I’ve officially decided that the T. Tyler Potterfield Memorial Bridge (aka the T-Pot Bridge) is the first piece in a next-level Richmond that we’re about to see unfold before us over the next couple of years. A seemingly undoable task—to build a new bridge over the James River, one that’s specifically not for cars!—has now been proven totally doable, and this Friday it opens to the public.
Join Mayor Jones (what’s the over/under for a Mayor-Elect sighting?) at 5:45 PM down on Brown’s Island for official ribbon cutting business, followed by an on-river view of the Grand Illumination at 6:00 PM. Unless you are a drone, this will be the first time folks have watched the City turn its lights on from this particular point in Richmond.
More than just a sweet spot to hang out, hold hands, and gaze at our city, the T-Pot bridge provides a much-needed bike and pedestrian connection from the Southside to downtown. It’s a project we can check off of our Riverfront plan. It’s a major piece of infrastructure that almost everyone is stoked about.
The T-Pot Bridge is some next-level urbanism! And it’s just the beginning.
We don’t want to sound too bleak. The city has made much progress in recent years, with a growing population, a reviving downtown, pockets of educational success, a long decline in crime rates, and significant improvements in race relations — especially when compared with the first two centuries of our history.
There is a palpable sense of two cities here: One bustles with young professionals, trendy restaurants and breweries, a city of hope and progress. Sometimes only a few blocks away, public housing, unemployment, disappointing schools, business deserts and dangerous streets are the rule. There are no easy or obvious solutions.
Our bike share system will have single-ride fares! This fills me with joy and gladness!
The other week I was up in D.C. for a thing at the Department of Transportation, and wanted, so badly, to use the city’s bike share system. I saw about a dozen stations as I walked from my car to the DOT—which was quite a walk because I’m a country mouse that rarely ventures into the big city and never really thinks about things like “Northern Virginia Traffic” or “Parking.”
I needed exactly two rides out of their bike share system: to my meeting and back to my car. The cost of a daily membership was $8, and while it would have allowed me infinity rides, all I needed was just the two. Lacking a single-ride fare, the bike share equivalent of a bus pass, I ended up walking. And it was fine. Annoying, but fine.
“Annoying, but fine.” is not how I’d want to describe Richmond’s bike share system to someone hoping to use it.
Having a single-ride fare unlocks the bike share for spontaneous trips—and this is what you want out of all your transit systems. Transit genius Jarrett Walker puts it this way in his book Human Transit:
In transit, the real test of freedom is spontaneity. Can I change my plans suddenly? Can I get home if I need to, or to my child’s school if something comes up? Can I simply move freely around my city, following whatever impulse I may feel at the moment? Some transit systems approach that level of convenience, at least in dense cities. In some of those same cities, you’ll find that your car is an encumbrance. If you’ve ever been stuck in traffic on a busy downtown street while pedestrians and cyclists flow past you and subway trains zoom beneath you, you know that sometimes your car can become your prison.
Folks aren’t going to plunk down $8 to avoid walking the mile from their office to the burrito place or walking from the bus stop to their destination. Such a high relative cost removes bike share from the transit toolbox of a lot of regular Richmonders who don’t use the system enough to buy a monthly or yearly membership. Gone are spontaneous trips and gone is that freedom. But with a fare close to cost of a bus pass, it’s totally doable. In fact, $1.75 is exactly the cost of a single-ride-plus-a-transfer bus pass. I imagine that’s intentional!
So, yeah, I’m thrilled about this.
While I had Jake on the digital line, I asked him about bike share launch dates, something that seems to keep slipping further into the future. At the moment, the city is now looking at a spring launch—a bummer for sure, but a bummer that makes sense. The middle of college football season, as temperatures drop, is a terrible time to launch a thing that’s success requires people to be outside.
Remember, too, that a second phase of bike share is coming (like, in a has-been-funded way), and this phase will have electric pedal-assist bikes. No longer will you need to arrive sweaty and gross to your top-of-a-hill meetings! Let the bicycle do the work for you! So this is the silver-lining situation that I will cling to over the next couple of months: When our bike share does launch, it will be a smoother, more linear rollout of the entire system rather than a distinct Phase I and Phase II separated by a cold and dreary winter. It’s something!
I know I keep zzzzing on about buses and bikes, but it’s exciting! All of these pieces are suddenly coming together at exactly the same time, and they’ll completely change how we get around the city. A lot of trips that were once only practical or possible by car will now be unlocked for folks who don’t own car, don’t want to deal with a car, or just happen to find themselves without a car. Transit freedom is on the horizon, y’all!
A note about D.C.’s bike share system and legibility
If you look at D.C. bike share page, you’ll see that there actually is a single-ride fare. It’s new and exists only because of the recent problems with their metro. Since it’s an impromptu thing, there’s no signage at any of the bike share stations I saw, so I had no idea that it was an option. This is a failure of what aforementioned transit genius Jarrett Walker describes as “legibility” of a transit system. Without legibility I can’t understand the system, and if I can’t understand the system I won’t use the system.
