It takes a bike race

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Print this page by Bernie Niemeier
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Photo by Adrienne R. Watson

Back in the way-back machine — back to those late summer childhood days — bike riding was how we explored the neighborhood and had our fun.

My mother told my older brother that he and his friend had to let me ride with them, but when they passed the end of the driveway, their bicycles sped away, leaving me behind.  In some ways, maybe I’ve been chasing the big kids ever since.

Back to real time, I’ve been riding my (bigger) bike for exercise before breakfast most mornings.  I live just a few blocks from the Virginia Capital Trail, which ultimately will stretch 55 paved miles, connecting the state capital of Richmond to Virginia’s Colonial capital, Williamsburg.

Portions of this trail opened in 2005, but since then it has remained a hodge-podge of mostly uncompleted sections, especially in Richmond, where until recently less than a mile of the route was paved.

No longer. In anticipation of the UCI Road World Championships coming to Richmond in September, the Capital Trail is now a veritable beehive of construction activity.  Finally, after 10 years, the bike path is being completed.

In fact, much of Richmond, at least where the various bike race events will be held, is seeing asphalt laid and potholes filled like crazy.

Richmond Mayor Dwight C. Jones was quoted in the Richmond Times-Dispatch recently saying, “One of the good things about all the improvements that we have made is that we will allow those who are coming to visit us for the ‘Worlds’ to see and enjoy the improvements, but when they’re gone and the races are over, we’ll still have the beautiful infrastructure that’s been put in place and we’ll be able to enjoy it.”

Umhum … I thought we were paying taxes to keep the roads paved?  Shouldn’t that have been happening all along anyway?

Much of the Capital Trail follows state Route 5, in many places using the highway easement to cut right through the front yards of homes that face the highway.  This is much like what might have happened (and perhaps still could happen) with the expansion of U.S. 460 between Suffolk and Petersburg or with the addition of an intermodal rail yard at Elliston in Montgomery County.  Nobody likes having their lawn taken over, but this time, where are the protests?

You’d think with an estimated 450,000 tourists descending on Richmond for this month’s bike race, that somebody might be concerned.  Heck, where’s the Sierra Club?  You’d think that 450,000 more people putting pressure on the capital city’s aging infrastructure ought to be enough to endanger groundwater in Virginia Beach — that’s the basic objection raised for every other project from uranium mining in

Pittsylvania County to the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.  There’s no way that the city of Richmond’s sewer system can handle an additional 450,000 near simultaneous early morning flushes.  Not to worry. They’ll bring out the porta-potties, everything will be fine — just like the Redskins training camp.

Back to the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, here’s the answer: Put a bike trail on top of it!  Nobody will object.  Dominion gets its pipeline, Virginia gets its energy infrastructure, and the landowners get a new scenic byway.  That’s a triple-win if there ever was one.  Somebody should be thinking about that — you heard it here first!

Seriously, it is puzzling that seemingly insurmountable obstacles to upgrading Virginia’s transportation or energy infrastructure aren’t at all problematic for a bike trail.  Maybe it’s that it took 10 years.  Maybe it’s the urgency of a looming deadline for the bike race — go figure.

Maybe it is that Virginia’s General Assembly wasn’t involved. The city of Richmond only needed to put together a coalition of the willing — local businesses without state support — to bid on and win the UCI Road World Championships. The process didn’t involve any gerrymandering or voter identification laws, no education spending cuts or health-care expansion, no federal court appeals, not even any judicial selection or special sessions.  Sometimes, maybe all it takes is a bike race.

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