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East End News

Proposed enhancements to the MLK Bridge

Proposed enhancements to the Martin Luther King Bridge (PDF):

The Martin Luther King, Jr. Bridge, built as the Leigh Street Viaduct in 1976, provides six vehicular lanes as it spans 2,151 feet long over the Shockoe Valley between the Medical College of Virginia campus to the west and the residential neighborhoods of Union Hill and Church Hill to the east. The bridge’s capacity for vehicular traffic is beyond the current needs of both the campus and the neighborhoods, yet it serves as a vital and well used pedestrian path over the interstate highway and railways on the valley floor below.

In recognition of the bridge’s current and projected loads and modes of use, the proposed enhancements will reduce the vehicular lanes to four allowing for an increase of surface area devoted to pedestrians and bicycles. The harshness of the currently dominating concrete surfaces will be softened by the introduction of landscaping and the ‘highway’ scale of the bridge will be mitigated with the addition of human-scaled light fixtures and paving. Although these enhancements focus on the pedestrian’s experience – an average journey of 8 minutes to walk 2,151 feet – a narrowing of the surface devoted to motor vehicles will have a calming affect on traffic speed, encouraging adherence to the current posted speed limit of 35 mph.

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ChrisF 11/30/2011 at 6:32 PM

Oh, hell yes!

john_m 11/30/2011 at 6:36 PM

Can we get the bike lane to carry through MCV, too?

Sah-rah 11/30/2011 at 7:13 PM

Any community meetings about this project? I love the idea and design, but those are some pretty pathetic/dangerous bike lanes! As a biker I feel safer riding in the third (unused) lane than cramped in a narrow gutter.

All Bark 11/30/2011 at 8:09 PM

#2, for real! More bike lanes through the entire city would be great.

G. 11/30/2011 at 8:11 PM

Please provide for strategically placed trash receptacles…hopefully, they will not forget to draw those into the plans. Other than that, this is an absolute godsend!

elaine odell 11/30/2011 at 8:14 PM

The only change I’d request is that the bike lane be on the other side of the planting/vegetation lane. In other words, the bike lane would be next to the pedestrians, and the vegetation/planting area (bounded by a curb) would be next to the car/truck lanes. This would create a physical barrier/separator to keep the faster/heavier trucks and cars away from the cyclists.

This change also would prevent cars from entering the bike lanes (a big problem in NYC and other cities with bike lanes alongside the cars).

This approach to putting the bike and pedestrian lanes next to each other–with a greenspace barrier separating them from the car/truck lanes–is common in many other cities (especially in Europe and Canada.)

JD 11/30/2011 at 9:21 PM

I’m with you John! Let’s contact the new Bike Czar and see if extending the lane is possible.

Twenty Spotter 11/30/2011 at 9:37 PM

I think this is a good idea. Look forward to the aesthetics.

Max 11/30/2011 at 10:41 PM

I’m all for urban beautification, in fact I wish Richmond did more of it. I don’t see this working out as well as the planners hope, though. There has been broken glass lying around the sidewalks on the MLK bridge for weeks so I’m not entirely convinced that people will take time to water the plants here. Bike lanes should be added here, along with better lighting, but the plants are unnecessary. I also wish the bike lane were more separated from traffic. The speed limit is 35, but I often find people driving faster, which makes a barrier much more bike friendly.

Looks nice though.

Jessica S 11/30/2011 at 10:54 PM

This is great news! This city needs more bike-friendly roads, especially in the Church Hill area.

reid 11/30/2011 at 10:59 PM Reply
Cadeho 12/01/2011 at 12:14 AM

I’d like to see the bridge lit too… from the pillars to maybe some LED lights across the top railing or maybe the deck itself… it looks too bold not to have some kind of lighting accents.

just a neighbor 12/01/2011 at 12:18 AM

as someone who rides across this bridge on a bike, i agree that i would prefer to see a separation of the bike lane from vehicle traffic. more then once i’ve had cars intentionally cut me off (and so much as yelled at me out the window) that I certainly would not feel any safer on that tiny strip.

i do disagree about removing the plants though. i think they will soften the appearance of the bridge. But also, as Elaine and others have said in others posts, beautifying the neighborhood does help foster a sense of ownership and pride. i’m assuming the planners would be smart enough to plant drought resistance and low maintenance plants that would be able to sustain on our annual precipitation.

