Lots of bike progress in Harrisonburg, Va.

By March 24, 2011

Robb Davis of Davis and Thomas Jenkins, a visitor from Harrisonburg, Va., load up oranges in a bicycle cargo trailer during a gleaning mission last spring. Courtesy photo

Robb Davis of Davis and Thomas Jenkins, a visitor from Harrisonburg, Va., load up oranges in a bicycle cargo trailer during a gleaning mission last spring. Courtesy photo

By Thomas Jenkins

Most of the time we live life advocating for what is close to our hearts and what generates passion inside. We seldom stop and think how our daily actions are positively impacting the neighbor next door, those outside our town, even those thousands of miles away.

For those of you in Davis, this is a reminder that the positive actions you have taken in your community have had a moving effect more than 3,000 miles away.

In March 2010, I was part of the seven-person contingent from Harrisonburg, Va., that came to Davis to learn more about bicycle infrastructure. During our four-day visit with you, we learned more then we could have imagined. More importantly, what we saw provided motivation to make changes upon our return to our city.

Now nearly 12 months since our return, there have been numerous bicycle improvements to our community of 44,000 residents. These improvements began with the passage of the 2010 Bicycle & Pedestrian Plan by the Harrisonburg Planning Commission and included the final approval of this plan by City Council.

This final plan was significantly different than the draft plan prior to the Davis adventure. It was during this trip that our group decided to return with a much broader vision for community and how it should dictate bicycle improvements.

Bicycle maps and plans look great but they do not make a safer, more inviting atmosphere for those wishing to leave the car at home. Bike lanes, shared used paths and signage are the on-the-ground improvements needed to create a bicycle community.

In the past few months, Harrisonburg has added miles of bike lanes to several city streets, which have made these corridors safer for cyclists as well as automobiles. These are not just simple neighborhood roads, but high-profile travel routes adjacent to both local universities, James Madison and Eastern Mennonite.

In order to provide these bike lanes, a difficult decision had to be made — the removal of on-street car parking. When a city like Harrisonburg removes parking on public streets to accommodate cyclists, it shows the city’s commitment to creating a community that is a little less car-centric.

The “Sharrow” bicycle symbol is a relatively inexpensive way to add a comfort level to streets where bike lanes may not be appropriate or allowed due to space constraints. The fall of 2010 marked the first time Harrisonburg’s Public Works Department installed the “sharrow” marking. This simple symbol has brought bicycle awareness to all those who travel these newly labeled streets.

When spring and warm temperatures return to the Shenandoah Valley, so will the sign-marking crews, laying more of these simple symbols that were seen frequently during our trip to Davis.

Our observations and two-wheeled travels in Davis showed our group numerous shared-used paths that separate cyclists and motor vehicles. These off-road paths are difficult and sometimes nearly impossible to install in a city like Harrisonburg, which is almost fully developed.

Local Harrisonburg advocates are working closely with city staff as well as a newly formed Harrisonburg Bicycle and Pedestrian Committee to design two new greenways. These greenways not only will provide recreational opportunities for all ages of cyclists and pedestrians, but also valuable travel connections between local universities, neighborhoods, parks and businesses.

To those of you 3,000 miles away, we thank you for your hard work making your community bicycle-friendly. Your daily actions of just riding your bikes have provided motivation to those of us trying to a create a more bicycle-friendly Harrisonburg and Shenandoah Valley.

— Thomas Jenkins is a member of the Shenandoah Valley Bicycle Coalition.To offer a Davis Bicycles! column, write to Matt Biers-Ariel or Mont Hubbard at [email protected] or log on to http://www.bikedavis.info to see instructions for authors.

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