The Pulse, central Virginia’s first and only bus rapid transit line, theoretically has 3.5 miles of bus-only lanes—7 miles, if you count both directions. Dedicated right-of-way like this is a critical feature of rapid transit that keeps buses (and light rail for cities with the density and budget to justify it) out of the tangle of car traffic and zipping speedily along. Toronto recently forced cars off of King Street to give priority to a streetcar, and, as a result, ridership has increased by 25%! And we’re seeing the exact same results in Richmond: The Pulse and its dedicated right-of-way has doubled the original ridership estimates by 100% and now sees over 7,000 rides on a weekday.
Unfortunately, a huge chunk of Richmond’s bus-only lanes—0.4 miles of the westbound section from 9th Street to 3rd Street, around 6% of the total—is unusable due to about five legal parking and loading zone spaces on Broad Street westbound between 3rd and 4th Street. Because of this half-block of parking, most Pulse operators, who aren’t dummies, immediately merge into mixed traffic after leaving the Government Center station. From the operator perspective, it’s a smart decision as it saves them wasted time merging in and out of traffic to avoid parked vehicles. From a rapid transit perspective, it’s a total waste of those beautiful transit-only lanes we worked so hard to get.
This isn’t some sort of mistake, oversight, or the result of a bunch of misguided scofflaw motorists. No! For some incomprehensible reason, this was the plan. Here’s a look at the street layout, from the project’s Roadway Design Graphics (PDF):
You can see how the westbound bus lane, marked in red, terminates at 4th Street, directly into a stack of parked cars. Adding to the inefficiency, Pulse buses must wait behind cars at the light at 3rd Street so they can quickly and awkwardly merge over to service the Convention Center station just feet after the intersection. Why is the City prioritizing less than a half dozen parked cars over thousands of Richmonders trying to get around each day? Why have they decided to devalue the significant investment we have already made in public transportation? THESE ARE GOOD QUESTIONS.
The fix here is obvious: Remove these parking and loading zones spaces and convert that block into a proper bus-only lane. If, after talking to the businesses on that block, the City decides that those spaces need to be preserved, there’s plenty of room around the corner on 3rd Street north of Broad Street. This is such an easy, quick, and low-hanging-fruit fix that would benefit a ton of Richmond’s transit riders. Let’s get it done!
If you’d like to gently encourage Richmond to give the transit-only lanes back to transit, you can:
- Email Mayor Levar Stoney and tell him you’d like to see transit given its rightful priority in the transit-only lanes. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
- Email Councilmember Robertson and tell her you’d like to see transit given its rightful priority in the transit-only lanes. (Ellen.Robertson@Richmondgov.com, make sure you copy her liaison, too: email@example.com).
- Tweet righteously about it! Make sure you tag @GRTCTransit, @GrtcPulse, @LevarStoney, and/or @ellenrva.