By: MICHAEL PAUL WILLIAMS
The ballpark war between Richmond and Henrico County has morphed into a bicycle war between the neighboring jurisdictions.
Henrico remains miffed that it was left out of the loop in the planning of the 2015 Road World Championships. On Tuesday, supervisors groused about the county’s share of costs for the race and the paucity of information provided by the race’s organizing body, Richmond 2015.
“I want to see the cycling races happen, and I want us to be a part of it,” Supervisor Tyrone Nelson told Richmond 2015 CEO Wilson H. Flohr Jr. “You came and gave me nothing tonight.”
The nine-day cycling event provides the region with an opportunity to break a cycle of dysfunction and examine how transportation limitations are stunting our potential. Instead, Richmond and Henrico are engaged in a bike feud that reflects a larger regional war over mobility.
What might be described as a “ballpark war” is really a “toll road war,” fueled by Henrico’s unhappiness over its perceived underrepresentation on the Richmond Metropolitan Authority, which oversees The Diamond, the Downtown Expressway and the Powhite Parkway.
A perennial war on buses has hampered regional mass transit, particularly in Chesterfield County, which owns half of GRTC Transit System but is loath to expand bus service. The limited reach of mass transit into Richmond’s suburbs leaves people without cars unable to get to jobs, perpetuating poverty.
“The folks who are concerned about sprawl and intelligent management of growth … need to be in common cause with people talking about inner-city redevelopment,” said Thad Williamson, an associate professor of leadership studies at the University of Richmond. “The challenge is, how do you make the future growth a lot more oriented around the poor than what took place in the later part of the 20th century?”
Cultural trends are favorable, including an orientation toward bicycles and pedestrians and the appeal of urban living, he said. But there needs to be a new kind of city-suburban political alliance between people interested in land preservation, the environment and urban poverty.
Recent motorist-involved deaths of cyclists and pedestrians dramatize that there’s more at stake here than a bicycle race.
Stewart Schwartz, founder and executive director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth, splits time between Richmond and Washington and sees our region as being at a pivotal point.
“The divisions in the region over economic development and transportation issues can harm the economic competitiveness of the region and its attractiveness,” he said. “The most successful regions today are investing in regionwide networks of transit, particularly light rail and streetcars, as well as the cycling and pedestrian infrastructure.”
For an example, look no further than Monday’s USA Today, which had a front-page story hailing Portland, Ore., as the Bicycle Capital of America. This summer alone, Portland has attracted fact-finding groups from Seattle, San Francisco, Philadelphia, New York, Washington, Holland, Japan and South Korea.
Portland — as documented by the Richmond Times-Dispatch 18 years ago during a visit by area leaders — made crucial decisions back then to embrace light rail and emphasize mass transit.
“We have the opportunity to showcase our great city and vibrant region” for an international audience, Schwartz said. “But we need to do a great deal to accelerate the city’s revitalization,” as well as that of declining suburban corridors.
The run-up to these bicycle races provides a perfect opportunity for us to address the issues that limit our region’s mobility. But unless we stop the feuding, we’ll be spinning our wheels.