Scott Paisley’s Thoughts on the W. Main Project

If you don’t know Scott Paisley, you are missing something.  This guy lives bikes.  He is co-owner of Blue Wheel Bikes and a serious competitive rider.  While Scott hasn’t focused on the craft for a while, he is an expert frame builder and his bikes are highly coveted.    He is a student of all things bicycle including on-the-road facilities.

Scott has worked tirelessly as the Charlottesville Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee’s member on the PLACE task force charged with approving the W. Main plan.

Below, posted with permission, are Scott’s feelings about the W. Main project.

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West Main Street Synopsis
The current planning to redesign the West Main streetscape has brought very vocal push back against the presently included bicycle infrastructure. Several early concepts for West Main Street were based on removing the bicycle lanes in favor of “sharrows”—in other words, bicycles once again sharing the motor vehicle lanes. The volume of traffic on West Main, however, makes it untenable for these designs.
The NACTO traffic standards guide states that bicycle lanes should be included on roads with vehicle volumes over 3,000 cars per day. Ralph Buehler and Peter Furth, professors of Urban Planning at Virginia Tech and Northeastern University (City Cycling) quote the Dutch design standard that volumes over 5,000 per day are unsafe for shared use. West Main Street currently has a volume of 16,000 and is the highest frequency route for the city bus system as well as receiving substantial truck traffic from the city maintenance yard on 4th St. Because of the natural connection between downtown and the Belmont/Martha Jefferson/Woolen Mills neighborhoods to the University—the largest employer in our city—and the rare levelness of the West Main St. route, it will also continue to be the heaviest traveled by cyclists. The just launched University bike share program has already shown a very high usage on West Main even though there are no parking facilities for these bikes downtown.  It is the highest cycle trip count in the annual bike counts.  It is likewise the highest use zone in the Strava ‘heat maps.’
As it is the highest volume cycle route in the city, it also has the highest concentration of cycle/motor vehicle incidents:https://cvillebikereport.crowdmap.com/main.
On a number of occasions, Michael Signer, among others, has voiced his support for returning to the “sharrows” designs for West Main Street to make room for the sidewalk improvements without the loss of on-street parking, calling the bicycle lanes the plan’s “fly in the ointment.” The author Jeff Speck (Walkable City) has gotten a lot of attention locally, especially for some of his statements during a visit to Charlottesville last Fall. His book is a good read. However, his statements regarding the potential value of parking spaces have been repeated without the inclusion of the rest of his argument.
The core of his text can be found in his “Ten Steps of Walkability.”
“Step 1: Put Cars in Their Place. The automobile is a servant that has become a master. Relegating the car to its proper role is essential to reclaiming our cities for pedestrians.” Also,
“Step 6: Welcome Bikes. Walkable cities are also bikeable cities…More and more American cities are making big investments in bicycling, with impressive results.”
Returning to the days of West Main Street without bicycle specific facility is clearly, by design standards, untenable unless the volume of traffic could be simultaneously dramatically reduced. It is highly unlikely that the volume of traffic on West Main Street could be reduced by 75% in conjunction with such a design change. The result would be the very opposite of ‘welcoming’ the bicycle. To develop more new users, the route must be perceived as safe.
Why does this matter to non-cyclists? The principle complaints about the bicycle lanes in the current rendition of the West Main streetscape have come from members of the Starr Hill and Fifeville neighborhood associations and the midtown merchants association. The neighborhood representatives have expressed the fear that ‘congestion due to increased bicycle presence’ will push too much traffic off of West Main St into their neighborhoods. Research on similar installations in cities like Portland, Minneapolis, Davis, CA, Boulder, Washington, D.C., and even New York City, however, have consistently shown that the increased bicycle use reduces congestion. Yet, here, Mr. Signer has argued that the cities cited above are too different from Charlottesville to be relevant. It should be pretty clear how this works, when the infrastructure is developed in such a way that people feel safe walking or cycling, they do—instead of driving. The majority of cyclist trips remove a driving trip from the network, thereby reducing vehicle lane congestion and drive times. From 2005 to 2009, with the addition of a substantial bicycle infrastructure, Washington D.C. added nearly 16,000 people but experienced a reduction of nearly 15,000 car registrations (Speck pg. 31). Jeff Speck also calculates that the recent reduction of car dependency in Portland returns over 2 Billion dollars to the local economy every year. Yes, Charlottesville is not New York or Portland, but neither is New York City Portland, or Portland Davis, California. These infrastructure alternatives have consistently shown, in highly disparate locations, that they work.
Most importantly, the multi-modal infrastructure in the current design has been the only one presented to date that has shown the potential to reduce congestion and additional neighborhood traffic rather than risk increasing them. While New York City was undertaking its historic reconstruction to implement multi-modal transportation, it also undertook to document the impact these changes had, not just upon safety and congestion and travel times, but also the economic impact on the businesses along these installations:
