Pedestrian & Cyclist Safety In Harrisonburg

Brent Finnegan -- October 18th, 2010

This is the third installment in a Q&A series with Harrisonburg City Council candidates.

hburgnews.com reader Kristen asks:

“What do you intend to do to increase pedestrian safety downtown?” and “What are your plans for increasing cyclist safety?”

Downtown Harrisonburg cyclists

Photo by Thanh from the hburgnews Flickr group.

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Carolyn Frank: I would advise any citizens that has a particular concern or known issue pertaining to pedestrian or cyclist safety to present it to our Transportation Safety and Advisory Board. I have listed the information below.

Transportation Safety & Advisory Commission

As described in City Code Section 13-4-2, the purpose of the Harrisonburg Transportation Safety & Advisory Commission is to act as an advisory commission to the City Council in matters concerning traffic and transportation safety; and to improve and promote traffic safety by making recommendations to the City Council on any dangerous situation, condition or location within the city’s street system, travel routes or parking areas.

Transportation Safety & Advisory Commission meetings are generally held the first Thursday of each month at 9am, at the City Municipal Building, Room 205, 345 S. Main Street, Harrisonburg. They are open to the public.

Citizens with transportation safety concerns or issues may contact Mr. William Blessing, Chairman of the Commission, Mr. Brad Reed, Public Works Department, or any member of the commission. More info.

For information regarding the Bicycle & Pedestrian Subcommittee of this Commission, please visit the Bicycle & Pedestrian Subcommittee site.

We have recently adopted a bicycle plan for the city. We listened to citizen’s concerns and fixed two dangerous railroad crossings for cyclist at Country Club Road and S. Main Street. We are currently working with the Old Town Neighborhood to address traffic calming in their neighborhood.

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Joe Fitzgerald: The principle behind bike and pedestrian issues should be simple: A person should be able to safely walk or bike safely between any two points in the city. That’s in the first sentence of the 2001 Pedestrian Safety report. As a council member I founded and chaired the committee that wrote the report. About that same time, I broke a tie to make sure the land between Dogwood Avenue and Hillandale Park remained parkland. The Rocktown Trails are there now. Obviously I’m bragging, but a track record is better than a promise if you want to know what someone will do. There are three good reasons for supporting and advancing non-motored transportation. First, it’s healthier. Second, it’s greener. And third, it’s cheaper.

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Greg Coffman: I would support more signs designating crosswalks and allowing more time to cross streets at stoplights by lengthening the cycling of the stoplights when activated by crosswalk buttons. Better lighting during the evening hours is needed as well as increased visibility of police officers downtown at night. The adopted bicycle and pedestrian plan will help by incorporating bike lanes and more sidewalks. An overall safety program on bike and pedestrian laws and practices could be conducted via a joint effort of Harrisonburg and JMU.

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Charlie Chenault: I would like to refer all to the Adopted City Bicycle & Pedestrian Plan on the City website for the best answer I can give to this question. I was a member of the commission that developed this plan, and I endorse its concepts for pedestrian safety and cyclist safety. Costs of implementation are always an issue, but we have made significant progress over the last six years with much left to do. We actually have a line item in the annual budget for bicycle improvements. The new railroad crossings on South Main Street and Country Club Road were partially paid for from these funds. The biggest issue regarding cyclist safety is the failure of many adult cyclists to wear helmets and to obey the traffic laws (especially downtown). If state law would allow it, I would support an ordinance requiring all cyclists to wear helmets and imposing significant fines on those who do not. Eliminating non-delivery trucks passing through downtown would significantly aid pedestrian safety as well as replacing some of the downtown sidewalks which are very dangerous (outside of streetscape improvement area).

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Ted Byrd: This current year, I was happy to help create and support the Bicycle and Pedestrian Subcommittee of the City’s Transportation and Safety Advisory Commission. This created a formalized relationship between the City of Harrisonburg and citizen advocates, which will allow better communication and advocacy for bicycle and pedestrian issues. The goals of this committee are:

1. To advise the city staff and the Safety Commission on bicycle and pedestrian related matters.

2. To assist in implementation and achieving the goals of the City’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan.

