Good morning, RVA: Disparate impact, schools news, and paid family leave

Good morning, RVA! It's 73 °F, and today temperatures will hang out in the mid 80s. While cooler, there’s a pretty good chance of rain throughout today. The weekend weather looks temperate and amazing, though.

Water cooler

Local housing expert and CEO of Housing Opportunities Made Equal of Virginia Heather Crislip has a column in today’s paper about the federal government’s attempts to revise the disparate impact rules as they relate to housing. Preventing policies that seem fair from having a “disparate impact” on certain groups of folks is critically important, and, as Crislip says, disparate impact standards are “one of the few tools we have to root out systemic racism and discrimination.” We deal with this in transportation, too, where changes to a transit system cannot have a disparate impact on people of color or folks with lower incomes. It’s the reason for the equity analysis that went into the recent redesign of Richmond’s bus network (PDF, p. 33) and also the impetus behind this past spring’s Title VI complaint against GRTC. City Lab has a bit more background on the issue as it relates to housing.

Justin Mattingly at the Richmond Times Dispatch has a small update on the Richmond Public Schools rezoning process 💸. He says that the new George Mason Elementary currently under construction in the East End, which is built for 750 students, will only host 422 students under each of the three rezoning options we have at the moment. I don’t know if this is because Cropper—the folks putting together these maps—doesn’t want to count on the new facility opening in time for the 2020 school year or what. I do think, just based on how quickly and substantially the elementary school options on the City’s Northside changed, that the East End’s zoning options are open to changes based on feedback from the public as well. You can give the school district that feedback by letting them know your thoughts, feelings, and concerns via this online form.

Henrico’s schools superintendent gets a $1,200 monthly vehicle stipend?? What the heck kind of vehicle does she need to get around in? I’ve got absolutely zero problem with paying local leaders a ton of money to do what are extremely challenging jobs, but dang. We all know that I’m absolutely clueless when it comes to cars, but $14,400 per year seems like a lot. Maybe its to buy cars for her whole family? Could she use it for bikes and bus fare I wonder? So many questions! The RTD’s C. Suarez Rojas has the details.

The Commonwealth Institute has an interesting blog up about how the lack of paid family and medical leave impacts women of color. Did you know this: “In Virginia, it’s estimated that over half of families are unable to take advantage of unpaid leave through [the federal Family and Medical Leave Act] because they don’t qualify or can’t afford to.” TCI points to a few proposals that this past year’s General Assembly considered, none passed of course, but “discussion about the proposed policy resulted in a bipartisan agreement to form a work group to further study the issue.” That’s something, I guess.

Streets reminder! This Saturday a ton of people on bikes will take part in the Virginia Credit Union Moonlight Ride (you can even still sign up you and yours). What this means for folks not participating in one of Richmond’s most fun and chil bike-related events, is that streets on the Northside will close around 5:00 PM on Saturday, and, of course, there will be a ton of additional people on bikes scattered throughout the area. Please pay extra attention if you need to make your way through the nieghborhood, and keep an eye on the GRTC twitter account for possible bus detours.

This morning's patron longread

How Segregation Caused Your Traffic Jam

Submitted by Patron Suzanne. This is also the story in Richmond. After the federal government ended segregation by schools, the state and local governments looked for a work around and found it in the highway system. Even today we see highway-building have similar results when local jurisdictions use tens of millions of dollars of federal and state highway money to build massive streets for drivers while refusing to pay for even the most basic bus service.

This intertwined history of infrastructure and racial inequality extended into the 1950s and 1960s with the creation of the Interstate highway system. The federal government shouldered nine-tenths of the cost of the new Interstate highways, but local officials often had a say in selecting the path. As in most American cities in the decades after the Second World War, the new highways in Atlanta — local expressways at first, then Interstates — were steered along routes that bulldozed “blighted” neighborhoods that housed its poorest residents, almost always racial minorities. This was a common practice not just in Southern cities like Jacksonville, Miami, Nashville, New Orleans, Richmond and Tampa, but in countless metropolises across the country, including Chicago, Cincinnati, Denver, Detroit, Indianapolis, Los Angeles, Milwaukee, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Syracuse and Washington.

