Harrisonburg, VA is trying to become a “premier bicycle city of the East Coast,” according to a Daily News Record article of October 2nd and an interview with Tom Benevento, a coordinator with New Community Project, a local nonprofit agency.
Harrisonburg adopted a “Bicycle and Pedestrian” plan over the summer and has begun work replicating some details observed in use during a research trip to Davis, CA earlier this year. These involve such exotic ideas as shared bicycle and automobile lanes – termed “sharrows” – in addition to dedicated bike lanes. As “sharrows” are such a remarkable idea and feature, their costs for implementation are equally remarkable: approximately $300 for a chevron symbol above a bike icon that are placed 250 feet apart. All this is to remind drivers of one-ton vehicles to “share” that patch of pavement with a bicyclist, topping perhaps 180 lbs. at the most. The cost of the cross-country trip for city employees to observe an emblem and its use in person is unknown. YouTube videos are widely available for free to observe such traffic behaviors.
All this is also part of the “One Mile Challenge,” according to Benevento. This initiative challenges Harrisonburg residents to bike or walk for destinations less than one or two miles. According to The Shenandoah Valley Bicycle Coalition, Harrisonburg City has had a bicycle plan on the books since 1994 although implementation has been limited and difficult. Surrounding Rockingham County does not specifically have a bicycle plan of their own, but relies on the regional bike plan of Central Shenandoah Planning District Commission (CSPDC).
In addition to the “sharrows,” Harrisonburg has added two and one-half miles of dedicated urban and suburban bike lanes and plans more, although a telephone call to the Harrisonburg public works department on Friday failed to garner even the current mileage of bicycle paths. I was also unable to find any information on the amount or percentage of streets with sidewalks. Personal observation of the majority of the suburban areas indicates that “Car is King,” and sidewalks are few and far between, although some of the newer communities boast them and the sense of community that usually follows. Pedestrian crosswalks are uncommon as well. Too many of the city and suburban areas were designed without consideration for any pedestrian traffic, much less bicycle traffic.
As a one-time resident of Portland, OR, I am extremely familiar with urban bicycle traffic. The city is frankly maniacal about their bikes, cyclists, bike lanes, and the enforcement of laws designed to protect cyclists. Harrisonburg’s idea of an automobile ten times the weight of a bike and cyclist “sharing” a lane is ludicrous, particularly in an area relatively uneducated with, and unfriendly toward, bicycle traffic. We all drive daily past the corpses of small animals who have had the opportunity to “share” the road with cars. And simply because a road is rural in nature does not necessarily make it safer for cyclists. Many of the cars attempting to pass cyclists do so on blind curves and well into the opposing lane of traffic.
Biking, walking to work or using public transportation are great ways to lessen our carbon footprint and offset our sedentary lifestyles. But simply wishing so does not make it happen, accepted by the larger community or even safe for its proponents.
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Chapman, Tim. “Harrisonburg’s Bike-Safety Measures More Visible: ‘Sharrows’ Marking Shared Lanes Now On Many City Streets.” Daily News Record. Posted Oct 02, 2010, 12:00 AM EDT.