It’s been a pleasure!
Max & Ross discuss the hit film (documentary) Free to Ride.
You’re either an infrastructure person or a policy person.
Installing a huge buffered bike lane on the Leigh Street bridge, connecting Downtown and Church Hill, was a massive step forward for Richmond back in 2014 or 2015. But today, that bike lane is faded and full of debris—including cars. On one end of the bike lane you have VCU’s medical campus and city services housed within City Hall—places people need to go. On the other end of the bike lane, you have a bunch of neighborhoods including Mosby Court—places where people live. So why in the world would we not offer the most protected bike lane possible? Protected bike lanes offer a wider buffer and vertical delineation from traffic, helping to separate vulnerable people on bikes from speeding two-ton metal boxes. Plus, it just makes you feel safer! Enter Untitled Urbanism Project #1, aka The Festive Cones project.
If you’d like to help fund our next tactical urbanism project, Untitled Urbanism Project #2, you can contribute over on our GoFundMe. We’re looking to raise $300. If you’d like to learn more, keep reading!
Sometimes you just have to DO SOMETHING in order to fix your streets. Tactical urbanism is a short (sometimes very short)-term solution to an ongoing problem—a lack of sidewalks; an intersection thats too big and scary to cross; a downtown parking space that could be better used as a public parklet; or an important connector street (like the Leigh Street bridge) that needs a quality, protected bike lane. But why not spend the time and energy pushing for an appropriate long-term solution right off the bat? Well, that’s where we usually start, but sometimes advocating for a long-term solution doesn’t get you very far very quickly. Tactical urbanism is about demonstrating what could be if you—actually, your city leaders—had the necessary funding, political will, and/or creative design that they lack. Sometimes, it can just help open folks’ eyes to easy ways to make our city safer, more humane, and more fun. Sometimes, it helps build momentum toward that long-term solution. And, sometimes, it’s just a fun release of creative energy.
We started StreetsCred to create a space for conversations about making our city a better place. To quote from our mission statement a bit, “Streets Cred raises awareness of urban issues affecting mid-sized American cities today and the best practices used to address inequities and challenges in the built environment.” Small, creative, and clever tactical urbanism projects—projects that raise awareness of Richmond’s urban issues—are exactly in line with what we’re trying to do here.
And Untitled Urbanism Project #1 is just the beginning. We’ve got a super-secret list of great tactical urbanism projects we want to put down across the city and are excited to roll them out over the next couple of months (if you’ve got ideas, send ‘em our way). Each project will be small, cheap, clever, and will, in a small way, make a tiny part of Richmond safer, more humane, or more fun.
While these projects are cheap, they aren’t free. Untitled Urbanism Project #2 will cost us $300. Click here to contribute over on our GoFundMe.
Our comrade Doug Allen over at Richmond in Motion has written an open letter to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts that we would like to share with you. If you agree with his argument about the need to close Parsons Plaza to car traffic, give the @VMFA a nice little tweet or email about it.
To whom it may concern:
To continue working toward its mission of enriching the lives of all by providing Virginians and others access to world-class art, VMFA should permanently close the Mary Morton Parsons Plaza to car traffic. VMFA’s Parsons Plaza, facing Arthur Ashe, Jr. Blvd, is the main entry point and gateway for visitors, and has tremendous potential as a gathering place. However, the presence of cars – picking up, dropping off, and passing through – prevents the Plaza from reaching its full potential. Instead of a place where people gather, relax, and meet-up, it’s a busy thru-way, avoided by most. Walk around the museum grounds on a beautiful Saturday afternoon and observe for yourself; there will be dozens of people enjoying the sculpture garden and almost no people enjoying Parsons Plaza and the other spaces facing Ashe Blvd. Those who are taking in Parsons Plaza are confined to the bicycle parking area – caged in by large blocks to protect them from passing cars.
