In her email newsletter to subscribers, Beth Weisbrod, executive director of the Virginia Capital Trail Foundation, offers some needed perspective in the recent heated debate between Richmond-area bicyclists and drivers. Check out what she has to say, and, if this is a subject you’re interested in, a good place to make your voice heard would be at the Times-Dispatch’s “public square” debate — Tuesday, September 18, 7 p.m. at the Times-Dispatch office. 300 E. Franklin St.
This week is Virginia Bicyclist and Pedestrian Awareness Week. Unfortunately, cycling safety has been in the news a lot lately because of a spate of recent bike fatalities in the region. Emotions are running high in the ongoing tensions between cars and cyclists, with both sides appearing more polarized than ever. From angry name calling to conspiracy theories, drivers and riders are focused on demonizing the other. We’re firmly on a third side.
Most people reading this are both a motorist and a cyclist, and understand the issue is less about bikes and cars, than it is about people. Bad decision makers, law breakers, distracted people, and thoughtless jerks use roads, whether they’re driving, walking or pedaling on them.
One reason the Virginia Capital Trail is so widely supported is that people will feel much safer on this separated trail. With cars no longer in the mix, they will be. It’s exciting to think about 52-miles of a dedicated path and the worry free riding we can do on it. When tragic accidents happen on unfriendly roads, everyone feels a building sense of urgency to hurry up and finish these projects. We want the whole region to be more bike friendly, and would love to see hundreds of miles of separated trails, now.
That will help tremendously. But even the most progressive cities have bikes and cars sharing roads together. Boulder, Portland, and Amsterdam all incorporate at least some areas where a stripe is all that separates cars and bikes. And those cities, too, have the same simmering tensions we’re experiencing as our cycling culture grows.
We can work to pass laws, make safer infrastructure, and educate the public on how to use it. We should never stop moving ahead on those issues. But when it comes right down to it, the center of this conflict isn’t about what kind of wheels are under you. Mostly, it’s about sharing and knowing how to get along.