Charlottesville Continuing Pattern of Endangering Cyclists

Please remember, W. Main St. is the main bicycle route in Charlottesville.  It connects downtown and UVa.  Yet, cyclists who use it feel like they are habitually running a gauntlet with new and often more dangerous obstacles put in their path.

The latest?  A set of two huge highway warning marques telling motorists of a planned detour along W. Main.   Both of these signs are placed partially in the roadway and have traffic barrels around them which completely block the bicycle lane with no warning to cyclists or motorists that the bike lane is abruptly closed.  The placement of these signs is even more egretious because the are both just beyond an intersection which requires cyclists to merge into the motor travel lane while traversing busy intersections.


Eastbound W. Main just past JPA intersection


Westbound W. Main just past 11th St.

So just to be clear, we must endanger cyclists for days by probably illegal means to warn motorists that they may be mildly inconvenienced for a short time.

This situation is part of an ongoing systemic problem within the City government.  Through the years, City Council had affirmed that they want to make the streets of Charlottesville an inviting place to cyclists and pedestrians.  Yet, these dangerous conditions continue to proliferate around town and especially on W. Main St.


One city’s answer to grid lock? More bikes

Seems our fair city is just a smaller version of this fair city.  Doesn’t Austin’s bike lane maps look similar?  Here’s ours:



For context, here are the current options for W. Main St.

Below is the letter I wrote to Council today:

Dear Council:

I have been a bicycle lifestylist for the better part of 20 years.  In other words, I ride my bike for almost all my transportation needs and for fun too!  I am a member of the City’s bicycle and pedestrian advisory group, a certified cycling instructor with the League of American Bicyclists, and a board member for Charlottesville Community Bikes.  My family and I live a block of W. Main and use it daily by foot, bicycle and car.
While W. Main Option 1 leaves a lot to be desired from a person riding a bicycle’s perspective, it is by far the best choice available.
There are a lot of baseless opinions flying around so I will list some facts.
1.  There is increasing number of people riding bicycles in Charlottesville, Virginia, the U.S. (
2.  Bicycle ridership increases with proper facilities: a large number of people who would like to ride won’t because they are forced to fight for space and find cars too intimidating.  Many of those people, will pick up cycling if given proper cycling facilities. ( – Summary:
3.  There is great economic benefit to communities and business that invest in bicycle infrastructure. (
5.  Development is bringing dramatic increases of residents to the W. Main corridor.  Many of those people will want to walk and ride bicycles on W. Main.
6.  W. Main is by far the shortest corridor between downtown and UVa.
7.  W. Main is by far the flattest route between downtown and UVa.
8.  W. Main is part of U.S. Bike Route 76 that goes from Yorktown to Missouri with plans to extend to Oregon.
There are a lot of unsubstantiated suggestions going around too.  I would like to address them.
1.  The argument that W. Main is too busy with vehicular to have bicycle facilities is ludicrous.  If there too many cars and W. Main St, having more people riding bikes there is better! (

Do bike lanes make New York City streets safer?

Yes, very much so. Bike lanes bring along with them safety improvements for the entire street and every street user — not just for people riding bikes. According to the DOT’s Pedestrian Safety Study and the most recent Sustainable Streets Index, streets with bike lanes have about 40 percent fewer crashes ending in death or serious injury, and that’s for all street users: drivers and pedestrians included. For example, after a parking-protected bike lane was installed on Manhattan’s Ninth Avenue, all traffic-related injuries dropped 50 percent. Injuries to pedestrians dropped 29 percent and injuries to cyclists dropped 57 percent.

For example, protected bike lanes include pedestrian refuge islands in their design, which shorten the crossing distance of wide avenues for people on foot. Protected bike lanes typically include priority left turn lanes and signals, which help to improve vehicle flow and deter failure to yield to pedestrian violations — a common reason for pedestrian injury on our busy streets.

Building a bike lane is not just for bicyclists. Bike lanes are one way to realize a ‘complete street,’ or a street that recognizes and keeps safe all [citizens] who use it.

Do more bicyclists on the street make it safer to ride a bike?

