This week in transit: Rolling out the red (paint) carpet

TAKE ACTION

As local elections approach, make sure you read through these three candidate questionnaires:

AROUND THE REGION

Earlier this week, I talked with Greater Greater Washington’s Wyatt Gordon about the GRTC Pulse crash that killed a pedestrian. We went through some of things the City could do to improve our streets and focus on the safety of people—including painting the bus-only lanes red. A 2017 study from the National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board puts the cost of red lanes at $308,000 per mile. If we do some back-of-the-napkin math, I think we’re looking at around $2.5 million to fully roll out the red (paint) carpet for the Pulse. There are, of course, some interesting ways to save money on red lanes, including red striping like Indianapolis and narrow red lanes like Seattle.

This coming spring, GRTC and Chesterfield County will pilot a new bus route from the city limits to John Tyler Community College along Route 1. New bus service is just one part of the work to bring more services, amenities, and development to that corridor.

ELSEWHERE

More great news, including lessons learned, from NYC’s 14th Street bus project where the City banned cars and created dedicated bus lanes. This sentence gets to the heart of it: “Bus-only lanes are among the simplest, most cost-effective ways of moving people through a region while cutting carbon emissions and congestion, eliminating parking, and ultimately returning some urban spaces to cyclists and pedestrians.”

Streetsblog has an interesting article about Chicago’s mayor increasing taxes and fees on ride sharing services like Uber and Lyft for trips that start in transit-heavy areas like downtown. Of note: “...the downtown tax won’t be in effect during prime nightlife hours, so it won’t be a disincentive to using Uber or Lyft to get home safely after a night of drinking” and “a portion of the $40 million in revenue projected as a part of the 2020 budget will be earmarked for the CTA and Chicago Department of Transportation’s Bus Priority Zones program.”

After two fatal crashes involving pedestrians, Oakland’s Department of Transportation has installed rapid response infrastructure to make the streets safer—just weeks after the crashes.

—Ross Catrow

This week in transit: Every bus rider begins and ends their trip as a pedestrian

AROUND THE REGION

This past Tuesday, a GRTC Pulse driver hit and killed, Alice E. Woodson, 32, near the intersection of Broad and Lombardy Streets. According to WTVR, “early reports indicate that Woodson was in the bus lane and that the bus had the right of way when the collision occurred.” Regardless of who was at fault, this is an incredibly awful situation for everyone involved—the victim and their family, the bus operator, bus riders, and bystanders. Every bus rider begins and ends their trip as a pedestrian, and GRTC, the City, and the State should do everything in their respective powers to keep folks safe as they move around the region, whether that’s on foot, by bike, or taking the bus.

Related to pedestrian safety in the City of Richmond, the Mayor will introduce new legislation this coming Monday to “penalize motor vehicle operators who drive distracted while using a handheld communication device.”

Wyatt Gordon at Greater Greater Washington has an interview with GRTC’s new CEO, Julie Timm. She answers a few questions on ridership, stop amenities, regional funding, and fare evasion.

This past week, RVA Rapid Transit co-hosted a Richmond 5th District City Council candidate forum. We asked each of the candidates a bunch of policy-heavy questions on a variety of topics—including transportation. If you’re a 5th District resident, or just someone interested in how the next City Councilmember feels about transportation policy, take a look at the candidates’ full responses over on the Mayorathon website.

ELSEWHERE

This week, New York City transformed 14th Street into a busway by banning cars between Third and Ninth Avenues. This means an entire street of dedicated bus lanes—not just for bus rapid transit, but for regular ol’ local service buses. It’s been a massive success. Of course this was a tremendous political lift for advocates and transit supporters and not something you could just do overnight (although, Everett, Massachusetts did exactly that).

Our friends at TransitCenter have a new report out about fare policy—thrilling stuff! GRTC has implemented a chunk of the recommendations, but there are still some good opportunities to improve the fare policy in the Richmond region (fare capping!).

