Friday, March 11, 2011

Building a better Norfolk

I have been part of several bike meetings lately.  The exciting news in Norfolk is that we have two members of council, Theresa Whibley and Tommy Smigiel who are interested in greater support for bikes as transportation and recreation.  In addition, we have a new city manager, Marcus Jones, who appears to have a similar vision.  It's a small town really--I had Theresa Whibley's daughter in my English class back when I student taught at Maury in the early 1990's, and both Tommy and I started working at Norview High School in 2000 and worked there for the next several years.  Tommy was a judge for my creative writing class when they presented their one act plays the day a nervous student threw up in a chair next to him.  Anyway, back to bikes. 

I am part of a new advocacy group, Bike Norfolk, who is being led by some real doers in this community.  Wes Cheney, Kelly Walker, BC Wilson, Patrick Dale, Markus Wegener, Scott Cramer, Michael Shipp, Jesse Scaccia, John ?, Brent ? and several others have been meeting to push for better riding availability and conditions in Norfolk.  We are preparing to present an array of ideas to city leaders about how to get people on bikes, improvements to infrastructure, education, communtiy and image.  Here is an excerpt of the "homework" I did after Jesse (the taskmaster according to Kelly) suggested we take pieces to research:

VDOT’s Safe Routes to School program

There are federal dollars available for creating better bike passages to schools. The Safe Routes grants give money to communities that create plans for getting children and teens to school by bike safer. It appears Parks and Rec has worked on applying to this program to some extent (?) and it’s vital that schools and other stakeholders be involved if any momentum for these applications. An inquiry is needed to see who has started this process (if anyone) and how we can combine efforts to make it happen. The Norview community appears to be ideal for working with. Norview Elementary, Middle and High schools are in close proximity to each other. There is a one mile multiuse path around Norview High. Norview High also has a fleet of bikes that could be used for getting students out for a ride to solicit their suggestions (and perhaps create a media opportunity).

According to Robert Williams, the Safe Routes to School coordinator in Richmond, Norfolk does not have an application submitted for consideration for this round of funding (due now). He said that Norfolk applied in 2007 and was not granted funding. He also said that Portsmouth, Virginia Beach and Chesapeake were awarded funds previously and are in the middle of their projects now. With the right people at the table, Norfolk should start now for the next cycle of funding (hopefully 2012). Robert said that there is a training day this that has not been announced yet that would help us prepare for a 2012 funding application.

Contact: Robert Williams, Safe Routes Coordinator, VDOT Central office, 804-371-4868,

Bicycle Laws Printed

Educating the public about bike laws, in my view, needs to start with the bike riders and the Norfolk bike shops. Unlike in many other communities Nationwide, there are no local pamphlets available to educate riders/ drivers on their rights and responsibilities, and I recall only seeing one (had a low circulation) in the past 25 years of riding in this region. I have been working on one, and can have a very simple one sheet tri-fold ready for press by spring 2011. The city could help by printing, say 1000 to begin with. We could distribute these to the local bike shops. That is a critical start in education since shops are the obvious place where that education is missing.

Street Closures

Unfortunately, there are no parks in Norfolk that have what Central Park in NYC and Rock Creek Park in DC have: roads that travel through them that may be closed to traffic on weekends. Therefore, the chances of having roads closed for cycling are diminished greatly. If one side of Ocean View Ave were closed, it would have a negative impact on residents who have driveways going to the street. If one side of Brambleton were closed, the same is true for businesses. The Commerce Park off Robin Hood Road appears to be an option, but even likely there are at least a couple of businesses there that are opened on Sundays. Even if there aren’t, we may be faced with people using the bathroom on the grass and behind buildings if we had a circuit there closed to traffic since we would be creating a recreational environment without facilities.

Perhaps an option is this: close Granby street and LaValette Ave. to create a one mile circuit with the roads in Lafayette park on Sunday. There are other ways to get out of Riverview, so closing LaVatte would work if done early morning, and the northbound traffic on Granby could be detoured down Broadway to Llewellen and then to Delaware. None of the closures would impact residents or businesses. The zoo opens at 10 am, so this would need to be done during early morning hours, perhaps 7am-9am. It would be best offered to families with young children, rather than to teens or adults, and imposing a “speed limit” of 10 mph would be ideal. This type of closure is not the same a Central Park or Rock Creek that work well for recreational riders travelling at faster speeds, but it gives families an option. Facilities and parking are available in the park, though it would require clear signage for cars to avoid riders while parking and for the city to open the bathrooms early. I honestly don’t know that it would be a good investment as a regular thing, but offering it as part of the Parks and Rec May bike ride series is an option.

Professional and amateur bike race

Norfolk has been home to outstanding professional and amateur bike races in the past. There was a Ghent evening bike race series in the early 1980’s. There was a downtown race in the late 80’s/ early 90’s that was part of the Southeastern Cycling Classic. The race hosted big names in bike racing including 7 time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong. The race was revived again 2000-2007 with city support, and it attracted about 200 racers each year, including Olympic silver medalist Marty Nothstein. The city provided funding for the street closures and Norfolk police to man the closures. The 2000-2007 races were held on a one-mile circuit downtown, on Sundays to avoid conflicts with businesses.

There are two local bike race clubs, Tripower Cycling and Celerity Cycling, that have the expertise for putting on downtown races. The critical missing piece since 2007 has been city support, especially the funding for street closures and police. Neither club is in a financial position to fund these two aspects of the race, but they have the membership and sponsorship connections for other aspects of putting on the race. They also would fully execute the race. The clubs and races are sanctioned by USA Cycling

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