UnionMeetsChurch 12/01/2011 at 12:44 AM

I love it!

Magneto 12/01/2011 at 9:30 AM


I agree that they should switch the location of the bike lane and landscaping bed. I’ve also biked across this bridge, and it’s a really uncomfortable feeling when cars zoom past you going well over the speed limit.

If you read more of the details in the “MLK Bridge Enhancements” image, you’ll see that they will be planting low-maintenance native grasses and shrubs with the primary water source being rainwater run-off from the adjacent pedestrian walkway.

Nickolas 12/01/2011 at 10:33 AM

To slow down traffic you also need to reduce the size of the kept lanes. A 12′ lane is too wide the city would need to reduce this down to 11′ and then the bike lane could be given an extra foot to feel safer.

Brad 12/01/2011 at 2:21 PM

Wow, that is totally awesome!! Does anyone know where in the process this project is? I am not clear if the proposal is for an application that the City still needs to make for funding or if the funding has already been approved. Please already be approved, please already be approved, please already be approved. Someone please post if you know of public meetings or who exactly we can email/write/call to show support for the project. AWESOME!!

Rachel Elves 12/01/2011 at 3:00 PM

I agree with the above comment about narrowing the lanes to 11′ instead of keeping them at 12′. Ditto to the trash cans (Myself and others have been trying to get the city to add them for years). And also about separating the bike lane from traffic.

In other cities I’ve visited, this provides a much safer biking environment, although just the existence of a bike lane will definitely make me feel safer biking across the bridge every day than I do now. I think there should be some kind of ‘soft’ separation between the bikes and pedestrians as well, to make sure pedestrians don’t stray into the bike lanes. A lot of pedestrians use the bridge now, and I know that will increase if this project goes through. Most pedestrians don’t (and shouldn’t have to) pay attention to painted lines on the sidewalk, and I know they will stray onto the bike side. It can be frustrating and slow things down to navigate around pedestrians, which is why I don’t bike across the bridge using the pedestrian path now.

As to the plants, I can’t emphasize enough how important plants are to this project (and the city in general).
1) As someone pointed out above, plants increase pride in one’s community, and will help reduce the amount of litter people throw on the ground
2) The existing bridge with no plants is a concrete slab of fugliness.
3) Plants will absorb a fair amount of the rain fall, reducing flooding and making the bridge more pleasant and safe to drive, bike, and walk
4) The rain not completely absorbed by the plants will be filtered by the plants before the water ends up in the sewers, reducing the amount of polluted water that ends up in the James River and our drinking water (think oil slick, asphalt runoff, chemicals from cigarette butts, etc.)

Bret 12/01/2011 at 3:42 PM

As far as watering the plants, it says “primary irrigation” will be supplied by run off from the walking surface. I’m not sure why they specified “primary” in that sentence, but that would sound to me like they might not need any watering.

I agree it is a great idea and would ideally like to see bike lanes physically separated from vehicular traffic. While going from 3 to 2 lanes might slow people down and make bikers safer in one aspect, it is also going to bring the cars closer together and make the traffic that is there more congested, meaning more possibility for incidents that could run into the bike lane. One thing I’ve noticed a lot, being in the hood, a lot of people ride scooters, mopeds and even mini-bikes meant for children on that bridge, a lot of these only go 15-20 mph and people get pissed and swerve around them, this isn’t too big of a deal on a 3 lane road, but going down to 2 lane I would be a little worried about the perfect storm of a guy going 10 mph on his Powerwheels my-first-harley in one lane, a car in the other, a cyclist in the bike lane and a speeding pissed off driver approaching them all who can’t wait 10 seconds to get around.

matilda 12/01/2011 at 5:56 PM

If not prohibited by City law, can’t the bikes also ride on the sidewalk?

Michael 12/01/2011 at 9:21 PM

Look to the NYC ‘High Line’ ( for ideas and inspiration.