If you’d like your longread to show up here, go chip in a couple bucks on the ol’ Patreon.

GRTC welcomes Julie Timm as their new CEO

Yesterday—in big, big transit news—GRTC announced that they’ve hired Julie Timm as their new CEO. Timm, who served as the Director of Development for Nashville’s transit agency, fills a leadership role that had been vacant for about a year. She’s a Hampton Roads native and previously worked for Hampton Road Transit.

From the GRTC press release:

I am so excited to be coming home to Virginia and honored for the opportunity to serve the Greater Richmond community. Mobility is an indispensable requirement for how we define our communities and how we connect to housing, jobs, education, healthcare, food and recreation. More importantly, it is an essential element to how we connect to each other. This time of growth and transformation for Greater Richmond opens a valuable window for us to clearly define how we will advance those mobility connections for the prosperity of all the residents of our region.”

Timm will officially take the helm (Is their a bus version of a helm? Step into the operator’s seat?) next month.

Make transit more useful and more folks will use it

As cities around the country see their bus ridership drop and drop, the Richmond region has seen one of the largest ridership increases in the nation. The region has done that through a smart combination of capital investment (aka the Pulse) and common-sense (and less flashy) expansions of existing service—especially in Henrico County.

Earlier this summer, GRTC released ridership data up through the end of June. That means we can now see what a full year of bus ridership—since the launch of the Pulse and the redesign of the region’s entire bus network—looks like. There are a ton of interesting things to tease out of this huge set of data, but one thing that jumps straight off the page is the impact of Henrico increasing the span of their major routes.

A quick refresher: After the Pulse launched and Richmond City redesigned its share of the bus network last summer, Henrico County followed suit in the fall by expanding bus service to Short Pump and adding nights and weekends service to its major routes (the #7A/B, #19, and #91). Take a look at this graph of ridership for the #91 and the #7A/B and see if you can spot when those buses started running on nights and weekends:

Henrico ridership, 2018.06-2019.06.jpeg

Not only did those routes see a huge spike in ridership when the later service hours began, but the ridership matched—or even outpaced—the week when you could ride the bus for free (far left portion of the graph)! Useful service >>> free service! By adding nights and weekends—especially night service—the County opened up all sorts of bus trips that were impossible before: Afternoon shifts, evening errands, Saturday jobs, and more. It makes a ton of sense that when you increase the usefulness of a bus, more folks will ride that bus.

The great thing about this kind of investment in bus service is that it is so easy. It required zero capital expenses, zero engineering schematics, and absolutely no lengthy applications for federal funding with all of the accompanying hoops to jump through. All it took was for a majority of the County’s Board of Supervisors to decided to pay for more bus service. Not to minimize the advocacy effort required to build the political will for this kind of support for public transit, but compared to securing a once-in-a-generation $25 million federal grant it’s a snap.

Now, what would happen if Richmond City decided to extend the span of it’s frequent bus network, running all of its 15-minute frequency routes until at least 10:00 PM? What sorts of trips would suddenly be possible for folks? What kind of ridership increase would the region see? We should find out—all it would take is the political will and a couple million bucks!

This week in transit: More transit-oriented development coming to Richmond

AROUND THE REGION

Last week, Richmond’s City Council approved the rezoning of Monroe Ward as recommended by the Pulse Corridor Plan. This new upzoning will limit the number of surface parking lots and encourage more and denser development in a neighborhood that has easy access to high-quality transit in both the Pulse and the #5 bus. You can read an overview and some context behind the rezoning here—as far as zoning summaries go, it’s a delightful read.

GRTC’s high school bus pass program was a great success last year, and the bus company is out at summer school programs making sure students are signed up and comfortable with riding the bus. At the end of last year, 42% of eligible students had signed up for the pass. If you’ve got an RPS high school student and want them to get free access to the entirety of our region’s bus network, you just need to fill out this permissions slip (Spanish version here).