—Ross Catrow

This week in transit: 5th District candidate forum this week—October 10th!

TAKE ACTION

This Thursday, October 10th, please join us—plus a bunch of other nonprofits and organizations—at the Randolph Community Center from 6:30–8:30 PM for A Focus on the 5th, a 5th District City Council Candidate forum. We’ve asked all of the candidates a bunch of policy-oriented questions across a variety of great topics and are looking forward to hearing their vision for the future of the 5th District and the City of Richmond. Please RSVP ahead of time to help us get a handle on the headcount.

Richmond 300 is the City’s master planning process, and a huge part of that process is planning how we will get around town 30 years from now—with a focus on people, not vehicles. In fact, here’s Richmond 300’s stated transportation vision, which you’ll probably love: “Richmond prioritizes the movement of people over the movement of vehicles through a safe, reliable, equitable, and sustainable transportation network. Walking, biking, and transit options are the most convenient and used forms of transportation in Richmond; thereby improving the natural environment and our health. Richmond's multi-modal transportation system is easy for all people to use and seamlessly connects Richmond neighborhoods and attractions to each other, the region, and the nation.” Take a look at the future connections map (PDF), which will give you an idea of how we can reach that vision. Also, you can and should attend one of the upcoming Richmond 300 forums to hear all about the plan—especially the parts that relate to the City’s transportation network.

AROUND THE REGION

NBC 12, via Capital News Service’s Mario Sequeria Quesada, has a great interview with new GRTC CEO Julie Timm. Timm talks through “five key components that she thinks will help the region build its public transportation and offset vehicle congestion: partnerships, developing a true regional transportation system, investment from local governments, improving service reliability and transit-centered development.“ Sounds great, and it’ll be exciting to see where Timm decides direct her energy first.

The Washington Post has a column up about Richmond’s transit successes and how other cities—even Washington D.C.!—can learn from what we’ve been working on over the last couple of years. It’s not rocket science: Make the bus more frequent, more efficient, more reliable, and more folks will ride. We’ve done a lot recently to improve the first two things on that list, now we’ve got to focus on improving reliability across the system—and it’s great that reliability is one of things GRTC’s new CEO will focus on!

In every part of the City you can find bus stops that are simply a sign post stuck into the ground—no shelter, no trash cans, and nowhere to sit and wait for the bus. This project from Art on Wheel looks to change that by working with Richmonders to make guerrilla bus stop benches that double as public art. After an unveiling on October 16th, Art on Wheels will locate the new seating in the East End or on the South Side.

This Reddit thread of people recounting their positive experiences with the Pulse and other bus routes is heart warming, and reading it is a great way to spend five minutes of your day.

—Ross Catrow

This week in transit: New day dawning—transit needs you

First, a word from RVA Rapid Transit’s outgoing Board President, Nelson Reveley:

Greetings RVA Rapid Transit friends,

I am interrupting your regularly scheduled email for two reasons:

First, as many of you know, the incomparable Ross Catrow moved into his role as Executive Director of RVA Rapid Transit almost a year ago at this point, and, ever since, he has been diligently and dynamically spearheading advocacy initiatives for public transit throughout the Richmond region.

Now, it is with great honor that I announce the new RVA Rapid Transit Board leadership team that will be coming alongside Ross: Kendra Norrell as President, Brantley Tyndall as Vice President, Sheryl Johnson as Treasurer, and Joh Gehlbach as Secretary. The rest of the Board and I are immensely grateful and deeply excited for what lies ahead with this powerfully skilled team driving forward the push for frequent, far-reaching public transit.

Second, as you also know, over the past few years we have witnessed previously unimaginable growth in transit in the Richmond region. With Chesterfield adding a bus line along Route 1 to John Tyler Community College in 2020 and the City and Henrico each considering their next steps toward the Regional Transit Vision Plan, we are poised to continue making great strides. To keep that momentum rolling, though, we need your continued support. Please feel overwhelmingly excited to make your tax-deductible donation to RVA Rapid Transit right this red hot second. Donations can be made faster than a flying Pulse through our website.

