Will there really be 450,000 people clogging the region, going bonkers over spandexed Europeans on two wheels? I seriously doubt it, but that’s another story for another day. Are we suburbanites too selfish to slow down our gas-guzzling SUVs to make just a little room for enviro-conscious cyclists? Probably.
But it’s not completely our fault. The suburbs, particularly in Chesterfield and Henrico, weren’t designed to accommodate bicycles. You can’t simply wish away decades of road-planning that catered exclusively to the automobile and expect motorists to move over without a little fuss. But what are we really talking about? Is driving a little more slowly for a couple of minutes – so, now, that trip to Wal-Mart takes 8 minutes instead of 5 – really such an inconvenience?
We have no traffic to speak of in metro Richmond. I’d argue that we’re the least-congested metropolis in Virginia, so making room for bikes shouldn’t be a problem. Yes, the argument that adding bike lanes to existing roads is too expensive isn’t unreasonable. It will cost millions, no doubt, and so far the number of people who would likely use those new lanes – if they are ever built – makes for difficult economics, at best.
Still, I don’t get the sense that money is the biggest obstacle. Chesterfield’s countywide bikeways plan will cost $360 million, but that’s spread out over 50 years. If budgetary constraints are the issue, certainly the timeline, and cost, can shift. What’s really needed is a consensus that making room for cyclists is a worthy long-term goal. There’s a general stubbornness in the suburbs to acknowledge that cyclists even have a right to use the roads.
On a recent trip to Washington, D.C., I saw a number of cyclists zooming through the city in some fairly aggressive traffic. On a Friday afternoon, during rush hour under a July sun, I witnessed a woman in a rickshaw pedaling her rear off on Constitution Avenue, clogging one of the umpteen lanes of bumper-to-bumper traffic. I didn’t see anyone “buzz” her, as the cyclists say, and there was no yelling or obscene gestures directed at her.
If congestion-weary commuters can make room for cyclists in the nightmare that is D.C. traffic, we can do the same.
– Scott Bass