Pedal to the metal: The path to a more cycling-friendly city

Pedal to the metal: The path to a more cycling-friendly city

It’s National Bike Month, and Peter Krebs is fired up.

Krebs, who’s the community outreach coordinator at the Piedmont Environmental Council, uses the word
“exciting” more than any other when talking about the new bicycle and pedestrian plan he’s helped develop with the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission.

The plan, which is being presented to City Council this month, proposes ways to connect some of the area’s most popular cycling and walking spots, making it feasible for more people to get where they want (and need) to go.

“We have amazing destinations, but what’s missing is the connectors to those destinations,” says Krebs. He would know—he’s spent the past 18 months working with the TJPDC and attending more than 100 community input meetings to create the plan, which focuses on Charlottesville and Albemarle but also addresses Louisa, Fluvanna, Greene, and Nelson counties.

One of the first questions the team had to answer is: Who is the cyclist?

“I expect the answer is something that’s changed in me as I’ve done my work,” says Krebs. “It’s a kid just off of training wheels, it’s somebody delivering a pizza, it’s a guy in spandex heading out into the countryside to go ride 40 miles, it’s somebody commuting to work, and it’s me.”

The goal is to create an infrastructure that makes each type of cyclist feel more confident, and one that makes it easier to transcend current jurisdictional boundaries that seemingly only exist because of a line drawn on a map, he says. The same plan will be presented to the county’s Board of Supervisors.

In a large, framed map hanging on his East Water Street office wall, Krebs points to approximately 20 local areas that community members who want to ditch their cars have identified as major frustration points. Perhaps the biggest complaint identified from the feedback he’s solicited over the past year and a half is related to Route 29, he says.

For example, a major draw of the recently-proposed apartments in the Seminole Square shopping center
is their proximity to restaurants and grocery stores such as Kroger, Whole Foods, and Trader Joe’s, but those destinations are still out of reach without a car.

“You’ll be able to see Trader Joe’s from the apartment windows, but there’s no way you’re walking or biking there,” says Krebs.

He’s also heard from parents who want to be able to safely bike with their kids to school. And one of his own biggest frustrations is that there’s no safe way to get to the Saunders-Monticello Trail without driving.

“The gap is about a half-mile only between the sidewalk on the bottom of Monticello Avenue and the beautiful Saunders-Monticello trail,” he says. “Just a half mile. You can see from one to the other, but it might as well be infinitely far.”

Adds Krebs, “They’re complicated problems, but they’re solvable.”

Along with a bevy of other implementation strategies for these places, the new plan proposes a bicycle and pedestrian path under I-64 that would connect Route 53 and the Saunders-Monticello Trail. The city is planning to study the potential connection.

Says Amanda Poncy, Charlottesville’s bicycle and pedestrian coordinator, the new plan “will help us get to where we need to be as an entire region,” but it won’t happen overnight.

“All of these things take time, and transportation funding is definitely a bit uncertain at the moment,”
she says, adding that she’s seeking out state and federal funds that could complement local investments.

In the city alone, however, she says the biking situation isn’t bleak. “If you started drawing three-mile circles around key destinations, there are many
neighborhoods that would connect to those destinations pretty easily.”

The city’s realistic expectation is reducing overall traffic volumes, and specifically single-occupancy vehicle traffic, she says.

“I don’t think as a city staff member I have a vision that everybody is going to lose their car and walk and bike everywhere, but I do want to make it an option for those people who can,” she says. “The safer and
more comfortable we make it for people, the more op
portunity [there] is for them to choose a different mode of transportation.”

One of those people is Frank Deviney, who bikes from his home off Old Lynchburg Road in Albemarle to his office near Albemarle High School.

The 10-mile commute takes about 40 minutes, he says.

“It’s hard to go from one side of the city to the other without riding on a dangerous street,” says Deviney. But working for the area’s only League of American Bicyclists-certified bicycle friendly businesses makes it easier.

At Commonwealth Computer Research, Inc., where Deviney is a data scientist, there’s a lax dress code, an indoor room to park bicycles out of the weather, tools provided for bicycle maintenance, and a shower, “so if you get sweaty riding in, you can take a shower and change,” he says.

While obvious benefits include exercise, reducing traffic congestion and carbon emissions, and saving money, Deviney says biking to work is about more than that.

“When you’re riding your bike through the community, it’s nice to interact with the people around you,” he says. “You can smell the flowers.”