Suggestions for a donation amount, whether one-time or sustaining, include:

* $41 for the 41 bus lines in GRTC's network

* $22 for the 22 miles of bus rapid transit that, if built, would provide a public transit backbone from the airport to Short Pump

* $7.60 for the 7.6 miles of the Pulse currently

As always, thank you for your dedication! Your support makes the difference.

— Nelson Reveley, RVA Rapid Transit Board Member

AROUND THE REGION

Now, two time-sensitive transit things for you to be aware of:

On October 10th, from 6:00–8:30 PM at the Randolph Community Center, RVA Rapid Transit will join a bunch of other area nonprofits and organizations in hosting Mayorathon: A Focus on the 5th—a candidate forum for the 5th District City Council special election. We’ve put together questionnaires featuring a handful of topics and will be asking the participating candidates the types of policy-oriented questions you’ve come to expect from the Mayorathon team. Please register over on the Eventbrite, which will help us get a handle on the headcount. Also, keep an eye out for the questionnaire responses as we get closer to the event.

Do you want to be on TV (and, presumably, YouTube and streaming services)? GRTC needs volunteers to appear in commercials promoting the new bus service coming to the Route 1 corridor in Chesterfield County. They’re filming on October 14th–23rd from 7:00 AM–5:00 PM, so it’s a long day, but you get fed and immortalized in video. If you’re interested, you can contact Ashley Mason over at GRTC (ashley.mason@ridegrtc.com.

—Ross Catrow

This week in transit: Public transportation candidate questionnaires

TAKE ACTION

A while back, we sent out a public transportation questionnaire to candidates for both Chesterfield and Henrico Board of Supervisors. We wanted to know how each candidate planned to deal with the unique transportation issues facing their particular county.

In Chesterfield, we were concerned about the ability for folks to age in place; how the County can encourage productive development along its major corridors; where Chesterfield should look to expand public transportation next; and if the candidates supported a dedicated, regional transit funding stream.

In Henrico, we wanted to hear more about pedestrian access to transit; the next place to expand the County’s growing portion of the regional bus network; the candidates’ vision for transit-oriented development; and, again, if they supported a dedicated, regional transit funding stream.

You can read all of the responses to both questionnaires here:

If you are a candidate in either one of these races and do not see your responses, please contact info@rvarapidtransit.org. If you are resident of Henrico or Chesterfield and don’t see your favorite candidates’ responses, maybe shoot them an email and let them know that public transportation is a priority.

AROUND THE REGION

Henricoans! On Monday, September 23rd, the County, the National Complete Streets Coalition, Smart Growth America, PlanRVA, and Michael Baker will host a Complete Streets Open House at the Tuckahoe Library from 4:00–7:00 PM. They’ll look at the Town of Ashland as a case study for building a regional complete streets policy toolkit. This event is an excellent opportunity to hear about how to build a complete regional transportation network for all folks—whether they’re walking, riding a bike, or taking the bus. It’s an open house format, so don’t feel like you need to show up for the entire three hours.

PARK(ing) Day, an annual opportunity to convert parking spaces into temporary parks, was a complete and total success! C. Suarez Rojas has a write up in the Richmond Times-Dispatch, and you can check out a handful of pictures from throughout the city over on StreetsCred.

ELSEWHERE

When you think of progressive parking policy, you don’t typically think about Houston. But maybe you should! The city recently removed “mandatory parking requirements from new developments in two of the city’s more walkable neighborhoods” and is already seeing some cool results. For example, one new development is using space that would have been parking to build a plaza for actual humans. This, let-the-market-decide strategy is a good first step which can and should be followed by implementing maximums on parking as well.

—Ross Catrow

RVA Transit Week starts September 16th!