First of all, we’ve implemented already and approved by city council, a BRT line that has its anchors at Rockets Landing on one side and all the way over to…not quite, far short of where we need to go—we should go all the way to Short Pump. Here’s the problem that I see: We have one main thoroughfare now, we’re going to spend approximately $53 million for it, and we haven’t implemented a plan or even considered how we’re going to connect arteries to that. For example, the corridors on Midlothian Turnpike, Hull Street, Commerce, Chamberlayne Avenue—those folks need to use those roads to get to the BRT main line on Broad Street in order to get to schools, shops, jobs, and return. As mayor, I would implement and send to city council a resolution to create auxiliary arteries so that we will connect south Richmond and those other folks that I just mentioned—Northside, Chamberlayne Avenue—to the main BRT line.
With the opening of the Pulse next October, it does seem like it would make a lot of sense to study how the existing GRTC routes will interact with the BRT—so many of those routes spend so much of their time trundling down Broad Street exactly where the Pulse will run. Turns out just such a study exists; has been in progress for a good, long while now; and it’s official recommendation will drop in just a couple of months. It’s called the Richmond Transit Network Plan, it’s awesome, and a mayoral candidate should definitely know about it.
Specifically, Candidate Morrissey should know about it because he answered questions about it in a pre-Mayorathon questionnaire. Here’s his response to a question about, win or lose, how he would support the RTNP:
Either as the Mayor, or as a private citizen, I will advocate for adoption of this plan as long as it is in the best interests of the residents of Richmond.
If he plans on advocating for the adoption of it, you’d think he’d know what it does!
But for those mayoral candidates and regular citizens not in the know, the Richmond Transit Network Plan can be confusing and overwhelming. While its biggest impact may be the implementation of the first rethinking of our bus routes in 40 years, its impetus was the Pulse.
Develop a long-term blueprint for transit service for the City of Richmond.
Examine opportunities to take advantage of the possibilities that open up when The Pulse, GRTC’s new Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) service, comes into service in 2017.
Facilitate a two-way conversation between GRTC the City of Richmond.
This plan is much-needed and would be totally welcomed without the opening of the Pulse, but connecting the existing transit network to our new BRT spine is what brought internationally-known transit genius Jarrett Walker to Richmond to work on the RTNP. He and his team have produced three concepts for what our revamped bus system could look like and how it interacts with the Pulse. Here’s one of them, the High Ridership Concept, that will be similar to their final recommendation:
Note how the 8, 10, 61, and 62 terminate directly into the Pulse (the black line). Then check out how a bunch of the other lines cross Broad Street at BRT stations. This is totally intentional and exactly the point of this study! Given a new, frequent BRT line stretching down Broad Street from Rocketts Landing to Willow Lawn, we needed to create new ways to connect folks to the main BRT line—so that’s what we did.
This is all great news for Morrissey who, if victorious come November, won’t even have to draw up that resolution to send to Council. With any luck, it’ll already have been passed by the current sitting Council. In fact, the Organizational Development Standing Committee received the official policy direction recommendation from the RTNP on October 3rd, which says to me the legislative process is a’ moving.
But wait! Maybe in that Mayorathon quote, Candidate Morrissey was talking with a more regional focus. Maybe he wants to create BRT arterials on the region’s major corridors like Hull Street, Midlothian, Broad Street, and Route 1? Well, turns out, the state is working on another plan about this very thing! It’s annoyingly called the Richmond Regional Transit Vision Plan (RRTVP (not the RTNP)). This plan will give a state-approved vision for a regional transportation network and will include bus services up and down Midlothian, Hull Street, and Route 1—exactly the places Morrissey wants to see it (he was asked a question about this plan in the pre-Mayorathon questionnaire, too).
By next fall we should have an opporational BRT. Shortly after that we’ll have an entirely new bus system that integrates smoothly with said BRT. At some point along the way our bike share system will debut. Suddenly, while we were all busy pumpkin spicing and Folk Festing, Richmond took a whole bunch of steps towards a real-deal transportation system.
Named by some sort of naming genius, The Mayorathon packed, like, 800 folks into the VMFA for what I thought was going to be an exceedingly dry night of wonky discussion. In the hours before the event, I started to worry that normal people—people who don’t spend their free time elbows deep in PDFs—would find questions about regional transit funding, the master plan process, and the Roanoke 40 to be…boring? Turns out I was so super wrong, and folks are way into the details of how a city is run and who should be running it! Two lessons I learned:
If you’re planning a mayoral forum, put on the forum that you yourself would like to attend.
Come up with an awesome name for it.
Watch the full forum, including the candidates’ self-chosen walkup music, below:
P.S. I work for RVA Rapid Transit, one of the nonprofits involved, and spent a lot of time watching in amazement as very talented and organized people (double shoutout to Ruth!) pulled off this very amazing thing.
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.
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.
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.
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:
Add stuff! What bugs you about your neighborhood? What makes you feel unsafe? Add it to the wiki!
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!
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!
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.
“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.