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Franklin bicycle corridor presents challenges for emergency vehicles

Posted at 11:52 PM, Jul 09, 2018
and last updated 2018-07-10 00:05:06-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- Kyle Woisard says biking to work and school, feels much safer these days along Franklin Street now that there are designated biking lanes.

"It's separate from where the cars are- it's a little safer- a little more removed,” he said.

The project spans 15 blocks, from Belvidere Street at VCU’s Monroe Park Campus down to the State Capitol. Parked cars and plastic posts are utilized to buffer cyclists from traffic.

Drivers now have one lane to traverse Franklin, except during peak hours from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m., when the north lane is open for traffic. For the other 22 hours of the day, vehicles park beside the bike lanes, in a configuration known as floating parking.

But the new road design lane hasn't been as convenient for emergency responders.

Several firefighters indicated that the new design creates problems, including the ability to make a left hand turn off of Franklin Street. The vehicles take such wide turns that firefighters are forced to make a three-point turn because of the new street design. The one-way street has a two-way bike lane, then a lane for parking, and one travel lane. Trying to turn left from that far over is a challenge, firefighters said.

Lt. Chris Armstrong, public information officer for Richmond Fire Department, said he had not heard of any widespread problems.

Second district City Council representative Kim Gray said there are concerns among her constituents who said there's nowhere to go if an emergency vehicle needs to pass.

"We've seen it with the new bike lane on Franklin- where emergency vehicles have to sit through several cycles of a light," Gray said.

Jurisdictions like Henrico and Chesterfield County are equipped with Opticom, a traffic control system that changes traffic lights for emergency vehicles, but Richmond City fire trucks don’t have Opticom.

Richmond Ambulance Authority said it hasn't seen a big impact on response times so far but is monitoring the situation.

Richmond firefighters said they're avoiding Franklin Street when possible. Fortunately, there are several parallel routes to navigate the downtown area.

Gray said that in emergency situations, seconds count.

"If your loved one is in an ambulance or your house is burning down- those seconds and minutes do make a big difference,” she said.

As a part of a Bicycle Master Plan, the city of Richmond plans to create 135 miles of new bikeway by 2025, to diversify mobility and improve safety.

"It's a big improvement,” said Kamil Khmadzani, who would like to see similar traffic patterns on other city streets. "There's a lot of drivers that go and swerve into your lane."

Gray said the city needs to find balance, creating a safe environment for cyclists without problems for drivers and emergency responders.

Gray recently expressed concerns over the design of the Brook Road bike lane project, which is funded and approved, but work has not started yet.