HRM Health - City plans to make getting around town easier for cyclists

Biking the Beach

New city plan aims to make getting around town go a little more smoothly for cyclists.

By: Leona Baker


Just call me the Two-Wheeled Menace. I’m one of those bike riders that serious cyclists grumble about. I ride on sidewalks (usually legal, but frowned upon). I swerve and merge inappropriately. I don’t use hand signals (well, maybe one if someone cuts me off). There’s not a single neon yellow garment in my wardrobe. I own a helmet, but for the life ofme, I couldn’t tell you where it is.

I had to borrow a helmet to participate in this summer’s Share Shore Drive Day, an event aimed at increasing awareness of cyclists and pedestrians on Shore Drive in Virginia Beach. The event took place not long after the City officially lowered the speed limit on Shore Drive to 35 in response to concern over dangerous and, in some cases, tragic interactions between motorists and non-motorists there.

I showed up for the group ride at 7 a.m. in the parking lot of Kokoamos with my Wal- Mart Special mountain bike and tried not to be intimidated by the other riders with their fancy road bikes, cycling shoes and reflective spandex.

I made it as far as the 7-11 on the other side of the Lesner Bridge (maybe four miles) before I was forced to admit I was not only underdressed, but under-conditioned for real-life road biking. The rest of the cyclists continued with apparent ease through the Chick’s Beach area. I was waiting for my complimentary cheeseburger at Kokoamos by the time they got back.

So I’m no Lance Armstrong. But I do love to ride. Fortunately for the good citizens of Virginia Beach, I do most if my riding off road—mostly inside First Landing. When I do ride city roads, it’s casually and usually with the intent with getting someplace—a park, a store, an event.

I may not be a hardcore cyclist, but I’ve become all too aware of the limiting nature of this city’s design when it comes to traveling by bike. I learned the hard way, for example, that there is really no good way to cross I-264. I wanted to ride from my house in the Thalia area over to Mount Trashmore. Easy enough, right?

It can be done, I figured out. But, as a fellow rider recently put it, it’s “relatively suicidal,” because you have to cross several entrances and exits to the interstate where drivers are either decelerating or accelerating at high speeds.

“I refer to that as the Great Wall of Virginia Beach,” says Wayne Wilcox, the man charged with shepherding the City of Virginia Beach’s new and improved Bikeways and Trails Plan into being. Wilcox relocated to Virginia Beach from Roanoke to take on the task earlier this year. After an initial information gathering stage, he expects to have a plan before City Council as early as this fall. The “Great Wall” is just one issue he’ll need to tackle.

Bruce Drees, Chair of the City of Virginia Beach Bikeways and Trails Advisory Committee and a prominent cycling advocate in Hampton Roads, is well aware of the special challenges the city faces. “In the pecking order of bike friendliness on my scale, Isle of Wight County, Smithfield, and Surry County are tops, followed by Williamsburg, Norfolk and Portsmouth.

Chesapeake follows and then VB near the bottom,” Drees wrote me recently in an email.

The problem, Drees says, is that, although Virginia Beach has many miles of segregated bike paths, causal riders haven’t really embraced them. Meanwhile, the experienced cyclists or “roadies” stick to the streets while continuously campaigning for safer on-road facilities— whether it be shoulders, wide curb lanes or bike lanes.

As it is now, there is an overall lack of continuity to the facilities that do exist. “There’s a real problem with having stretches of bikeway from here to there,” Wayne Wilcox explains, “but then the bikeway ends and it doesn’t connect to any new bikeway.”

Strong public desire for a smooth, dedicated pathway running the length of Virginia Beach Boulevard (perhaps alongside light rail) is also a big concern. Another challenge is simply trying to accommodate different types of riders— from the dedicated cycling set to casual riders like yours truly.

“One thing that I am constantly struggling with,” says Wilcox, “is the one-sizefits- all approach to planning bikeways, which we cannot do. We have kids on small bikes who have just learned, we have people riding road bikes and racing bikes wanting to go really, really fast and really, really far and we have comfort bikes, cruiser bikes, mountain bikes, BMX bikes—just an enormous variety of the types of bikes and the types of people riding them. Someone who wants to carry his surf board to the beach will want to ride differently from someone who wants to go shopping at the Farmers Market.”

One thing a lot of cycling advocates agree on is that cyclists are as much to blame for accidents as motorists. Studies have suggested that cyclists who obey the rules of the road can cut their chances of being in an accident involving a motorist in half. That’s huge.

Still, it’s the cyclists who have the most to lose in that scenario. And the City of Virginia Beach’s historic approach to accommodating them has been piecemeal at best.

Lee Clinkscales, longtime owner of Freewheelin Bike Shop on Virginia Beach Boulevard has heard his share of complaints from riders.

“People who have just moved here— many of them military—say, ‘Man, where do you ride around here? This is awful.’” Clinkscales is an advocate of widening the roads, as opposed to creating more bike lanes, which he says often become littered with debris or misused. He’s also for holding both cyclists and motorists accountable for breaking the rules.

“We need driver education. But we also need for the police to ticket cyclists who flagrantly violate the law and not be laughed out of court by the judge.” Wayne Wilcox hopes to employ the “Five E’s”—education, encouragement, enforcement, engineering and evaluation— in improving not just infrastructure, but awareness on both sides in the months and years ahead.

“I hope to start seeing changes in the general culture of how cyclists perceive themselves and how bikes and cars interact. Right now there is an undeniable antagonism between the two groups, which in a way is funny because a lot of cyclists also drive and a lot of drivers also bike. But when they are on one mode or the other, I think they forget that they also use the other mode.”

I know I forget. But I hereby resolve to do better—spandex or no spandex.

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