Brett 12/02/2011 at 2:15 PM

Unless this is the seed of a lengthier bike lane project I don’t feel the barrier between the bicycle lane and the rest of the traffic lanes is a good idea. Hiding behind some greenery for a quarter mile only to pop back out to unknowing traffic seems silly. Folks will slow by dropping one lane and creating a mellowier scene that seems less like an interstate.
The barrier idea does work and always seems most appealing, but I don’t this it’s the best fit for this application.
It’s great this many people are stoked,(myself included.)

Burt 12/02/2011 at 3:40 PM

If everything were extended to the white line in the roadway couldn’t the bike path be fully protected from vehicles and pedestians between the concrete planter and the bridge railing? Also, why not add an elevator from the deck to 18th Street? The old Marshall Street viaduct used to have one.

Steve 12/02/2011 at 5:10 PM

“If a friend calls you on the telephone and says they’re lost on Martin Luther King Boulevard and they want to know what they should do, the best response is ‘Run!”
~Chris Rock

Jason 12/02/2011 at 11:48 PM

Great to see this happening. So when can we start with the other bridges like Lee, Manchester, and Mayo? Those are a nightmare for cyclists and pedestrians too — and have the same effect as the current MLK of encouraging highway speeds for cars.

john_m 12/03/2011 at 8:56 AM Reply
Bridge Improvements Too? ‹ Oregon Hill 12/03/2011 at 11:50 AM

[…] As we look forward to Holly Street playground improvements, hope for green alleys and Idlewood roundabout, and stubbornly await OUR canal bridge, we might consider this discussion on Church Hill People’s News about proposed modifications of the Martin Luther… […]

Jim Miller 12/04/2011 at 1:35 AM

Paint a bike lane on the bridge in the direction now. Two walk ways are already on the bridge, one on each side.

Why spend all that money on this bridge and it doesn’t have all the traffic and besides it handles traffic just well now!

Jim Miller 12/04/2011 at 12:04 PM

This why the bridge is where it is and what the original intentions were for it.

Elaine Odell • September 12, 2011 at 8:59 pm

That’s not the story I’ve always heard. Local historians and the head of a popular CDC tell this version:

The Martin Luther King bridge was originally built with the intention of linking it to a multi-lane connector highway/extension to I-64 East. This would have connected downtown to I64 just west of the airport. Think Pocahontas Pkwy running right thru Union Hill/Fairmount. The goal was to have a faster way to get to the airport/Tidewater without having to travel the congested I95/I64 overlap that runs north of downtown.

That’s why Carrington and O Streets are still cobblestone. They never got paved over because they were going to be torn up anyway for the 6-lane expressway to the airport.

This was in the days when the automobile was the messiah and highway planners thought it was ok to run a interstate thru an inner-city neighborhood. Think Jackson Ward getting severed by I-95/I-64.

Strong women and men in the Fairmount/Church/Union Hill community fought like the dickens to keep this multi-lane highway from happening. And they won. They didn’t want to see the same thing happen to Church Hill that happened to Jackson Ward.

Alex 12/05/2011 at 11:12 AM

My two cents – seems like a waste of money that could be spent better elsewhere.

The original bridge failed at its purpose but has been serving nicely for an alternative purpose as is. Why mess it up by dumping a bunch of money into stuff that’s not needed.

I also worry that by making the bridge area too nice for hanging out, it’s going to turn into a hang out spot for a bunch of drug dealers, undesirables and we may end up with a situation where nobody wants to use the bridge for walking, biking or driving. It’s going to be hard to patrol this area.

Elaine Odell 12/05/2011 at 1:12 PM

@6 Alex, I respectfully disagree. This past Saturday as I biked across the bridge, enjoying the view and sunny fall morning, I was reminded about how the Brooklyn Bridge is now used. Cyclists and pedestrians along with sight-seers and folks “just hanging out” enjoy the view and the breeze while having an area separate from the car/trucks. Have you ever been there on a sunny weekend? Wow, it’s a happening.

MLK bridge has such a great view of our city, and has residential, businesses, educational and governmental properties right smack dab up against it’s east and west termini. It’s very unlike the other bridges in RVA, where there is a vast open/uninhabited space at either end. For me, MLK bridge is really more like an extension of our neighborhood streets–with a great view and a refreshing breeze.