Emma North, writing for RVA Mag, has a car-free tour through Richmond’s Arts District that, of course, heavily features the Pulse.

Are you in search of a good gift for the transit nerd in your life? Consider a print of this modern redesign of Richmond’s old street car network circa 1891. Give it a closer look, and you’ll see that a lot of Richmond’s current bus system is still based on the old street car lines from 130 years ago.

Logistical note: As summer winds down, this email newsletter will take a quick summer vacation for the next couple of weeks. HAGS!

ELSEWHERE

Here’s a good piece about how to design an equitable, just, and inclusive transportation system. From the article: “We have a 20th-century transportation network that needs to be redesigned to address the future needs of the 21st century. We are faced with a choice to continue following the examples set by our predecessors, or to shift the paradigm to right historical injustices by designing a network that is inclusive of all people while also preparing for the future.”

TransitCenter has a great post titled "The Right to Pee." about a recent study which found that bus operators routinely worked 10-hour shifts without a bathroom break. If you've ever wondered why there's a planned (and necessary) delay at the end of a bus line, this is why. Bus operators may be superheroes, but they're still human!

—Ross Catrow

This week in transit: New ridership numbers, national recognition, and park-and-rides

AROUND THE REGION

New systemwide GRTC ridership numbers through the week of May 19th (PDF) are out and available for you to download. So far this year, the entire system has seen about 7.8 million rides compared to just 6.7 million last year—and they’ve still got June’s numbers to run. Also, at 6,908 average weekday rides, the Pulse has nearly doubled the initial ridership projections of 3,500. Wow!

Check it out: More national media coverage on the success of the Pulse! GRTC’s Garland Williams talks to NPR’s Here & Now about how Richmond’s new BRT and redesigned bus network resulted in a 17% increase in bus ridership. Across America, transit ridership is on the decline, so it’s exciting to see other cities learning from Richmond’s success. One quibble: Williams doesn’t think we’ll see more dedicated bus lanes in Richmond. There are, in fact, a bunch of streets where the City could install dedicated lanes to speed up bus services and make public transportation faster, cheaper to run, and more competitive with folks who choose to drive personal vehicles. To name a few: E. Main Street, W. Main Street, W. Cary Street, 14th Street, Chamberlayne Avenue, and Hull Street—and that’s just in the city. If we want to make public transportation an easy and reliable way to get around—whether you have a car or not—we’ve got to start prioritizing it over personal vehicles.

ELSEWHERE

A frequent complaint about our region’s existing public transit system is the lack of park-and-rides specifically for the Pulse (park-and-rides exist for some of GRTC’s express buses). Charleston, South Carolina is working on their own rapid transit improvements and part of that includes a park-and-ride study. That’s maybe something Henrico County should consider on both the eastern and western ends of the Pulse line.

Oklahomans are stoked on public transportation! Oklahoma! Oklahoma! Oklahoma!

—Ross Catrow

This week in transit: The future is fast, frequent, reliable public transportation

TAKE ACTION

Jim McConnell at the Chesterfield Observer has some new details about the County’s investment in and around the Route 1 corridor as part of the Northern Jefferson Davis Special Area Plan. You’ll remember that plan as the one that strongly encouraged running public transportation along Route 1, which then ultimately lead to the County applying for and winning a state grant to help fund bus service over the next two years (renewable for a third year!).

It’s great progress for Chesterfield, and you can see how including public transportation in a special area plan can lead to great things—or at least make the advocacy work for great things easier. That’s why it’s important to get bus service similarly included in the Midlothian Community Special Area Plan. This plan anemically mentions our region’s transit vision plan just once but doesn’t even recommend bus service down Midlothian. If you’d like to see more full-throated support of public transportation in the Midlothian Community Special Area Plan, please let either the Planning Department or Supervisor Haley know.

