Henrico County Candidate Responses to Biking and Walking Questions – 2023
For the 2023 Henrico County elections, Bike Walk RVA administered a candidate questionnaire to each person running for the board of Supervisors to see where they stand on issues relating to biking and walking. We asked each candidate the same four questions and have published the responses verbatim, up to the 200 word limit.
Note: Sports Backers is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization and does not support nor oppose candidates nor political parties. Bike Walk RVA’s candidate questionnaire is strictly educational in nature.
1. If elected, how do you pledge to improve biking and walking in Henrico County and in your district?
Stephen Rast: Improving walkability and bike trails across Henrico is central to my campaign platform and I’m going to make it a priority if elected. As a civil engineer who has experience designing residential communities, I believe I am uniquely qualified to ensure that pedestrian infrastructure is not only developed, but developed well.
My goal is to construct walkable and bikeable areas in a way that makes people want to use them. For example, sidewalks that are right next to a 45 mph road feel uncomfortable and are unsafe for pedestrians to use. Increasing the width of grass strips between roads and sidewalks is a simple thing that makes a big difference.
Additionally, when building bike trails I want to put them in dedicated spaces that are separated from major roadways. Schrader Rd in particular is an example of bike lanes with poor implementation. I’ve heard residents complain about how they don’t connect to anything and feel pointless.
If elected I would improve issues with existing areas, such as fixing crosswalks across dangerous slip lanes and better separating bike lanes from highways. For developments I would require developers to include bike lanes and pedestrian accessibility in their plans.
Dan Schmitt: I am fully committed to continuing the historic pace that I’ve set over the past 5 years serving as Brookland District Supervisor relative to the 15 miles of sidewalk/shared use paths I have ensured the construction of with another 46 miles programmed and coming! Further, when I was first elected in 2018, there was just one safe, signaled pedestrian crossing of Staples Mill Road. With my current Hungary Road project, there will now be four, and I have TEN MORE funded and programmed to bring the Brookland District total to 14. Finally, I will continue to add bike lanes when and where possible in ALL corners of the district, similar to the ones my residents have seen popping up over the past several years.
Delta Bowers: As someone who enjoys walking and riding my bike in my neighborhood and park in which I advocated for a walking path, I would continue to advocate for safe walking and bicycle paths. My neighbors enjoy our beautiful community, walking paths and wide roads for cycling as well. Oftentimes, cyclist are seen riding through our community. When I am elected for the Fairfield BOS, I will pledge additional funding to increase the number of walking and bike paths. A wonderful way to improve one’s health and reduce the carbons in the atmosphere. I am all in.
Three Chopt District:
Misty Whitehead: It’s been touted that we have built many miles of sidewalk in Henrico over the past several years – but the problem is that we lack an overarching plan. We have “sidewalks to nowhere” that do little to connect people to places or to reduce cars on roads. So I would solicit constituent input to create, as part of the 2045 Comprehensive Plan, a schematic that charts out a sidewalk and bike lane system, triage the areas of prioritization to establish a timeline, and publish this so that citizens can track our progress. I would also add the option for residents to report sidewalks in disrepair – the current county website permits a wide range of complaints but sidewalks are not included. Finally, I would hold developers accountable for ensuring any new projects include provisions for biking and walkability.
Jody Rogish: As an avid bicyclist who has been on the Capital Trail many times, I pledge to work hard to solve my main complaint: Getting to the Trail from neighborhoods in Western Henrico!
We need to prioritize opportunities for Henrico residents to get around the county, not just in cars. Vehicles pollute and, with more folks on our roads, add to congestion and commute times. I will prioritize funding for sidewalks and bike lanes to offer a real alternative to typical car commutes. Please look me up on social media to see me riding with kids to school during this years “National Walk/Ride Bike to School Day”.
Tyrone Nelson: I will continue to do what I have done when working on cases in my district and listening to cases across the County. Walking paths and spaces for biking are key to future developments particularly in urban and suburban communities. When appropriate and possible, I advocate for this.
2. Pedestrian fatalities have seen 30+% increases in RVA and Virginia in the past year, the worst they have been in almost two decades and standing out nationally. What measures would you take to improve safe access to biking and walking for health and connection to opportunity in your district?
Stephen Rast: I’ve been vocal about Henrico’s increasing pedestrian fatalities and car crashes. We as a county need to address it, especially as we continue to grow.
The majority of sidewalks and bike paths being built across Henrico are along major thoroughfares for motor vehicles, which is a major contributor to pedestrian collisions and fatalities. Cars and pedestrians don’t mix. If sidewalks are too close to travel lanes, distracted drivers are more likely to seriously injure pedestrians if they go over a curb. Increasing buffers and including grass strips would provide separation. To make bike lanes safer I would not put them against major roadways, and instead would build them on residential and collector streets. Installing flexible posts between bike lanes and cars may also help, especially where bike lanes already exist.
