The 480-mile Virginia Mountain Bike Trail has been featured in The Washington Post.

Richmond Times Dispatch: Stay a Slave to Gas Prices, or Switch Gears and Ride a Bike

This article originally appeared in the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

By MICHAEL PAUL WILLIAMS
TIMES-DISPATCH COLUMNIST

Each morning, Sam Perry dons a helmet, hops on his bicycle and pedals 4 miles from his home to his job at a software company near Broad Street and Parham road.

“It is an effort on my part to find a safe route,” said Perry, who has been commuting to work by bicycle for eight years, riding as far as 27 miles.

“Part of it is my own health initiative,” he said, “and part of it is having one less car on the road.”

With motor vehicles polluting, the planet warming and the price of gas approaching $4 a gallon, wouldn’t we all benefit from fewer cars on the road?

“Unfortunately, it takes a price like we’re seeing today to lead people to seek alternative transportation,” said Perry’s wife, Kimberly Perry, executive director of the Lakeside-based BikeWalk Virginia.

The Perrys were among some 60 cyclists who gathered yesterday at the State Capitol Bell Tower to commemorate May’s National Bike Month.

Ralph M. Davis, Virginia’s deputy secretary of transportation, arrived on his Fuji road bike and read a proclamation recognizing the historic importance of bicycles in Virginia “for transportation, recreation,
fitness and fun.”

Soaring gas prices have schools, governments, businesses and consumers crying for help, with no rescue in sight.

“The expectation is with higher gas prices, people will be using other forms of transportation, with bicycling being one of those,” Davis said.

“I don’t know that anyone knows what’s going to happen with gasoline prices.”

What will it take to significantly lower gas prices?

“Low crude oil prices will lead to lower gas prices. But this is the wrong question,” said Gilbert E. Metcalf, a professor of economics at Tufts University.

“The right question is: What will it take to protect consumers against high gas prices? The answer is to lower our oil consumption. The way to do that is to raise gas prices, not lower them.”

That’s not what you want to hear, but the choice is clear: Remain a slave to petrol’s whims or invest in alternative forms of transportation, including rail, buses and bicycles.

Progressive cities such as Portland, Ore., and Berkeley, Calif., have established “bicycle boulevards” that calm and reduce motor vehicle traffic on designated thoroughfares.

The Virginia Department of Transportation, meanwhile, is working on the “road diet” concept, which would reduce the number of lanes on streets with moderate traffic to provide space for new bicycle lanes.

Jakob Helmboldt, statewide bicycle and pedestrian coordinator for VDOT, says such roads would be re-striped from four lanes to three, including newly installed turn lanes. The turn lanes would allow the streets to handle the same amount of traffic and make them more bicycleand pedestrian-friendly.

A problem: State road fund allocations to urban areas are based on the number of lanes. “We’re looking at what we need to do to accomplish that change so it wouldn’t necessarily penalize the locality,” he said.

Helmboldt spoke on the bicycle boulevards concept as part of the Downtown Master Plan. The concept is challenging, logistically and politically. But he said Richmond, with its dense road grid, is ideal.
“You do have enough carrying capacity on other parallel streets.”

It’s clear we need to switch gears and look beyond the automobile and gas pump for our transportation solutions.

Contact Michael Paul Williams at (804) 649-6815 or mwilliams@timesdispatch.com.

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  • What can be done about the lack of bridge access for bicycles in the Richmond area? Specifically, the “nickel” bridge – which I use to commute to work. Sometimes when I feel lucky I will use the regular road suface to make the transit which appears to upset many four wheeled beast. Other times I will walk my bike accross on the pedestrian path.

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