TAKE ACTION

This week is RVA Transit Week! We’ve put together a handful of events to help celebrate regular use of public transportation and also encourage the first-timers out there to give the bus a try. You can see the full list of events over on our website, but make sure you mark tomorrow, Monday the 16th, on your calendar as Bus to Work Day! It doesn’t matter if you’re a regular commuter or a bus newbie, plan your commute using the Transit app and then, if you don’t mind, do three things:

  1. Take a bus selfie!
  2. Answer the question, “Why does public transportation matter?”
  3. Share both with us on Twitter (@rvarapidtransit).

It’s a small thing, but seeing folks we know using the bus helps grow and show support for our public transportation system. It makes the regional conversations we need to have about continuing to extend and expand our bus network all the easier.

P.S. RVA Transit Week coincides with the Department of Rail and Public Transportation’s Try Transit Week. You can head over to that website and enter to win a one year of free public transportation.

AROUND THE REGION

Here’s another post in our ongoing series of pieces analyzing some of GRTC’s most current bus ridership data. This time we look at bus routes in the western part of the region that have some of the lowest rides per revenue service hour and what could be done to make those buses more useful to more folks. Perhaps unsurprisingly, by increasing the frequency—and doing some creative rejiggering—these routes could start to shine.

ELSEWHERE

A quick check in on two BRTs from elsewhere in America:

First, after its initial week of operation, Indianapolis’s BRT ridership numbers are in! The Red Line, which covers about twice the distances as the Pulse, saw between 7,985 and 10,551 rides per day. For some context, Richmond’s BRT pulled an average of 6,671 rides per weekday during this past July (PDF). While the Pulse’s ridership goal was just 3,500 rides per weekday, Indy’s goal is 11,000. They’ve yet to hit that, but, just like in Richmond, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the ridership grow over the next several months as folks begin to work the Red Line into their daily transportation lifestyles.

Second, from Twitter, here’s an interesting thread about how an increase in fare enforcement in Cleveland has led to a 19% decline in ridership on their BRT, the Healthline. The Healthline, which scored a silver ranking from ITDP when it opened (the Pulse in Richmond scored a bronze ranking), would have its ranking dropped if rescored today.

—Ross Catrow

Making our low-frequency routes shine

researched and co-authored by Nicholas Smith

In our previous post we looked at GRTC’s bus ridership by revenue service hour across each route. We learned that our frequent routes (the #1ABC, #2ABC, #3ABC, and #5) are crushing it, and the City should look into extending frequent service from 7:00 PM to at least 10:00 PM. We also learned that several less-frequent routes, like the #86 on the Southside and the #12 in the East End, could benefit from more frequency throughout the day.

But what about the routes with very few rides per revenue service hour? By increasing the frequency of some of the routes serving Richmond’s Near West End and central Henrico County—plus with some creative rejiggering—trips between the two jurisdictions could be easier and quicker while still providing life-line service to folks living in less dense areas. With even these small changes, we could make real progress towards a truly regional, frequent, and far-reaching public transportation system. So! Let’s dig in and look at which routes underperform when looking at rides per revenue service hour and what GRTC and the region could do to make those routes more useful. Most of the below recommendations come straight from the Department of Rail and Public Transportation’s Richmond Regional Transit Vision Plan.

First, a quick refresher: Revenue service hours are a measure of how much bus service a system or individual route provides—it’s one bus picking up and dropping off passengers for one hour (not counting waiting time at the end of a line). It’s a nice way to compare routes of varying frequency and length. Here’s the chart of bus ridership by revenue service hour from June 30, 2019–August 3, 2019:

Average weekly ridership per revenue hour 4.png

What jumps out immediately is, woof, some of those hourly West End routes carry very few passengers—specifically the #18, #76, and #77. Let’s look at each one individually and see what’s going on and what could be done to make those routes more useful to more people.