AROUND THE REGION

Check out this Letter to the Editor from GRTC Vice Chairman Ben Campbell about the improvements the bus company has seen since the opening of the Pulse and the redesign of the bus network. Campbell hits on something we talk about frequently: The Richmond region has underinvested in transit for decades. In fact, the region spends less per-capita on public transportation than almost all of its peer cities. Until the entire region decides to fund transit at a more acceptable level—and/or finds a regional dedicated funding stream—we will always be playing transit catch up.

ELSEWHERE

Here’s a fascinating new report out of the Shared-Use Mobility Center about how transit agencies partnering with Uber isn’t all it’s cracked up to be (PDF). TransitCenter has a summary of the report, but this gets to the heart of it: “But the results from Pinellas County indicate that subsidizing car trips is fundamentally limited as a complement to fixed-route service, and that even in small-scale applications, it may not be an efficient use of scarce agency resources...The future of transit isn’t a $5 discount on Uber trips. It’s fast, frequent, reliable fixed-route service that gets people where they want to go.”

—Ross Catrow

This week in transit: Let’s get some buses on Midlothian Turnpike in Chesterfield County

TAKE ACTION

In Chesterfield County, the draft Midlothian Special Area Plan is out, and, if you’re a Chesterfield resident, it is ready for your comments. There’s not much in the way of public transportation in this plan, and that’s unfortunate for folks who want to age in place, can’t drive (or afford) a car, or would just like more options to get around than driving single-occupancy vehicles everywhere. The plan does acknowledge that a regional vision for public transportation exists and that it suggests running high-quality bus service down Midlothian Turnpike out to Westchester Commons. However, the special area plan stops short of actually recommending any sort of bus service on the corridor at all. That’s a bummer.

So! If you would like to see a more thoughtful inclusion of public transportation in the Midlothian Special Area Plan you can contact either the planning department or Midlothian District Supervisor Leslie Haley. Maybe say something along the lines of: “Please include more public transportation along Midlothian Turnpike in the Midlothian Special Area Plan—specifically GRTC bus service from the City line out to Westchester Commons as recommended by the Greater RVA Transit Vision Plan.”

Remember! We worked hard to get more more public transportation service included in the Northern Jefferson Davis Special Area Plan, and, as you’ll see below, that turned in to actual, factual bus service coming to the County later this year.

AROUND THE REGION

This past Tuesday the region celebrated the one-year anniversary of the Pulse and redesign of Richmond’s entire bus network. Adding to the celebration, ITDP, the international group charged with scoring and ranking bus rapid transit systems worldwide, popped in to town to award the Pulse a bronze ranking (PDF). This is a big deal! Zero cities in America have achieved a gold ranking and just two have achieved silver. The region did a good job following internationally-recognized best practices and built a high-quality piece of transit infrastructure. High-fives all around! NBC12 has a recap of the award presentation event, and you can read the Greater Washington Partnership’s one-year-later analysis of the Pulse and the new bus network (PDF). Two key takeaways from the latter: Ridership has increased 17% in Richmond compared to a 2% decline nationally, and our “leaders should continue to build out the comprehensive transit network...in order to ensure that all residents of the region have access to economic opportunity.”

Speaking of, here’s some good news on one of the pieces of that comprehensive transit network: The Commonwealth Transportation Board approved funding for bus service in Chesterfield County along Route 1! GRTC and the County are working out the details as we speak and should have buses on the ground as early as spring 2020. This has been a long time coming and is, fingers crossed, just the first expansion of public transportation we’ll see in Chesterfield.

RVA Rapid Transit board member and executive director of Virginians for High Speed Rail Danny Plaugher has a column in the paper on how Virginia is taking big steps on passenger rail and now needs the federal government to do their part.

ELSEWHERE

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan announced that 1,500 residents of public housing will receive free unlimited transit passes. The spokesperson for their housing authority said, “The majority of our residents are people with very low incomes and they’re often making very difficult choices about what to spend what little money they have on. What may seem like a small amount of bus fare to us may cause them to think twice about going to the doctor or going to see a relative.“ The program is funded with $1 million from a voter-approved Transportation Benefit District.

