This article also appeared in the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
On May 14, Gov. Bob McDonnell issued a proclamation celebrating the importance of transportation to the commonwealth. The governor highlighted the administration’s “progress toward addressing the challenges and opportunities facing Virginia’s networks of roads, bridges, rail lines and transit facilities.”
According to the news release, “Transportation is the lifeline that binds together Virginia’s businesses, citizens and communities and it has a crucial impact on the quality of life of Virginians and our ability to grow our economy and create jobs.”
We couldn’t agree more.
We are deeply dismayed, however, at the lack of any acknowledgment of two time-tested, cost-effective and highly beneficial modes of transportation: walking and biking.
A huge proportion of all travel involves trips that are short enough to be easily walkable or bikeable, but sadly, our car-centric planning makes almost no accommodation for those who would prefer to travel under their own power.
Many would do so, but don’t feel safe contending with ever-growing volume and speed of traffic, comprising vehicles filled with increasingly distracted and frustrated drivers and passengers.
Active transportation gets people to their destinations quickly and efficiently, keeps them healthier and saves them money. It helps maintain our environment and, as many enlightened cities, states and even countries have discovered, attracts talent and business. What’s more, well-designed modern accommodations for walking and biking are by far the least expensive infrastructure to build and maintain per person/mile.
It strikes us as more than a little odd, then, that even as more Virginia communities, businesses and universities gain “Bike Friendly” status from the League of American Bicyclists (six cities, six universities and 30 businesses) and the commonwealth increases its “Bike Friendly Rank” from 17 to 16 (first in the South!), the governor seems not to have noticed. This recognition has been achieved through hard work at the local level, with precious little support from VDOT, DMV, this administration or its predecessors.
Imagine the possibilities if we had the active engagement of McDonnell’s administration, not to mention the General Assembly? Can it be that even as Richmond prepares for the 2015 World Cycling Championships, without question the largest single tourism event in the history of the commonwealth, the economic impact of the humble bicycle is simply not worth mentioning?
With the mild spring weather, perhaps the folks in the governor’s office need to get out and try one of these radical modes of transportation. Perhaps they could take a stroll through the neighborhoods around VCU, noting all the students, professors, administrators and other residents who get around without the need for a car, a train or even transit. They might be amazed at the number of taxpaying citizens walking or biking.
In his proclamation, McDonnell cited “transportation’s importance to our continued economic prosperity, citizens’ quality of life, and ensuring that Virginia remains the best state in which to work, live and raise a family.” Arguably, no factor transforms the quality of life in a community more than making it walkable and bikeable.
These are exciting times for advocates of active transportation. In a revolutionary transformation, the administration and the General Assembly revamped Virginia’s transportation funding model this year.
Now more than ever, roads will be paid for not by fuel taxes, which never even carried the full cost in the first place, but by revenue tied to the overall economy that depends on them.
Now our streets and roads will be paid for by everyone, through the sales tax and other general revenues.
Time will tell if this development has the desired effect, but one thing is for sure: The roads are paid for by and belong to all users, not just drivers. For this, we are grateful, and McDonnell deserves credit for his vision.
But with this change comes an obligation. Our streets and roads must be designed for the benefit of all legal users. No longer will pedestrians and cyclists have to endure the snide retorts of motorists that “Roads are for cars, because cyclists don’t pay gas tax.” It was never really true in the first place, but now it’s laughable.
Our local streets and roads are for people and always have been. Most roads in Virginia existed long before automobiles, and now that we all pay for them, it’s time our planners and our government acknowledged this simple fact.
Cycling advocates are excited about the prospects for a truly modern and rational transportation system. Virginia, like many other states, seems to be poised at a tipping point, on the verge of a new era.
It’s sad that the governor and his administration seem to be missing the growing celebration of bike-friendly communities across Virginia.
Whether the governor joins us or not, let’s celebrate our changing 21st-century transportation system.
We should all be free to choose four wheels, two wheels or no wheels at all — but happier, healthier communities with walkable and bikeable streets, complete streets, will transform all our lives for the better, and that’s something we should all cheer about.
Tom Bowden is chairman of BikeVirginia and vice president of the Virginia Bicycling Federation and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Champe Burnley is president of the Virginia Bicycling Federation and can be reached at email@example.com.
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