The arrival of Rumors of War is the perfect opportunity for VMFA to transform Parsons Plaza and give the space back to the people. This incredible piece is guaranteed to attract more people than ever before to the areas along Ashe Blvd. With the current traffic setup, visitors will have to avoid getting hit by passing vehicles while they take in, contemplate, and interpret the largest sculpture acquisition in the history of the VMFA. In addition to providing a safe, comfortable place for people to view Rumors of War, removing cars from Parsons Plaza will unlock the entire portion of the museum adjacent to Ashe Blvd. The current car lanes and pickup and drop off area are an obstacle that separates the museum’s main entrance, Best Café, and sculpture garden from the green space and sculptures along Ashe Blvd.
Concerns would be raised about funneling all parking traffic through the Sheppard St entrance and exit. There are several responses to this concern, including working with the Virginia Museum of History & Culture to route some traffic to Kensington Ave during times of heavy ingress and egress. Concerns about pickup and drop off areas can be addressed by designating the area fronting Ashe Blvd for curbside pickup and drop off and designating an area near the current disabled parking for certain pickup and drop off. Parking is currently not allowed in front of VMFA on Ashe Blvd due to the curb cuts, so this could be done without losing any street parking.
Permanently removing cars from Parsons Plaza would provide a massive long-term benefit to VMFA visitors and unlock a huge portion of the museum’s grounds that are currently underutilized. VMFA has done an excellent job in the past few years to provide access to world-class art to larger and larger audiences, which is one of the reasons why I recently became a VMFA member. Removing cars from the Parsons Plaza is a logical next step in expanding and improving the museum’s access.
Doug Allen, AICP, PMP
VMFA Member since October 2019
The bus stop at 2nd & Broad has to be one of, if not the, busiest bus stops in the entire city. It’s served by the #1ABC, #2ABC, #3ABC, #12, #78, and #87. That’s 16 total bus lines. It’s seven more routes than what the existing Transfer Plaza handles during the day. It’s one bus every 3.75 minutes on average. It’s a lot of buses.
Yet this bus stop has no shelter. It had no benches until some kind soul put out two wooden benches of their own—then, maybe shamed into it, the City and GRTC installed two “official” metal benches. Regardless of seating, on a day like today—cold, windy, rainy, and snowy—it’s a shit place to wait for a bus.
While the City pushes towards an enormous redevelopment of downtown—a project that includes a multi-million dollar GRTC Transit Center—bus riders today are forced to wait for their next bus out in the elements. And no matter how nice, expensive, or expansive the proposed NoBro Transit Center will be, hundreds of buses will still stop at 2nd & Broad and hundreds of bus riders will still wait in inhospitable conditions. The City could fix this tomorrow—no multimillion dollar, TIF-funded, once-in-a-generation opportunities necessary. Just put up a couple of shelters so folks can feel like a person while waiting for their next bus.
Earlier this week, the Sherwood Park Civic Association hosted a “Northside Neighborhoods Traffic Study Rally” at the Richmond Police Training Academy. Over 100 people packed the standing-room-only classroom. We attended mostly to listen, but learned a few things along the way.
Several of the opening speakers from some of the surrounding civic associations made clear at the beginning of the meeting that the purpose of the “rally” was not to revisit the topic of whether bike lanes or new residential development is good or bad for the neighborhood, but rather how traffic will flow safely through Northside in light of these forthcoming changes.
Rather than a play-by-play of the meeting (boring), here’s the gist of what we heard from the folks in the room who chose to speak up:
- Northside residents want safer streets. 👍
- Northside residents want a comprehensive traffic study. Fine. But are we going to take into consideration people riding bikes, buses, or walking as “traffic”—or are we just going to study the movement of cars through the neighborhood? 🤷♀️
- Some people still don’t want the Brook Road bike lane, even though they want slower speeds and safer crossings. 🤔
People also wanted to know the status of when the Brook Road bike lane is going to be installed and since nobody from the Department of Public Works was in attendance (weird), the best info we got is that “it is happening”.
Finally, there was some confusion about who is responsible for getting the funding to pay for the traffic study (which may we may not even need). Clearly, professional “traffic engineers” must conduct the study and they obviously have to get paid, but who is responsible for allocating that money? The Mayor? City Council? A wizard with a cauldron full of gold coins? This is where things got interesting. The call to action from the meeting organizers was: “Email the Mayor and make sure he puts this in his budget”. But, wait a second, doesn’t City Council control the budget? Isn’t that, like, their job? And weren’t two councilmembers sitting right there? A neighborhood resident asked this very question and the response from the councilmembers was…not clear-cut.
