Progress! Because of our #sadsidewalksigns work (see Part 1 and Part 2), the Richmond Police Department realized that they do not have a policy for where they place their trailer signs. This is an important first step! From an email they sent us last week:
It appears we do not have a policy specifically directing how/where trailers will be parked. The policy will be modified accordingly. If you want to send over recommended verbiage, the policy writer would be happy to take it under consideration.
Our first priority with these signs is to keep them out of space that’s meant for humans—sidewalks, curb ramps, bus stops, and bike lanes. Furthermore, if we could get RPD put the digital trailer signs in on-street parking spaces that’d be a win, too. Not would that make our streets safer for all kinds of folks, but it could start creating a culture of always preserving space for people at the expense of space for cars.
With those two goals in mind, here’s what we sent back to the RPD today:
Below you’ll find our priorities and suggested language for a Richmond Police Department reader-board sign policy:
Reader-board signs and other Richmond Police Department property shall not obstruct sidewalks, pathways, bike lanes, ADA ramps, bus stops, bus lanes, or any other pedestrian, bicycle, or transit right-of-way, as that act would undermine the goals of Mayor Stoney’s Vision Zero Action Plan.
Alternatively, reader-board signs should, whenever possible, be placed in on-street parking spaces as not to endanger people walking, biking, or taking transit—the most vulnerable users of our street network and transportation systems.
Please let me know if you have any questions, and, again, thank you for the time you’ve dedicated to this so far.
Looks like a new RVA Bike Share station is coming to the Main Branch of the Richmond Public Library. We think this will bring the total number of stations to 17—still far short of the 40 we’re supposed to have at this point. This expansion will, however, fill the huge Monroe Ward-sized hole in the current network.
Our work to make sure the Richmond Police Department ends their habit of blocking sidewalks with digital trailer signs continues! In Part 1, we sent an email to Gene Lepley, who handles the RPD’s media requests. asking for a copy of the RPD’s policy regarding where and how it deploys digital trailer signs.
In just a couple hours we got back this reply:
Thank you for bringing this to our attention.
We are looking into the issue.
We should be able to provide an answer by tomorrow at the latest.
And then, the very next day, this response:
I’m told the message boards have been relocated.
Thanks for alerting us.
This is, of course, good news! In fact, here’s a picture of the previously poorly-placed digital trailer sign relocated to the other side of Arthur Ashe Boulevard—in the parking lane, even.
Unfortunately, we didn’t get a copy of the policy (assuming one exists) nor was it even mentioned by Mr. Lepley. So! We move on to #sadsidewalksigns, Part 2–in which we thank the Richmond Police Department for moving the offending sign and then reiterate our original request. You can read our follow up email in full below.
This is great news! Thank you for taking this issue seriously and relocating the message boards. We even grabbed a picture of the relocated board on Arthur Ashe Boulevard (see below).
However, our original request was for a copy of the Richmond Police Department’s policy regarding where and how it deploys these message boards. While we’re thankful for RPD’s quick response to these specific message boards, we want to make sure the RPD has the necessary policy in place to prevent future message boards from blocking sidewalks, ADA ramps, and bus stops.
If the Department does not have a policy about where and how to deploy message boards, we would be happy to work together to come up with a policy that allows for safe placement of these signs while not endangering people as they move about our city.
Again, thank you for the incredibly quick response, for moving the message boards to safer locations, and for your further attention on this matter.
A note about what we’re planning: We’re going to post all of the emails we send and receive, notes from meetings, and anything else generated by this process. Transparency is important. But, maybe more importantly, we think that by making the process of advocating for change public we can speed the actual implementation of those changes while also teaching folks how to get things done in their own neighborhoods and cities.
Below is our first email to RPD, asking if they have a policy regarding where and how they deploy digital trailer signs and, if not, offering to help them design one.
We’re writing to request a copy of the Richmond Police Department’s policy regarding where and how it deploys digital trailer signs.
In recent weeks, we’ve come across several trailer signs parked directly in the middle of sidewalks, blocking pedestrian and ADA access. Pictures of two of them are attached below. The first, parked in the pedestrian refuge in the middle of Belvidere at Leigh Street, blocked both ADA ramps. The second, on the southbound side of Arthur Ashe Boulevard at Moore Street, was parked directly in a bus stop. These sign placements are problematic and we observed dozens of complaints from concerned citizens.
As you know, in October 2017, Mayor Stoney signed a Vision Zero Pledge and in early 2018, the first draft of the Vision Zero Action Plan was completed. The work to make our streets safer for people continues across many City departments and the Richmond Police Department is an import partner in Richmond’s Vision Zero strategy. Unfortunately, the placement of these signs are counterproductive to Vision Zero by forcing pedestrians out into the street, making it harder and less safe to walk on our sidewalks. We hope this can be prevented in the future.
If the Department does not have a policy about where and how to deploy trailer signs, we would be happy to work together to come up with a policy that allows for safe placement of these signs while not endangering people as they move about our city.
