chesterfield

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

Buses could come to Route 1 in Chesterfield as soon as spring of 2020

On May 22nd, the Chesterfield Board of Supervisors heard an update on the (potential) pilot program to bring public transportation to Route 1. You can listen to the entire presentation over on the Board's website (skip forward to 2:08:00). Some background: Chesterfield has applied to the State's Department of Rail and Public Transportation for 80% of the operating costs of running buses along Route 1 from the city limits to John Tyler Community College. That's about $2 million, for two years, renewable for an additional third year. That level of funding makes the total pilot program pretty dang affordable for the County.

As part of the process to kick off this pilot, the County worked with SIR to survey residents along the corridor to gauge the community's interest. The results were about as pro-transit as you can get: 75% of respondents felt like public transit would be beneficial to the corridor and 30% said they'd be likely to use it.

Chesterfield's Director of Transportation Jesse Smith said the next step is to meet with GRTC and talk through some details, and, after that, service could start as soon as spring 2020! Very exciting.

One small caveat / thing to keep an eye on! Originially, the County was considering two different transit options for Route 1: Fixed-route service provided by GRTC, and a hybrid, on-demand service provided by a private company. Survey respondents overwhelmingly preferred the GRTC option, and, after listening to the presentation, it sure seems like the County has decided to move forward with GRTC.

This week in transit: Contact your local legislators

TAKE ACTION

If you’re a Richmond City or Henrico County resident, please take two minutes of your day and email your representative in support of the funding for public transportation included in each locality’s budget. To recap:

  • In Richmond, the Mayor has proposed $965,000 in new funding for GRTC for “increased service and route frequency to those communities that need it the most.”
  • In Henrico, the County Manager has proposed $465,000 to preserve and continue the new service that they launched this past September.

Both of these are worthy investments by our region and should be encouraged! You can find contact information for the Richmond City Council here and contact information for the Henrico Board of Supervisors here. If you’re stuck on what your email should say, keep it simple! Something along the lines of: “I’m a constituent, and I’m happy to see more funding for GRTC in this year’s budget. Please support this much needed investment in our regional public transportation system.”

AROUND THE REGION

At a recent meeting, the GRTC Board of Directors voted to restore some of the frequent, 15-minute service to Fulton’s #4A and #4B bus routes. This peak-only restoration of service will allow folks to get in and out of Fulton—on the way to and from work—much more efficiently and will cut the average wait for folks transferring from the Pulse in half. As our region scrapes together the pieces of the skeletal beginnings of a regional public transportation system, it’s important to remember that even with the influx of funding mentioned above, the Richmond region still spends less on transit per capita than almost any of its peer cities.

ELSEWHERE

This past week, Gwinnett County voters went to the polls and, unfortunately, rejected a 1% sales tax increase to expand public transportation into their region. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s editorial board says that “the changing politics and demographics of Gwinnett seem to guarantee that MARTA will eventually arrive.” Also in the AJC, a demographic breakdown of the vote and five takeaways from their quick analysis of the turnout.

—Ross Catrow

This week in transit: Bring fixed-route bus service to Route 1 in Chesterfield County

BEEB5E9C-677E-4E14-AAC5-D2BE8879BF07.jpeg

TAKE ACTION

It sounds like Chesterfield County has mostly decided to provide some sort of public transportation on Route 1 from the City limits to John Tyler Community College. Whether that will be fixed-route bus service provided by GRTC (👍) or an on-demand service provided by a private company (👎) remains to be seen. To help inform their decision, the County has put together a survey for folks who live, work, play, learn, and worship along the corridor. If you spend any time at all along Route 1 please fill out this survey! If you know people who spend any time at all along Route 1 please send them this survey!

AROUND THE REGION

Mark your calendars for February 28th! RVA Rapid Transit, along with a handful of other organizations, will host Mayorathon: Policy Jam from 6:30 – 8:00 PM at the Institute for Contemporary Art. We’ll sit down with Mayor Stoney to discuss his first two years in office and then also recommend priorities for his next two years. The evening will feature an in-depth, entertaining, and informal discussion on policy issues, with special guest appearances. It’s gonna be fun, wonky, and a good way to spend your Thursday evening. You can and should RSVP here.

At some point recently, GRTC installed new snow-route badges on some of their bus stop signs (pictured above). These charming little snowflakes let you know if your bus still serves that particular stop when GRTC switches over to snow routes. It’s a little, infrequently-used thing, but sure makes a big difference for folks standing out in the cold and snow.

ELSEWHERE

This Women Changing Transit mentorship program run by TransitCenter sounds awesome: “This program aims to connect women transit professionals with women leaders in transit to serve as mentors to help guide, advise and grow in their careers. The year-long mentorship program is open to applicants who identify as women and who are in the first 10 years of their career, in any facet of the transportation field: planning, engineering, administration, operations, finance, and advocacy. The multidisciplinary nature of this mentorship is intended to support and enhance connections and relationships across public/private/non-profit lines.” If you’re even slightly interested in this, I really recommend that you apply. The TransitCenter folks are wonderful to work with!

Now that our Bus Rapid Transit line is up and running, it’s fun to follow other cities through their BRT planning processes. Both Birmingham and Charleston are working through the next steps of bringing rapid transit to their towns.

These subway station designs in Toronto are beautiful / interesting!

—Ross Catrow

This week in transit: Chesterfield...Will they or won’t they?