Yes, much safer. Intuitively, bicyclists know that it feels safer to ride a bike when there are other cyclists on the street with you. In 2003, researcher Peter Jacobsen published a groundbreaking report that confirmed bicyclists’ intuition to be based in scientific fact. The “safety in numbers” effect identified by Jacobsen’s research is this: The more bicyclists there are on the streets, the safer they are. The phenomenon can be attributed to a variety of factors, such as drivers’ increased familiarity seeing bicyclists on the street or street improvements, like bike lanes, that often accompany a growth in bicycling.

Data from a wide range of cities shows that every time the number of bicyclists is tripled, the driver-bicyclist crash rate is cut in half. The “safety in numbers” effect is happening in New York City as we speak, as documented by the DOT’s Cycling Safety Indicator. We have never had so many cyclists on the streets, and yet it has never been safer to ride a bike. Bike lanes, which do a lot to encourage cycling, are helping to add to this important “safety in numbers” effect on NYC streets.

2.  Helmet laws do not increase cyclists safety.  The injury and mortality rates of cyclists increase dramatically with speed.  Wearing a helmet will not prevent brain injury when its wearer is smacked by a car at 30mph.  Mandatory helmet laws only decrease ridership. (
In Australia, several different researchers have studied mandatory helmet laws — looking at the lives saved by helmets, the fact that biking is now more dangerous because there are fewer bikes on the road, the actual costs of buying helmets and enforcing the laws, and the massive health costs of having fewer people biking in a country that’s battling obesity — and concluded they do more harm than good.
3.  Somehow cracking down on bad behavior of people riding bicycles makes them safer.  Hard to argue that logic.  However since largest number of cyclists killed are hit by cars, maybe that is the place to start with bicycle safety which includes increasing penalties and enforcement of motor vehicle drivers involved in altercations with people riding bicycles.   Yet, the group suggesting this is against bicycle facilities on W. Main.  (
4.  Creating managed parking on W. Main will be good for everyone.  W. Main is flush with parking.  The plan to remove some on street parking and replace it with managed parking will increase availability of parking for customers.  There is plenty of evidence to suggest that a good number of people parking on W. Main are not business customers.  They are business employees and owners.  Making W. Main a complete street will draw people to the urban core.
Having more people moving around Charlottesville at a human scale, by foot and bicycle, increases the livability and attractiveness for our city.  The infrastructure needs are far fewer less expensive and it makes our citizens healthy and happy.  We need livable cities.  Livable cities are not built for cars.
Thank you for your time and consideration.

W. Main St. Parking

The debate over how to redesign the streetscape of W. Main St. is heating up again.  There has been a lot of talk over the precious 85 parking spots on W. Main.  I emphasize “on” because these are the precious spots owned by the citizens of Charlottesville.  These 85 parking spots are a mere fraction, like less than 5%, of all the available parking in the corridor.  Please see the parking study done by Rodeside & Harwell:

There are more than 4,000 parking spots in the corridor.  What does that look like?  Well, I took the City’s GIS layer for parking and identified the parking lots within a short walking distance of W. Main.  I believe all these lots to be closer to W. Main than the distance most people walk to get to destinations on the Downtown Mall.  I added a couple that were not marked in the original data too.


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New Study Finds Sharrows Don’t Improve Cyclists’ safety

In the continuing debate over W. Main St., opponents of bicycle lanes claim sharrows would be just fine.

“Sharrows are the dregs of bike infrastructure — the scraps cities hand out when they can’t muster the will to implement exclusive space for bicycling. They may help with wayfinding, but do sharrows improve the safety of cycling at all? New research presented at the Transportation Review Board Annual Meeting suggests they don’t.

“A study by University of Colorado Denver researchers Nick Ferenchak and Wesley Marshall examined safety outcomes for areas in Chicago that received bike lanes, sharrows, and no bicycling street treatments at all. (The study was conducted before Chicago had much in the way of protected bike lanes, so it did not distinguish between types of bike lanes.) The results suggest that bike lanes encourage more people to bike and make biking safer, while sharrows don’t do much of either.”