Jackson Ward Residents Debate Bike Lane Proposal 

click to enlarge A biker on Floyd Avenue.

Scott Elmquist

A biker on Floyd Avenue.

Residents and business owners of Jackson Ward expressed concerns about parking, traffic and the historical character of the neighborhood Monday night in a meeting about adding bike lanes to the area.

City Council is scheduled to vote March 27 on a proposal to add lanes to First and Second streets, and whether to accept $240,000 from the Virginia Department of Transportation.

The vote was delayed a month by Second District Councilwoman Kim Gray, who said many residents were unaware of the plans.

Around 70 people turned out for the meeting at the Hippodrome, organized in part by Mama J’s owner Lester Johnson. He spoke first, raising concerns about the effect the proposed lanes would have on his business and customer accessibility.

“We have multiple business owners in the room. This is our livelihoods,” he said. “I’m a bike rider. I definitely don’t have a problem with bike lanes. But I would never want to impact somebody’s livelihood for my recreational activity.”

Other business owners noted the lack of alleyways in the neighborhood and the need for truck deliveries that take up a travel lane while they unload.

Some residents in the room countered Johnson’s characterization of cyclists.

“There are bike riders who not only use bike lanes for recreation,” Jackson Ward resident Kathleen Morgan said, “but perhaps to support their own livelihoods.”

John Richmond bikes to work along Second Street, from Spring to Franklin -- “and it’s hairy,” he said. “I’ve done battle with cars for 10 years, and something like this would actually make me feel valued as a resident of the city, if there could actually be a protected bicycle lane on that route.”

Richmond said the lanes would make his family more likely to patronize Jackson Ward restaurants and businesses.

Some residents said parking was a priority. “We have to circle for hours trying to find parking spaces,” Jackson Ward resident Angela Brame said. “I would like to support bike lanes, but if it’s not going to allow me to park in front of my home, I can’t.”

The city’s bike and pedestrian coordinator, Jakob Helmboldt, described the proposed plan, which removes a lane of car travel to add a bike lane. It doesn’t remove a parking lane, he said, but a few spaces could go away. The lanes would stretch 12 blocks from the Belvidere Bridge to Interstate 95.

“This is very early,” Helmboldt said. The grant would allow for an in-depth traffic analysis, formal public engagement and design alternatives. But if the community was against it, he said the city wouldn’t force the plan.

When pressed by attendees, Helmboldt said the city wouldn’t be reimbursed for study funds if the project went unimplemented.

The city would contribute $60,000 toward the $300,000 project, a figure that’s in the mayor’s proposed five-year capital improvement plan.

The streets were chosen as part of the bike master plan, completed in 2015. First Street provides one of the few connections over Interstate 95, Helmboldt said, and the streets have relatively modest traffic volume in comparison to others.

“An initial look shows that it can be accommodated with the right engineering treatments,” he said.

Helmboldt noted that thousands of voices were heard during the master plan development, but that he recognized the process tended to involve people who cycled.

“Getting people engaged is sometimes really difficult until it gets to that point of, ‘Wait, this is coming to my backyard,’ and that’s when they feel engaged,” Helmboldt said. “It’s very hard to reach an entire city. So that’s why we have that collaborative, iterative process when we do start working on a particular project.”

Johnson said he was assured that the bike lanes weren’t a done deal, but Gray and others were less convinced.

“It’s not a study. It’s a plan to make these stripes,” Gray said. “I think that’s where we’re at odds. They’re saying it’s just a study, but the grant that was written is to implement bike lanes.”

Gray said after the meeting that she’s still talking to people but leaning toward a no vote at next week’s City Council meeting: “We’re just gonna have to start saying no and maybe things will slow down.”

Council members Reva Trammell and Mike Jones also attended.


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