Rapid Transit Proves Effective in Richmond-sized Cities


Most people who have lived in metro Richmond for any duration of time come to see the city as a “big small town”. It’s big enough that you can get a taste of city life, but not so big that you feel overcrowded and have to deal with a high cost of living. The supporters of RVA Rapid Transit love the Richmond region and believe that a comprehensive Rapid Transit System will substantially improve the quality of life for the entire metro area. We’d like to share some examples of how cities similar to Richmond have successfully implemented comprehensive transportation systems.

In 2012, Reconnecting America, a national nonprofit that “integrates transportation and community redevelopment,”  released a report, “Midsize Cities on the Move: A Look At the Next Generation of Rapid Bus, Bus Rapid Transit, and Street Car Projects In the United States.” (You can download the full report here.)

The report defines a “midsize city” as any city between 50,000 and 250,000 residents. Many midsize cities are part of metro areas of 100,000 to 10 million.  The report notes that midsize cities are often characterized by both promise and problems. On the positive side, many are inexpensive to live in, have lower levels of congestion and have institutional assets such as universities. On the negative side, many of them struggle with poverty, unemployment and limited tax revenues.

Does any of that sound familiar? Based on the report’s definition, Richmond is a pretty typical midsize city. The Reconnecting America report shows that successful rapid transit in a city  the size of Richmond is not only possible, it’s already being implemented with great results.

In Eugene, OR, transit planners have begun construction of the first phases of a 61-mile network of bus rapid transit (BRT) lines. In 2007, the Emerald Express, the first BRT line, opened for business. This line connects downtown Eugene with its partner city Springfield, while serving major destinations like the University of Oregon. In 2009 the Federal Transit Administration reviewed the line and found that ridership had doubled compared to previous service, riders found the service to be more reliable and developers had taken interest in developing along the BRT line (p. 42).

In 2008, residents in Flagstaff, AZ, approved a ballot measure to fund Mountain Links, the city’s first rapid bus service, which links downtown Flagstaff, the Northern Arizona University, and off campus residential and commercial areas called the Woodlands (p. 26). Already, data from ridership indicates that Mountain Links has 600,000 trips per year (p. 41).  As a result, Northern Arizona University has closed some parking lots and converted them to green public spaces.

In Grand Rapids Michigan, a town that has reinvented itself as a hub for high tech and medical industries, the city is constructing a 9.6 mile long BRT route, where 65% of the route consists of dedicated lanes.  The silver line will be the first BRT line in Michigan. Already, developers have shown interest, and one grocery store has agreed to locate there (p. 23).

The report contains several suggestions for achieving successful transit-oriented development in midsize cities.  These suggestions include having an overall vision of economic development with transit as a key element, working with business, institutional interests and property owners to support transit-oriented development and enacting supportive zoning to create the optimal densities of different types of development around transit routes.

The report shares just a few examples of midsize cities across the nation that are realizing the potential of sustainable, transit-oriented development. We look forward to Richmond joining their ranks so citizens of the metro area can benefit from the economic and quality of life improvements that a comprehensive rapid transit system will bring. We hope you’ll join RVA Rapid Transit in making this vision a reality!

Photo Credit: Ben Schumin, Wikimedia Commons