Improved transit headed your way, get on board!

Three things that get me excited about Richmond’s Transit future.

Earlier this week, I rode my bicycle from the Northside where I live to the Fan where I work. Then I took the #24 bus down to 14th Street, grabbed a transfer to the #43 and took it up into Church Hill for a meeting. After the meeting I hopped on the #52, headed west to my final meeting of the day on Grace Street and then walked back into the Fan to get my bike and ride home.

Whew!

That exhausted me just typing it all out, and I wouldn’t wish that day of travels on most folks. Luckily, I won’t even be able to wish it on anyone as Richmond’s transit system is about to get a lot more efficient, easier to use, and more useful. Three super big deals are on the horizon and will totally transform our transit network.

First! The GRTC Pulse, RVA’s first bus rapid transit line, will open for business almost one year from now—if you head out to Broad Street you can see crews working on the stations right this very minutes. The Pulse will provide service every 15 minutes up and down Broad Street from Willow Lawn to Rocketts Landing. It’ll have cool-looking stations, off-board fare collection, and run in its own lane for a good portion of the route. Generally speaking, it’ll be the most rail-like bus you’ve ever seen, and it will form the backbone of a new transit network that’s going to be way less exhausting for everyone to use.

Second! The Richmond Transit Network Plan will totally transform our existing bus lines. The point of the plan, put together by the City and GRTC, is twofold: 1) take advantage of the Pulse’s backbone and consolidate some of the zillions of bus lines that run down Broad Street right now, and 2) free up hidden capacity in the system by spacing out the bus stops. Across most of the current system the bus stops every. single. block. By spacing out the stops we can unlock capacity and do amazing things like make most bus lines in the city run every 15 minutes! If you’re a bus rider, I’ll pause to let you put your jaw back together after it shattered all over the floor. If you’re not a bus rider, in the current system very few buses run anywhere close to every 15 minutes—with most running every 30 or 60 minutes.

Third! In the immediate future, Richmond will have its own bike share system, adorably called The B. Bike share is intended for short trips, not all-day rentals; you just pick up a bike at one station, ride it around, and drop it off at the next station. It helps solve all sorts of last-mile problems, and lets you still get around with the convinence of a bike without all the sweat you might work up riding into town.

These three things—the Pulse, the Richmond Transit Network Plan, and The B—will dramatically transform public transportation in Richmond. Remember that long exhausting trip I describe in the first paragraph? In the very near future all of the complicated parts will be replaced with “take the Pulse.” All of the walking parts will be replaced with “grab a bike share bike and go.” How awesome is that?

In just about a year, folks living in all parts of town will have a more efficient, easier to use, and more useful transit system. The existing bus lines will be reconfigured to interact smoothly with the Pulse. The Pulse itself will directly connect one side of town to the other (and take about half the time to do it). Bike share will provide convenient (and adorable!) connections between neighborhoods. How can you not get excited about all of this?

And these things are just the first step! Later this year the state will release their Richmond Regional Transit Vision Plan, a vision for public transit across the entire region. Imagine being able to take a frequent and fast bus from the West End to the airport for a business trip, or from the Northside to a job at Chesterfield Towne Center, or from Downtown out to see family in Mechanicsville. This kind of stuff lies directly in our future! Now all we’ve just got to do is ask our leaders in the City and Counties to grab the plan by the horns and implement the dang thing! If you’re interested in grabbing some horns, learning more, or joining the effort for a truly regional transit system, you can learn more at rvarapidtransit.org.

Introducing This Dang Wiki

The encyclopedia of small-scale Richmond urbanism.

It feels like there are about a million and a half projects going on in Richmond right now, doesn’t it? We’ve got giant rings coming to the riverfront, bikelanes spiderwebbing their way across the city, and a hellacious cement public space retrofit with the semblance of a Terran atmosphere. These things make the city a better place to live for sure.

But what about all the little, small-scale neighborhood nuisances? Stuff like the intersection near your house with no crosswalks, the road on the way to work without a bike lane, basically all of Scott’s Addition and its lack of sidewalks. No one person could keep track of all the millions of tiny things that need to be fixed—and I say that as a guy who spends his free time voluntarily putting stuff like that into his brain! It’s all very unfortunate because these small things make a practical difference to the lives of folks living nearby.

What we need is, to borrow a term from the productivity world, an external brain—a place where we can collectively document the shitty things in our neighborhoods that bother us.

So, without further ado, I’m exited to introduce This Dang Wiki: A Place Where We Can Collectively Document the Shitty Things in our Neighborhoods that Bother Us.

I’m still working on that tag line, but something like this probably better: The Encyclopedia of Small-Scale Richmond Urbanism.