3. To work with the city to achieve safe bicycle and pedestrian connectivity for all citizens.

4. To serve as the body through which the update of the City’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan takes place.

In addition, I supported the adoption of the 2010 Update of the Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan. I look forward to working in partnership with this group to promote a livable, walkable, and bike friendly community.

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Sal Romero: I am convinced that the most effective method to solving a problem is first obviously studying it. I am honestly not aware of how pedestrian and cyclist safety compare in the downtown area at this time. Just last week I attended a meeting with an organization in Harrisonburg and the topic of pedestrian safety in downtown came up. Several people in attendance were very concerned about the lack of crosswalk lights at several intersections in our downtown part of the city. They were questioning why the city is not addressing this very important issue, yet they are trying to encourage people to visit downtown. The way I would deal with this concern would be by gathering information from the transportation department about the current safety plan implemented, interviewing downtown businesses about their position with pedestrian/cyclist safety, and holding several meetings to seek public input about the safety for pedestrians and cyclists. In addition, I would find ways to educate our city residents through newspaper, TV, and street signs about our responsibility when sharing our streets and roadways. As a city council member, I will be devoted to working for Harrisonburg and its residents and to help solve any of the problems that come about. I am determined to meets the needs of the taxpayers by interacting with them in a positive manner, always making myself available and advocating for the issues that people really care about.

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hburgnews.com will be emailing candidates questions and posting answers periodically throughout the remainder of October. All responses are listed unedited, in the order we received them.

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13 Responses to “Pedestrian & Cyclist Safety In Harrisonburg”

  1. Annette says:

    The bike plan is a farce because the city isn’t even following the recommendations right now when they’re building new roads. Why did they pave over a baseball field to make a road with no bike lanes or sidewalks going to the new hospital? Why are developers allowed to build high-density residential areas without any changes to the roads for the traffic they will bring? Why is the east side of the city packed with townhouses and retail shops, without any way for people to get between them safely on foot or two wheels?

    • Thanh says:

      Hi Annette, I believe the baseball field and the road construction to which you are referring to is located in Rockingham County, and not within the limits of the City of Harrisonburg. The Virginia Department of Transportation is responsible for roads in the County. Although I cannot remember where exactly the baseball field was and what roadway out there got relocated, I can say that VDOT is adding a shared use path (trail) along the new Port Republic Road. (more info: http://www.virginiadot.org/projects/staunton/port_republic_road_route_253.asp)

  2. Derik says:

    Annette
    I believe you are referring to Albert Long Park. I grew up playing baseball there. I can tell you this is not the first time Reservior St has been moved in that area, but they didn’t pave over the park. They just planted grass and are selling it.
    http://www.whsv.com/news/headlines/98452534.html

    As a part of my childhood, I’m sorry to see it go. But the honest truth is that it wasn’t used any longer and was falling into disrepair. I understand your frustrations though.

  3. Frank J Witt says:

    WHY is the city wasting much needed money on changing the lettering of street signs NOW, instead of when they are outdated/faded as ALLOWED by this ridiculous new law ?

    http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/2010-10-21-road-signs-all-caps-lowercase_N.htm

    Also, as if the Bike Lane signs were not enough, the city now placed reflective signs on the road on Dogwood. We know there are bikes on the road, but the riders are not aware of the laws put forward by the city, ie. on sidewalks, riding in middle of road, going through red lights…

    • Branch says:

      I agree about the changing of street signs to ALL CAPS. The older signs only add to the city’s character. If they are replacing existing signs, that’s DEFINITELY a waste of money. I sometimes work with signs and know that they’re not cheap. If I were more optimistic, I might bask in the grand delusion that this will make Harrisonburg so much better for future generations because children won’t have to bother to learn two characters for each letter of the alphabet.

      Riders know that there are cars on the road being driven by people distracted by sending text messages, talking on cell phones, or trying to eat a fast food burger. Riders also know the laws put forward by the city but are at the same time more in tune with their environment — when sitting at a red light, for example — to such a degree that I believe automobile-centric traffic laws should be reconsidered.

      Riders beware. Riders be smart.