Another measure I would take to improve pedestrian safety is improving cross walks across the county. Providing better illumination (especially at night), adjusting traffic signal timing, and installing dedicated crosswalk signs that light up at a push of a button will make it much safer for pedestrians to cross. Traffic control measures such as raised crosswalks and speed cushions make drives slow down for pedestrians.
Dan Schmitt: There must be more than one approach taken to curb these tragedies. I have taken several steps during my five years of service and will continue to pursue these critical adjustments. First, Henrico County has lowered the posted speed limits on dozens of roads in the past year as just one tool toward slowing down motor vehicle traffic. Secondly, as stated above, recent additions to sidewalks/shared use paths have been constructed in record proportions over the past five years since I was first elected. Next, as stated above, I’ve been on a mission to move the Brookland District from just ONE safe, signaled pedestrian crossing of Staples Mill Road to the FOURTEEN that I currently have either completed or fully funded/programmed. Finally, I’ve continued to clearly mark safe bike lanes on several roads throughout the district. These “road diets” have allowed us to provide some buffer between motor vehicles and cyclists/runners.
Delta Bowers: I would work with the Henrico BOS, Henrico County agencies, and VDOT to create additional walking and bike paths that are safe for our residents. Additionally, I would engage with organizations like Sports Backers and VDOT engineers to construct safe and feasible paths that lead to potential places of employment, recreation, shopping, entertainment, restaurants and fitness organizations.
Three Chopt District:
Misty Whitehead: This piggybacks on my prior response, as the discussion about where to place new sidewalks and bike lanes must consider safety and how to mitigate risks as much as possible. I would start by reviewing the data about pedestrian injuries and fatalities to identify patterns and immediately modify any “hotspots.” These can be addressed by a combination of improvements – not just sidewalks and bike lanes but streetlights and traffic calming measures. Ultimately, a large factor in reducing risk is to reduce the number of vehicles on roadways, and that is also a necessary step for our environment. Increasing alternate modes of transportation and supporting remote work is something I plan to address as Supervisor. Additionally, overdevelopment in Three Chopt has created unsustainable congestion, which exacerbates risk as drivers become frustrated and reckless or careless. Slowing this overdevelopment down is another important task I will undertake.
Jody Rogish: We need to make our bike lanes are safer by creating space between the bike lane and traffic. We need to make sure that drivers understand the ways to share the road with bikers and that new bikers understand how to stay safe.
Pedestrians need crosswalks and traffic lights equipped to change for walkers. We need more streetlights at crosswalks, so pedestrians are easily seen.
Tyrone Nelson: Sidewalks, intersections, paths, trails, are all important parts of remedying this problem. Providing space for citizens to walk and bike where there is little connectivity between cars and humans. The county has been and is still creating more safe spaces for varying ways of moving around.
3. In the last three years, the Fall Line has raised $252 million for planning and construction from local, regional, state, and federal sources. This signature 43-mile paved multi-use trail will route through seven localities in Central Virginia, connecting existing communities to places of commerce, recreation, education, employment, and opportunity as a backbone of active transportation in our region and a destination unto itself.
How will the Fall Line benefit your community, and how can spur connections be built to create more community connections to it?
Stephen Rast: I am a big supporter of the Fall Line Trail. I believe the objective of connecting people to businesses, job opportunities, and education is an incredibly noble goal. Anyone unable to drive a car for whatever reason should still be able to access all parts of their community. Additionally, it also greatly increases pedestrian safety by building clear paths separated from vehicular traffic.
We have an opportunity with the current redevelopment of Henrico’s comprehensive plan, and I would like to include branches of the fall line trail to it. One of my goals is connecting existing parks, schools, and other government facilities to mixed use paths, and the fall line can be an important part of this. By adding branch connections to the trail from neighboring communities, residents can use the fall line trail as a major means of connecting to different parts of Henrico and beyond
Dan Schmitt: During my five years of service in this role, I have worked extremely hard to propel the Fall Line Trail from a concept to a reality. I’ve utilized my various Board seats on local organizations as well as my leadership within the County of Henrico to provide both strength and speed to the project. This trail will benefit the Brookland District by touching our sports tourism properties, our restaurants, hotels, businesses, and neighborhoods. The connectivity that the Fall Line Trail will offer my constituents is priceless to help keep kids and adults alike on safe, connected pathways connecting them to the wide array of amenities our County has to offer. I’m most excited about the Fall Line Trail’s proximity to Glover Park off Greenwood and Woodman Roads. The idea that families can walk/bike along the trail, connecting to the Woodman Road Extension shared use path, then directly into Glover Park and enjoy the soon-to-be 5k path along the Chickahominy River, the playground, dog park, etc. has me ready to see this project completed!!
