Let me open with my biking background wherein my first experience riding a bicycle for non-recreational purposes was as a freshman at Virginia Commonwealth University. I enjoyed riding back and forth to my classes and other places around campus, because it was honestly more convenient that driving or walking, and I lived close enough to campus to make it work. I remember my first bicycle fondly as I had bought it at Wal-Mart I believe, and it had an image of Panama Jack on it, which my friends frequently teased me about. But, nonetheless the city atmosphere got into wanting to try bicycling, which I had not done in years before coming to college. Then my initial and continued struggle that stopped me from really continuing riding a bike was the lack of bicycle infrastructure and competing with pedestrians on the sidewalk and cars on the rode. The pedestrians hate bicyclist because they are taking up part of the sidewalk. The cars hate the bicycles because they are taking up part of the rode. It was a constant competition between two relatively unsafe situations, which I could no longer continue safely. But, living further away from campus and experiencing bicycling in other areas of the city has opened my eyes to the wider issues we face in trying to become a bicycle friendly city.
Biking around the Richmond VA particularly in the Northside area of Richmond I often see many small neighborhood parks. Some are more oriented towards children with little play sets, which seems fairly neglected which I can gather from their rusted and fatigued looks. While others are just open reserved grassy areas that break apart the sometimes-boxy architecture popularized in the surrounding area. One thing that I see that is missing from these various parks are designated bicycle area in terms of bike lanes and any bicycle parking. Although, this may be seen as a minor oversight it unfortunately highlights the lack of forethought in how bicycles and the bicycling lifestyle fits into Richmond’s infrastructure present and future.
I believe the lack of bicycle infrastructure and bicycle parking at the city parks and recreation centers give the message to the children who frequent those types of areas that bicycles are not an effective form of transportation. It indirectly discourages the children from learning the skill of bicycling and prevents the effective building of a bike culture in the city. Given how expensive a car is in comparison to a bicycle it would make more sense to create bike programs and encouraging bicycles as an alternative form of transportation for the city. Especially with the youth around the city who may not have the funds to take the bus or other forms of public transportation, but who could participate in a bicycle sharing program if it was well run and focused. Richmond can be a bike friendly city but we need to drastically change our approach whether it is direct or indirect to do it.
In my opinion a bicycle friendly city is one we start building from the ground up by implementing aspects of bicycle life into the public sphere such as but not limited to our parks and schools. It has to start from the bottom up with those who are young to those who are older so we can build a long-term bicycle culture not centered around one group of demographic.
Submitted by Mariam