      • Branch says:

        Ooops. Make that “the changing of street signs to Initial Caps.” I guess it’s safe to disregard my sarcastic rant about learning just one character of the alphabet. Sorry. I’m new to this and will spend more time with any replies in the future.

      • Scott says:

        Frank,
        I agree that educating cyclists about traffic laws is very important but, as Branch noted above, even when following traffic laws it can be hard to assert your presence on a bike. I have had close calls on a fairly regular basis with cars who fail to signal, fail to stop at stop signs, fail to make proper lane changes, etc. I am perfectly aware of the laws, but there are times when I feel like I need to break the law for my own protection. One example would be at traffic lights that I go through on a daily basis. I know the light patterns and will sometimes pull out ahead when all lights are red and I know I’m about to get the green arrow. This is because when I’m headed home from work there is so much traffic that I sometimes go unnoticed unless I pull out in front of the line of cars behind and in front of me. Any other cyclists reading who are well-informed of traffic laws want to provide some examples where they feel the need to skirt laws for their own safety?

    • David Miller says:

      Is the city replacing all of its signs? That sounds like a stretch.

  4. Branch says:

    Very nice photo at the top of the page Thanh.

    • Thanh says:

      Thanks Branch! The thanks really goes to a beautiful downtown, a beautiful sunset, and beautiful people bicycling. I just happened to be in a good spot to snap the picture. :)

  5. David Miller says:

    All I know is that when I bike during the daylight, I take an entire lane to myself. I know if frustrates some drivers if there is only one lane but it is the only sane way to bike. I’ve been hit with side mirrors, cutoff, cussed out and straight ignored as though my life weren’t hanging in the balance. I don’t have an airbag on my bicycle! All I ask is a little patience since I pay plenty of car/dmv fees and taxes to “earn my right to the road”.

    Frank, consider how much less bikes cost the city when they occupy the streets INSTEAD of cars. The benefit to the taxpayer is immense. This type of bike lane development is an investment in the long term fiscal health of our city.

    As Joe puts it “There are three good reasons for supporting and advancing non-motored transportation. First, it’s healthier. Second, it’s greener. And third, it’s cheaper.”

    • Jeff says:

      The problem is without bike lanes there is no great solution. If you (David) take up an entire lane, you piss off drivers. If you don’t, you eventually get hit by an inattentive driver. So while I wouldn’t do what you do, I certainly understand why you do. That’s why I don’t ride in town. I ride about 5k miles a year, but only on country roads. (I ride not to get somewhere but to get away.) Bike lanes make town cycling work – without bike lanes, the driver/rider conflict is unlikely to go away. Changing attitudes is probably harder than putting the right infrastructure in place.

  6. Branch says:

    Old ways of thinking and living (attitudes) will eventually fade and be overtaken by the next, growing generation with “the new way” of thinking and living. For example, right now, 30 and 40 year olds are showing “the new way” to those in their 20’s and teens, accelerating formation of the critical mass required for REAL change.

    Bikes are—and have been—here, and will only become more numerous in the coming years. One might ask themselves which is better (and safer) for the community: having a bunch of 5,000 pound steel boxes moving along our streets at a high rate of speed while burning precious fossil fuel for energy with error-prone human drivers behind the wheel, or having a bunch of 180 pound error-prone humans cruising around via their own energy on 40 pound bikes? While I don’t have numbers to support it, I would venture to guess that most accidents involving automobiles and cyclists are due to the fault of the automobile driver.

    Change is difficult and is not easily adapted to for many of us, and the idea of challenging the status quo is even more difficult to contend with. I realize that it’s a “majority vs. minority” situation and that there is money at stake, but change is inevitable and as such it’s coming our way. We, as a community, are doing—and will hopefully continue to do—the smart thing in preparing for “the new way” of thinking and living by building infrastructure which allows one a safe, healthy and environmentally sound way to get around town while living a life with a reduced reliance on and consumption of fossil fuel and an increased reliance on ourselves—be it cycling or walking.

    Life is a journey, not a destination, and in terms of increasing quality of life, cycling promotes fitness and health which certainly makes for a more enjoyable ride.

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