NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — Following a third and final round of public outreach, a comprehensive study on improving pedestrian safety and potentially adding bike lanes along Ocean View Avenue in Norfolk is almost complete.

Proposals for the project include a speed limit drop from 35 mph to 30 mph and one bike lane in each direction with a center lane for turning. The preferred lane repurposing plan at this time is projected to cost about $2 million to $4 million.

The project is set to run from 1st to 19th Bay streets (Courtesy of City of Norfolk)

There was a similar bike lane project completed in the Ocean View area in summer 2018 to add bike lanes and a center turning lane, but it was only specifically for the East Ocean View/East Beach area. This new project would run from East Ocean View all the way down Ocean View Avenue to 1st Bay Street. Currently, there are also some bike lanes in the areas of 3rd Bay Street and 13th Bay Street.

However, officials are pointing out this project isn’t just for bicyclists (and scooter riders). Slower speeds for drivers and lane repurposing are two of the key measures meant to not only improve safety for bicyclists, but pedestrians and other drivers as well.

It’s part of Norfolk’s Vision Zero plan adopted in 2019 to eliminate all crash fatalities and severe injuries. Ocean View Avenue was one of the 12 main corridors identified for bike lanes in the City of Norfolk Bicycle and Pedestrian Strategic Plan, adopted in 2015. Speed unsurprisingly plays a major factor in whether a crash causes death or serious injury, studies show. A jump from 30 mph speed to 40 mph speed increases the chance of death or severe injury from 40% to 80%, per the U.S. Department of Transportation.

In Ocean View from 2016 to 2020, 366 crashes happened along Ocean View Avenue, which VDOT classifies as a a “major collector” west of 4th View Street (near the expanding Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel) and a “minor arterial” east of 4th View Street. 10 of those 366 crashes involved a pedestrian or bicyclist, and 40% of the 10 resulted in either a serious injury or fatality, the city says. The one bicycle fatality happened near Sturgis Street.

The crash heat map for Ocean View Avenue from 2016 to 2020 (Courtesy of City of Norfolk)

Although the speed limit is posted as 35 mph, the city says a July 2021 study showed an average speed of 39 mph in the heart of the corridor.

Norfolk also voted earlier this year to add bike lanes and other safety improvements to a two-mile stretch of Granby Street between Willow Wood Drive and Admiral Taussig Boulevard.

What people say they want

The city conducted months of public feedback for the project, including multiple surveys and public hearings, with the final survey ending earlier this month.

In an initial survey of residents conducted this year, 62% indicated it’s “somewhat difficult” or “very difficult” to bike in the area. 42% said that they have no opinion or don’t bike along Ocean View Avenue, but the reason for some was that there isn’t enough current bike infrastructure and people don’t feel like they can safely bike.

Public comments and concerns from an initial public engagement survey (Courtesy of engineering partner Kimley Horn)

That initial survey of residents shows making it easier for pedestrians to get around Ocean View Avenue ranked No. 1 for 38% of respondents and in top three by 85% of all respondents. Reducing vehicle speeds ranked No. 1 for 26% and in top three for 58% of all respondents.

39% of those who walk or use a wheelchair along the corridor find it “somewhat difficult” or “very difficult.”

Ocean View walking survey results (Courtesy of City of Norfolk)

Bike lanes have received pushback from a sizable number of Norfolk citizens in general who are concerned mostly about gridlock (we’ll get to that in a bit). That was the case in Ocean View as well, but most people were in favor of the lanes. 702 people responded responded to an online survey for the Ocean View project and 392 left comments, per a presentation presented at the final workshop for the project on Oct. 17.

Of those 392, 175 (45%) were in favor of bike lanes and 168 (43%) were against bike lanes, concerned about congestion with the reduction to one travel lane in each direction.

19% of those leaving comments also emphasized a need to combat excessive speeding and implement stricter speed enforcement. Other feedback included a need to improve maintenance for existing sidewalks and bike lanes and add on-street parking and beach access locations.

Project coordinator Anna Dewey said her team was still going through responses from a final survey round that ended Nov. 6 and will create a final report to present. Though she doesn’t expect any major changes from renderings presented at that final October workshop.

