The Bulletin

State proposes ban on riding bikes past Capitol

By: - November 17, 2021 3:10 pm

A rendering presented by the Virginia Department of General Services to the Richmond Planning Commission depicts a reimagined Bank Street.

Planning officials in Richmond are urging the state to reconsider a plan to bar riding a bike in front of the Capitol on Bank Street.

State officials floated the idea, which calls for cyclists to dismount upon entering the area, as part of plans to convert the street into a permanent “promenade/bus way.”

“This is a critical connection in the city’s bike network,” said Planning Commissioner Max Hepp-Buchanan, who called Bank Street the only safe east-west route for bikes through downtown Richmond and noted city bike lanes feed into the street on either side of the Capitol.

The road also offers connections to the Capitol Trail, a bike and pedestrian path between Richmond and Williamsburg, and is designated as an official U.S. bike route.

The Virginia Department of General Services presented the plan earlier this week to the commission, which is reviewing a local ordinance that would permanently transfer city ownership of the street to the state.

Multiple members wondered why the city hadn’t negotiated an easement guaranteeing pedestrian and bicycle access. City administrators said it was not a condition they pursued but that they trusted the state to maintain access to the area.

A representative of the Virginia Attorney General’s Office, meanwhile, gently reminded the commission that they had no say in the matter because the General Assembly passed legislation requiring the city to give the street to the state.

Department of General Services Director Joe Damico defended the proposed dismount area as a sensible safety measure, noting that he had occasionally seen near collisions between bicycles and pedestrians in the area.

Currently the state, which closed the street to car traffic at the end of 2017, provides no bicycle route, forcing riders passing through the area onto a narrow sidewalk shared with a small hotel and the staff entrance to the temporary General Assembly Building.

The new plan would create a five-foot wide “dismount bike path” alongside the sidewalk on which cyclists would be expected to walk their bikes through the area.

“I believe it is a responsible decision by DGS to identify the space as a dismount and walk area,” he said. “It’s a very short distance.”

Planning Commission Member Vik Murthy worried few riders would dismount, leading to unnecessary confrontations with Capitol Police. “They’re not going to do it, then you’re going to have police tackling them,” he said.

Hepp-Buchanan suggested the state consider a 10-foot-wide path with no requirement to dismount — an approach he said would be in keeping with accepted design standards for bike lanes.

Daminco said he’d keep working with the city. “We have a ways to go on this particular vision,” he said. “There’s time to continue discussion on this space.”

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Ned Oliver
Ned Oliver

Ned, a Lexington native, has been a fulltime journalist since 2008, beginning at The News-Gazette in Lexington, and including stints at the Berkshire Eagle, in Berkshire County, Mass., and the Times-Dispatch and Style Weekly in Richmond. He is a graduate of Bard College at Simon’s Rock, in Great Barrington, Mass. He was named Virginia's outstanding journalist for 2020 by the Virginia Press Association. Contact him at [email protected]