This is a place for folks/nerds who care about the city to document what needs fixing in their neighborhoods, brainstorm solutions, and find effective strategies to get those solutions implemented. If this project interests you, there are a couple of ways that you can get involved:

  1. Add stuff! What bugs you about your neighborhood? What makes you feel unsafe? Add it to the wiki!
  2. Make things look pretty! There are folks out there in the world who love nothing more than to format things to make them look beautiful. If you’d like to do that, more power to you!
  3. Document! Go out, grab some pics, take some measurements, plot Scott’s Addition’s missing sidewalks on a Google map. Then make sure to dump all that info into the wiki!
  4. Find primary source material! What ordinances, studies, and master plans relate to the topic at hand? What laws will limit the scope of a solution? If you are a master of PDFs, this is the job for you.

Don’t worry too much about doing things “the right way.” For the moment, there isn’t really a right way—that’s for us to figure out as we go a long. So go forth, sign up, and let’s build an encyclopedia of small-scale Richmond urbanism!

The Boring Show highlights: This is what it sounds like to love your neighborhood

Art Burton on segregation, public process, and Creighton Court redevelopment.

I’m going to need you to listen to Art Burton’s public comment at the September 12th City Council meeting:

“When you talk about providing 23 part time jobs and we’ve already provided 150…When I look at the people who sit over there—their passion, their commitment—and know that we are being spurned, left out of the process, and intentionally excluded from acting in our own behalf..something’s gotta change y’all.

The big focus of that meeting, and a lot of the committee meetings leading up to it, was the East End grocery store. Pretty much a decade in the making, the store will bring a desperately-needed, full-service grocery store to the area. It’s a big deal and is tied to the much bigger deal of East End Transformation and Creighton Court redevelopment.

But Bigger Deal Things (like tearing down and rebuilding a very old public housing neighborhood) involve lots of money, lots of organizations, and lots of sticky bits. Art speaks directly and passionately about seggregation, public process, and about bringing in The Community Builders to do some of the work that his organization—a local one—does and has done for much less cost.

Honestly, there are so many moving parts to this and so much at stake that I continue to feel confused, uninformed, and generally helpless. In my view, this is one of the biggest yet somehow most undercovered (or covered in a fractured and disjointed way) issues in town.

Listen to the entire council meeting over on The Boring Show.

Go Do This: Richmond Ballet’s Studio One

Richmond Ballet dancers Cody Beaton, Thomas Ragland, Fernando Sabino and Maggie Small in The Moor’s Pavane. Richmond Ballet 2016. All rights reserved. Photo by Sarah Ferguson

You know what I love about fall? Watching musclely people sweat so I don’t have to! Am I right, fellow sloths?

What it is

It’s important to emphatically note that this is Richmond Ballet’s Studio Series. That is, it’s in a smaller, black-box-esque theater, and the program consists of two to four (in this case, two) short ballets that are not necessarily the kind of storyline, tutu-based thing that you’re thinking it will be.

I mean, there might be some tutus sometimes and even a story here and there, but the Studio Series tends to draw from a vast timeline of ballet and modern dance, often including something so very contemporary that it was just choreographed, like, yesterday. No, seriously! Often, Richmond Ballet will commission a new work from a choreographer who will come to RVA from New York or wherever and start working with the dancers a couple of weeks before showtime, sometimes tweaking the work right up until the big day.

This time around, the world premiere is by choreographer Melissa Barak with music by Michael Nyman.

But first…Elizabethan gowns

I dunno, maybe they’re not Elizabethan, but my main takeaway from The Moor’s Pavane, the first ballet of the evening, was, “How luxurious are those dang costumes I CAN’T STOP STARING AT THEM I WANT TO TOUCH ALL THE VELVET gimme the velvet. Velvet.” Pauline Lawrence came up with the original costume design for this 1949 José Limón ballet, which takes the vague plot of Othello and turns it into an allegory for ALL OF HUMANITY.

You’ve got your loving relationship, your frenemies, your green-eyed monster, your insecurity, your handkerchief fetishes, and your murderous strangle-hands. That’s humanity for you!

At the Wednesday night performance, I was treated to Valerie Tellmann-Henning as the Treacherous Friend’s Wife. She’s an expressive lady, and watching her run the gamut from mischievous to mean-spirited to duplicitous to regretful was pretty stirring. Her husband, Kirk Henning, played the Moor himself—which, guys, come on. A White Moor? He danced beautifully but I’m not sure now is the right time to cast a White dude as a character typically portrayed as Black. (In other performances, Thomas Ragland—who is Black—plays Othello). (And turns out [Othello isn’t always Black anyway—sometimes he is “tawny,” which makes me feel weird).

Sabrina Holland as the Moor’s Wife was sweet to watch as always, and Matt Frain as the Treacherous Friend (or as I like to call him, the Treacherous Friend’s Husband) played a convincing serpent.

