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April 23, 2013

Bike lanes along Shore Drive – complete and instant successes

shoredrive_ceremony2

By Gregory Wright

It’s A Shore Thing Correspondent

Bikes and cars in Virginia Beach were literally on a collision course throughout the resort town in 2011 – particularly along Shore Drive. Within two months, April and May of 2011 – two cyclists had been struck by hit-and-run automobile drivers along a stretch of the road.

“What can you do?”  asked Bill Conoscenti, vice president of TriPower Cycling Club, of the Virginia Beach City Council after the accidents. It was time for a solution.

Virginia Beach Mayor Will Sessoms quickly responded by calling for a meeting with the biking community.  Conoscenti calls it a “summit.” The mayor and his staff learned that that city police had recorded 116 accidents involving cars and bicycles in the past year. It was time to take action.  By moving money reserved for road improvements forward, the mayor was able to make funds available for bike lane projects.

Although new to the job, Wayne Wilcox, a senior planner in the Virginia Beach Parks and Recreation Department, took the lead. After meeting with cycling clubs and major bike shops to determine key problem areas, he formulated a Bikeways and Trail Plan that included programs for both construction and education, $10,000 of which was paid for by the local cycling community. By April, City Council adopted his plan. In November, work began on the Shore Drive project.

The city started by adding a new 4-foot bike lane on the eastbound lane of Shore Drive from Kendall Street to 83rd Street, a 3.5 mile stretch of road that passes through First Landing State Park. Members of the cycling community had targeted this road because it had been particularly dangerous for them. The work went so quickly that the city was able to dedicate the new bike lane in a ceremony held on March 24, 2012, a mere 4 months after the start date.

The next phase of the Shore Drive project, the westbound lane, began in October 2012.  Although no dedication ceremony was held to commemorate its completion, this lane was opened to cyclists last month. Cyclists from around the region celebrated the event by testing the lane within the first 48 hours.

To the average automobile driver, the Shore Drive bike lanes are aesthetically pleasing.  To cyclists, they are a godsend. The 4-foot lanes are buffered by a 18-inch rumble strip.  The extra width at the shoulder gives the cyclist, for the fist time, a greater feeling of security as cars whiz by at 55 miles per hour.

The biking community is more than pleased with the results. Cyclists’ usage of Shore Drive has increased dramatically. Conoscenti says that, for the first time, you can see “moms and pops” bicycling on Shore Drive with their children. The bike lanes have received accolades from those who participated in its planning, including Richard Hildreth, Chair, Bicycle and Trails Advisory Committee, Bruce Drees, President, Tidewater Bicycle Association, and Bob Samuel, President, TriPower Cycling Club.

Mayor Sessoms remains committed to bicycle safety.  He says, “The people of Virginia Beach want a healthy community.  They want less congestion on our streets and roadways. They want less dependency on vehicles and more opportunities for biking and other healthy activities.  They want more bikeways and trails so they can do exactly those things. The City Council and I made a commitment to these goals, and believe that this is just the next step of many in our goal of making Virginia Beach a bike-friendly city.”

Moreover, the effort seems to have achieved its safety goals. According to city staffer Wilcox, 2011 cyclist accidents on Shore Drive totaled 6; in 2012 the total was just 1. That’s a pretty good answer to the question, “What can you do?”

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