Charles City leaders weigh pros, cons of bike races within county borders
Charles City supervisors continue to find ways to compromise having bike races and satisfying county citizens. A Tuesday night special called meeting continued to investigate a means of finding a solution on an issue that has lasted for several years.
The forum saw more than 40 people come out to the meeting, with 19 of them stepping up to the podium to address the issue.
Several citizens of the county have spoken out about local roads being used for bike races. While the main course is conducted in Charles City, many of the home bases for these events are housed in James City County. With concerns that many of the roads are used by unappreciative competitors and several financial benefits going to the neighboring jurisdiction to the east, Charles City leaders orchestrated a meeting for public feedback.
County Administrator Michelle Johnson commented that five bike races were to use county roads, with an additional race being a foot race. Of those races, representatives from Kinectic Multisport, National Multiple Sclerosis Society, and Rev3 Williamsburg were at Tuesday night’s meeting to hear concerns.
Surveys from the county were issued to event organizers to receive preliminary feedback. While many of the answers were similar in nature, one concern that supervisors noticed was the lack of contribution to county organizations and advertising of local businesses. Only a few organizations contributed to local groups, such as Kinectic Multisport to Charles City Volunteer Fire Department ($5,690 over a 10-year period), and Charles City’s Ruritan Club, which has grossed $100,000 over the last six years to provide scholarships to graduating seniors of Charles City High School.
Still, the lack of communication has been something that county leaders wanted to focus on. Johnson recommended seven key factors to improve working with organizations who want to continue bike races in the county. Those recommendations include scaling permit fees based on number of participants, advertising in the local newspaper (New Kent-Charles City Chronicle), providing social media information, sending postcards to residents along the race route, implement Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) message boards, providing registration literature packages about the races, and developing a strategy for community involvement.
Prior to public comments, District 2 representative and chairman Bill Coada commented that the reason races are held on the road and not the bike path is because of the structural integrity.
“The Capitol Trail was not designed to have races on them,” he said. “The rubber and asphalt on the road make it more suitable for the speed of a bike, which travels 24-27 miles per hour in this type of race.”
Citizens took to the lectern, with many of them commenting about the road conditions and the dangers of having bike races on secondary streets in the county.
“The Glebe Lane and Sturgeon Point are not designed for bike racing,” commented Bill Walton. “It’s hardly designed for two cars to pass side-by-side.
“The trouble with bike races is that the bikers do not get out the road and stay two and three abreast,” he continued. “I still have to give a three-foot clearance when I pass them. Our vehicles pay for the taxes and roads in the county, and I don’t think we should have them in the county.”
“I don’t feel like the funding coming into the county makes up for what’s being contributed by these races into the county,” commented Anne Kenny. “I want them to have it somewhere else, somewhere safer.
“They [Cyclists] are not paying attention to us, but we are paying attention to them,” she added. “It’s a safety concern.”
For Kevin Sullivan, he also believes the condition of the roads are the major setback, especially with the expectation that Charles City will grow.
“Our roads are substandard,” he said. “They have a lack of shoulders and in most cases, no lines. It’s unacceptable now.
“Charles City is growing and there is no excuse for VDOT not to upgrade these roads,” Sullivan continued. “If the county can work with the organizers of the bike races and determine a regular route, we can have those particular roads widened to allow traffic to smoothly flow.”
Other speakers followed suit, speaking about how road conditions aren’t the best for competition. For others, a lack of contributions to the county without hard data is another concern.
“When I came to this meeting, I wanted to hear concrete evidence about how our businesses profit from this,” commented Alice Walton. “You can say ‘sure, our business has increased since we had bike races’, but businesses can increase because they changed the linens on the bed at a bed and breakfast or a menu has changed.”
David Black, who serves as the president of Charles City’s Ruritan Club, spoke about the financial benefits that the race has.
“With our annual Steakfeast being suspended, most of our funds raised for our organization has come from recreational events, mostly involving bicycles,” he said. “Over the last six years, we’ve grossed $100,000. So far, we have done three events, and they play a crucial role in us serving the people of Charles City County.”
Event organizers answered a few of the questions that were posed by the audience, in efforts to show they are giving back locally.
“We use a hotel chain because we tour around the country,” said Jason Chance, the new owner of Rev3. “We pay fees, but most of the revenue locally in James City County is because they provide lodging.
“We become a target because we are having an organized event,” he continued. “We use Route 5 and Charles City and do a loop because if we put every cyclist on the road and travel down Route 5 entirely, we would shut down the entire county.”
Meanwhile, Debra Richards of National MS Society said that while they didn’t contribute anything locally other that to officers, they raised $759,000 through their event that began in Varina, passed through Charles City, and ended in Williamsburg.
Resident Donald Charity summarized his thoughts with a monologue that closed out the public comment period.
“Several people have come to the podium and expressed themselves about the growth in the county,” he said. “They have also expressed the concern about safety and inconvenience. If that’s an issue here, wouldn’t it be an issue for James City County?
“James City County has greater infrastructure, businesses, and groups who are utilizing their facilities,” Charity added. “By the same token, they are coming here to conduct their races. So, who is really being inconvenienced? Let’s flip the script. If Charles City experience growth like we say we are in the next 10 years, would we still be able to hold these races in Charles City?
“If James City County is considering it a convenience to hold it in their area where they have infrastructure, it seems like businesses just want the people and the money. How do we deal with all the inconveniences that come with growth? That is something we need to think about down the line.”
After the public comment period concluded, supervisors provided feedback on what they will be deep diving into.
“It’s been quite interesting in dealing with this,” commented District 3 representative Byron Adkins Sr. “There are a lot of retail strategies here and we need to enhance our capabilities of marketing ourselves [Charles City County].
“If outside entities can see the value of Charles City, I hope that we as a community can get on top to see how we can grow, when we need to grow, and how we need to grow,” he concluded.
District 1 leader Gilbert Smith said that the special meeting was something that needed to be revisited after an initial 2019 inquiry.
“Almost at every meeting, we hear about bike races and bikers being rude,” Smith said. “I’m hoping that we can work through this as we go through this process.
“But something always keep crossing my mind,” the District 1 representative continued. “What can we legally do to stop these races? These are state highways and people use these highways. The part we play is to sign off on a permit, but if we don’t sign off on a permit, we may end up in a lawsuit.”
Coada echoed Smith’s sentiments, saying that discrimination is a factor when determining if they should allow bike races in the county.
“You either allow them all or don’t allow any at all,” he said. “The answer legally is probably no, we can’t deny them.
“VDOT issues the permit for the races to use the roads, not the county,” Coada added. “While people complaining on social media about the issue has died down substantially, it’s still an inconvenience. These races do provide exposure and funds for groups, such as the Ruritans.”
Coada pulled up the slide with the seven conditions listed and asked if organizers would have any issues with following the recommendations. The three representatives that were present had no issue with the proposal.
Johnson said that she and her staff would work on a recommendation and strategy and hopes to present it to county leaders at the September regular board meeting.