Wheels In Motion
Bike Plan, Bills Spur Cycling Movement
Posted: January 28, 2013
Collin Vento, service manager at the Shenandoah Bicycle Company in downtown Harrisonburg, performs a winter overhaul on a bike Friday. (Photos by Nikki Fox / DN-R)
Scott Wootten of SBC places a bike on the showroom floor after adding a kickstand to it. Cycling resources and safety have been getting renewed attention lately by both local and state officials.
The Harrisonburg-Rockingham Metropolitan Planning Organization and planners at the Central Shenandoah Planning District Commission in Staunton announced efforts for a new comprehensive bicycle and pedestrian plan this month.
And both houses in the General Assembly continue to push forward bills that would make roads safer for cyclists — and penalize those who make it hazardous.
The federally required MPO has established a committee of Harrisonburg, Rockingham County and town personnel for the new plan. The study will incorporate Harrisonburg’s existing bicycle and pedestrian plan, and include Bridgewater, Dayton and Mount Crawford.
The study will cost about $75,000 — paid for mostly by federal funds — and should be finished in a year, said Kevin McDermott, transportation planner for the Central Shenandoah commission.
An interconnected system of bicycle, pedestrian and multiuse facilities is the ultimate goal.
“This is a really big step for the county and the area outside Harrisonburg,” said Thomas Jenkins, a member of the Shenandoah Valley Bicycle Coalition and co-owner of Shenandoah Bicycling Co. in Harrisonburg.
Grants for projects are easier to obtain when plans are in place, he said.
Door Flinging, Tailgating Bills
Last week, the state Senate approved legislation last week to allow fining drivers $100 if they fling open their car doors on the side of oncoming traffic. The measure is designed to protect bicyclists.
The measure passed by a 23-17 vote. Sen. Emmett Hanger, R-Mount Solon, voted against it, saying it would be unfair to charge motorists when cyclists can sometimes also be at fault by riding “where they shouldn’t.”
The bill now waits for review from the House Transportation Committee.
“I feel pretty confident it won’t go through the House,” Hanger said.
That chamber has a bill that makes it a crime to follow a bicycle too closely. Current law says it’s illegal to follow another motorized vehicle too closely while you’re driving.
On the House floor Friday, bill sponsor Del. Alfonso Lopez, D-Arlington, said the crime would be a misdemeanor and puts Virginia in compliance with other states.
A vote on the bill is expected to take early this week.
Jenkins said neither of the issues addressed by the bills are major problems around Harrisonburg.
“But they’re something everyone needs to be aware of, not just car drivers, but cyclists,” he said.
The state and local efforts to improve cycling safety and resources mesh with the Shenandoah Valley’s role in recent years as an increasingly prominent destination for amateur and professional cyclists. The region’s scenery, a challenging mix of flat and steep terrain, bike-friendly organizations and governments and a growing cycling community are often cited as the main reasons for the surge in cycling locally.
In recent years, the city of Harrisonburg has beefed up its recreational and safety efforts geared toward the cycling community, developing a network of biking trails throughout the city and adding “sharrows” on major roads used by bicyclists. Sharrows are road markings that designate biking lanes at the sides of roads and remind motorists to share the road with cyclists. A second bicycle shop recently opened downtown and in 2011, Harrisonburg was recognized by the International Mountain Bicycling Association for its riding opportunities and “bike-friendly community culture.”
In an interview about a year ago, City Councilman Charles Chenault, a cycling enthusiast, attributed the boom in biking interest to a new demographic in the city.
“A lot of our folks who have moved here in the last 10 years come from an area where cycling is sort of a way of life,” Chenault said in December 2011. “It’s the norm. It’s not something that’s new or just for fun. Cycling, to them, they do recreationally and for transportation purposes as well.”
Contact Preston Knight at 574-6272 or firstname.lastname@example.org