Richmond has a bike lane problem — there aren’t any

Illustration by Arly Cardozo.

Lily Pawliczak, Contributing Writer

In our bustling, historic and lively city of Richmond, there exists an alarming acceptance of the ongoing traffic violence on a level that isn’t seen in many other major metropolitan areas. 

Annual traffic deaths doubled for Richmond last year from the year prior; 13 in 2021 growing to 26 in 2022, sending the community into turmoil, according to 8NEWS Richmond. Many were worried about their safety crossing or walking alongside roads, and parents were increasingly worried about their children enrolled in Richmond schools. 

This worry proved to be valid, as last year two VCU students were struck and killed by drivers, and cyclist Jonah Holland was struck and killed in August 2022. 

It’s undeniable that car traffic poses a serious threat to urban campuses like VCU — in 2021 there was a 75% increase in cyclist deaths from the year before, according to Cooper Hurley Injury Lawyers

With pedestrian and cyclist deaths on the rise, residents are beginning to push for safer roads and are wondering what’s being done to ensure safety for those not protected by big metal frames and airbags. Thankfully, there are solutions that could fix or lessen the extent of these issues. 

One of those solutions is the establishment and protection of bike lanes, which would behave as a buffer between sidewalks and roads as well. These lanes do more than promote safety — they also contribute to sustainability; creating a human-scale campus in a city that will hopefully become more vibrant and safer for those inhabiting it. 

About 10 people died for every 100,000 people living in Richmond in 2017, according to the city’s Vision Zero report. When we compare to other state averages, Richmond’s average is one person higher than those listed. Even in larger cities; we beat out the averages of Alexandria and New York City — we’re four times higher than the former and three and a half times higher than the ladder. 

Richmond is a much smaller city than New York, which means there are fewer cars and fewer people, so it’s difficult to understand why we have more traffic violence here, as opposed to the Big Apple. Especially considering Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney adopted Vision Zero in 2017, which emphasizes developing safer accommodations for non-motorized users, the number of fatal injuries by vehicles should be lower. Pedestrian injuries and fatalities have only risen since then. 

Vision Zero is a traffic strategy that believes traffic deaths are avoidable and was originally implemented in Sweden in the 1990s, where it set clear objectives and recognized that many elements impact safe mobility. 

Its overall goal is to cut all injuries and fatalities caused by traffic to zero, while also encouraging and fostering mobility that is beneficial and safe for everyone in its vicinity. Since being implemented in Sweden it has done well across many European countries. It has only just started being implemented in the US

With such high fatalities and injuries, there are many people curious as to why policymakers in Richmond have only just started addressing these concerns for transportation safety. Although the Vision Zero report was established in 2017, there has been a need for better safety measures well before its implementation, and there continues to be a need in 2023. 

The system we currently have is unsafe for all involved; bikes, scooters and skateboards are forced to move up onto run-down sidewalks with loose bricks and holes when a safe roadway isn’t established for them — which then interferes with pedestrian safety on sidewalks. 

Learning from other cities, figuring out what Vision Zero and pedestrian safety mean for all involved and emphasizing conversations with policymakers are steps that are all achievable and necessary for RVA. These conversations hold the most weight in this process and should be ones that discuss success stories in cities where bike lanes have not only saved lives, but improved the overall urban experience. 

Establishing a bike lane would benefit all parties; it keeps wheels off the sidewalk and keeps unprotected pedestrians on wheels out of the road. By showcasing real-world examples and illustrating the positive impact of such initiatives, we can inspire action at the local level. 

By taking away from such a car-centric model and creating something more human-scale we can start giving back to people, first by giving back their safety, and then by giving back their city. 

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