Casting the Regional Vision: Why BRT Now?

Of late some in our city have been voicing concern about plans for the GRTC Pulse. They have been doing so out of very good intentions, and we applaud their passion for effective transit. Nevertheless, in responding to the concerns we've heard - listed below – we lay out why now is the time to press forward with a project that has been years in the making.

1) It's a bus line from a shopping center (Willow Lawn) to a condo (Rockett's Landing) designed for commuters and "choice riders" (the GRTC's term) on essentially the same route as the existing #6 - - - for $54 million in tax payer money, $8 million of which comes from Richmond.

The short answer: The GRTC Pulse is neither a regular bus line, nor the same as the #6. It extends farther than the #6 and functions like a light rail line, stopping at less frequently than a bus route but still connecting many major areas along its route, including downtown and VCU. This route was chosen after much study because of its current density, further potential for growth, and capacity to connect everyone more fully to the commerce, employment, health care, higher education, government services, and recreation that lies along the corridor, and beyond via swifter transfers. Currently 33,000 people and 77,000 jobs lie within a half-mile of planned BRT stations, with more of each projected in the decades ahead. Clearly other activity centers and neighborhoods lie beyond this corridor, but this project is a starting point and catalyst for regional improvements and extensions toward metro-wide transit. 

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2) In addition to the $54 million capital expenditures, the BRT will operate at a deficit that seems likely to cost the city millions every year - but we have reliable estimates because the GRTC keeps changing the projected ridership.

The short answer: Nearly all transportation services (roads, buses, etc.) tend to operate at a deficit. They generally are a public service. That said, the faster more reliable transit provided by BRT has also been shown in cities around the globe to be a spur to economic growth, ultimately offsetting any higher costs in GRTC budget.  

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3) The Richmond BRT is the only such bus route in the country that does not include parking (park and ride) for the suburban and "choice" riders it proposed to attract.

The short answer: Conversations continue to be underway with regards to park-and-ride lots, but it’s key to note the goal is a comprehensive system where park-and-rides along this current stretch are generally not a key to success – park-and-ride need is enormously reduced if the line runs out to Short Pump and also connects with corridors down routes 360, 1, and 60.

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4) The plan will reduce Broad Street from 3 lanes to 2 in each direction.

The short answer: According to recent traffic studies, at present two travel lanes in each direction on Broad Street provide more capacity than current traffic at any point along the route. BRT plans also include adding left-hand turn lanes at certain intersections, thereby helping ease the flow of traffic. Ultimately, with the BRT in conjunction with a growing population, Broad Street will probably feel neither no more nor no less trafficked, but absent this reliable, efficient transit alternative that can compete with car use, Broad Street will undoubtedly be far more congested in the decades ahead. 

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5) The plan will eliminate many left turns on Broad Street, will eliminate about half the parking spaces, and most of the loading zones.

The short answer: Many left-turns are already restricted along the corridor today, yet even after any and all changes with the BRT, left-turns will still be available about every three blocks. Ultimately, while roughly 300 on-street parking spots on Broad will be restricted along the corridor, there will only be an overall 4% reduction in parking spots (public and private, on-street and off-street) within one block of the corridor from N Thompson St (just east of 195) to 14th St (see link to details below). This reduction in parking comes in exchange for far more free flowing access for employees and customers via transit. The City’s Department of Planning & Development Review is currently in consultation with business owners about how best to reconfigure loading zones.

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6) The construction will take about a year and a half. It seems likely that many of the businesses that have generated the renaissance on Broad over past eight years or so will not survive the construction nor the long-term consequences of the project.

The short answer: Construction (at station sites and where the BRT will be median running, from Thompson Street to Foushee Street) will be done in phases guided by VDOT, which has an excellent record managing projects while minimizing the effect on local residents and businesses. The City is also currently undertaking not only a study on ways to mitigate effects on businesses during nearby construction, but also a study on how to best encourage future growth along the corridor.

It is critical not to let the long term of decades/the coming century of quality development-spurring transit be crowded out by concern for three to four months of carefully planned construction at a given section along the route. As soon as reliable efficient transit is up and running, it will enormously ease the flow of customers and employees to businesses along the corridor. 

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7) The plan does nothing for those who really need better transit service: the regular bus riders who sorely need better service. The GRTC's own $1.2 million study states that 47% of Richmonders have no bus service where they live, and the proposed bus route does nothing to alter that disturbing fact.

The short answer: Addressing the needs of those who are dependent upon transit to navigate the metro area is critically important to this service and its extension into the counties. The BRT will provide reliable, efficient service, and GRTC bus lines will be reconfigured to maximize connectivity with the BRT (the contract for this study, which will entail lots of civic input, is imminent and will be completed before the phased construction ends). The Richmond Regional Transit Vision Plan, which the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation is currently undertaking, will engage how best to expand to a full metro-wide system, with this 7.6-mile stretch serving as the crucial first step. 

The metro-wide system and the ways in which it would enhance equality of access, quality of life, environmental care, and economic development is precisely the effort that RVA Rapid Transit, The Partnership for Smarter Growth, and The Clergy Committee for Rapid Transit are diligently working. We are doing so in consultation and collaboration with planners, public servants, non-profits, institutions, businesses, and citizens across the metropolitan area, and we can absolutely use and need your support!

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