First in a series of Learning From posts that explore what Richmond can learn from other cities’ actions to become bicycle-friendly.

Spending the week in Asheville for work and a family visit allowed me to experience Asheville by Bike recently. There’s SO MUCH to learn from Asheville’s efforts; I’ll try to keep it brief.

Asheville is a small-medium southern city in the mountains of North Carolina. Asheville has a river running through it, the French Broad River. Asheville has a university, UNC-Asheville, a thriving arts scene, and a bunch of hipsters. Asheville has hills, lots of them. There are differences, too, between Asheville and Richmond, but Asheville has plenty of lessons to offer RVA:

1. Asheville has a Comprehensive Bicycle Plan. Yes, indeedy, it does! It was developed by a nationally-known transportation firm with serious expertise in bicycle planning, Toole Design Group out of Maryland (although with strong ties to NC, as founder Jennifer Toole is a graduate of NC State University’s School of Design in Landscape Architecture). The Bicycle Master Plan was adopted in 2008 and implementation is ongoing thanks to the efforts of the Bicycle-Pedestrian Task Force and an active bicycle advocacy organization Asheville On Bikes. More on them below. Lesson for RVA: let’s fund, develop and adopt a Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan.

2. Asheville’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Task Force meets regularly with meetings open to the public and scheduled after working hours. The best thing about the Task Force, aside from the work it does, is that it has a dedicated webspace on the city’s website with lots of useful information to anyone who might want to find out about pedestrian and bicycle developments in Asheville. Although the Latest News And Information page is out of date, the rest of the Task Force’s website is obviously maintained pretty well, has an overall friendly and welcoming tone and includes:

Lesson for RVA: let’s make the Pedestrian, Bicycle, Trails Commission more transparent and put up the commission’s information on the city’s website and make it easy to find.

3. Asheville has an active and coordinated Bicycle Advocacy organization. Asheville on Bikes’ tagline is Ride Your City. I like that! AOB seems to be the glue that holds much of the bicycle advocacy together in the city, and is an important player in making Asheville bicycle-friendly. Specifically, AOB has a great Advocacy page that lists all sorts of interesting and useful information on what’s going on in Asheville to make it a more bicycle- and pedestrian- and transit-friendly place. Lesson for RVA: let’s keep up the great advocacy work, and maybe the advocates should get together more in order to be more effective. We seem a bit scattered.

4. Asheville adopted a Complete Streets policy in June 2012. The Complete Streets policy ensures that all users (pedestrians, bicyclists, transit users, and drivers) are considered in any street improvements and developments. In short, the policy recognizes and implements that streets are for people, not just for cars. Lesson for RVA:  adopt a Complete Streets Policy, and then implement it.

BRBP_logo.47141032_std5. Asheville is part of the Blue Ridge Regional Bike Plan, undertaken by the French Broad Metropolitan Planning Organization and the Land-of-Sky Regional Council and funded by a grant from NCDOT. The Regional Bicycle Plan includes seven counties in western North Carolina, and recognizes the economic importance of bicycling to the entire region. Imagine that kind of cooperation in the Richmond region! Lesson for RVA: let’s get the region talking about a regional bicycle plan.

6. Asheville has bicycle infrastructure projects and will be getting more in the coming months and years in accordance with the Comprehensive Bicycle Plan (that’s why they have the plan, afterall, to proactively guide the implementation of infrastructure projects).

Public BiAVL Repair Stand 1ke Repair Station is located in the city’s thrivingRiver Arts District, an area that is at the intersection of Downtown and the increasingly popular West Asheville. The River Arts District is where I work when I’m in town, and I’m amazed at the transformations at every visit.

 

 

Bike Lanes. Yes, actual bike laneAVL YTBs. Not everywhere, yet, and not yet on one of the main roads that needs them (Biltmore Avenue), but they are here.

 

 

AVL bike pkgBike Parking. Asheville has some good bike parking in places where people want to park bikes. Like in front of cafes and in front of office buildings.

 

 

Lesson for RVA: Let’s do this stuff (and get that bike plan underway)!