If improved as planned, I won’t worry bout crime too much. Cops are on bikes now so they can patrol the area just as easily as they do any other streets. I think the more people that are on the bridge (not zooming by in a car) will help put more eyes on the bridge and help keep it safe for all to enjoy.

James 12/05/2011 at 3:02 PM

More bike lanes is always good, imo. I also agree with the people asking for separation if possible (between traffic and bike lane). I ride through the Fan quite often by bike. The supposed bike lanes in that area put you right next to traffic. All it takes is one driver not paying attention to drift out of lane a bit and kill a biker. I also like the separation as a driver. I hate having to maneuver around bikers when they drift into the path of traffic.

Lora 12/05/2011 at 4:21 PM

As a driver and a biker, I have to say I disagree with separating car and bike traffic. As long as there are separate lanes for bikes in some areas, drivers are going to be less willing to accept bikes on the street where there aren’t separate lanes. I also really believe the driving speed limit on the bridge should be reduced to 25 mph–that would make it a lot safer for everyone using the bridge.

JCH 12/05/2011 at 5:48 PM

James, there are no bike lanes in the Fan. They were never intended as bike lanes; the travel lanes were striped as narrow lanes for traffic calming, but people have persistently thought they were bike lanes, even though they aren’t marked in any way as a bike lane (no symbol, no outer stripe along the cars, etc.)

As for for bikes drifting into the path of traffic; bikes are traffic and should be in the path of traffic unless there is a wide curb lane or designated bike lane (both rare). The problem is that people tend to weave in and out of the lane as opposed to simply riding within the lane where they rightfully belong and are safest.

James 12/06/2011 at 10:19 AM

“the travel lanes were striped as narrow lanes for traffic calming”

Yeah, that really worked. I have seen cars/trucks/police cars going up to 50mph on Ellwood. This city needs bike lanes. Bikes are not traffic here when the traffic is going 20+ mph over the speed limit. I know the idiots in city hall think the whole “share the road” idea will work, but it doesn’t. I hate biking in this city. I always feel unsafe.

MrsAlex 12/06/2011 at 1:10 PM

My pet peeve is when bikers keep switching between traffic and pedestrian status. It has happened to me many times in the Fan, that there will be a biker taking up a traffic lane (fine, if they consider themselves traffic), and I will have to slow down and switch lanes to pass him. Then, there is a stoplight, and the biker sails through the red light (now they consider themselves pedestrian, I guess), and then I have to be slowed down and pass them again on the next block.

If bikers want drivers to respect them as traffic, they need to obey ALL the rules of the road, not just those that are convenient to them. A driver should never be inconvenienced to pass the same biker multiple times in the same trip because the biker picks and chooses which traffic laws to obey.

Luke 12/06/2011 at 4:00 PM

Lora –

We should not be designing traffic systems based on whether or not the changes are more likely to cause drivers to accept bicycle traffic on the roads. Bicycle traffic *is* entitled to the roads, and changes should be made to make riding safer for cyclists. Whether there needs to be wholesale aggressive education of drivers to make them understand that the bicyclists are entitled to the road is a separate question, but it never should drive policymaking that places the cyclists at more risk. This is exactly the result when these arguments are used to keep bicyclists un-separated from dangerous high speed vehicular traffic like on the MLK bridge.

Mrs. Alex and Alex –

I suggest you both get out of your cars and ride a bicycle in the city before you repeat the tiresome windshield perspective refrain that bicyclists should obey all laws. There is a reason that some jurisdictions in this country have changed the laws such that bicyclists have to yield at certain intersections where cars must stop. For one thing, cars have far worse visibility at intersections. Secondly, if a driver fails to yield the right of way to another driver, pedestrian, or cyclist, the danger to life and limb is far greater. Finally, and most importantly, the safest thing for the cyclist to do is often to run the red light. There is nothing safe about sitting at a light with a line of cars behind you that are going to attempt to aggressively pass you once the light has turned green.

Of course, these arguments probably make little sense to someone who is always behind the wheel, and that is why I suggest you try city riding a few times. You can ask other drivers that have done it – it really is an eye opening experience to the unique, dangerous circumstances facing a cyclist.

