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A Refresher Course for Police, Cyclists and Motorists
The City of Richmond is trying to develop a reputation as a bike friendly place. The efforts being made by the local government are unfortunately the sort of top-down, out of touch actions unlikely to make riding a bike any easier for people in Richmond for years to come. The time has come to call out the superficial attempts at creating a bike friendly town, and point out some of the areas that actually need to be addressed to make truly create a culture that shares the road. Because it is a matter of life, limb and making a living for many of us.
Mayor Dwight Jones led a bike ride for National Bike to Work Day, which seems progressive enough on the surface. But of course, Mayor Jones got a security detail to ride with him. Something your average bike rider doesn't have on a daily basis to keep them safe.
Two of my friends have recently experienced the utter lack of friendliness Richmond has to offer cyclists. And they have it better off than some, who suffer a more tragic fate. The frightening injuries to my friends prompted me to write this article, in hopes of adding to efforts of changing the culture of the roads in RVA.
One of my friends David Deese, 27, has lived in Richmond since 2007 and works at the Cask and Quickness RVA. Recently, he was waiting at a red light heading North on Robinson and Main Street. A truck turning from Main onto Robinson struck David while he was at a stand still. His bike and body both suffered as a result. To make matters worse, he later discovered that the way the officer who had responded filled out the paperwork put David at a distinct disadvantage when it came to dealing with the truck driver's insurance company. The officer for unknown reasons filed the driver as definitely not drinking and David as unsure, while putting down that neither of the parties involved were tested for alcohol consumption. Yet, selection was filed differently. Also, the report said there were no lights on David's bike while there was a front light attached to the fork and a rear light on his seat post. Now David has to try to figure out getting a lawyer, or filing a complaint, or something in order to get compensation for his damages and injuries from the motorist. Frustrated, David said, "The police report was very biased against the cyclists, and feel that had I been in a car or a pedestrian, none of this would be happening right now."
Another respected member of the bike community I spoke with reiterated that the police response to cyclists needs to change. He pointed out though that the complication is often that even if a cyclist knows their rights and is prepared to speak up in their defense and be assertive in order to get fair treatment, the trauma of being struck by a car shakes them up to the point where they forget to speak up. Cyclists do not have the protection offered by a steel car, and even slow speed crashes can severely rattle the most experienced cyclists.
To that point, my other friend who was recently struck by a car was ticketed by the Richmond Police for 'failure to yield' while she was unconscious with a fractured hip and cranial bleeding. The driver of the car was speeding and on a cell phone. My friend wasn't even given an opportunity to speak up. Witnesses to the incident report the officer yelling at the cyclist while they were in the gutter crying. And the driver of the car was apparently so distracted by her phone call that she didn't realize she had hit anyone until she saw people running in her rear view mirror. Something is very wrong when this sort of situation and variations of it keep popping up.
I spoke to Frank Bucalo, owner of Quickness RVA, a bike delivery company. I asked him what he thought about bike culture in Richmond, and especially the issue of safety. His number one thing to change to create a more bike friendly Richmond was "Driver and cyclist awareness. Both ends need some practice, drivers need to be prepared for a cyclist to pop out of pretty much anywhere and cyclists need to be aware of where they are popping out of before they do so." Frank's take on the police was that they would be more useful to cyclists if they stopped motorists from texting while driving - visibility of cyclists is important for safety and texting drivers do not see them.
Bike Lanes are one of the tactics used to create a city more friendly to bike traffic. The lanes create space on roads specifically for cyclists, and are usually marked off with lines, signs, and bikes painted on the path itself. Bike lanes are not always a positive thing, and issues of enforcement and laws created around them can even turn bike lanes into a negative for cyclists.
Richmond has taken a rather odd interpretation on the bike lanes thing. We do have a few, emphasis on few, actual bike lanes. But instead of creating many bike lanes throughout the city, someone with the City went around and painted bike symbols on a bunch of streets. I suppose the purpose of these symbols is to acknowledge a bike's right to be there, but they don't actually create a bike lane, and to me it seems an attempt to look bike friendly without actually becoming bike friendly. The keeping up of appearances for a City gearing up to host the 2015 cycling championships. The other concern with bike lanes, is that sometimes the presence of bike lanes or bike symbols painted on the asphalt, makes motorists feel that bikes don't belong on any streets without those symbols or lanes.
Another project being pursued by local government is the Floyd Avenue Bicycle Boulevard - turning a 2 mile stretch of the Avenue through the Fan into a primarily bike thoroughfare. The plan is costly, and City Council has already put a half million towards starting the planning phase. I think a more positive impact would come through turning Carytown into a pedestrian mall. I'm no fan of Charlottesville, but I think their Downtown Mall as a almost completely pedestrain space is very positive. Converting Carytown to no-car would have a larger impact than a Floyd Avenue Bike Boulevard.
At the end of the day, a combination of better education and fair enforcement is needed to make Richmond a bike friendly city. Cyclists must take responsibility for their presence on the roads, understanding that things like bike lights are vital for self defense. And motorists need to learn to accept cyclists on the roads, and keep focused on driving to protect everyone involved. Police need to ensure that when they fill out reports they are doing so fairly. People on bikes in Richmond are riding for exercise, saving money, speed, and even for their jobs. We are a part of the community, and part of the local economy. The Virginia Bike Laws are an important read for motorists as well as cyclists. Brush up on the laws, share them with your friends, and be alert.
#Bicycle #BikeLanes #RVA #QuicknessRVA #Cycling #BikeFriendly #RVABikeLaws #MayorJones #SharetheRoad