COVER SIDEBAR- Majestic town: How Williamsburg leads on wheels
"If you build it, they do indeed come."
That's the lesson for all Virginia to learn from the Historic Triangle around Williamsburg.
Noted as a biking mecca by VDOT since 2002, Williamsburg boasts an estimated 3.9 percent of workers and students– the state's highest average– who arrive daily on two wheels. The city hosted the Cap2Cap ride May 5 and, in June, Bike Virginia will put 2,000 cyclists in the colonial capital's restaurants and hotels.
Because since President George H.W. Bush and his Democratic Congress agreed to promote truly multi-modal transportation, three leading Williamsburg-area planners have been seeking federal funds to build bike lanes and trails at every opportunity.
Charlottesville has bike lanes on several key routes including West Main/University/Ivy, Rugby Road, Preston Avenue, and JPA as well as a pair of bike-pedestrian trails in two parks, a 1.5-mile stretch in Pen Park and the well-known two paved miles of the Rivanna Trail in Riverview Park.
Today, in spite of a population one-third the size of our Charlottesville-Albemarle, the jurisdictions of Williamsburg, James City County, and York County boast 44 miles of bike lanes built primarily with federal dollars under programs designed to mitigate pollution and congestion. Charlottesville, by contrast, has just 10 miles of bike lanes plus 3.5 miles of pedestrian-bike path inside City parks with another 8.9 miles of bike lanes in Albemarle.
According to Williamsburg planning director Reed Nester, the area has successfully "institutionalized" bike/ped in all thinking. Developers automatically know today that every street must have a bike lane and sidewalk to get Planning and Zoning approval, and contractors consistently figure in the cost of eight feet of bike lane in every re-paving bid.
Nester and the planners at James City and York counties, bicyclists all, began seizing Uncle Sam's opportunity– and money– almost 20 years ago.
Now, as other jurisdictions are recognizing the value of muscle-powered transportation, and the contest over alternative transportation funding is heating up due to the awareness of global warming and peak oil, Williamsburg commuters have muscle-powered alternatives that most of Virginia can only dream of.
"The thing that made things work here is the fact that it is a jointly-developed regional bikeway system between Williamsburg, James City, and York counties," says Nester. "From the standpoint of the cyclists using the system, the jurisdiction is irrelevant. Bicyclists are just happy that we're starting to get some good loops where you can go out and do a ride and have 70 or 80 percent of your time protected because you're on a trail or a bike lane."