That includes not recommending golf cart traffic along Ocean View Avenue, as only 12% of respondents said they owned a golf cart and there wasn’t major overall interest. Golf cart usage wasn’t a top three priority for survey respondents, and more than 100 respondents also left comments in opposition. Golf carts are currently allowed on neighborhood streets south of Ocean View Avenue and in East Beach, which planners say is similar to common best practices nationwide.

Dewey wanted to point out just how involved and helpful community members have been in the process.

“It’s been very helpful for us, because we have great turnout for all the three surveys and workshops… it’s been a very good cooperation with the community,” Dewey said.

What we might see

The city provided multiple concepts and one emerged as the overall top choice from community feedback, the October workshop presentation shows.

It’s call the “2A/2B” proposal, with one-way bike traffic in each direction. The 2A design would be in areas with a narrower overall roadway (about 54 feet) and not include on-street parking. The 2B part would be for areas that are wider (about 64 feet) and include on-street parking. Both include four-feet buffers between traffic and bike lanes.

Another option, “3A/3B,” would include a two-way cycle track, but that option ranked significantly lower than the 2A/2B model, with respondents saying the traffic pattern could be confusing. That build was also projected to cost much more (about $10 million-11 million) compared to the $2 million to $4 million projected cost for 2A/2B. Dewey pointed to the need for more work at traffic signals and intersections as the main reasons for the increased cost there.

The “2A” proposal with directional bike lanes without parking and 54 feet of pavement width (Rendering courtesy of City of Norfolk)

Providing a physical barrier and not just painted lines has shown to be key when it comes to actually decreasing severe crashes, studies show.

For Ocean View, the biggest challenge to adding these barriers is the high density of driveways. To work around that, the project team has recommended raised traffic islands at the beginning and end of each block, as well as striped “armadillo” style separators in each block where feasible, so there’s an actual physical reminder for drivers. Bicyclists can still go through them, and Dewey said the armadillos, which are made from soft plastic, also won’t damage cars if they accidentally hit them.

And unlike concrete barriers like ones approved for Granby Street, they can be removed and replaced easily.

Protected bike lane suggestions for the Ocean View transportation project (Courtesy of City of Norfolk)

Planners also looked into the possibility of extending the lanes down to Pretty Lake Avenue (Build 1) or just stopping at 19th Bay Street (Build 2) and decided it stopping lane repurposing at 19th Bay had less effect on traffic flows.

(Courtesy of the City of Norfolk)

The Build 2 option showed about a 30-second increase in the total average time traversing the length of the corridor compared to not building at all, while Build 1 bumped that up to about 60 seconds.

Projected corridor travel times for Ocean View project (Courtesy of City of Norfolk)

Dewey says they’ll instead recommend an alternative bicycle connection from 19th Bay Street to Pretty Lake Avenue.

The team is recommending new crosswalks or updated measures at multiple areas based on community feedback. 21st Bay Street got the most mentions, followed by Cape View Avenue, 1st View Street and Sturgis Street.

Pedestrian island proposed locations for Ocean View (Courtesy of City of Norfolk

About $1 million of the projected cost will go toward pedestrian safety islands (at 12 locations) and Rectangular Rapid Flashing Beacons (recommended for 5th and 19th Bay streets) at intersections without signals, with those RRFBs having flashing lights to help pedestrians cross.

RRFB proposed locations (Courtesy of City of Norfolk)

City planners hope to see near-term improvements such as new high visibility crosswalks and maintenance of existing bike lanes and sidewalks, as well the speed limit reduction to 30 mph within a year of the project’s approval.

They’ve also been in coordination with the Norfolk Police Department on ways to increase enforcement, and hope to see higher fees for speeding in the near-term as well.

The lane repurposing from 1st View to 19th Bay is expected to happen with 2-5 years of project approval, as well installing a new traffic signal at the 21st Bay Street intersection and creating the alternative bike corridor around 19th Bay to Pretty Lake.

Next steps/funding

Dewey says they’re now preparing their final report, which is scheduled to be complete sometime this fall.

Recommendations from the study will be used to pursue funding, and the type of funding will determine the timeline for the project’s implementation. Council members voted to accept state funds for the Granby Street bike lanes project earlier this year.

Councilwoman Andria McClellan, who represents Ocean View, says the city has already applied for some funding for the project, and anticipates a mix of local, state and federal support. She too said she was “really impressed with public engagement” for the project.

For much more on the project, including all of the public workshop presentations and other documents, visit its page here on the city’s website.