—Ross Catrow

This week in transit: Can you believe it? It’s been a year!

TAKE ACTION

This coming Tuesday at the ICA (601 W. Broad Street) from 8:00–9:45 AM, join us, Chamber RVA, and the folks from the Greater Washington Partnership to celebrate all of the transportation success Richmond has seen over the last 12 months. You can expect breakfast, an opportunity to have some transit chats, remarks by VCU President Rao, and a panel featuring the Mayor, Jennifer Mitchell (from the Department of Rail and Public Transportation), and Gary Armstrong (from the GRTC Board of Directors).

The event is free and open to the public, but please RSVP so we have an idea of headcount. See y’all there!

AROUND THE REGION

Can you believe it? This coming Monday is the one-year anniversary of the Pulse and the entire redesign of Richmond’s bus network. Since then we’ve seen ridership increase, VCU buy into the system, new fare payment options, bus service expansion in Henrico County, additional money for transit in the Mayor’s budget, and hints of public transportation coming to Chesterfield County. That’s a lot of transit progress, and we have a lot of transit momentum—which is great, because there’s still a ton of work left to do. You can read GRTC’s anniversary press release here which has some neat stats and facts about the Pulse one year later.

This past week, the folks who redesigned Richmond’s bus network released a memo detailing errors in methodology and calculations in a report put out by VCU’s Center for Urban and Regional Analysis (PDF). The original report claimed, among other things, that after the redesign 22% fewer lower-income dwelling units were within 1/4 mile of a bus stop. The new memo found that only 2% fewer lower-income dwelling units were within 1/4 mile of a bus stop—and, of course, good public transportation is about more than proximity to a bus stop. In fact, the memo notes that, with the new bus network, the average resident can access 6% more jobs in 45 minutes while the average lower-income resident can access 10% more jobs in that same time period. You can read a bit more about the memo, the original report, and GRTC’s response over on the RVA Rapid Transit website.

Earlier this month, the Richmond Free Press ran a Letter to the Editor asking for all GRTC stops to have benches (and other amenities) installed (see below for some more thoughts on that!). This past week, RVA Rapid Transit boardmember Nicholas Smith wrote a follow up Letter to the Editor about how if we want more amenities at more bus stops—which, of course we do—we need to ask our elected officials across the region for more money for more bus stops.

ELSEWHERE

An analysis out of Wayne State University looked at the distribution of bus stop shelters across Detroit’s bus network and found that better placing the shelters could “roughly double the amount of time bus riders in Detroit spent in sheltered waiting environments daily, from 63,000 minutes a day to about 111,000.“ In fact, “by moving existing bus shelters to better-used stops, the Detroit Department of Transportation could increase the number of people who have access to shelters by 817 percent.” Whoa. After Richmond’s bus network redesign, I’d love to see a similar look (additionally taking into account race and income) at where bus stop amenities exist now and where they’re most needed.

—Ross Catrow

A new analysis of Richmond’s bus network redesign

Last winter, VCU’s Center for Urban and Regional Analysis put out a report about Richmond’s bus network redesign (PDF) that claimed, among other things, that after the redesign 22% fewer lower-income dwelling units were within 1/4 mile of a bus stop.

Today, the folks who redesigned the bus network, Jarrett Walker + Associates, released a memo detailing errors in methodology and with calculations in that original report (PDF). In fact, following CURA’s methodology and using their data, JWA found that only 2% fewer lower-income dwelling units were within 1/4 mile of a bus stop—and, of course, public transportation is about more than proximity to a bus stop. In fact, JWA notes that, with the new bus network, the average resident can access 6% more jobs in 45 minutes while the average lower-income resident can access 10% more jobs in that same time period.

