It’s amazing what a 10-foot-wide ribbon of asphalt can do to transform a region. Paved multi-use trails have completely altered the transportation and recreation landscape in cities like Boulder, Minneapolis, and Washington, D.C. For me, those are the first places that come to mind when thinking about great cities for bicycling on paved trails, but what about Virginia Beach? Or Roanoke?
Or Chesterfield County?
Maybe Chesterfield County is not quite there yet, but they are thinking ahead. A team of county staff are now in the process of developing the county’s new Bikeways & Trails Plan, which will map the future of paved trails and on-street bikeways in the Chesterfield. And they are looking to local leaders like Virginia Beach and the Roanoke region for guidance by touring those locations and meeting with their planners.
I have been fortunate enough to join the Chesterfield County team on their study trips this spring and summer, and I’ve learned a lot about how a well-placed trail, built at the right kind of roadway or property development can make all the difference in how people get around by walking or biking.
Our most recent trip was to the Roanoke area just last week. Roanoke Valley Greenways started planning for multi-use trails back in the mid-1990s, so they are already 20 years ahead of Chesterfield County. Regionally, they boast about 25 miles of greenways and over 80 miles of bike lanes and signed routes. And like many jurisdictions, they started with the low-hanging fruit: the first seven years of trail construction in the Roanoke Valley was focused within parks, along sewer lines, and other existing public rights of way. Then they had to start acquiring new land, which makes things more difficult and expensive.
But they’ve come a long way in a relatively short amount of time and take a lot of pride in their centerpieces, such as the Lick Run Greenway, which runs from Valley View Mall past an elementary school, through a park, and right into downtown Roanoke. It’s only 3.5 miles long right now, but it does a great job connecting major destinations in an urban environment.
The Roanoke Valley-Alleghany Regional Commission has produced a very useful Bike, Hike, & Bus Map that incorporates bus timetables, the dirt trail network and trailheads, and paved and on- and off-street bikeways. This all-in-one alternative transportation map does wonders to maximize the walking and biking enthusiast’s outdoor experience in the Roanoke Valley region (order yours for free here).
While Greater Richmond doesn’t yet have a map-worthy regional network – with all the work that the City of Richmond and Chesterfield County are doing to become more walking- and biking-friendly – one but can’t help think the future of new greenways in our region is bright.