Reduced speed limit, bike lanes included as Ocean View transport project developed
NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) – After a third and final round of public outreach, an extensive study on improving pedestrian safety and the potential addition of bike lanes along Ocean View Avenue in Norfolk is nearing completion. .
Proposals for the scheme include a lowering of the speed limit from 35mph to 30mph and a cycle lane in each direction with a center lane for turning. The current preferred lane reassignment plan is expected to cost approximately $2-4 million.
A similar bike lane project was completed in the Ocean View area in the summer of 2018 to add bike lanes and a center turn lane, but that was only specifically for the East Ocean View/East Beach area. This new project would stretch from East Ocean View to Ocean View Avenue to 1st Bay Street. Currently, there are also bike lanes in the 3rd Bay Street and 13th Bay Street areas.
However, officials point out that this project is not just for cyclists (and scooter riders). Slower speeds for drivers and the reallocation of lanes are two of the key measures intended to improve not only the safety of cyclists, but also of pedestrians and other drivers.
It’s part of Norfolk’s Vision Zero Plan adopted in 2019 to eliminate all fatal accidents and serious injuries. Ocean View Avenue was one of 12 major corridors identified for bicycle lanes in the City of Norfolk Bicycle and Pedestrian Strategic Plan, adopted in 2015. Speed unsurprisingly plays a major factor in determining whether a crash causes death or serious injury, studies show. Jumping from 30 mph to 40 mph increases the risk of death or serious injury by 40% to 80%, by the US Department of Transportation.
In Ocean View from 2016 to 2020, 366 accidents occurred along Ocean View Avenue, which VDOT classifies as a “major collector” west of 4th View Street (near the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel Expansion) and a “secondary thoroughfare” east of 4th Street View. 10 of these 366 crashes involved a pedestrian or cyclist, and 40% of the 10 resulted in either serious injury or death, says the city. The only cycling fatality occurred near Sturgis Street.
Although the speed limit is 35 mph, the city says a July 2021 study showed an average speed of 39 mph in the heart of the corridor.
norfolk too voted earlier this year to add bike lanes and other safety improvements to a two-mile stretch of Granby Street between Willow Wood Drive and Admiral Taussig Boulevard.
What people say they want
The city conducted months of public comment on the project, including multiple inquiries and public hearings, with the final inquiry ending earlier this month.
In an initial survey of residents conducted this year, 62% indicated that it is “quite difficult” or “very difficult” to cycle in the region. 42% said they had no opinion or did not cycle along Ocean View Avenue, but the reason for some was that there was not enough cycling infrastructure current events and that people did not feel able to cycle safely.
This initial investigation of residents show pedestrian-friendly Ocean View Avenue ranked #1 by 38% of respondents and in the top three by 85% of all respondents. Reducing vehicle speeds ranked first for 26% and top three for 58% of all respondents.
39% of those who walk or use a wheelchair along the hallway find it ‘quite difficult’ or ‘very difficult’.
Cycle lanes have been pushed back by a significant number of Norfolk citizens in general who are mainly concerned about traffic jams (we’ll get to that in a bit). This was also the case at Ocean View, but most people were in favor of the lanes. 702 people responded to an online survey for the Ocean View project and 392 left comments, by a presentation presented during the final workshop of the project on October 17th.
Of these 392, 175 (45%) were in favor of cycle lanes and 168 (43%) were against cycle lanes, concerned about congestion with the reduction to one lane of traffic each way.
19% of those who left comments also highlighted the need to tackle speeding and implement stricter speed enforcement. Other comments included the need to improve the maintenance of existing sidewalks and bike paths and to add on-street parking and beach access.
Project coordinator Anna Dewey said her team is still reviewing responses from a final survey that ended Nov. 6 and will create a final report to present. Though she doesn’t expect any major changes from the renders shown at that final October workshop.
This includes not recommending golf cart traffic along Ocean View Avenue, as only 12% of respondents said they owned a golf cart and there was no major general interest . Golf cart use was not one of the top three priorities for survey respondents, and more than 100 respondents also left opposing comments. Golf carts are currently permitted on neighborhood streets south of Ocean View Avenue and in East Beach, which planners say is similar to common best practices nationwide.
Dewey wanted to highlight how involved and helpful community members were in the process.
“It’s been very helpful to us, as we’ve had great participation in all three surveys and workshops…it’s been really good cooperation with the community,” Dewey said.
what we might see
The city provided several concepts and one emerged as the top overall choice based on community feedback, the presentation of the October workshop shows it.
This is called the “2A/2B” proposal, with one-way bicycle traffic in each direction. Design 2A would be in areas with a narrower overall roadway (approximately 54 feet) and would not include on-street parking. Part 2B would be for wider areas (about 64 feet) and would include on-street parking. Both include four-foot buffers between traffic and bike lanes.
Another option, ‘3A/3B’, would include a two-way cycle lane, but this option was significantly inferior to the 2A/2B model, with respondents saying the traffic pattern could be confusing. This build was also expected to cost significantly more (about $10-11 million) compared to the projected cost of $2-4 million for 2A/2B. Dewey pointed to the need for more work at traffic lights and intersections as the main reasons for the rising costs there.
Providing a physical barrier and not just painted lines has proven to be essential in actually reducing serious accidents, studies show.
For Ocean View, the biggest challenge to adding these barriers is the high density of the aisles. To circumvent this problem, the project team recommended raised traffic islands at the start and end of each block, as well as armadillo style striped dividers in each block where possible, so there is a real physical reminder for drivers. Cyclists can still drive through them, and Dewey said the armadillos, which are made from soft plastic, also won’t damage cars if they accidentally hit them.
And unlike concrete barriers like those approved for rue Granby, they can be removed and replaced easily.
Planners also considered extending the lanes to Pretty Lake Avenue (Construction 1) or simply stopping at 19th Bay Street (Construction 2) and decided that reassigning the pull-off lanes to the 19th bay had less effect on traffic flows.
The Build 2 option showed an increase of around 30 seconds in total average time traversing the length of the hallway compared to no construction at all, while Build 1 increased this to around 60 seconds.
Dewey says they will recommend an alternate bike connection from 19th Bay Street to Pretty Lake Avenue instead.
The team is recommending new crosswalks or updated measures in several areas based on community feedback. 21st Bay Street got the most mentions, followed by Cape View Avenue, 1st View Street and Sturgis Street.
About $1 million of the projected cost will go to pedestrian safety islands (at 12 locations) and fast-flashing rectangular beacons (recommended for 5th and 19th Bay streets) at intersections without signaling, these RRFBs having flashing lights to help pedestrians to cross.
City planners hope to see short-term improvements such as new high-visibility pedestrian crossings and maintenance of existing cycle lanes and sidewalks, as well as reducing the speed limit to 30mph within a year of the project approval.
They have also been coordinating with the Norfolk Police Department on ways to increase enforcement and also hope to see higher speeding charges in the short term.
The repurposing of the lane from 1st View to 19th Bay is expected to take place with 2-5 years of project approval, along with the installation of a new traffic light at the intersection of 21st Bay Street and the creation of an alternate bike corridor around 19th Bay to Pretty Lake.
Dewey says they are currently preparing their final report, which should be completed this fall.
The study’s recommendations will be used to seek funding, and the type of funding will determine the timeline for project implementation. Council members voted to accept state funds for the Granby Street bike path project earlier this year.
Councilman Andria McClellan, who represents Ocean View, says the city has already applied for funding for the project and anticipates a mix of local, state and federal support. She, too, said she was “really impressed with the public’s commitment” to the project.
To learn more about the project, including all public workshop presentations and other materials, visit his page here on the city’s website.