From the Jarrett Walker + Associates release:

The CURA report also contains numerous calculation errors and key mistakes in its methods. For example:

  • CURA used a roadway network that excluded many potential walking paths. As a result, they calculated many walks as being longer than they actually are.
  • CURA excluded large parcels on the edge of their miscalculated walking areas entirely, even if only a small portion of the parcel was outside the walk area. For example, in their analysis of the old network, Creighton Court is fully within the ¼ mile area and all 356 dwelling units are counted in their numbers. For the new network, because less than 1% of Creighton Court is not covered by their walk area, none of the 356 dwelling units are counted.
  • CURA made manual adjustments to the results for dwelling units in low income areas but only for the old bus system and not for the new one, thus skewing the results in favor of the old network. This manual adjustment, and the other issues with their methods, lead to their erroneous result purporting to show a 22% decline in dwelling units in low income areas within ¼ mile of a bus stop. Strictly following their flawed methods would have shown only a 2% decline, without their skewed manual adjustments

And from a GRTC release:

JWA chose to review GRTC’s network changes after a December 2018 report erroneously and falsely concluded a significantly negative impact on disadvantaged populations. The Center for Urban and Regional Analysis (CURA) at Virginia Commonwealth University released the report entitled “Impact of the GRTC 2018 Reroute on Richmond’s Disadvantaged Population” based on analysis mistakes, manual manipulations and incorrect data calculations, as JWA concludes.

GRTC Interim Chief Executive Officer Sheryl Adams says, “We cannot permit false assumptions to perpetuate in this community when GRTC, in partnership with local jurisdictions and quasi-governments, is committed to responding to the needs of the communities it serves. GRTC strongly endorses the conclusions of Jarrett Walker + Associates.”

This week in transit: VCU gets back on the bus

TAKE ACTION

There are two local events coming up in the next couple of weeks that you should put on your calendar:

First, June 18th is the City’s Multimodal Day. Take the opportunity today to plan how you can get around town on the 18th using your feet, a scooter, a bike, or the bus—(fake) bonus points if you combine multiple modes in a single trip! You can sign the Multimodal Day pledge here.

Second, the Greater Washington Partnership will host an event celebrating Richmond’s transportation success(es) on June 25th at the ICA from 8:00–9:45 AM. Expect some breakfast, an awards presentation, and definitely a Mayor Stoney sighting.

AROUND THE REGION

Last week VCU and GRTC signed a new, three-year agreement to extend the existing unlimited rides pilot program for all VCU, VCU Health System, and Virginia Premier students and employees. As the region’s largest employer and one of the state’s largest public universities, keeping VCU on the bus is huge and fantastic news. Additionally, VCU will pay $1.42 million for the program this coming year, up from the $1.2 million they pay currently. That amount will increase each of the subsequent years, too. Keeping the cost inline with the expected increase in VCU ridership is an important step in keeping fares—across the entire system—fair.

The scooters have landed! This past Thursday, Bolt dropped their fleet of electric scooters in Richmond. You can watch some short remarks and see a gif of the Mayor riding a scooter for the first time here. Bolt says they’ve got a fleet of 500-vehicles and that 35% of them will end up in neighborhoods with lower-incomes. They’ve also got an income-based discount program called Bolt Forward that will give folks who qualify 50% off scooter rides. If well-implemented, these equity-focused components of Bolt’s scooter program can help provided first/last-mile access to public transportation—but they need to be actually implemented. Stay tuned, and ride safe!

ELSEWHERE

This past General Assembly session saw the creation of a dedicated transportation funding stream for the I-81 corridor. While it’s mostly for road building and maintenance, it did leave the Richmond Region as the only major region in Virginia without a similar dedicated source of transportation funds. As our region’s leaders and elected officials inevitably start thinking about finding a transportation funding stream of their own, first, they must mandate a sizable chunk of that funding go toward building, maintaining, and operating regional public transportation. Building more roads will not save our region from congestion, climate-change, or the increasingly dire housing crisis. Second, they can and should learn a lot from the mistakes and missed opportunities related to Nashville’s recently-failed ballot referendum, or maybe take a look at Salt Lake City where 40% of a newly-levied sales tax will go towards public transportation.

—Ross Catrow