Richmond’s Department of Social Services should be easily accessible

On November 8th, Mark Robinson at the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported that the City will consider moving the Department of Social Services from its current location behind City Hall to a Southside location off Commerce Road. We’re concerned that the proposed location is hard to access for Richmonders traveling on foot, bike, or by public transportation.

The current DSS location is accessible by sidewalks, bike lanes, buses from almost every neighborhood, and is a short walk from a nearby Pulse station. The City’s investment in transportation infrastructure around the existing location makes getting to Social Services—and other nearby City departments that provide valuable services—straightforward and easy for City residents. The proposed Southside site, on the other hand, lacks even basic amenities like sidewalks. Additionally, it’s set back from a major corridor, separated by a railroad track, ponds, factories, and forest land.

Most importantly, the proposed location at the end of Walmsley Boulevard is not on the way to anywhere; its geography will always make it a hard place to serve with high-quality public transportation. About choosing a location for an institution whose patrons heavily use transit, expert Jarrett Walker says:

“As a transit planner, I constantly encounter situations where something has been built in a way that precludes quality transit, where I can see that if it had been built a little differently, transit would have been possible without compromising any of the development’s other goals. I’ve also dealt with situations where a transit-dependent institution—say a social-service office catering to low-income people or an assisted living center for active seniors—chose to locate in a place where the land was cheap because the transport options were terrible, and then blamed the transit agency for not running buses to their inaccessible site. These cases are the result of a poor respect and understanding of transit as a background consideration in all urban development.”

We know the Department of Social Services needs new facilities, but we’re concerned that the proposed location is and will be difficult for Richmonders to access.

We’d like to hear more from the City and from the community about this proposed location and its potential impacts on DSS clients and employees. To that end, we’ll be reaching out to the City to, hopefully, have a conversation about the transportation aspects of this proposal. If you have thoughts, concerns, or would like to share your perspective, please send us an email: