Friday, August 21, 2009

Bicycling Around Virginia Beach

I live in Virginia Beach, Virginia.  The highest populated city in the state with approximately 430,000 residents, at last count.  It’s a city that has long prided itself on being “outdoorsy” and has a lot of parks, creeks, shores, and recreation centers compared to most other metropolitan areas around the state; not to mention along the East coast.  It is a nice place to live in many respects.  You can find a large number of joggers, walkers, bicyclers, boaters, swimmers, and so on.  Being on the coastline with plenty of beach areas you will also likely find surfers, kayakers and fishermen, but you will find kayakers just as often inland on one of the many creeks and lakes around the area.

I used to do a fair amount of running until last year when my knees finally gave out and I had to find another hobby.  I’ve always enjoyed bicycling, so now I’ve become more “into” it as a way to stay in shape and avoid boredom.  There are a lot of trails and pathways that the city touts as making it “bike friendly”, but they really should add an asterisk with a footnote.  There are quite a few decent trails for biking around the city, but biking *across* the city is another challenge entirely.  I do this fairly often, so I’m pretty familiar with the good and bad and where the chokepoints are for bicycling.

From my house near Mount Trashmore Park, which is located in the northern central area of the city, I can bike to the ocean front (to the East), to the bay shore (to the North), to a few places South and West as well.  Not as many interesting places to ride South and West however.  Most of the interesting places are North and East of where I live.  The beach is about 8 miles as the crow flies.  The North shore near Chick’s beach is about 6 miles and Princess Anne Park is about 4 miles South/West of here.  Of these three paths, the simplest and safest is by far going to Princess Anne Park (where the Sportsplex is located) which is also the MOST BORING of all places to ride.  Other than moving my legs it’s about as exciting as sitting on the bike on my driveway and making “vroomm!!!” sounds like a kid with a toy motorcycle.

Riding to the beach is the most daunting but not terribly difficult.  The main routes are either along Virginia Beach Blvd, or along Dam Neck Road.  Getting to Virginia Beach Blvd from my house is only feasible by one route: Plaza Trail.  Trying to take Rosemont Road or Independence Blvd under the I-264 interchanges is suicidal.  It’s possible, but the city needs to do something as I constantly see bikers and walkers almost killed by cars flying on or off the on/off ramps without looking for anything but other cars.  It’s deadly.  Taking Dam Neck Road is a much longer path as it adds another 4 miles of riding to get to the beach itself by way of General Booth Blvd.  The stretch along General Booth is actually a nice ride, especially passing the Virginia Acquarium and the woods along the bike path.  Riding up Rudee Inlet bridge at the end is a special treat designed to stress test your quads after pumping for almost 12 miles already. 

The Dam Neck route is about 13 miles in all.  The Virginia Beach Blvd route is about 8 miles in all.  Both distances are one-way, so a round-trip is 26 or 16 respectively.  I most often do the latter route since it’s a little more interesting.  Another option is taking Virginia Beach Blvd to Laskin and following that to 30th street, which is at the North end of the boardwalk.  Regardless of the route to the beach, I usually ride the length of the boardwalk from Rudee Inlet to 40th street a few times and then head back home.  If the weather is nice I usually bring my camera to catch the freaks in public and cars and bikes, etc.

As for riding to the North shore, along the bay, there are really only two paths.  One is Independence to Pleasure House Road.  And the other is Virginia Beach Blvd to N. Great Neck Road.  The Independence route ends in the Chick’s Beach area, which is where the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel connects to the mainland in Virginia Beach.  That route is just a hair under 8 miles.  The Great Neck Road path is longer at about 10 miles.  That ends in a rather boring area of small houses on Shore Drive, so I usually continue West to the Chick’s Beach area again, which is another 2 miles West.  The biggest challenge is the Lesner Bridge, crossing over the Lynnhaven Inlet.  Not a bike friendly bridge, as there is almost nothing between the traffic, you, and the concrete railing.  One texting, distracted or drunk driver and you’re gone.

Caution Areas

Tough Crossings include Independence at I-264.  Rosemont at I-264. Virginia Beach Blvd at Great Neck Rd.  London Bridge to Great Neck (across Virginia Beach Blvd).  Laskin at the I-264 split.  Indpendence at Pleasure House.  General Booth at Rudee Inlet (if you forget to cross early on).

Other notable paths to ride your bike along:

Cape Henry Trail, near First Landing State Park.  This is located in the North-East corner of the city and connects from the Northern end of N. Great Neck Road over to the 64th Street park entrance off of Atlantic Avenue.  One quarter of the trail is asphalt and goes through a quiet neighborhood.  The rest is hard packed dirt under tree cover and fairly straight with minor hills and bumps.  Very easy.  Total distance is about 6 miles one way.

Ferrell Parkway, which connects from Princess Anne Road over to Indian River Road in the middle West end of the city.  Only 2.5 miles by itself, it makes a good connector for adding a longer path along Indian River Road and Princess Anne Road.

Dam Neck Road, runs along the middle of the city going East to West.  It ends at General Booth Blvd (sort of, but it crosses over into a neighborhood and dead-ends in the back), and goes West beyond Salem Road becoming Elbow Road in the process.  Total distance (sort of) is about 8 miles one-way.

London Bridge Road, runs from Virginia Beach Blvd at the intersection with Great Neck Road (it becomes Great Neck as it crosses) and continues down to Dam Neck Road.  Total boring ride distance is about 4 miles.

I’m still exploring other trails and routes around the city, but suffice it to say it can be a bit hair-raising crossing some interesections along the way.

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