Bike advocates celebrate progress, discuss obstacles to more ridership

As Charlottesville’s cycling community celebrates Bike Month, some in the area have concerns that keep them from getting in the saddle.

“I need a safe and continuous route,” said Rebecca Cooper, who works at the University of Virginia but lives downtown.

“West Main Street is too filled with parked cars to allow for bike traffic,” she said. “I could take Preston [Avenue] to Grady [Avenue], but there are several places where the bike lanes disappear.”

Members of the group Bike Charlottesville said they are working to overcome perceptions that cycling is unsafe.

“We aim to help educate cyclists and drivers about the ways we can more smoothly and more safely co-exist,” said Scott Paisley, the co-owner of Blue Wheel Bicycles.

Paisley and about two dozen bike advocates and city staff rode from the University of Virginia to City Hall to demonstrate the power of riding in numbers. Bike lanes were marked on about half of the route.

City Councilor Kathy Galvin said the city has increased its spending on bicycle infrastructure to $200,000 a year in an effort to convince more people to cycle to work.

“Seventy percent of the University of Virginia’s faculty and staff commute to work in a single occupant vehicle,” Galvin said. “That is a lot of carbon dioxide emissions, a lot of traffic and a lot of time away from family, friends, exercise and fresh air.”

Galvin said the city is planning to redesign Sixth Street Southeast to provide a safe bike commute from Jordan Park to downtown. Sixth Street is among streets such as Rose Hill Avenue and Main Street slated to have aditional bike lanes and changes to make intersections more friendly to cyclists.

However, those routes would not help riders north of city limits.

“I live near Forest Lakes but work on Rose Hill Drive,” said Kelly Durkin. “The thought of biking [U.S.] 29 makes me very nervous.”

“I live down in Greenbrier, but my office is by the airport,” said Chris Roach. “I would have to bike either 29 or Earlysville Road, both of which sound like terrible ideas.”

Both Durkin and Roach might benefit from the proposed Northtown Commuter Trail, but not for many years.

The 14-mile route is slated to connect downtown with Hollymead Town Center, but only by piecing together several segments. A major section is scheduled to open in 2015 once the city’s portion of the Meadow Creek Parkway opens, but planning is still in the preliminary stages for a trail network along the Rivanna River near the Belvedere development.

Another segment would use a portion of the proposed extension of Berkmar Drive across the South Fork Rivanna River. However, the fate of that project is not yet certain.

Paisley said Bike Charlottesville will continue to push for additional safe routes for riders. At a news conference Monday, he said the city lacks a long recreational trail such as Blacksburg’s Huckleberry Trail, which is nearly six miles long and is separated from motor vehicles. That trail is a conversion of an abandoned railroad line; however, all of the tracks in Charlottesville are active.

Paisley said there is an alternative, so long as Fifth Street Station, a 470,000-square-foot commercial district planned between Fifth and Avon streets in Albemarle County, doesn’t create an obstacle.

“If we can work so that the Fifth Street Station development continues to include a multi-use trail, there is a roadbed that could connect downtown Charlottesville to the [unopened] state park at Biscuit Run,” Paisley said.

Regional planning for trails is coordinated by the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission, which is the parent organization of the Metropolitan Planning Organization.     

“The MPO is currently developing its long-range transportation plan which includes a list of all major transportation projects, including bike and pedestrian projects, planned for our area in the next 20 years,” said Sarah Rhodes, a transportation planner at the Thomas Jefferson Planning District . 

Rhodes said new data on bike ridership will be made available May 22 at the MPO’s next meeting.

Bike Month continues this week with an open house at Community Bikes this evening and a “Ride of Silence” on Wednesday to commemorate cyclists who have been killed on the road. Friday is the group’s annual Bike to Work Day. Special stations with refreshments will be located throughout the city to entice people to leave their cars behind.