#18 Henrico Government Center

  • Average weekly ridership: 658
  • Average weekly ridership per revenue service hour: 10.12
  • Route map

The #18 Henrico Government Center route has so much potential! It serves Willow Lawn, Libbie Mill, the Staples Mill train station, and, as its name suggests, the Henrico Government Center. These are all interesting, popular, and useful destinations, but unfortunately, the low frequency makes accessing these locations a real chore. A missed bus can mean a long wait with no other options—especially for folks trying to get to work further down the line, the General District Court, or other important services at the Henrico Government Center. Additionally, the one-way loop at the end of the route makes for less efficient trips along the Staples Mill corridor.

Recommendations

  • Increase the frequency to 30-minutes.
  • Consider eliminating the one-way loop at the end of the #18, avoiding the detour to the Henrico Government Center, and allowing the route to continue farther down Staples Mill Road. Note that this change would have serious implications to think through and plan for: It’s important to maintain connections to the Henrico Government Center and the Parham Hospital; and continue to provide access to public transportation for the handful of lower-income neighborhoods between Broad, Wistar, Staples Mill, and Glenside. To address the first set of concerns, the County could begin planning for a bus on Parham Road, stretching from the Regency Mall area in the west all the way to St. Joseph’s Villa in the north.
  • Improve sidewalks and pedestrian connections for folks traveling along Staples Mill. All bus riders are pedestrians at the beginning and end of their trips. Folks will not use any new bus service if they can’t walk to it safely.

#77 Grove

  • Average weekly ridership: 1,068
  • Average weekly ridership per revenue service hour: 6.04
  • Route map

The #77 Grove connects Willow Lawn to the Science Museum Pulse Station via Grove and Libbie Avenues. Anecdotally, the old #16 Grove bus was a popular commuter route, connecting folks living in the Near West End to jobs downtown with a one-seat ride, and, in the other direction, providing convenient access to jobs (and classes) at the University of Richmond. Those trips are less convenient now and require a transfer to the Pulse or, in the case of UR, a long, uncomfortable walk.

Recommendations

  • Replace the #77 with a route #5A (see map below). This would extend at least one of the #5 buses west, past Carytown, to cover today’s existing #77 route. This would recreate the one-seat ride to downtown that riders of the old #16 Grove bus lost in the recent bus network redesign, while also opening up a one-seat ride from downtown to the shops at Three Chopt and Patterson. With proper timing, the #5A could provide seamless connections to the #19, making trips further west easier, and possibly saving GRTC money in the long run, too!
  • As with the #18, the City and County should improve sidewalks and pedestrian infrastructure along the western part of this route—especially to encourage walking to and from UR’s campus.
shared.jpeg

#76 Patterson

  • Average weekly ridership: 429
  • Average weekly ridership per revenue service hour: 5.14
  • Route map

The #76 Patterson connects parts of the Museum District and the Near West End to Willow Lawn in the west and the Science Museum Pulse Station in the east. With nearly no bus service south of Broad Street in the Near West End, the #76 serves as a life-line route to get folks living in this lowish-density, mostly-residential part of town to better, more-frequent bus service while also providing access to homecare jobs. Honestly, this is a great example of a coverage route that most likely won’t serve a huge number of riders but saves a bunch of folks what could be a ½ mile walk to their nearest bus stop.

Recommendations

  • Implement improvements to the #77 Grove, see what folks think, and learn from those changes. Possible options include a similar interlining with the #5, merging it with the #76 while upping the frequency of the combined route, or leaving it as is.

These are just a few of the ways the region could work together to make a more frequent and far-reaching bus system that’s more useful for more folks. It is not, and is not intended to be, an exhaustive list! There are many clever bus solutions out there—some more expensive than others—but most of the above recommendations come directly from the region’s Transit Vision Plan. We have a blueprint for a truly regional system (which even has a little bit of rare regional buy-in), and all that’s left is to start putting the pieces together.