The past week has been packed with events of all kinds. Starting on Thursday we attended the County of Chesterfield, Virginia’s forward-looking planning event. Partnered with Sports Backers and hosted at the Chester YMCA, Thursday was one of 6 workshops being held around the county to have the community involved in developing the Bikeway & Trails Master Plan. Now in Phase II, the outcome of these contributions will be entered into the Comprehensive Plan for Chesterfield County once approved.
Arriving shortly after their open-house style public meeting began, Niles Barnes and I had the chance to talk with Heather Barrar, Senior Planner for the Chesterfield County Planning Department as well as a number of others from the Parks Department and local community members. Having heard a lot of talk of public participation in the past several years of study, this was my first time actually experiencing an event of this type. And not to seem pessimistic by default, but I was very surprised with the turn out! Dozens of people came out to contribute their thoughts, ideas, and route markings to the county planners, who themselves were excited by the participation and enthusiasm.
After these next meetings they will compile the materials they have gathered and return to the community for a final stage of review. The title of their plan, “Moving Forward”, is very fitting for this project: not only will these efforts lead to better bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure being built into the foundation of plans going forward, but this is a model example of how towns can and should engage communities before new development begins.
Learning that there was some rain on its way, we departed a little before the event ended to get back to our camping site at the Pocahontas State Park. Of course, it started raining just in time for us to set up in the dark! It would certainly keep the mosquitoes away and the heat down, however, so I found good humor in the storm. Thankfully it passed, so my feelings towards the Virginia sky remained high.
The next morning we got up early to beat the crowd to the registration field. Bike VA was kicking off their 5 day cycling event. With a lot of time, effort and planning, Kim Perry, Executive Director of Bike VA along with Shane Cusick, Programs & Outreach Manager and the entire Bike VA team had succeeded in hosting one of the largest bicycle events I have ever seen! With nearly 2,000 participants registered from the Mid-West and northern states, as well as from Florida and the Carolinas, it was a busy morning. People were pouring in throughout the day. Lined up to register, grab swag, and complete their safety briefing, we placed our tent right in their sight. With the assistance of Champe Burnley, President of the Virginia Bicycling Federation and longtime ECG VA State Committee leader, we raised the awareness and interest of over 500 people in the East Coast Greenway in one day.
In the shade under the tent, I got to observe cyclists of all types. It was wonderful to see how passionate families and friends, sport-riders and business professionals were about these next five days of riding. I thought how relieved everyone looked that: ‘finally, there are places for us to pedal.’ There was also much interest and intrigue for the East Coast Greenway, it was exciting to imagine just how many more people are now interested in supporting our mission.
Driving back to North Carolina in the later part of the afternoon, I really was happy thinking about the progress greenways and active-transportation infrastructure is making in planning and development and participation. It will take time before we see the construction of some of these ideas, but it’s obvious we are moving forward with new forms of transportation and community development.