Turns out, Section 6.10 of Richmond’s Charter is pretty clear on this matter:
§ 6.10. Action by council on budget generally.
After the conclusion of the public hearing, the council may insert new items of expenditure or may increase, decrease or strike out items of expenditure in the budget, except that no item of expenditure for debt service or required to be included by this charter or other provision of law shall be reduced or stricken out.
So, yeah, if you want money in the budget for something in your neighborhood (may we recommend traffic calming measures, safer crossings, and kid-friendly bicycle infrastructure), email the Mayor. But you should also email your City Councilmember because Council can amend the budget in anyway they see fit and ultimately puts their stamp of approval on what stays in, what gets cut, and how much taxpayer money is used.
Earlier this week we got mad. We also said we’d spend some time writing about what the City and GRTC can do to make Broad Street, specifically the bus-only lanes, safer. Important context for this entire conversation: People driving cars and unsafe street design are what kills and injures the vast, vast majority of people on our roads.
Part of what makes Bus Rapid Transit work is giving the buses their own dedicated space on the street. This is why subways and (some) light rail is great: If you can keep cars and drivers out of the way of transit, the transit is faster, more efficient, and more useful for folks. Richmond’s BRT, the Pulse, has dedicated lanes for a good chunk of its route but, unfortunately, those lanes look just like every other travel lane—with a few signs here and there plus some road stencils on the road to let drivers know to stay the heck out of the way of the bus. This means that people in cars occasionally end up confused, driving or parking their vehicles in space specifically meant for the bus.
Luckily, there’s an easy and straightforward way to let folks know that bus-only lanes are for buses only. Richmond, like many other American cities, should paint its bus lanes red.
Red paint is one of the cheapest and most effective ways to keep cars out of bus lane. A 2017 study by the SFMTA found that “red treatment reduced the number of [Transit-Only Lane] violations by 48%-55% depending on the time of day, even as total traffic volumes increased.“ Anecdotal evidence from D.C. suggests that red paint works so well that it keeps cars from parking in the bus lane even when it’s perfectly to do so.
Red paint actually makes streets safer, too. That same study out of San Francisco found that police-reported injury collisions in the corridors with fresh red paint decreased 24% while injury collisions citywide remained unchanged. We’ll never know for sure if red bus lanes would have saved Alice Woodson’s life, they would be an important, striking visual reminder for people walking, biking, or driving that the rules change in the bus-only lanes.
There are a couple of ways to highlight bus lanes with red paint:
The most common implementation is the full red carpet treatment, with edge-to-edge paint covering the lane. Think San Francisco or Washington D.C.. It looks great, but tends to wear as the wheels on the bus continually drive over them. The National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board, in a 2017 study, estimated the cost of edge-to-edge red paint at around $308,000 per lane mile. Some back-of-the napkin math puts the cost of painting our 3.2 miles of dedicated lanes at around $2 million.
Narrower than the bus
If you want to cut back on some of the maintenance costs of red paint, look to Seattle. They do this great thing where they paint just the center of the lane red—wide enough so that its still obviously a red lane, yet narrow enough that the bus’s wheels don’t drive over any of the paint.
A thin red line
What’s the budget version of a red bus-only lane? How about these red-stripped BRT lanes in Indianapolis? Way cheaper with just a single red stripe paralleling the lane—especially to maintain—but still gives you that hint of that red-paint flavor. It’s like the Lacroix of red bus lanes.
Despite the nearly magical properties of red lanes, they don’t vaporize cars and drivers who wander into them (unfortunately). To keep buses the only vehicles in the bus-only lanes, cities need to plan on doing some enforcement—either manually, like with cops writing tickets, or, if you live in a place that allows it, automated camera-based bus lane enforcement. This is definitely a case of diminishing returns, so cities need to carefully balance the cost of enforcement with its intended results.
The great thing about any of these options, even enforcement, is that they’re fairly straightforward for the City to implement—and, to be sure, it’s the City, not GRTC, that has the authority to paint and stripe lanes. We could make a safer Broad Street next week, all it takes is the money and the political will to get it done.