Biking is a major form of transportation for both Virginia Tech students and the citizens of Blacksburg. In response to this and in the hope of encouraging biking over driving as part of Blacksburg’s proposed Climate Action Plan, the town is applying for a federal grant that would provide money for the installation of bike racks, lockers and covered bike racks.
Locations proposed include the Armory and Progress Street Parking Lot, Recreation Center, the Hand-in-Hand Playground, Nellie’s Cave Park and Tom’s Creek Park. Each location was decided based on a 2014 study conducted by the town.
“We completed a study in 2014 of the downtown bicycle parking. We looked at parking, what existing capacity areas where we saw people chaining bicycles to things other than bicycle racks like to railings or trees or other street furniture where maybe there aren't enough racks in those locations,” said Kali Casper, the Town Comprehensive Planner in the Planning and Building Department.
The study also found the highest volumes of bikers and bike traffic were adjacent to Virginia Tech’s campus.
Over the past few years the university has put up a number of bike racks across campus helping to ease rack congestion. Blacksburg wants to do the same within the town itself as students and Blacksburg residents park their bikes on town racks.
According to the federal grant, bike racks can only be put up on town property. This will cut down the number of places available to the town.
The grant itself is for $150,000, with the federal government covering $120,000 and the town providing $30,000. This makes it an 80/20 match program since the grant provides a 80 percent match to what the town provides.
The grant was provided by the Federal Highway Administration and the Virginia Department of Transportation through a program called Fixing America's Surface Transportation Act.
The town is focusing on already developed areas like Downtown Blacksburg and Town Facilities. This is because the town currently requires new development to include a minimum number of spaces according to the town zoning ordinance.
Section 5213 of the town zoning ordinance lays out the minimums. For residential units, not including duplexes and detached single-family homes, there should be one bicycle parking space for every four bedrooms. Commercial retail buildings should have at least five spaces determined by the size of the building. Other types of buildings must have at least five spaces.
This ordinance increased the number of bike spaces in new developments without the town having to put it in themselves. It also makes it more convenient for residents as the spaces are on their residential properties. This extends the town's reach as well since it cannot put city bike racks on private residential or commercial property.
Blacksburg hopes to implement a variety of short-term and long-term parking for bicycles in public spaces in addition to private parking. Short-term bike parking refers to covered and uncovered bike racks, while long-term refers to the use of bike lockers and over two hours of daily parking. This does not mean overnight parking.
Long-term bike parking would be an important step in encouraging residents to commute by biking within Blacksburg. The bike lockers would make sure their properties are not damaged or disrupted during the work day.
“We also looked at those locations where we have racks and looked at areas where there might be space for expansion of traditional racks,” Casper said. “There’s not enough is what we’ve found.”
With the hopeful expansion of bike racks, Blacksburg residents can look forward to an ease in rack congestion and increase in parking locations.
“We want to encourage people to bike,” Casper said.