Riverside Drive is a ‘Scenic Byway,’ not scenic highway

Riverside Drive from Huguenot Flatwater to the Robert E. Lee Bridge is designated as a 'scenic byway'Riverside Drive from Huguenot Flatwater to the Robert E. Lee Bridge is designated as a ‘scenic byway’ and the speed limit is designated to be 25 mph. It is one of the most popular place to walk, run or bike in Richmond, yet the roadway is narrow and has little to no shoulder space and there are no sidewalks for refuge.

The subject of sharing Riverside Drive has been brought up before and brought several good comments, but as we prepare for spring and an increase in traffic to the area, it has come up again.

At one point there were signs posted along the most popular 2-mile stretch between Huguenot Flatwater and Pony Pasture suggesting the limit was 15 mph.  Those signs were taken down and were not replaced with any other signs, which has left the roadway subject to the potential for speeding due to ignorance of the limit.

Betsy Slade, who has lived in the neighborhood near Pony Pasture for decades, said that the problem with the section between Huguenot and Pony Pasture is that so many drivers treat it like a commuter road — a cut-through, albeit a scenic one.

During a Friends of the James River Park meeting in October 2010, park manager Ralph White discussed people’s concerns about the roadway and suggested that the citizens needed “to request that the rights of pedestrians and bikers should equal to those of the automobiles.”

White mentioned that the section of Riverside Drive between 42nd Street and the Lee Bridge was certainly a commuter route and likely should not be designated a scenic byway, but that from 42nd Street east to Huguenot could be true to that designation.

Slade suggested that Riverside Drive should be closed to automobile traffic between Pony Pasture and Rockfalls Drive during peak visiting hours, like weekends in the summer. If not closed to automobiles, at least designated as a one-way street.

Are more signs the answer? It was suggested at several FOJRP meetings that the signs were likely removed by the City of Richmond with the intent to make the roadway more scenic and less cluttered by urban interference. More signs might encourage safe speeds, but would it be better to install speed bumps or other traffic calming measures?

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7 responses to “Riverside Drive is a ‘Scenic Byway,’ not scenic highway

  1. I remember when this was a hot issue a couple years ago, and a pedestrian freaked out on me for going 30, which I feel is average for a 25 mph limit. Also, I don’t think more signs, even with a lower limit would do much without a constant police presence, which is a waste of their resources.

    I think best way is for traffic calming measures like round medians at intersections and speed bumps in the long stretches are the best way. IMO

  2. Drivers ignoring posted speed limits on the section of Riverside Drive between Pony Pasture and Huguenot Flatwater has been a problem for years. That stretch of scenic road which hugs the south bank of the James River has always been a favorite place for pedestrians, strollers, joggers, fishermen, bicyclists, roller-bladers, and kayakers carrying their craft to launch in the rapids. In most places there is NO shoulder to step onto when cars are approaching.
    Several years ago signs were posted listing the speed limit as 15 mph, and a number of drivers made some effort to observe this. Others chose to continue to ignore the speed restriction completely, swerving around slower drivers at speeds of 35-40 mph, often with verbal or physical expressions of their impatience. After a period during which traffic counters gathered information on the number of speeders, instead of increased efforts at enforcement of the speed limit, the 15mph signs were all removed. I have observed that since the removal of the 15mph signs, even more drivers travel that stretch of road at excessive speed.
    When I was serving on the Citizens Advisory Committee for Parks & Recreation, I and other committee members supported several proposals for easing the problem. The suggestion to close that section of Riverside Drive to vehicular traffic, either permanently or at specific times was rejected as impractical. “Traffic calmers” were also a suggested option. These are modified speed humps about eight feet wide that have been successfully incorporated in a number of other cities to control vehicular speed in certain areas. The designed height of the hump can be set to allow comfortable traverse up to a specific speed limit. If a vehicle crosses the speed hump at or under that design speed limit, there is virtually no effect. However, if the vehicle crosses the hump faster than the posted limit, the front of the vehicle is lifted sharply as it climbs the hump and is dropped suddenly as it passes the high point of the hump. There is no danger, but the effect is very uncomfortable for anyone in the vehicle. Several hundred of these traffic calmers have been very effective at slowing traffic in neighborhoods in places like Berkeley, CA.
    Traffic calmers were suggested for this section of Riverside Drive. It is my understanding that all city departments and agencies signed off on this idea with the exception of the fire department. They maintained that the traffic calmers would greatly impede the rapid response of emergency vehicles, and the measure was rejected.
    I calculate that for the relatively short stretch of Riverside Drive involved, the speed differential between 15 mph and the 40 mph an emergency response might require would result in a difference in arrival time of less than 15 seconds for any point along that stretch of road.
    I hope that some sort of traffic calmers for Riverside Drive will receive renewed consideration at some point in the future!

  3. As someone who lives on, bikes, and drives along Riverside Drive daily, there are a couple “traffic-calming” measure I would suggest other than those awful mini-circles or making the road wider. Paint an edge of traffic line to better define the vehicle area. Making the lane appear narrower will have some deterrant to speed. Along some stretches, the road is wider (west of Reedy Creek) and this can be a bike/pedestrian lane. Riverside narrows to 19′ in other sections with little or no shoulder. The solution there is more expensive, but the narrowness probably slows folks naturally.

    From my view, traffic volume is not the problem. It’s about speed and creating safe zones for everyone.

    The road would truly live up to its “scenic” description if a comprehensive plan was established to unify the right-of-way including the curb line, shoulders, guard rails/posts, and clearing zones. If selective landscape thinning in view areas were done, it would slow traffic down – just to catch an occasional glimpse of the river.

    • Wow, awesome beginning to your blog Mark. Great stuff, probably going to direct readers your way.

      Good comments on this post as well. I’m not in favor of cutting any trees, that will just lead to more residents getting jealous and wanting the same treatment.

  4. Pingback: Tweets that mention Riverside Drive is a ‘Scenic Byway,’ not scenic highway | James River News Hub -- Topsy.com

  5. From the Friends of the James River facebook page:

    Aaron Bumgarner: Keep it at 25mph and do not close or make a public road one way. It’s that simple. Sounds to me like a bike/walking path is more of a solution….

    Patricia Palmer Selinger: I think it would be great to divide Riverside with a curb down the middle. Make the lane next to the river for pedestrians/biking. Make the other lane one-way driving. Property owners get to keep their driveway access non-drivers don’t have to compete with the cars for the limited road space.

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