Safe streets require dollars. But who holds the wallet?

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. 

A screenshot of the meeting invitation that was distributed by one of the participating civic associations.

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:

  1. Northside residents want safer streets. 👍
  2. 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? 🤷‍♀️
  3. 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.