By Sean Tubbs

Charlottesville Tomorrow

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Dave Norris introduces the delegation from Harrisonburg

A Harrisonburg group offered suggestions Wednesday night on how Charlottesville might become a more bike-friendly community.


Dave Norris

and the group

Bike Charlottesville

invited members of the Shenandoah Valley Bicycle Coalition to share what they learned during a March visit to Davis, Calif.

“Tonight is about learning new ideas and building best practices so we can go up another level,” Norris said.

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Davis is one of only three places in the nation to attain a “platinum” rating as a “bicycle friendly community” from the League of American Bicyclists. The League gave Charlottesville a “bronze” rating in 2003, a level it has maintained ever since.

Like Charlottesville, Davis is a university town of 10 square miles. In 1960, the city’s population was under 10,000 but is now estimated to be around 65,000.

“They were able to build their community with bikes in mind,” said Thanh Dang, who works in Harrisonburg’s public works department.

A key feature in Davis has been the creation of publicly owned greenbelts, which are linear parks with shared-use paths. These provide bike and pedestrian connections between major centers in the community. In 2001, Davis required new developments to set aside at least 10 percent of their land for greenbelts.

“Now that’s helping developers coordinate with the city to make connectivity,” said Thomas Jenkins, who went on the trip. “They’ve done it really well.”

Davis has planned its neighborhoods around these greenbelts, and charges impact fees to help pay for them. The city employs a full-time bicycle and pedestrian coordinator who reviews development proposals to recommend improvements to make them more bike-friendly.

“They’re required to put the paths in, and then the city maintains them afterward. They have a plan from the ground up to put these pieces together,” said Tom Benevento of the New Community Project.

In one example of how far Davis has gone to build its network, the city purchased a house and demolished it specifically to convert the land into a greenway. The city does not have school buses because children have safe routes to school.

In addition to the greenbelts, Davis has more than 48 miles of on-street bike lanes, grade-separated intersections and separate traffic signals for bikes. Most major roads in Davis are wide enough for two cyclists to ride next to each other, in part because they were designed with bike lanes.

However, panelists acknowledged that both Harrisonburg and Charlottesville are older communities with older road networks than require different solutions.

“Because of all the retrofitting we have to do, we can’t use the same space,” said Lara Mack of the New Community Project.

Harrisonburg adopted its first bicycle plan in 1994, but didn’t actually fund bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure until 2005. In 2007, Harrisonburg city staff began working with citizen groups to come up with new ideas and the trip to Davis was an extension of this new energy, according to coalition members.

“One of the things we were surprised to see in Davis was the full-circle dynamic between citizens and city staff,” Jenkins said. “It was so neat to see them experiment.”

Charlottesville traffic engineer Jeannie Alexander said she was interested in learning first-hand about other experiences.

“My sense of the community is that we’re interested in pursuing more bicycle and pedestrian amenities,” Alexander said. “What that’s going to look like is to be determined.”

Charlottesville trail planner Chris Gensic said it is likely the city will climb at least one level when the League of American Bicyclists does a reevaluation.

“There are a number of major trail projects close to construction,” Gensic said. “They include the [U.S.] 250 Bypass trail, the coal tower trail from Meade Avenue to the Pavilion and the Meadow Creek trail from the new Whole Foods to Pen Park … I don’t think we’ll leap to platinum right away, but within 10 years it is possible.”


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