This is the second time we’ve come across one of these digital trailer signs set up by the Richmond Police Department dead center in the middle of a sidewalk, blocking access to ADA curb ramps. This one in particular was carelessly dropped IN A DANG BUS STOP on the southbound side of Arthur Ashe Boulevard. The cruelest, worst part is the messages on the signs are about locking your CARS to prevent theft. Maybe since the messages are directed at car drivers, the Police Department should set up the reader boards in a parking spot instead? Because right now, this campaign does not meet the City of Richmond’s Vision Zero goals.
Last week, a woman was murdered by a person driving a car through Shockoe Bottom in Richmond. In this case, the vehicle was the murder weapon.
Shiauna Harris was arrested on Friday evening for the act of killing Shanice Woodberry and injuring three other people, and she will be charged with homicide. Also last week, the neo-Nazi driver who killed Heather Heyer in Charlottesville two years ago was sentenced to life in prison. Justice will be done in both of these incidents, but this is not always the case when a car is involved in killing a person.
Is it okay that nearly anyone over the age of 16 can get behind the wheel of a machine that in one instance can be used to drop the kids off at school and in another instance can kill dozens of people within seconds when accelerated into a crowd of people? Or that someone can simply lay down in a street that was intentionally designed to move a lot of cars real fast and commit “suicide by car?” Is there a gun comparison to be made here? What do you think, reader?
Richmond’s Pulse is one of America’s newest (and best!) bus rapid transit lines. In fact, just this week the ITDP—the mysteriously acronymed international organization that scores and ranks BRTs—awarded the Pulse a bronze ranking (PDF). The Pulse has a ton of features that helped it score that ranking (no American BRTs have scored gold only two have scored silver) and make it easy for folks to use: bus-only lanes, transit signal priority, platform-level boarding, off-board fare collection—all the good stuff.
Unfortunately, like almost all public transit that reaches out into suburban areas, it lacks the safe pedestrian infrastructure needed to access certain stations. The Pulse’s worst pedestrian offender is probably the Staples Mill set of stations. How DOES one safely cross Broad Street from either of these stations?
Surely we’re not the only superfan of CookOut milkshakes that want to ride the Pulse, grab a chocolate-peanut butter-and-banana shake, and then head back into town—all without getting splattered by a driver speeding down Broad Street. In fact, just this week we got an email from someone wondering the same exact thing:
Speaking of VCU, I am giving up my free parking pass and starting to commute on the Pulse. It’s a lot less convenient, but I’m doing it on principle. But I can’t get anyone at VCU to tell me how it’s possible to cross Broad Street safely at the Staples Mill station, especially after dark. Do you know of any plans (or strategies) to make crossing West Broad St. safe for the public?
First, major high fives for supporting public transportation over single-occupancy vehicles for your daily commute. Second…we don’t know what to tell you. Currently, there is not a safe way to cross W. Broad Street on foot at either Staples Mill Pulse station. Which is ridiculous! This is the region’s highest-quality transit line and the surrounding pedestrian environment is terrifying. Additionally, as far as we know, there’s no money allocated to build infrastructure to slow drivers down and make the crossing safer—and, again, as far as we know, there’s not even a plan to make a plan for safety improvements. We’ve even been told that the safest option is to ride the Pulse down to Willow Lawn and back around to avoid crossing Broad on foot. That’s not a great answer or option—but it’s unfortunately the best we’ve got??
This is definitely a problem, but what can we do about it? Maybe some or all of the following things:
Install a High-Intensity Activated Crosswalk (HAWK)
The most straightforward way to make sure traffic stops and stays stopped is to install a dang traffic signal. HAWKs are like stop lights, but specifically designed for crosswalks on major streets. They sit dark until they’re activated by a button, and would then present a solid double red light to drivers—theoretically, they all know what that means. A HAWK can even be installed mid-block—in fact, the first one in Richmond will soon be installed on Broad Street but way on the other side of town just east of N 16th Street (see below).
Pros: The solid double red commands drivers to stop, pedestrians can cross safely, milkshakes will be had.
Cons: It’s expensive, motorists will most likely complain about even the slightest delay in their commute, engineers will probably want to do a bunch of (also expensive) traffic studies.
Install a Rapid Flashing Beacon
These bright signs and flashing beacons have popped up in a couple spots around town—including on the notably terrifying Dock Street. They’re new to Richmond, and, for now, it’s unclear whether or not drivers give a crap about stopping for them.
Pros: It’s something, and it’s cheaper than a traffic signal, that’s for sure. 🤷♀️
Cons: Until driver culture shifts, RFBs feel like more of a suggestion, rather than a command to stop—and that’s not what pedestrians need when trying to cross six lanes of traffic, milkshake(s) in hand.
Take away a bunch of lanes so it doesn’t feel like the Richmond International Raceway out there
We’ve got six lanes to work with, three in each direction. Maybe for the area surrounding the two Pulse stations we could have a street cross-section that looks something more like this:
Pros: When drivers see the open road in front of them, they put the pedal to the metal. Bus-only lanes, street trees, and medians help slow down traffic (or take space way from cars) and make crossing easier. Less open road, means less pedal, means slower, safer streets that are easier to cross on foot.
