RICHMOND, Va. — In preparation for the 2015 World Road Cycling Championships, the city has begun developing networks of bike lanes throughout the Richmond metro area. The Brookland Park route is one development that has residents hoping for economic revitalization in their neighborhood through increased customer streams.
While the bike lanes connect Brookland Parkway to Brookland Park Boulevard and only extend from the Boulevard to Brook Road, residents are able to access the commerce section of Brookland Park Boulevard by bike. Past Brook Road, Brookland Park Boulevard sports a sharrow which indicates the road is shared by motorists and bikers.
The area hosts the once booming commerce section of Brookland Park Boulevard, which depressed after the streetcars shut down in the 1950s. The city has begun pushing for a revitalization of the area, and community members believe the bike lane is a step in the right direction.
“As the city infrastructure develops we hope to make something positive and use the space for the community to do things they need,” said Stephen Loughman, shop manager of the Rag & Bones Bicycle Co-op, which hopes to open by May 2015 at 10 E. Brookland Park Blvd.
The non-profit Nehemiah CDC, which was granted $90,000 by the city to work on a project in the area, has partnered with Rag & Bones in creating a cafe and a co-op shared space.
“We believe in light of the 2015 World Championship Bike Racing and the lack of coffee shops in the Northside area, our proposal to combine the bike co-op and a coffee shop will meet the current demand,” said Derek McDaniels, founder of the Nehemiah CDC.
The organization is focused on revitalizing commercial corridors by rebuilding structures, utilizing human capital, and bringing new economic opportunities to depressed areas. McDaniels and his organization are pushing for businesses to open on Brookland Park Boulevard which meet the needs of the neighborhood.
“What we’re shooting for is something that people actually want,” said Loughman. Rag & Bones is a non-profit do-it-yourself bicycle repair shop that teaches bikers how to fix their bikes and helps to promote biking. It is currently located at 3110 W. Leigh St.
“I think our core clientele, who come consistently, will continue coming,” said Phil Cunningham, director of development at Rag & Bones. “Being in the neighborhood of Brookland Park will just increase our clientele to more people from Northside.”
“I think moving into a neighborhood will actually benefit us in terms of having a community,” said Shaina Kohli, programs director at Rag & Bones, “However I think we’re trying to keep that in mind as we move that we’re moving into something that already exists.”
Deone Flavor McWilliams, senior editor and publisher of Northside Vibes, works in the building next to the future site of the Brookland Park Cafe & Co-op. She is excited for the area’s resurgence as a cultural landmark.
“Right now, it’s new, probably something a number of us has to get used to,” said McWilliams about the bike lanes. “However, once the weather changes and people start bringing out their bikes, and people get to see, I think it will be fine, and a great thing.”
While bikers and business owners are excited about the development of the bike lanes, some residents have mixed feelings. Rebecca Hoffpauir, who lives on Brookland Park Boulevard and is a homeschool teacher, said that although there was a meeting to inform residents of the bike lane development, there wasn’t any talk about the actual usability of the lanes.
“If the bike lane were more continuous and actually led to a destination, I think people would use it more,” Hoffpauir said. “But right now I don’t think it’s safe. I still see families using the sidewalk and I personally wouldn’t put my children in that bike lane.”
Mary Alice Nesbitt, a retired school teacher who has lived off the Brookland Park Boulevard for 30 years, believes that educating car drivers about the new bike lanes and their place in the new traffic pattern would help. But she said that she hasn’t seen any significant increase in cyclists since the development of the lanes.
“I think the bike lane is superfluous, and most of my neighbors agree,” Nesbitt said. She thinks that it would be interesting to see what will occur next year when the cycling championships actually take place.
While Hoffpauir and Nesbitt don’t see the significance of the lane, Brookland Park Boulevard resident Jacquelin Wilson supports the new infrastructure and has seen motorists operate their vehicles more cautiously.
“People used to blow through this road like it was a highway or something,” Wilson said. “Making it a one-lane road has reduced some of the speeding that occurred.”
This story was reported by the “iPadJournos” mobile and social media journalism project, a cooperation between WTVR.com and VCU’s Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture.