There is a certain risk involved in driving across the patched and bumpy old Huguenot Bridge. That risk is even greater if you are running or biking.
Nearly 28,000 automobiles cross the James River each day by way of the bridge, which was constructed in 1949. It is scheduled to undergo a major three-year reconstruction beginning in January at the estimated price tag of $51 million.
I was not able to attend an information meeting about the plan Tuesday night at Bon Air Elementary School, but I was told many outdoor enthusiasts expressed their displeasure with the reconstruction.
If Richmond is really ready to plan for more greenways and to “rethink our streets” as Mayor Dwight Jones’s Bike, Pedestrian and Trails Commission declared in September, then the time is now, starting with the Huguenot Bridge project. It is a key link for Richmond’s fitness community. Bikers and runners are constantly using the bridge to get to Riverside Drive and the James River Park.
According to VDOT’s plan, the new structure will have one 12 foot lane and one 10 foot shoulder in each direction. There will be a five foot wide sidewalk on each side for pedestrians. The 10 foot shoulder is expected to function as both an emergency pull over and a lane to allow bicyclists to safely use the bridge. The existing bridge is one lane in each direction with a narrow pedestrian sidewalk and no shoulders.
The of the best things about the current bridge is the excellent sight lines of the James River both east and west as you cross the structure. With the new span, the sight lines will be obstructed — as people found out at the meeting — because of federal regulations requiring higher railings.
With Richmond’s promise to dedicate the “Complete Streets” method of planning for cars, pedestrians, bikers and public transit when upgrading roadways, there was much discussion and opposition to the lack of designated bike lanes on the bridge and as well as leading to and away from the span.
Many people were concerned that the mistakes made with the reconstruction of the Boulevard Bridge (too narrow, not enough consideration for bikers and walkers) will be made with the Huguenot Bridge.
One man spoke to me about the current plan, alleging that the best bikers can hope for is signage that designates “walkers use the sidewalk, bikers use the shoulder, cars use the roadway.” People at the meeting that opposed the lack of designated bike lanes in the plan said that safety is an issue, but it is also one of respect.