Diane Hailey, editor of the OSW Newsletter, sat down recently with two of the proponents of Roanoke’s urban bike scene. Andrea Garland is a traffic engineer with the City of Roanoke and Jeremy Holmes is the director of Ride Solutions, a non-profit which brings awareness of better and more efficient transportation options.
Andrea, the new bike lane on Elm Avenue seems to be widely supported by the Old Southwest neighborhood. Is it going to happen this summer?
We conducted a survey and collected responses over the course of three months about the potential changes on Elm Avenue. The survey received over 500 responses and had about 40% participation from the Old Southwest Community. Based on the survey responses, the proposed bike lane project on Elm Avenue is supported by the OSW community, as well as by neighboring communities city-wide. However, I expect to have a community discussion about the project in the upcoming neighborhood meeting, on February 15, to assist the city in making a final decision.
Jeremy, what do these bike lanes typically mean for neighborhoods like Old Southwest? Do people use them to get around in the neighborhood or to connect to other neighborhoods?
Almost certainly, it will be both. As Roanoke’s network of on-road bicycle accommodations grows, it will be easier and safer for one neighborhood to connect to another by bike. In the meantime, bike accommodations on traditionally automobile-centric corridors like Elm will make it safer to people to navigate their own communities.
Andrea, not all Roanoke neighborhoods have been selected to get bike lanes. How were Elm Avenue and Old Southwest selected as early adopters?
The City of Roanoke adopted a Complete Streets Policy in 2008, establishing the goal that when streets are built, reconstructed, or undergoing maintenance (e.g. repaving), the city will utilize those standards to make the streets more accommodating for pedestrians and bicycles. Since 2008 via the annual paving program the city has installed 38 miles of bike lanes in all quadrants of the City. Elm Avenue was a candidate this year, because it is on the 2018 paving list, and because Elm Avenue is such an important commuting connection to downtown and provides direct access across the bridge to the Roanoke River Greenway.
Jeremy, do you see bike lanes appearing in every neighborhood in Roanoke? How and why should neighborhoods be selected for them?
Sure, I think it would be great to make sure that every neighborhood in Roanoke is connected by bike, but I think it’s also important to remember that most neighborhood streets are already very bike-friendly because of slow traffic speeds and low volumes. Bike lanes are great when space needs to be made on a high-traffic connector like Elm Avenue, but I think things like good way finding signage and routing are excellent ways to bring people into neighborhoods without necessarily needing to stripe a lane.
Andrea, when should we expect to see the Elm Avenue bike lane? How will the Wasena Bridge closure affect the bike lane?
Elm Avenue is scheduled for paving this summer after the Water Authority completes its water main work. The bike lanes, if installed, will be striped just after paving. The proposed Wasena Bridge project is planned to begin in FY2020 and shouldn’t affect the proposed bike lane. Proposed roadway changes due to the Wasena Bridge project are expected to have a positive impact on traffic flow and connectivity for all users in the southwest neighborhoods.
Jeremy, do bike lanes increase ridership in a city, or do the same bike users simply expand their typical rides according to the available bike lanes?
Bike lanes are generally a precursor to more ridership, though the connection may not be immediate. New riders need to feel that there is safe space for them on the road before they even consider riding, and bike lanes accomplish that. However, any individual bike lane may not see an immediate growth in ridership until it’s sufficiently connected to important destinations.
Andrea, do you know if bike lanes increase home values in cities? Is there any data to support the economic impact of bike lanes in mixed-use residential areas like Old Southwest?
I believe it does. This article, from the National Association of Realtors, does a good job explaining the impacts of ‘Complete Streets” projects near homes. My personal opinion is that in general the more the city invests in bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure, the more attractive urban dwelling becomes. But, aside from the bike lane itself, what would make Elm Avenue a more attractive neighborhood street would be the conversion of a 3-lane road with intermittent parking to a two-lane main street, with shorter pedestrian crossings, and better sight lines for pedestrians and vehicles crossing Elm Avenue. Everyone benefits from a safer street with more orderly traffic.