Aug. 09--Tucked amid proposals on the Hampton Roads Transportation Planning Organization's list of 200 potential long-range projects for the Peninsula are about 30 proposals that focus on two-wheeled, pedal-powered vehicles.
Bike lanes and trails have become more popular for people in this region, according to transportation planners and bike advocates.
"There's a lot of passion," said HRTPO senior transportation planner Dale Stith.
Tammy Rosario, principal planner for James City County, agreed. "People are looking for real alternatives to cars."
That comes as no surprise to alternative transportation advocate Stephanie Weber, who is a board member of the new nonprofit group Bikewalk Williamsburg. "You feel more connected to a community," she said of using bike and pedestrian lanes and trails.
Such projects are included in the Commonwealth Transportation Board's six-year improvement program, which includes proposals eligible for state and federal funding.
Potential projects, which must be prioritized by the CTB, include South Lawson Road and Wythe Creek Road in Poquoson, Oyster Point Road and Harwood Drive in Newport News, and the Longhill Corridor project and Pocahontas Trail in James City County.
But several projects already are in the works or have recently been completed, such as Hampton's King Street project and its Commander Shepard Boulevard extension. The projects have used a mix of federal and state transportation funds, and have included bike and pedestrian lanes and walkways. Upcoming projects such as Newmarket Creek and Saunders Road also are slated to have bike lanes.
"We have had more requests recently for bike lanes," said Hampton planner Alison Alexander. "We've been working on it."
Stith, Rosario and Alexander said community residents who participate in surveys and public information meetings focused on transportation projects are vocal about their desire to see more bike lanes, paths and trails.
"We know from community input at meetings that this is important," Rosario said, adding that more bike lanes was one of the higher-rated proposals at meetings.
Weber said citizen surveys also rank bike lanes and trails as highly desirable. "You can look at surveys across the region. It's a high-priority item."
Weber offered a number of reasons for the interest. She said communities in which people can bike and walk to destinations are healthier than others. "It is becoming a key parameter in how a region thinks about planning."
It also affects a community's economic development, she added. "Corporations want to move to these communities."
Officials in Hampton, Newport News, Williamsburg and James City and York counties are quick to note they have networks of bike trails, lanes and paths. They also have maps on their websites showing bike routes. The most ambitious of those is the regional bikeways projects developed in 1997 by Williamsburg and James City and York counties. The three communities "worked together for years on the regional bikeways plan, pounding on doors to get federal funds from sources," Rosario said.
She and Alexander said localities can be most effective when they incorporate pedestrian and bike lanes and paths into widening and streetscape projects. For example, James City is planning to widen Longhill Road and wants to add multi-use trails on either side of the road.
"There was a strong desire for that," Rosario said, adding that the Virginia Department of Transportation also has advised localities to incorporate bike lanes into road-widening projects "to make the money go further."
Filling in gaps
Weber noted the interest in more options for bike transportation spans demographic groups. Young adults, known as millennials, want more options for commuting and transportation and are more averse to using cars, she said. That was borne out in recent research by Hampton Roads Transit as well.
Weber also noted that older residents, especially retirees, want similar alternatives, such as bike lanes and better public transit. "Those are two strong segments in our region, in addition to folks working on military bases who want to commute" by bicycle, she said.
Stith said the HRTPO has funding earmarked for "active transportation," which includes bike and pedestrian lanes and trails, in its 2040 long-range plan. The organization will develop a priority ranking system for the bike and pedestrian proposals, working in similar fashion to the system it uses for transit and roads projects.
She said connectivity is one of the criteria that will be part of the scoring system. One of the questions will be: Do the proposed lanes eliminate barriers or fill gaps in a network?
Hampton's Alexander said her city is looking at how to connect neighborhoods, parks, schools and employment bases, and create ways for people who live in the city to commute to work.
Rosario said James City and its regional partners in the bikeways project are also looking to close "gaps and loops" in the network and link to neighboring localities. The county is also concentrating on "the most heavily used corridors" and considering how to add bike trails to them.
Weber said she is encouraged by planners' and federal and state funding sources' interest in adding more bike lanes and trails. "This region lags in bicycle and pedestrian accommodations compared to others."
Stith said the HRTPO eventually would like to come up with a regional plan similar to that of Williamsburg, James City and York, but expanding to encompass all of Hampton Roads.
"We're looking at all the localities and looking at the project plans," Stith said. "These are the first steps."
Copyright 2014 - Daily Press (Newport News, Va.)