7. Finally, Asheville has New Belgium Brewing Company coming to town. Soon. New Belgium is known for its progressive bicycle-friendliness in everything it touches, and Asheville is no exception. New Belgium’s east coast brewery will be in the aforementioned River Arts District (just across the railroad tracks from my office here) and it’s going to be a Very Big Deal. New Belgium is very serious about bicycling and bicycling advocacy. They chose Asheville for a reason. The economic payoff for the city and the county will be huge. Construction is already underway, creating jobs, jobs, jobs. The bicycle-friendliness of Asheville will only continue to climb as New Belgium comes to town and settles in. Lesson for RVA: let’s develop RVA’s bicycle infrastructure, policies, and culture with the understanding that bicycle infrastructure and bicycle-friendly cities mean big economic advantages for us all.

Well, that wasn’t brief (but it sure was fun)!

 

R2

Newish R2 Bike Route sign, Government Road

In the interest of documenting living, working, and playing in RVA–by bike–I’ll be posting a series of By Bike entries here. I’ll document my ride to my destination, noticing what works and what doesn’t–yet.

One of the best things about working from home is the flexibility to work away from home from time-to-time. Today is one of those times. I was out of half-and-half anyways, and I can’t drink coffee without it.

I packed up my computer into my pannier and started out to Buzzy’s Beanery in Church Hill. Buzzy’s holds a special place in my heart, as it was the only cafe in this part of town when I first moved here in 2007. There may be others now, and they might have better lattes, but nothing beats Buzzy’s iced coffee with coffee ice cubes. Buzzy, indeed!

My ride to Buzzy’s is short but steep; I live less than two miles away on a hill, and Buzzy’s is on a hill. Bike facilities haven’t taken hold much in this part of town, but that’s sure to change in the coming months. This sign has already popped up on Government Road!

Govt debris 19April13

Edge of Government Road heading up to Chimborazo Park

The first challenge, aside from the slope (which is my own problem), is this neglected stretch that is Government Road. This would be a great place for a few sharrows, if not an outright bike lane. It also deserves some sidewalk love. It’s part of RVA’s East-West Bike Route (R2) and it’s a major corridor for cars, pedestrians, and bikes going between Church Hill and Fulton on to Williamsburg Road and points east.

Government Road connects two major city parks–Chimborazo and Gillies Creek–and is an extension of the Broad Street corridor. Contrary to popular belief, Richmond does not end at Chimborazo Park! There’s a vibrant and active community to the east called Greater Fulton that is full of artists, long-time residents with stories to share, historic cemeteries and neighborhoods, the famed Neighborhood Resource Center, and businesses.

Broad CH 19April13

Broad Street in Church Hill at Chimborazo Park

At the top of the hill, one is greeted with Chimborazo Park and Church Hill. It’s beautiful in the springtime. Wouldn’t a few sharrows, though, be a good reminder to motorists that Broad Street is also a place for bicycles? It’s also part of the East-West Bike Route 2.

Church Hill is a success story in terms of getting heavy truck traffic off of Broad Street. Although that traffic pre-dates my arrival in RVA, I understand that the stopsigns at every block are the result of a concerted effort by residents of Church Hill to take back their streets. It has worked pretty well. People are out walking with dogs and even pet geese (it’s true!), drivers are courteous, and there are a few cyclists out and about.

BikePkg Buzzy's 19April13

*sigh* Bike Parking, RVA-style

Once I got to Buzzy’s, I was faced with the absence of bike parking. This is not Buzzy’s fault; it’s difficult to get bike parking on a public right-of-way in Richmond. The city’s current regulations do not enable affordable and effective bicycle parking should a business wish to provide bicycle parking for customers. It’s something that the RVA Pedestrian and Bicycle Coordinator, Jake Hemboldt, is aware of and no-doubt working to change.

So I parked where I could. Rumor has it that the RVA police are going to start cracking down on bicycles parked on public fixtures such as parking meters, sign posts, street trees, and light posts. Well, where the heck are we supposed to park?

Buzzy's 19April14I do enjoy working from cafes. I like having people around, even if I don’t know them. Buzzy’s has some great Motown tunes and is a friendly and warm place to be. And that iced coffee with the coffee ice cubes–that stuff rocks.