Company dancers Cody Beaton and Mate Szentes in Melissa Barak's new work, Stepping Beyond the Guards. Richmond Ballet 2016. All rights reserved. Photo by Sarah Ferguson.
Company dancers Cody Beaton and Mate Szentes in Melissa Barak’s new work, Stepping Beyond the Guards. Richmond Ballet 2016. All rights reserved. Photo by Sarah Ferguson.

Next up: A rainbow of fun

Melissa Barak’s new work reminded me of—and bear with me, this is really specific—looking up at the waves of fabric meant to represent Nessie while you’re waiting in line at the Loch Ness Monster at Busch Gardens.

Yeah!

The colors of those banners, aligned in a gradient fashion, are similar to the costumes of the company (not the ones pictured above), and there’s a part in this sometimes-surreal piece that is actually supposed to bring sea creatures to mind.

Plus, waiting for a roller coaster is exhilarating, and when you’re on that roller coaster you might even feel weightless like a tiny dancer.

After the intensity of Othello and Co. and all their Terrible Human Impulses, it felt cleansing to open yourself up to the bubbly joy of this piece. Mate Szentes is so strong in both acting capabilities and movement, and when you combine him with Cody Beaton, who can basically do anything, the result is truly a sight to see.

By my calculations, I’ve been a regular at Richmond Ballet’s studio series for seven or eight seasons, and I’ve never left it feeling so cheerful. Moved, yes. Amazed, certainly. Weeping, sure, and I’m not the only one. But this time just felt like I’d eaten a satisfying healthy meal followed by a little trip down Rainbow Sherbet Road. I am INTO that kind of diet.

Who’s behind it

Richmond Ballet, which is the official state ballet of Virginia, AND is starting this season under the favorable auspices of a brand-new rebrand!

Check out that new logo, plus some really stunning publicity photographs for the season that incorporate Richmond street art.

There are a couple of new people in the company, but nobody quite got a chance to shine this time around except the principals. That’s OK, guys, your time will come.

Where it is

So this particular iteration of the Studio Series goes like this, because I know you have “I’m New to This Ballet Thing” anxiety:

  1. Get to the Richmond Ballet on Canal Street (407 E. Canal Street, to be exact), park on the street or in the lot, be greeted by a younger non-company dancer, make your way upstairs, find your seat.
  2. Watch a 30-minute dance very close to your eyeballs.
  3. Clap.
  4. Go stretch your legs during a 15-minute intermission. Look woefully at them as you consider how they’ll never be as sleek as those of a dancer.
  5. Buy an alcoholic drink and take a look at your legs again. Looking a little bit better now, am I wrong?
  6. Get back to your seat, people are looking at you!
  7. Watch a short film that features an interview with choreographer Melissa Barak, who explains her inspiration for the dance you are about to see.
  8. Watch a 25+ minute dance very close to your eyeballs.
  9. Clap a lot.
  10. Leave 1 hour and 45 minutes after you arrived.

When it is

Studio One runs through Sunday, September 25th with two shows on Saturday and Sunday. Check out the schedule and buy tickets online.

How much it costs

$41. Here’s that link again!

Other things to note

If you can’t get to this one, there are two other Studios in the Series throughout the year. You may view them here, and I recommend you do.

What exactly it is we are trying to do, here

Great news, guys!

Presenting This Dang City, an internet location that features articles about Richmond, Virginia, including, but not limited to, the following subjects:

  • Transit: What’s It All About and Why You Should Care
  • Those Characters at City Hall and Their Entertaining Antics
  • The Mayoral Candidates Who May-or May Not Be Running Our City One Day, God Help Us All
  • Public Art! (If You Leave Out the “L” It’s a Funnier Subject)
  • Go Do This: This is Actually a Real Column Format in which Susan Makes Plans on Your Behalf
  • Fascinating People™
  • Humortown
  • Purple Stuff

Our past

My pal Ross Catrow and I used to work together to run an online magazine called RVANews. It was magical and wonderful and we got to yell at each other every day, but we also had to do a fair amount of stuff we didn’t want to do—coverage that didn’t interest us and explaining that things are jokes.

Our present

Now, we’ve got different jobs that we are happily focusing most of our considerable energy on. But it’s hard to stop ourselves from babbling about Richmond stuff, so we figured why not get it down on internet-paper.

This isn’t RVANews 2: Cruise Control. This isn’t an independent news source. We don’t make money, we don’t care about getting a scoop, we’re biased all over the place, and you can feel free to read or not read. Get excited, y’all!

What to expect

Postings at irregular intervals about Richmond-specific issues and events in a voice and tone that’s easy to read without being boring. We’ll probably pull in some guest posters every once in awhile, because we sure do know a lot of good ones.