TAKE ACTION

Will they or won’t they?? Will the Chesterfield County Board of Supervisors decide to bring fixed-route GRTC service to Route 1? Will they pick an on-demand van service instead? Will they do nothing at all (something that Supervisors Winslow says “doesn’t seem to be an option”)? We’ll learn more this month as the County conducts a stakeholder survey of the Route 1 corridor and mulls over whether or not to apply for a state grant that would cover up to 80% of the operating costs for a public transportation pilot. Jim McConnell at the Chesterfield Observer has a great piece that should give you all the background information you need to know.

If you are a Chesterfield resident and you have thoughts on the County bringing public transportation to Route 1, please let your Supervisor know!

AROUND THE REGION

A reminder: GRTC will roll out a set of service updates today, January 6th. As part of these updates, the two Fulton routes—#4A and #4B—will have their frequencies reduced from 15-minutes to 30-minutes. This means that folks living in Fulton, who since this summer’s network redesign no longer have direct routes to Downtown, will have their average wait times doubled from 7.5 minutes to 15 minutes. It’s always disappointing to see service cuts but especially so as Richmond’s new bus network is less than a year old.

WCVE has a short look at a new bus study out of VCU’s Wilder School Center for Urban and Regional Analysis. You can also download and read the full study (PDF). Something to keep in mind as you read through that PDF: Access to public transportation is about more than just proximity to a bus stop—it’s also about the usefulness of that transit. As we’re seeing in Fulton this weekend, folks’ distance to their bus stop remains unchanged, but, as the frequency has been halved, the number of places they can get to within one hour has certainly decreased. This means taking more time out of your day to get to work, school, doctor’s appointment, or your favorite local doughnut shop.

ELSEWHERE

As Pittsburgh plans its new BRT service, they’re thinking about improving access to the airport. Bus service to the Richmond airport is brand new and a pretty big service upgrade, but, dang, is it anything but fast. While a BRT to RIC probably isn’t in the cards any time soon, an express route to the airport might be something to consider. Typically, airport service doesn’t have the best ridership, but it does feel like an amenity that a growing city in 2019 just needs to provide. Seems like something folks in Richmond’s business/tourism/hotel industries would be interested in?

TransitCenter has their Best Worst Most of 2018 end-of-year transit review. Richmond gets a small shoutout.

Did you know there’s a tunneling trade publication? Did you know tunneling is up world wide 7%? This is all so very charming!

—Ross Catrow

This week in transit: “The bus system has got to get into Chesterfield County”

TAKE ACTION

Below, you’ll find two local events—ways to get involved and get educated—to put on your calendar.

The Partnership for Smarter Growth will host a Richmond Region Roundup on Tuesday, December 11th from 6:00–8:00 PM at the Virginia War Memorial (621 S. Belvedere Street). The event will cover a wide range of topics and feature an interesting group of speakers including: Burt Pinnock from the Richmond 300 Advisory Council; Mike Sawyer, the City’s transportation engineer; Greta Harris, president and CEO of Better Housing Coalition; Steve Haasch, Chesterfield’s planning manager; Nicole Anderson Ellis, Chair of the Route 5 Corridor Coalition in Henrico; and Patti Bland, president of Hanover’s Future Committee. That’s about as regional as a group of folks can get! The event is free to attend, but you should RSVP to help give the organizers an accurate headcount. Also, a big thanks to PSG for including transit directions to the event on their website!

On Saturday, December 8th at 10:00 AM, teachers, parents, students, community organizations, and elected officials will gather at MLK Jr. Middle School (1000 Mosby Street) for the March for More to ask state legislators for more education funding. Safe and reliable transportation is one of the core underfunded needs of school districts locally and across the state. In town, Mayor Stoney has addressed a small portion of that need by funding unlimited GRTC bus passes for high school students. All students, however, deserve a safe and reliable way to get to school and to after-school programs. Again, it’s wonderful to see that this event has also included transit directions on its website.

AROUND THE REGION

The Richmond Times-Dispatch published two articles this week about the region’s public transportation momentum. First, Michael Martz writes about a new report from the folks at the Greater Washington Partnership highlighting the disparities in access to opportunity via public transportation. The article includes this surprising quote from Dominion Energy CEO Tom Farrell: “The bus system has got to get into Chesterfield County.” Having the region’s business leaders advocate for bus service, especially bus service into the counties, is new, different, and exciting.

Second, Mel Leonor focuses in on Chesterfield’s historical aversion to public transportation and a possible change of tune in the form of a recent study suggesting bus service on the Route 1 corridor. That particular study (PDF) recommends choosing between two options: regular ol’ fixed-route bus service that connects to the rest of GRTC’s regional bus network or a deviated-route service provided by a private company that would be limited to the immediate area. Joe McAndrew, from the aforementioned Greater Washington Partnership, explains why the latter is a bad choice for the region: “A concern that we should look out for is that those [options] are equally accessible to all residents of the region...If they don’t benefit a Richmond or Henrico resident to access jobs in Chesterfield, then it makes it challenging for employers to access the full labor pool of the region. Or, for individuals in the city or the county to access retail or other kinds of destinations.”

You can read and download the Greater Washington Partnership’s report here.

ELSEWHERE

Brendan Bartholomew, a bus driver for San Francisco’s Muni, writes a first-hand account of what it’s like to drive a bus. It’s a challenging job requiring a bunch of different skills—both “driving enormous vehicle skills” and “interacting with all sorts of people all day long” skills.