Cons: Anytime you talk about taking away travel lanes, motorists arise, unite, and collectively lose their minds about the couple extra minutes it may now take them to get to work. This could also be very expensive, depending on just how much of the street you want to change.
Lower the speed limit on Broad Street in Henrico County
The Henrico County line is just north of Broad Street and just west of Staples Mill, and because reasons, the speed limit changes from 45 miles per hour to 35 miles per hour at the city/county line. This means drivers heading east from Henrico into the City zoom by at incredibly unsafe-for-pedestrians speeds.
Pros: Slower speeds mean safer streets! This is also relatively cheap—replace a couple of signs and get the Henrico/Richmond Police Departments out there to enforce the new speed limits.
Cons: If you get hit by a driver going 35 mph, you still have a good chance of dying. Also, without appropriate traffic calming improvements (see above), drivers are unlikely to obey the new speed limit unless there is an ongoing enforcement campaign.
Do nothing until someone dies
This is, for the moment, the course of action we’ve decided to take, and that’s really terrible.
Cons: Someone will die or be seriously injured here trying to use our public transportation system until we decide to change the street and make it safer for people.
There are certainly other solutions to providing a safe crossing at the Staples Mill Pulse stations that aren’t included here—and some of the solutions listed above may be real dumb for various engineering reasons. But, for example, cities like Phoenix are doing something, getting creative, and using a combination of technologies to make their streets safer for humans:
The Richmond region’s transportation engineers could do this too! When empowered by elected officials, they could definitely solve this problem quickly and efficiently. Our public officials just need to know that this problem exists (which they totally may not) and that getting it fixed is a life-saving priority.
Lucky for us, at least one of our elected officials—Richmond City 1st District Councilmember Andreas Addison—is definitely aware of the problem. We asked him about this particular bad-for-pedestrian location, which sits in the 1st District, and here’s what he had to say:
It is time for us to intentionally design streets for pedestrians first. As our city grows, we must prioritize safety and equitable access to public transit. The lack of safe infrastructure for pedestrians to access the Staples Mill Pulse stations is just another example of how we have consistently prioritized personal vehicle use over people. It’s time to change that trend.”
Councilmember Andreas Addison
Yes! We totally agree, Councilmember.
So, if you’ve ever taken your life in your own hands and Froggered all the way across W. Broad, consider emailing one or both of the following elected officials. Let them know that they need to make fixing this portion of Broad Street a priority.
When I first started biking in Richmond a few years ago, I used the Lombardy bike lane almost daily. It’s not a perfect piece of infrastructure (it could be wider in places and would be better with physical protection) but it’s a critical and well-used connector from Northside to the Fan. Biking in this lane offers a pleasant (if brief) vacation from cycling in traffic but it ends abruptly, dumps cyclists onto Broad Street, and forces them to merge with vehicular traffic (which is challenging, dangerous, and uncomfortable).
The moment Where The Bike Lane Ends was almost always the worst part of my bike commute. If I didn’t love biking and weren’t incredibly stubborn, one or two experiences like this might have pushed me off my bike and back into my car—and I’m young and able-bodied. Moments like these must be even more terrifying and frustrating for those who are less-abled or more risk-averse. If our streets and bike lanes are really for people of all ages and abilities, what happens at the ends of bike lanes is critical. Bike lanes should never force cyclists into sudden, dangerous situations.
When I first encountered The End of the Lombardy Bike Lane, I was new to bicycle planning. I wondered why anyone who cared enough to build a bike lane in the first place would design one that dumped cyclists into Broad Street. Now I can guess why: on-street parking spaces. Anyone who has attended a public meeting about any project that proposed removing on-street parking spaces knows that re-purposing public space from low- or no-cost private vehicle storage to public mobility space angers a vocal minority. But it’s important to have this difficult conversation about how we use public space.
On Lombardy, 30 parked cars stand in the way of having safe, continuous, dedicated bike lanes south of Broad to Monument Avenue (on both sides of the street). If the entire public street space on every one of those eight blocks were dedicated to moving people (on bikes) rather than storing personal vehicles, it would be safe and comfortable for anyone to bike from Virginia Union University (including everyone from Northside who uses the coming-soon Brook Road bike lane) all the way through the Fan. Letting these parked cars continue to occupy prime public space means the difference between people on bikes feeling vulnerable and nervous and those same people feeling safe, comfortable, and welcome. Creating a safe, protected bike lane along Lombardy, as part of a wider network, would encourage more people to bike.
Obviously, The Lombardy bike lane would be an even more useful connector if it continued, on both sides, to Park Avenue or the Floyd Avenue Bike-Walk Street or even (gasp) all the way to where Lombardy ends at Cary Street. But on each block, there are a handful of parked cars.
So let’s re-think the way we use our incredibly valuable (and limited) street space. Should it be used for static vehicle storage (parking) or dynamic human movement (a bike lane)? Shouldn’t our public spaces promote public safety, health, and mobility? So let’s look at Lombardy south of Broad Street and make the corridor safer and more inviting for people biking.