in the region are unaware of its existence just as many lack knowledge of the proposed Fall Line Trail.
Still this fantasy persists and results in development of a trail that is unlikely to be heavily used in our car-crazed society rather than shoring up regional transit that would benefit lower-income workers and others.
Meanwhile, the regional transit system, which serves thousands of area residents, lacks the money to move ahead with major improvements.
Of course, the policy choice could be challenged. Elected leaders can be replaced by people who campaign for using the money to do the most good for the most people.
Alas, that likely is a fantasy, too.