Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Crank Your City

How many Richmonders does it take to change a light bulb?
Ten. One to change the bulb and nine to talk about how great the old bulb was.

I bet I hadn't been in Richmond a month when someone told me that joke as warning for how resistant to change people here were. So why did that joke come to mind at tonight's community stakeholder meeting about bike lanes in Jackson Ward?

Since I seldom bike anymore, my interest in the meeting was as simple as my interest in anything related to J-Ward: I've lived in this neighborhood for over a decade, so when something's going on here, I'd like to at least be informed. That's why I went to meetings about the bus rapid transit, why I attended sessions about the Maggie Walker statue and why I was present at weekly charrettes about re-imagining Brook Road.

Arriving at the Speakeasy behind the Hippodrome, I headed for a table with two young guys I didn't know, the better to meet others. One was involved in bike advocacy and the other was a VCU journalism student required to attend a city meeting and report on it. That he also used to bike-deliver for Jimmy John's meant he understood the dog in this fight, too.

In no time, he was asking my name and noting it in his memo pad so he could quote me in his piece. Yes, I'd like to see dedicated bike lanes in Jackson Ward.

Council woman Kim Gray opened the meeting by saying that some local business owners had contacted her with serious concerns about the proposed bike lanes on First (which connects the city to Northside) and Second (which connects the city to Southside) Streets, fearful that dedicated bike lanes would be the death knell for their businesses. She empathized completely.

Ugh. I knew right there that this was going to be a long meeting.

The bike guy from the city was admirably even-keeled despite the adversarial vibe coming off half the room as he explained that the city was considering applying for a DoT grant that would provide 4 federal dollars for every $1 the city spent in doing a feasibility study and, assuming it made sense, creating bike lanes on those streets.

He made it very clear that the two streets would retain parking on both sides of the streets, with one of the current vehicular lanes being converted to a dedicated bike lane, a change already established as doable because of the limited amount of traffic on First and Second Streets that could be easily handled in one lane.

Heaven help me, that's when the moaning, beating of breasts and general lamentations began.

Business owner after residential owner took up valuable microphone time to whine about how difficult it can be to park in J-Ward. Several even had the gall to say that they expected to be able to park in front of their home at all times.

My question is, why on earth are you living in the city if you aren't happy unless you can park easily? Do you also complain about the dings on your bumper where parallel parkers have grazed your bumper with theirs in tight spaces? Give me a break.

As if their myopia about the addition of bike lanes (despite studies having proven that business increases and profits go up when bike lanes are added) wasn't enough to make me want to knock their heads together, consider this.

Mr. City Bike Guy made it quite clear that tonight's meeting was solely for the purpose of gathering opinions about whether or not to even apply for the grant, and if they did, part of the funds would be used to do a study to determine if the lanes would be best placed on those two streets or elsewhere.

Meanwhile, we've got all these people whining about how inconvenienced they'll be in their cars if we put in bike lanes.

Never mind that people speed terribly on both those one-way streets, making them extremely unsafe for pedestrians and cyclists, a situation that would be addressed with only one lane for cars because they'd have to slow down to the speed limit. It's called traffic calming and Floyd Avenue's bike boulevard has proven it works.

One speaker had the gall to complain that her customers wouldn't be able to (illegally) double park and run in to get something if there was a bike lane. Boo hoo.

Fortunately, there were a goodly number of cyclists of all ages there to remind some of the change-resistant that not everyone bikes for recreation. Plenty of people bike for transportation (20% of Richmond residents don't have a car), a proposition that can get pretty dicey given the lack of respect for cycling in the Ward.

I listened to question after question and it was apparent that many people really just wanted to maintain the status quo and ensure that cars remain top priority, while greener options like biking and walking take a backseat.

Finally, I raised my hand just to ask the question that would make sure everyone was hearing correctly: putting in these bike lanes wasn't going to take away parking spaces.

How many stakeholders does it take to accept change see the potential of adding bike lanes to under-utilized streets without sacrificing parking?

Looks like Jackson Ward is okay with being the burned-out light bulb. What a shame.

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