Walkable, bikeable communities don’t happen overnight, but they do happen. Here’s how.

Whenever I tell a fellow Richmonder that I am from Seattle (I moved here a year ago), they often assume that I come from a bicycle utopia where everyone bikes to work on big wide buffered bike lanes. That’s not true at all. Well, some of it is.

Seattle, like a lot of US cities, is becoming a very bike-friendly city. But it didn’t become that way overnight – it took careful planning, lots of advocacy, huge amounts of public engagement, and a willingness to see our streets change for the better.

To make all of our communities here in RVA walkable and bikeable, a similar mix of forces is going to be necessary Want to be a part of it? Get involved now and read on!

Here’s are the elements Richmond needs to make the dream of a bicycle- and pedestrian-friendly region a reality.

    Richmond and Seattle have a lot in common here. In 2007, Seattle adopted its first Bicycle Master Plan, which by in large emphasized installing shared lane marking (“sharrows”) on 35mph roads. Richmond’s parallel? We started the same way in 2012, painting sharrows on the Boulevard, Hermitage, and Leigh Street, among others.
    In 2013 Seattle updated their Bicycle Master Plan to include buffered and protected bike lanes and neighborhood greenways (bicycle boulevards). Richmond’s parallel? We’re going through this second phase as we speak, trying to design a forward-thinking Bike Master Plan for the city while Chesterfield and Henrico look at their options to welcome more bike routes to their roads as well.
    The lesson? Deliberate planning work can build the best infrastructure for all users.
    In order to build anything in a plan – good or bad – you need funding behind it. Funding can come from a variety of sources, including federal grants. But a dedicated source of ongoing revenue is what every bike/ped planner dreams of. In the mid-2000s, Seattle passed a property tax levy called “Bridging the Gap” that went exclusively to roadway improvement and maintenance projects, including bike lanes and sidewalks.
    Once the planning and funding is in place, a city or county is ready to build. Sounds easy, right? It’s not. Every proposed project involves trade-offs.  No matter how good the advocates or planners think a project is, someone may disagree. Which brings me to our next topic…
    A bicycle- and pedestrian-friendly community needs advocates for transformative projects. Those advocates are you, me, the  mom down the street who wants her children to have the freedom to bike safely to school, the guys who wants to commute by bike to work, or the retiree who wants a better city for future generations. Regardless of who you are, you have to make your voice heard. Never assume that silence is a vote of support. One loud voice defending the status quo can stop a new project in its tracks. Good advocates will engage a diverse community, educating as they go, and make sure the voices for change are unified and mobilized.
    Almost nothing gets done without a dedicated person or team of people at the city or county staff level helping to shepherd projects through, from planning to funding to building. Those staff people do not need to be full-fledged advocates themselves, but it does not work to have an anti-bike transportation engineer managing bike/ped projects. Nothing will get done.
    Nearly every bike-friendly city that has gained attention in recent years – Minneapolis, Indianapolis, Chicago, Boston, Seattle – has been built by the leadership of a visionary mayor or city council. Richmond, Henrico, and Chesterfield are no different.
This is where it all comes full circle.  Your elected officials need to hear that you support planning, funding, and building great new projects for walking and biking. Every element discussed here is connected and it’s rare that progress is made when one piece of the puzzle is missing.

Learn more about bicycle and pedestrian advocacy and to join the Bike Walk RVA advocate network.