Open Letter to VMFA: It’s time to give Parsons Plaza back to people

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.

Sincerely,

Doug Allen, AICP, PMP
VMFA Member since October 2019