Delta Bowers: It will help our community by taking cars off the streets and reducing carbons. I believe sharing the history of different areas along the path would encourage community connections. Perhaps companies along the path could give their employees incentives to walk or bike to work if they live in close proximity. Considering the length of the path, adding restrooms and small eateries would be a value add for the walkers and bikers.
Three Chopt District:
Misty Whitehead: The Fall Line is definitely an exciting project on many levels! Although none of it will pass through the Three Chopt district, spur connections will expand accessibility and include areas that many in our community frequent regularly. We have a very active population here and I am certain that many Three Chopt residents will find the Fall Line Trail to be a great complement to the outdoor activities we do have in district. I envision the Trail to be a great place of unity for the county, where people come from each of the districts to interact, exercise, learn and play!
Jody Rogish: The Fall Line will benefit Henrico by offering a significant recreational opportunity that is good for families as well as individuals and that’s healthy and free, allowing virtually anyone to take advantage. Moreover, studies have shown that outdoor activities in a more natural setting are good for both physical and mental health. With the increase in mental health issues, this is an excellent opportunity for folks to relax and recharge, available to anyone.
To build spur connectors, we need to increase conversations between localities and increase regional cooperation. We need to work together and be willing to invest to make this wonderful plan a reality for many of our residents in the region.
Tyrone Nelson: The Fall Line is not connected to the Varina District at all, but we do have the Capital Trail. The Trail has many different benefits to the citizens of the district. Currently it serves as a place for recreation, employment, commerce, and exercise. I believe the Fall Line will have that impact and more. The region seems to be committed to multiple modes of transit and connectivity. I am a supporter.
4. Establishing safe and accessible places for people to bike and walk for transportation and recreation will require additional funding for capital projects, either in the form of Federal grants, State revenue-sharing, or local capital improvement dollars.
Do you support pursuing additional funding for biking and walking infrastructure? If yes, how?
Stephen Rast: I support pursuing additional funding for biking and walking infrastructure and I believe that this project is an important and necessary project for our community development. However, to ensure that the project is completed and meets its goals will require funding.
As an engineer that’s worked in both government and private industry I know that these types of projects are expensive and require support from state and federal grants. If elected I would continue working with the board’s connections to the Virginia state legislature and our congressional representatives and advocate on behalf of Henrico county.
Henrico County already has development requirements for developers when they build new residential neighborhoods and shopping centers, such as regulations regarding how they connect to the greater road network and requirements for pedestrian access. As a plan review engineer for Henrico County I know that we can reasonably expect developers to connect to fall line trail branches where appropriate. This would further Henrico’s goals of expanding pedestrian accessibility while requiring fewer tax dollars.
Dan Schmitt: I have demonstrated a robust passion for supporting exactly as stated above. I’m proud of the incredible amount that we (Henrico County) has already been able to gather and dedicate toward the Fall Line Trail project, yet at the very same time, we continue to move at a historic pace toward the construction of safe and accessible pedestrian amenities. I pledge to continue to go to work for the good people that I represent when budget season comes around again in the Spring of 2024 and continue advocating for local, state and federal dollars that can ultimately be leveraged for the creation of safe and accessible biking and walking amenities.
Delta Bowers: I absolutely support pursuing additional funding for walking and biking infrastructure. I would advocate for more funds in the Henrico County budget, pursue funding from the state and federal governments for additional paths, upgrades and maintain what is currently in place. I see these paths as a game changer overall for the health and well-being for the residents of Henrico County and the community at large.
Three Chopt District:
Misty Whitehead: Yes, and we know that because this issue is so closely tied to climate action, federal funding is a viable option. The more we demonstrate our commitment to these changes at the local level, the more we equip our state and federal representatives to solicit funding from their respective bodies. We also have a healthy capital improvement budget in Henrico and I will ensure that these projects are allotted proper funding.
Jody Rogish: Yes, as I said above, this is a priority. I also want to invest in critical safety measures to ensure bikers and pedestrians are safe. This year we saw several tragedies involving pedestrians in the Central Virginia Region. That was a very sad wake-up call, and we simply must make sure our streets and our neighborhoods are safe for bikers and pedestrians. I am eager to work with experts to determine the best ways to keep folks safe.
Tyrone Nelson: I do support. I will continue to support our County’s effort to get funding from all levels of government for projects across the county.