Last year the City of Norfolk made a commitment to improving bicycle infrastructure across the city. They hired one of the foremost design consultancy firms, Toole Design Group, to help develop a comprehensive plan from start to finish.
A quick scan of their website shows their impressive resume with design plans from Philadelphia to Denver and San Antonio to Seattle. The city has already invested $131,000 in a master plan that included significant input from our local community. A pilot program of protected bike lanes is already in the works for a section of Ghent later this year. At this point you may be wondering, why do I care about protected bicycle lanes in my city?
Data shows that a vast majority of Millennials want to live in areas with alternative transportation options, which tend to be mixed use, walkable neighborhoods. As the Hampton Roads area attempts to diversify its economy, it is crucial to the continued success of the region to attract and retain this generation of innovators and entrepreneurs. However, the benefits of building great bicycle infrastructure do not only go to the gentrifying masses.
Making biking comfortable, safe and dignified allows car ownership to be optional for low income residents. A survey in Denmark–which has outstanding bicycle infrastructure–found that “only 41 percent of trips by Denmark’s poorest residents happen in cars, compared to 72 percent by the poorest Americans.” Protected bicycle lanes not only attract young talent–which gives a boost to our local economy–but they also ease the financial burden on poorer residents in the area.
Protected bicycle lanes provide a myriad of benefits to those not even biking. Property values within one block of the Indianapolis Cultural Trail increased 148% after construction and more than doubled in value from 2008 to 2015. A $63 million public and private investment resulted in $1 billion of additional assessed property value.
The vast majority of Hampton Roads has already expressed their desire for alternative transportation methods when they voted to extend The Tide light rail. However, achieving similar economic benefits does not need to be so expensive. Simply building a mile of roadway is 1,283 times more expensive than one mile of protected bike lanes, much less a mile of light rail. However, all these methods of transportation are improved exponentially when they are connected and used in conjunction with one another.
The design and style of protected bike lanes is just as important as where they are built. The most common stress test for a successful bicycle lane is simply asking the question: Would your younger sibling or grandparent feel comfortable using it? Very few people are comfortable biking in “sharrows”(lanes shared by bicycles and cars) or even near fast moving cars at all. When asked if they would consider commuting to work by bicycle, an overwhelming two-thirds of Portland residents were interested but had reservations about safety.
Poorly designed bicycle lanes, although well-intentioned, are the culprits for many cycling/automobile related deaths when they are designed incorrectly. The most common mistakes are placing lanes in the middle of traffic with no buffer or the dreaded “door zone” where parked cars open their doors directly in the path of oncoming cyclists.
In contrast, nations like The Netherlands have been investing in protected bicycle lanes since the 1960’s. Very few individuals ever wear helmets, bicycle related injuries are much lower, and trips by bicycle in Amsterdam make up almost 50% of all trips! The below video is an amazing look at how social change after World War II gave rise to the development of Dutch bicycle infrastructure that is now the envy of the world.
Cities around the world are now realizing the social and economic benefits of building great bicycle infrastructure. Great cities like NYC, London and Paris are investing millions of dollars into hundreds of miles of newly protected bicycle lanes in addition to reducing the amount of cars that can travel in city centers, making pedestrian life more friendly. Norfolk has already taken an important first step in the same direction by hiring the Toole Design Group to develop a master plan that can act as the foundation for a complete, connected bicycle network.
The “City of Norfolk Bicycle and Pedestrian Strategic Plan” is an in-depth, 158 page study that persuasively lays out a plan to implement great bicycle infrastructure, and can be found here. In it you can find full page designs that not only lay out how to implement protected bicycle lanes in Norfolk but also some of the greatest design challenges that our area faces. In addition to the engineering and fiscal challenges presented, the greatest challenge of all will be changing public perception. As the video above notes, building this infrastructure creates induced demand, which means more cyclists will use it once it exists. However, the public will initially be opposed to any proposition that threatens to take road space away from cars.
In an effort to tackle this challenge head on, the city is moving forward with introducing a pilot project in the already bicycle friendly neighborhood of Ghent. The pilot project will primarily be a loop from Olney to Colley to 35th Street to Llewellyn Ave including a buffered bike lane that connects to the Elizabeth River Trail. The design and implementation of this pilot project will not only expose the public to protected bike lanes but will also be a valuable learning tool for HRT in the future.
Building great infrastructure takes time and changing public perception can take longer. That is why it is promising to see the city of Norfolk investing in its future by developing these alternative modes of transportation.
This post originally appeared on the fantastic Norfolk development blog NFKLive. For more, click here.