In Norfolk, we have a street called Main Street. But really, it isn’t the ‘Main Street,’ i.e., the city’s central thoroughfare. Granby Street is essentially our ‘Main Street.’ It stretches from the Elizabeth River all the way to the Chesapeake Bay, and is traversed by thousands of people every day. For most if not all, it’s practically unavoidable in daily life.
If you need to travel Granby Street, you have a few options, with personal automobiles being the clear favorite. Buses, while clean and friendly, tend to be a much slower option. Walking is a mixed bag. The walkability score is generally solid downtown, but it’s just passable in most places, while some sections of Granby Street have zero pedestrian infrastructure. And then, of course, there’s cycling.
Bicycling on Granby Street currently includes miles of mixed traffic navigation and that’s an intimidating proposition. Between Willow Wood Drive and West Ocean View, the speed limit is 35 but it’s common to see drivers speeding at close to 45. Even a small vehicle at 45 mph can kill, and unfortunately, vehicles keep getting bigger and bigger.
In spite of all this, hope is on the horizon for commuters and pleasure-seekers alike. Granby Street bike riders. There’s a proposal for a massive addition of bike lanes between Willow Wood Drive and Admiral Taussig Boulevard. One vehicle lane in each direction could be repurposed into bike lanes. The project has $822,000 of state funding allocated specifically for it, and the city has already conducted a traffic study. That’s an uncommonly good prognosis for an infrastructure project of this scale.
An important piece of the puzzle that makes this project particularly well-graded (it ranked 4th in the region on the Virginia Smart Scale) is that this section of Granby Street currently has three lanes of traffic in each direction. Meanwhile, the sections before and after this only have two lanes of traffic in each direction. The busiest portion of the route, Ward’s Corner, will see no reduction in lanes as the bike lanes move to expanded sidewalks. What that means from a traffic engineering perspective is there would be little to no negative impact on vehicular traffic. In fact, it might even speed up the flow as the proposal includes traffic light synchronization.
The impacts of this project on the surrounding neighborhoods are hard to understate. These new lanes will connect over the Granby St bridge to lanes on Llewellyn and tie into the existing bicycle infrastructure in Park Place, Ghent, Downtown, and more. However, the benefits are way more than just a better bike ride. The business districts of Riverview and Wards Corner would be more accessible to thousands of Norfolk households, potentially driving substantial business growth. The reduction in traffic speeds on Granby could save dozens of lives as well. Between 2015 and 2019, 14 deaths and severe injuries occurred in this corridor, many linked directly to speeding. Pedestrians will have fewer lanes to cross and more separation from traffic, making for a substantially improved experience.
The most important takeaway here? This project isn’t a done deal, nor is it a sure thing. City council will vote in December on whether or not to move forward. As a city, we rarely ever see projects that A. are already paid for, B. have little to no negative tradeoffs, and C. stands to benefit thousands of citizens annually. So it’s crucial that you take the time to reach out to your city council members, your neighbors, and your coworkers to talk about this project.
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Paul Stetson Rice
Paul is the creator of NFKVA.com. He was born and raised in Norfolk, graduated from Virginia Tech, and narrowly avoided law school. Chat with him about economics, entrepreneurship, hip-hop, and hiking. When he's not working on five different projects, you'll catch him sharing a beer with friends at a local brewery.