NORFOLK. Va. (WAVY) — A busy roadway in the heart of the city will look drastically different in five years if City Council soon votes to fund the addition of bike lanes and other safety improvements.
On Jan. 25, Norfolk City Council will decide whether to accept more than $820,000 in state funds to help with the design and the construction work on what has become known as the Granby Street Bike Lane project. While it won’t be all the money needed, it will essentially green-light the project that has been discussed more than any other in council chambers the last few meetings.
The bike lanes, one in each direction of the current six-lane road, are proposed to run between Willow Wood Drive and Admiral Taussig Boulevard, just south of the Interstate 564 overpass. It’s about a two-mile stretch that is lined with homes, schools, churches and businesses.
Safety improvements would also be made as part of the project, such as adding crosswalks and turning lanes.
The concept has been in the works since 2014, when the city began forming its Strategic Bike Plan. However, even after months of meetings and public input, some in the community remain divided.
Bike lane installations in general have received some pushback. Opponents believe the removal of lanes for cars and trucks will only add more traffic.
“It’s logical to wonder why two lanes of traffic would be dedicated to this very small special interest segment of residents,” Susan Bak, who lives off Granby St., said to council members in December. “We will lose a safe acceleration and deceleration lane.”
Bak cited the city’s fact sheet as part of her reasoning that states the two-mile stretch of Granby had over 4,000 bike rides recorded in 2019 on the Strava fitness app, which breaks down to 11 trips a day.
However, Amy Inman, the city’s transit director, said a recent bike count program found that since March 2021, more than 67,000 trips were taken on bikes on the city’s existing bike lanes.
“It really does show that the bike lanes are being used,” Inman said. “That’s actual data.”
Inman said a 21-member advisory group, made up of civic league members, neighboring business representatives, church members and city leaders have met for the better part of a year trying to figure out the best way to not only make the bike lanes work, but to also make the whole roadway safer.
Two pedestrians were killed in the last four years after being hit by a car on Granby Street according to a city crash analysis. There have been five bike crashes, in which three involved severe injury.
“Multimodal is something that City Council has gone all-in on. Investing in ways that all modes of travel can share,” Patrick Roberts, deputy city manager, said in a presentation Tuesday afternoon to council members.
He laid out plans for concrete barriers for the bike lanes as well as left turn lane pockets, median modifications and several new crosswalks.
He estimates the city will have to kick in $1.9 million in the upcoming budget to make it all happen.
However, Councilman Tommy Smigiel still doesn’t think it went far enough. In his full-time job, he is the principal of Granby High School which sits in the project area. He said taking a car travel lane away is sure to create new delays.
“We’re going to lower the confidence of future bike lane projects down the road. Because people are going to get angry when they are on their way to work,” Smigiel said.
Inman said their traffic study found that taking one-way travel from three to two lanes will not change travel times much as the speed limit on the road will be lowered from 35 mph to 30 mph. In addition, she mentioned emergency vehicles would be able to use the bike lanes.
Vice Mayor Martin Thomas, Councilwoman Courtney Doyle and Councilwoman Andria McClellan applauded the advisory group’s work in gaining consensus and gaining community support.
“Some of it I don’t necessarily agree with, but as a whole, it landed someplace where I can support it,” Thomas said.
Construction wouldn’t begin until at least 2023.