Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Richmond Biking roundup sparked by the UCI Road World Championships held this September

In 2010, Richmond, Virginia decided to bid for the Union Cycliste Internationale annual road racing championship event, partly as a way to force and accelerate improvements in the city's biking infrastructure.

While the race mostly takes place in Europe, from time to time the event has been held on other continents, in Australia, Canada, Colombia, Japan, the United States--Colorado Springs in 1986, and is scheduled for Qatar in 2016.

Going up against Quebec City, Canada, and Oman, Richmond was selected in 2011.  Yes, the other candidates had dropped out by the end, but the reality was that Richmond had a fair amount of experience managing large scale bike races.

-- Richmond 2015 UCI Road World Championships, September 19th - 27th. 2015

To its credit, Richmond Times-Dispatch has covered the process and increased its coverage of biking and walking since the bid was announced, running dozens of articles, and sending a reporter to cover the 2014 races in Ponferrada, Spain, to become more familiar with the event and as a dry run.  From ("How Richmond won the right to host the UCI Road World Championships":
The event is expected to draw close to half a million spectators to Richmond over nine days and attract a worldwide television audience of about 300 million.

One of the largest sporting events in the world, the world championships is a nine-day event that attracts about 1,000 athletes, media from about 35 nations and a rabid fan base from around the world. While not as large as the Olympics or World Cup, the event takes years to arrange and thousands of people to stage.

Image from the Philadelphia International Cycling Classic from VisitPhiladelphia.

As a hard core "transportational cyclist" I am not particularly attuned to bike racing other than the Tour de France.

But Crystal City (The Air Force Association Cycling Classic) sponsors a bike race every year, as does the Manayunk District of Philadelphia, where the "Wall" is famous among bicyclists.

While over the past 5 years Richmond hasn't moved bike infrastructure forward as far as they intended ("Williams: On bike infrastructure, slow but steady wins race"), there have been a great many substantive and significant improvements:
More importantly, there are many pro-sustainable transportation efforts moving forward in a parallel fashion,, and the expectations concerning biking and walking infrastructure have been reset considerably and much higher than ever before.

For example the nonprofit health insurance provider Anthem has produced an online interactive bicycle guide called Pedal to Health and an event so momentous I decided to write this entry, Virginia Credit Union is introducing a new loan program for bicycle purchases
with loan amounts from $100 to $10,000, at 8.5% interest.  (Note that in the UK, they have a paycheck deduction program to assist bike purchases, which is intended for biking as transportation, but is not limited to that purpose.)  And low cost accommodations convenient for bicycle tourists, a new Richmond Hostel, will open this summer.

Sparking economic benefits for retailers.  Plus, the city has been conscious about trying to make direct connections between business development and retail sales and the event ("Business owners get tips to cash in on cycling event," "Richmond 2015 talks to businesses about how to participate in UCI bicycling event," and "City looking for ways to fill vacant shops"), which is something usually forgotten in the planning and carrying out of such events, which is why the local impact from large events for small businesses tends to be minimal.

Perhaps the UCI even in Richmond will be a significant exception.

But, and proving the comparative patheticness of the jokey column on biking ("Gear Prudence") in the Washington City Paper, in 2012, Style Weekly, Richmond's alternative weekly, laid out a call to action for the city concerning planning around and maximizing the quality of the experience for the event.

-- "Pedaling Forward: 36 ways to get Richmond's house in order before company comes in 2015"

Most of the recommendations are more about tourism and broader event issues, not so much about the biking environment. But biking-focused recommendations include:
1. Create an environment that respects bicycles.

2. Resurface the streets.

3. Many downtown streets will be closed during the races, so let's get in the habit now of parking off the street. Open up the Commonwealth of Virginia parking decks, now used by state employees on weekdays only, to the public after hours and on weekends.

23. Stage a nighttime bicycle ride, when busy daytime traffic ebbs, that winds through downtown and spotlights Richmond's historic, close-in neighborhoods. This will get folks excited about what things look like from a cyclist's viewpoint. 
Competing cyclists ascend Libby Hill, Richmond, Virginia, during the U.S. Open Cycling Championship in April 2007.   Photo:  Scott Elmquist, Style Weekly.

33. What about those folks who won't leave their houses during the cycling event and want nothing to do with it? WCVE public television could produce a documentary on the history of cycling — taking it back to the invention of the wheel, perhaps. Does anybody have Ken Burns' contact information?
Many of the recommendations are coming to fruition:
25. There's been periodic talk about establishing a youth hostel here to provide affordable lodging. Let's make it happen.

32. How about a bicycling exhibition at the Valentine Richmond History Center, Virginia Historical Society, the Science Museum or the Library of Virginia? Perhaps such an exhibit at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden makes the most sense. It was in Lakeside that Lewis Ginter (1824-1897), the garden's namesake, opened a popular Wheel Club when the cycling craze first hit the United States in the 1880s.

34. If nothing else, the Capital Trail, the verdant walking and cycling route linking downtown Richmond with Williamsburg and Jamestown, must be completed. The sections that are completed are beautifully landscaped and restorative to the users. We need to get on with building the stretch through Henrico County.

and various arts related initiatives, which were suggested also.("A Summer of Cycling Brings the Art of the Race to Richmond," Style Weekly).
Although many have not, despite the creativity of the suggestions were, such as:
20. Let's sneak another capital improvement under the banner of the cycling fete. Why not make the former GRTC bus sheds (located in the upper Fan District near Byrd Park) the cycling center? Expositions, community events and concerts could be held here. Engage a developer to restore the complex and build studio apartments to house the athletes. They could be converted to general housing after the event.

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At 11:33 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

basically bike racing has nothing at all to do with anything I care about with cycling. As I have come to see it- bike racing is almost exclusively male, it ustilizes bicycle designs that are completely impractical and actually painfult o anyone with a chronic back pain issue- and you cannot carry anything on a goddamn racing bicycle. I hate th eposture you must take to bike race and you cannot ride in rian or snow as these silly machines have no fenders. You cannot even park a racing bike-they have no kickstands and they are often made with tires that fail on bumpy city streets or wheels that bend too easily. The entire edifice of racing bike and athletic bike culture needs to be revamped in the Anglo countries. I still see far too many of these jerks coming to work every day- pretending to be cars and going full speed in their fake raptor helmets with all of the damned advertising all over their idiotic costumes. I really resent and actally hate this shit.

At 12:31 PM, Anonymous Richard Layman said...

you're missing the point. Richmond has used this event as a way to jump forward bike planning and new infrastructure on multiple dimensions.

it's exactly how places should utilize such events, and rarely do (e.g., all star games, super bowl, Olympics).

I forgot to mention that years ago I suggested that the DC area bid for the bi-ennial American trails conference as a way to goad the metropolitan area into upping the quality and reach of a metropolitan bikeways network.

That's how Richmond is using UCI. They could have very easily been as ineffectual in leveraging the event. They should be congratulated, big time.


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