Wednesday, July 6, 2022

Coronavirus brings out more cyclists, highlighting need for more infrastructure improvements

More cyclists than ever are hitting the local trails due to the coronavirus pandemic. But with this many cyclists on the road, some are hoping it will highlight the need for infrastructure improvements. (file photo/Max Pixel)
More cyclists than ever are hitting the local trails due to the coronavirus pandemic. But with this many cyclists on the road, some are hoping it will highlight the need for infrastructure improvements. (file photo/Max Pixel)

With more people working from home, fewer are getting in their cars and hitting the road.

And more are are hopping on their bicycles perhaps to run a quick errand or just spend some time outdoors after being cooped up indoors for most of everyday.

With plenty of two wheels on the road, more light is being shed on the needed infrastructure changes in the Historic Triangle.

Williamsburg and James City County have made great strides in recent years in providing more accessibility to bicyclists, said Reed Nester, chair of the Historic Triangle Bicycle Advisory Committee. As former planning director for Williamsburg, Nester began a project to construct a more conducive cycling infrastructure in the city in 1993.

A regional bikeway plan was adopted since then that let city planners consider a system of routes that went through James City County and York County.

“You have to do it on a regional basis because if you’re going to be cycling, you won’t be limited to not just one jurisdiction,” he said.

Williamsburg also has started a project to widen parts of Monticello Avenue which would allow for a bike lane, and the Virginia Department of Transportation finished the Virginia Capital Trail, a 50-mile bike route that connects Williamsburg to Richmond.

But there’s still a lot of work that needs to be done. 

Patrick Johnston, a member and former vice chairman of the Historic Triangle Bicycle Advisory Committee, said more people cycling during the pandemic has definitely made people think about a need for greater infrastructure that promotes safety, especially because many of these cyclists are new.

“This is a prime opportunity for communities to take advantage of better infrastructure,” Johnston said. “In York County, things have improved but not on the scale that Williamsburg affords. It seems Williamsburg has taken it as a responsibility, like something that is inherent to a transportation network.” 

Johnston said improvements in York County typically happen when other improvements to a road are occurring. For example, in 2019 the county widened Cook Road which allowed more space for pedestrians and bicyclists, but the construction project started in order to fix other safety concerns around the road.

Johnston said more cyclists on the roads the past few months will hopefully bring the localities closer to creating a more accessible infrastructure.

“I do think the push is greater now,” he said. “Active communities are something that all communities should strive for. Communities should be promoting active lifestyles and cycling should be part of that.”

One of the most significant ways to do that is to continue the Birthplace of America Trail project, said Katherine Preston, co-chair of the Tidewater Trails Alliance.

It’s a multi-use trail that will connect the Virginia Capital Trail with South Hampton Roads. It would run from Jamestown, where the Capital Trail currently ends, and cross the James River via ferry into Surry County, eventually ending at the Virginia Beach Oceanfront.

Preston said adding that section is massively ambitious because it would connect Richmond to Virginia Beach. However, she said it’s important because it helps create an economic boom, especially in the Historic Triangle which would be right in the middle of the connecting pieces.

“What’s happened during this pandemic is that ridership and use of the [Virginia Capital Trail] has gone up by 60 percent in the past few months,” she said. “So there’s definitely a demand for this type of infrastructure.” 

But the project has hit a standstill recently.

Preston said the Tidewater Trails Alliance had applied for a grant with the Williamsburg Tourism Fund, but because of the pandemic those grant funds have been reallocated for other purposes.

The funding is necessary to hire an engineer that would help plan an acceptable course for the Birthplace of America Trail, because in the past the group was brainstorming ideas for the trail that for one reason or another wouldn’t work.

The Tidewater Trails Alliance hasn’t been able to meet and discuss next steps but Preston said she expects that to change in the near future.

“This type of thing is a ‘build it and they will come’ project,” she said. “There are a lot of people out there who are interested in starting to cycle and getting hooked into it by the needs of the pandemic. So I see this as a terrific way to increase the wellness component of our community and to bring in tourists.”

YOU MIGHT ALSO WANT TO CHECK OUT THESE STORIES:

Alexa Doironhttp://wydaily.com
Alexa Doiron is a multimedia reporter for WYDaily. She graduated from Roanoke College and is currently working on a master’s degree in English at Virginia Commonwealth University. Alexa was born and raised in Williamsburg and enjoys writing stories about local flair. She began her career in journalism at the Warhill High School newspaper and, eight years later, still loves it. After working as a news editor in Blacksburg, Va., Alexa missed Williamsburg and decided to come back home. In her free time, she enjoys reading Jane Austen and playing with her puppy, Poe. Alexa can be reached at alexa@localvoicemedia.com.

Related Articles

MORE FROM AUTHOR