Safety
Crashes with injuries have been reduced by 17%
Pedestrian injuries are down by 22%
Cyclist injuries show a minor decrease even as bicycle volumes have dramatically increased
Total injuries have dropped by 20%
75% decrease in average risk of a serious injury to cyclists from 2001 to 2013
Cyclist injury risk has generally decreased on protected bicycle lane corridors within this study as cyclist volumes rise and cyclist injures decrease
Mobility
Travel speeds in the Central Business District have remained steady as protected bicycle lanes are added to the roadway network
Travel times on Columbus Avenue have improved while vehicle volumes are maintained
First Avenue travel speeds remained level through project area Travel times on 8th Avenue improved by an average of 14%
Economic Vitality & Quality of Life
When compared to similar corridors streets that received a protected bicycle lane saw a greater increase in retail sales
110 trees have been added to projects within this study area, enhancing the neighborhood through which they run
Crossing distances along corridors have been shortened anywhere between 17’ and 30’
Bottom line; safety is improved for ALL users, congestion and drive times are reduced and economic vitality of the businesses in the multi-modal zones is improved. The West Main St. steering committee has agreed on several core goals for any reconstruction of West Main Street: it should improve safety for the users of West Main, without negatively impacting the surrounding neighborhoods or businesses. The results of the New York City study show that the multi-modal design, like the one proposed by the consultants for West Main, has the very real potential to meet or exceed all of these core goals.
The midtown merchants association has vocally opposed the current plan because of the reduction of 33 curbside parking spaces to create the space for wider sidewalks and bike lanes. While it should be noted that the current plan required a lot of creativity to substantially limit the number of lost parking spaces, while also retaining the majority of the spaces that are in front of business establishments, it is also important to address the loss of these spaces. Jeff Speck has been widely quoted by the merchants (and echoed by Councilor Fenwick) for stating that an on street parking space can generate $300,000 per year. The full statement was ‘awell managed space can generate as much as $300,000. The city added funding to the West Main St. design project for a parking study: http://gowestmain.com/pdf/WestMainStreet-Parking-Study_FINAL.pdf. This study found that Charlottesville’s spaces are not well managed, or marked, and are often currently being used by employees and other long term parkers instead of the high turn over use that supports the merchants. The conclusions drawn from this study were:
Reducing the on-street parking supply on the corridor, while modest in total numbers, could have significant negative impacts on corridor’s commercial enterprises unless it is concurrently mitigated with better on-street management, better information on available parking resources, and more off-street opportunities for workers and patrons. These parking policy and management recommendations are addressed later in the report.
“Parking on the corridor is currently unmanaged or poorly managed. On-street or public off-street parking is routinely occupied for long periods of time by employees of both the small commercial establishments as well as university patrons. There is a substantial quantity of underutilized off- street parking, however, this parking is generally not publically available. All of these provide an opportunity for mitigation for any potential reduction in on-street parking.”
Mayor Huja has made known his skepticism for the finding that there is not currently a need for additional parking facility in the midtown area. There is also no doubt that the parking issue will remain contentious for businesses in this area. In the West Main Street steering committee meetings as well as discussions regarding West Main St. in the PLACE Design Taskforce meetings, the desire has been clearly expressed that parking be a priority issue ahead of any reconstruction. What the study by the consultants makes clear is that sufficient parking is achievable working within the limited space available. It is imperative that the need for this comparable or even greater than comparable parking be achieved for any plan to succeed.
It is also very important to note that Mr. Signer, other neighborhood representatives, and merchants have not been entirely negative, either individually or as a group, toward the cyclist concerns. The current plan was developed through an extensive interactive process involving members representing all of the key stakeholders. In this plan everyone compromised. The expansion of the sidewalks widths in the plan are not as great as many hoped. The majority of the on street parking has been retained, but not all of it. The bike lanes are narrower than the 5 ft. standard minimum. When discussed in steering committee group sessions, the merchant representatives have agreed with and voted in favor of this design while individual members have expressed an understanding of how increased bicycle and pedestrian access can be an opportunity for their businesses. All in all, it seems that constructive compromise is possible, however contentious, when the multiple stakeholders are talking together in mediated session. When groups are isolated the divisive differences seem to rise to the fore again.
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