Bicyclists crossing the boundary between the city of Charlottesville and Albemarle County sometimes notice a real difference in the maintenance of bike lanes. A lot of that is due to the fact that the city has had a street-sweeping program for years while the county does not.
“It is usually really obvious when you exit the city because instantly the bike lane is covered in kudzu and debris and trash,” said Caroline Laco, a city resident and bicyclist. “The amount of debris in the bike lanes is crazy!”
Eberhard Jehle, a Charlottesville resident who has been cycling in and around the city for over 40 years, said all of his flat tires caused by punctures in the last four or five years have come while biking on Albemarle roads.
“[The Virginia Department of Transportation] has made an investment in bike lanes, but it’s a waste if the bike lanes aren’t free of debris,” Jehle said. “VDOT and the county need to make a priority of the urban ring.”
However, VDOT is preparing to make a clean sweep and over the past two weeks has begun the effort with a rented sweeper. Work is expected to continue the rest of the month.
According to VDOT officials, they will sweep all primary roads, bigger secondary roads and all roads with bike lanes. VDOT already has cleaned the John Warner Parkway and will sweep Rio Road and parts of Barracks Road before the end of the month.
Laco said she already has noticed the difference, especially on the John Warner Parkway, which she says is “a lot better.”
Meanwhile, Charlottesville has an extensive street sweeping program, with three street sweepers and two full-time operators. The program costs the city roughly $190,000 annually.
State stormwater permits require the city street sweepers to cover a minimum of 2,000 curb miles annually. During fiscal year 2013, they covered 3,974 miles.
“Most of the bike lanes are on primary streets, and they are swept more often than neighborhood streets,” said Steve Lawson, the city’s public service manager.
Streets such as Market, Water and West Main are swept twice each week. Most other arterial streets are swept weekly, and neighborhood streets are swept a minimum of twice annually.
Still, Jehle thinks more can be done to improve the community’s bike infrastructure.
“Since 2011, the city has made significant, indeed, laudable improvements … but a great, great deal more still needs to be accomplished,” Jehle said in an email. “Making the primary entrances into and exits out of the city safe for cyclists is absolutely vital.”
In Albemarle, VDOT cut sweeping of bike lanes from the budget several years ago, but there are now funds available for that sort of maintenance work.
“When we have budget cuts, of course certain things have to go,” said Stacy Londrey, acting communications manager for VDOT’s Culpeper District, which includes the Charlottesville area. “But that doesn’t mean they’re gone forever.”
Jehle said that guaranteeing that the shoulders of all main roads in the urban ring are safe and clean should be a priority for VDOT. He emphasized the importance of sweeping the John Warner Parkway, East Rio Road and U.S. 250 east, among others.
He added that urban streets should receive much more cleaning and maintenance than those in rural areas.
“If a substantial portion of the urban population would make a lot of their one- or two-mile errands by bike, think what a big improvement it would be for the rest of us,” Jehle said, adding the clear bike lanes will be critical to encouraging this transportation mode shift.
After the initial effort this month, VDOT plans to contract out street sweeping next year.
“Most of the debris comes after the winter, so that spring sweep should do a good deal to improve the ridability of the bike lane,” Londrey said.
When the spring sweeping is completed, maintenance staff will continue to monitor county roads to determine when they need to be swept again. Londrey said she hopes that after this first trial period, future contracts will specify when and how often streets will be swept.
Londrey emphasized that residents, and especially bicyclists, are encouraged to report trash or other problems to VDOT.
“We certainly always welcome feedback on what work is being done and what might need to be done,” she said. “If people reported concerns, that’s something our maintenance staff would address as quickly as possible.”
Residents can call 1-800-367-7623 or visit www.virginiadot.org/travel/citizen.asp to report road problems or bike lanes that needs attention.
As more Albemarle streets are swept, Laco said she thinks cycling in the county will become more attractive to local residents.
“I’m definitely going to recommend to a lot more people that they ride in the county,” she said.