Finally, if you are driving a car in the city, you will be inconvenienced. You will be inconvenienced by other drivers, traffic control devices, pedestrians, and traffic. Your convenience should never take precedence other other road users’ safety.

Clay Street 12/06/2011 at 4:49 PM

“For one thing, cars have far worse visibility at intersections. Secondly, if a driver fails to yield the right of way to another driver, pedestrian, or cyclist, the danger to life and limb is far greater. Finally, and most importantly, the safest thing for the cyclist to do is often to run the red light.”


Luke, this is a really illogical argument. I am glad you are passionate about asserting your rights as a cyclist, but, speaking as walker, runner, driver and a biker {umm, hello, psst, over here, you are not the only person in Richmond who rides a bike, Luke}, I know that a bicyclist takes not only his life but also the lives of others in his or her hands if they do not follow the rules of the road.

I have on many occasions been forced to slam on the brakes of my car because a cyclist feels compelled to sail through a four-way stop without so much as a look to the right or the left. You must really trust all the car drivers out there, but as you just stated, cars often have far worse visibility at intersections. Being forced to slam on my brakes did not disturb me because it slowed me down or was an inconvenience–it is very dangerous to me and to other drivers. A situation like that could injure a child easily, not to mention the cyclist could be hit by a car that was already moving because the driver had the right of way and was following the rules.

This woman died because of a cyclist’s arrogance. I hope it never happens in Richmond.

Luke 12/06/2011 at 5:32 PM

I am not advocating for cyclists to enter intersections without first ensuring that it is safe to do so. When a cyclist comes to a red light, he is able to ascertain in most circumstances whether it is safe to proceed. For someone driving a car, that is not the case.

Cyclists that ride dangerously are a problem. There seems to be this idea among car drivers that violating the law = unsafe behavior (a somewhat ironic argument given the flagrant law breaking committed by drivers every day), but that is making a large assumption, namely that the law is structured in such a way that it takes into account the differences between road users. Any laws that do not differentiate, such as our own here in the commonwealth and in Richmond, make it such that what is safe and what is law-abiding may be two different things. This is demonstrated by municipalities that have had the foresight to change the law such that drivers and cyclists have different rules to adhere to in accordance with the very different types of vehicles they are.

How many have died due to the arrogance of drivers? I’ll give you a hint – many, many, many more than have died at the hands of cyclists.

Luke 12/06/2011 at 5:35 PM

Oh, and Clay Street – When I suggest folks get out and ride to see the reality from a perspective different from behind the windshield, I am not talking about taking your bicycle for a ride on the canal walk on a Sunday afternoon. I am talking about using your bicycle for transportation.

Clay Street 12/07/2011 at 9:25 AM

Haha, yes, Luke, you’re right. The years that I had no car and had only my bicycle to transport me to my two jobs, grocery store, bars, and school do not qualify me to talk about bicycle safety. I guess I have no perspective at all, having ridden my bike as my main transportation in Richmond and the other cities I have lived in. I have also done long-distance riding in other countries.

I absolutely agree that the arrogance of drivers causes many many more fatalities. I have quite a few friends who have suffered injuries, some life-changing, from being struck by a car while riding. In almost all instances, the car was at fault. However, I see every day in Richmond instances where cyclists could easily kill themselves or others through their own actions, that have nothing to do with the behavior or attitude of the auto operator. But perhaps it is too hard for the urban pirates to slow down or yield to others on their super-cool fixed-gear.

The cyclist does not ::always:: have the right of way, that is my point.

BTW, I agree with Lora that the traffic should be slowed down to 25 mph on the MLK bridge. People drive way too fast on it, and as it is a major route for commuting cyclists (one that I used for years to get to VCU campus during rush hour), it needs to be more accommodating to other traffic. I look forward to the changes that are going to be made, and also I hope that similar changes are planned for the Lee, Mayo and Manchester bridges.

Protected bike lane planned for MLK Bridge ‹ Church Hill People's News 09/18/2013 at 10:35 AM

[…] image is from proposed enhancements to the MLK Bridge from November 2011, response to which was a strong preference for a protected bicycle […]


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