Laura Bliss is CityLab’s West Coast bureau chief. She also writes MapLab, a biweekly newsletter about maps (subscribe here). Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Atlantic, Sierra, GOOD, Los Angeles, and elsewhere, including in the book The Future of Transportation.
Last year, city officials told transit-loving Millennials to hit the road. Now police are reinforcing a bike ban in a downtown district.
Last year, officials with the city of Virginia Beach more or less told Millennials looking for better public transportation to hit the road. Now the city is posting prominent signs forbidding bikes, skateboards, rollerblades, and “motorized skateboards” in Town Center, the privately owned, open-air plaza that amounts to the city’s central downtown shopping district.* The ban extends to public sidewalks adjoining the mall.
Beach towns skewed toward older, wealthier residents are famous for cantankerous restrictions on movement, speech, and noise that often seem to target younger people—no boomboxes after 9 p.m., hooligans! Scrub your filthy mouths!
On this theme, Virginia Beach is a curious variation: Though it relies heavily on tourism, it’s not exactly a sleepy getaway for retirees. It’s a spread-out city of 450,000 people—the largest in the state—with numerous military bases and a fairly diversified economy. Its Millennial population is growing faster than in most places in the country.
Yet local officials seem to yearn to be as unfriendly as possible to young people and their mobility preferences. Last year, the Virginia Beach City Treasurer John Atkinson quipped that the town could do without younger citizens supporting a light rail expansion proposal (which died in the November ballots): “The city of Virginia Beach offers something to those willing to pay for it,” he said. “Those that want a freebie [of subsidized transit] can move to Norfolk.”
Now, in addition to posting signage forbidding “wheeled devices,” police say they’ll be addressing infractions consistently, having “noticed an uptick in trick bicyclists and skateboarders.”
“This is for the safety of everyone down there,” Virginia Beach police public affairs officer Tonya Pierce tells CityLab. “Skateboards and bikes should not be on sidewalks and in plazas where there are pedestrians. We are just looking for compliance.” She could not confirm whether there’s been an increase in injuries.
To our noses, making a show of banning cyclists and boarders in a central downtown smells district like another way to target younger (and perhaps non-white) locals. Wheeled devices were already forbidden in Town Center’s plazas by city code, and bikes are a no-go on sidewalks and foot-friendly infrastructure in most U.S. cities. But navigating the multi-lane, bike-path-free arteries that bound Town Center on a bike or skateboard looks to be a harrowing experience without hopping a curb or two.
Virginia Beach has struggled mightily to recover from the recession. Never mind all the economic benefits of a bike- and transit-friendly downtown—this town seems to prefer to Keep Downtown Unwalkable (Still).
*This article has been updated to clarify the nature of Town Center’s place in downtown Virginia Beach.