This week in transit

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

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

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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: Public transportation candidate questionnaires

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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

This week in transit: Fill! That! Bus!

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This coming Saturday, September 7th, GRTC will host a food drive benefiting Feed More at the Willow Lawn Kroger. Stop by between 12:00–4:00 PM and fill the bus with the sorts of shelf-stable food items for which Feed More is always on the hunt. Conveniently, since the food drive is literally at a Kroger, you can buy all of the most-needed items right on the spot. And, of course, Willow Lawn is easily accessible from most parts of town via GRTC’s bus network.

AROUND THE REGION

The Henrico CitIzen has a good piece looking back on the past year of newly expanded bus service in Henrico County. Rider stories support what we already know from the data: Adding nights and weekends to Henrico’s major routes made public transportation more useful to more people. Here’s one rider talking about Route #91: “And what’s worse, people who perhaps did not have the means for a car and live out here along [the Laburnum] corridor in particular couldn’t take jobs that required shift work.”

Two other things to note:

  1. While ridership on Route #79 (which runs by Regency) has decreased, a proposed mixed-used development in the area will ultimately drive a lot of bus ridership. Henrico’s assistant director of Public Works says “We know there’s more development coming in that area that will help make that route more successful, so we have the route in place anticipating that development.” Smart. Also, looking into the future a bit, when the Pulse gets extended further west, the Regency area will need a frequent route connecting it, via Parham Road, to Broad Street. With VCU buying a 234,000-square-foot building out that way and the County hinting at denser development around the intersection, there is a possibility we could see westward Pulse expansion in the not-too-distant future.
  2. One of the major complication with extending public transportation into a county dominated by decades of suburban landuse patterns is the lack of safe ways to walk to that improved bus service. Currently, it’s incredibly unsafe to cross Broad Street in the western parts of Henrico County, and it’s disappointing to read that VDOT will only consider building elevated pedestrian bridges in that area because of the heavy car traffic. That kind of infrastructure sounds expensive and, unfortunately, unlikely. By doing nothing at all, though, the message to bus riders here is that their safety is less important than car drivers’ convenience.

ELSEWHERE

Two big transit success stories from across the country:

Today, Indianapolis will launch the Red Line, a 13-mile Bus Rapid Transit line with 10-minute headways and an all-electric bus fleet. Richmond’s BRT was the new hotness for the last year or so, but, there’s no doubt Indianapolis’s new system will now be all anyone’s talking about (well, anyone who spends time thinking and talking about cool transit infrastructure). Back in Richmond, we should ask ourselves what the next surprising, bold thing we could do as a mid-sized city with a lot of transportation momentum?

From Streetsblog: “Voters in Phoenix have soundly rejected a proposal that would have halted the expansion of the city’s light rail system—a proposition that had the backing of dark money linked to the notorious anti-transit Koch brothers.” Most transit referendums in recent memory, but not all (see Nashville), have passed in a big way, and it’s nice to see an anti-transit referendum fail similarly.

—Ross Catrow

This week in transit: GRTC hires a new CEO

AROUND THE REGION

Big bus news this past week: GRTC has hired Julie Timm as their new CEO. Timm most recently served as the Director of Development for Nashville’s transit agency and previously worked with nearby Hampton Roads Transit. It is, of course, an exciting time for public transportation in the Richmond Region, and it’s fantastic to hear that GRTC has found someone to lead them through their next stage of growth toward a frequent and far-reaching regional transit system. Timm will get started in Richmond at some point next month.

What kind of impact did Henrico adding nights and weekend service to their major bus lines have on ridership? Now that we’re deep into summer—almost a year after those changes—we can dig into ridership data and learn a few things. One thing that’s abundantly clear is that if you make transit more useful more folks will use it. Increasing the span of bus service allows all sorts of trips that were impossible before: Afternoon shifts, evening errands, Saturday jobs, and more. See if you can spot the point at which the county added more service to the #91 and #7A/B:

Henrico ridership, 2018.06-2019.06.jpeg

Greater Greater Washington’s new Virginia Correspondent, Wyatt Gordon, has a good look back at the last couple of years of transit progress in Richmond—it even features this familiar (and depressing) table of spending on public transit in Richmond and among our peer cities. We’ve got a lot of work to do if we want a truly frequent and far-reaching transit system for our entire region, but, dang, we’ve made some progress and have some momentum!

In the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Bill Lohmann has a story about Thyraellis Howard, a woman who commuted from the East End to Innsbrook to finish up her education—that’s a trip that takes a couple buses and a 2-mile bike ride. These sorts of stories are supposed to be heartwarming examples of resiliency, and they are, but they also point out the limitations of our existing transportation network. Trips from the East End, where tons of people live, to Innsbrook, where tons of jobs exist, shouldn’t be this hard.

Do you want to drive a bus? GRTC is hiring operators, and maybe that’s you?

ELSEWHERE

This story in the New York Times about segregation and highway-building in Atlanta almost exactly mirrors what played out in Richmond during the 1950s and 60s.

—Ross Catrow

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

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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

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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!

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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

This week in transit: VCU gets back on the bus

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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