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.

I see a bus lane and I want to paint it red

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:

Edge-to-edge

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.

Photo by: Matt’ Johnson

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. 

Enforcement

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.

Don’t get distracted: Our streets are f*cked up

Our insides are still all tied up from the awful and fatal bus-involved crash in which a Pulse driver killed a woman who stepped into the bus-only lane. While there has been some thoughtful coverage about how we can make our streets safer through infrastructure improvements to ensure this never happens again, there has also been some sensationalized local media coverage vilifying the Pulse. 

For some reason, our local media loves to use the bus as a punching bag while ignoring the fact that the vast, overwhelming majority of people who die on our streets are killed by drivers of cars. And the further sad truth is that these deaths and serious injuries often go unnoticed, underreported, and, even worse, usually nothing is done to build better streets and make them safer for people. 

Don’t get it wrong: There are changes that need to be made to the Pulse’s bus-only lanes to increase their visibility and safety. We’ll post more on that later. But for now, where does the blame really fall for nearly every pedestrian death? These deaths are caused by terrible street design that prioritizes the speed and throughput of cars over the safety of people. And we should also blame shitty, distracted drivers. 

Here are just a few reports of people walking who were killed or hurt by drivers in the Richmond area just over the past couple months:

And of course, there’s this: Richmond drivers among the worst in America, new study says.

So before you watch the next overly sensational, breaking news, special report about the dangers of bus rapid transit in Richmond, consider this: If our streets were actually designed for people rather than speeding metal boxes, and if people would actually slow down and pay attention while operating them, we wouldn’t have lost 16 people this year who were just trying to walk somewhere and the 242 people who were injured by drivers wouldn’t have been hurt at all.1

We’d rather have productive conversations about how we get those numbers down to zero by fixing our fucked up streets and enforcing our existing traffic laws. Everything else is just a distraction.  


1 According to the Virginia DMV, 16 pedestrians have been killed by drivers in Richmond, Henrico, and Chesterfield since January 1, 2019 and another 242 have been injured.

The State has pulled their plan to sever Richmond’s bike network…for now

Earlier this week we wrote about the State’s plan to redesign 9th Street, and, in the process, put a huge hole right in the middle of our Downtown bike network. That plan was unacceptable, and you let them know. 

Great news: Your advocacy totally worked! As of today, we’ve received word that the State’s Department of General Services has withdrawn their proposal for 9th Street until further notice, and it will NOT be heard at the October 10th Urban Design Committee meeting. This is a positive step that’s due, in no small part, to y’all’s willingness to get involved in the civic process.

But we’re not done!

While the possibility of building a safe east-west passage for folks to get through Downtown on bikes survives, the work to make it a reality still remains (this is when we ask you to get involved once more and throw yourselves into the gears of City and State government).

Please take two minutes and email Richmond representatives Del. Jeff Bourne and Sen. Jennifer McClellan and let them know that any plan for redesigning 9th Street or Bank Street must include a safe and protected bike path connecting the existing bike lane on Franklin Street to Bank Street all the way through to 12th Street.

Remember, the Department of General Services answers to the General Assembly, and, while they’ve pulled this particular plan for 9th Street you can bet your back bike fender that they’ll eventually come back with another plan. We need to let Richmond’s elected officials know that any future proposal for redesigning the streets around the Capitol needs to prioritize Richmond’s planned bike network. 

Thank you for your continued advocacy!

The State’s proposed redesign of 9th Street will sever the downtown bike network

As part of the ongoing work to implement changes and improvements to Capitol Square, the state government—specifically the Department of General Services (DGS), which answers to the General Assembly—has released a new plan that will sever a critical bike connection between the eastern and western parts of the city. This overreach by the state, as currently planned, runs counter to Richmond’s Bicycle Master Plan and will leave a hole in the City’s bike network that prevents safe connections between the Franklin Street bike lane, the Capital Trail, and points east…likely forever.

Now is the time to let the City and the General Assembly know that they cannot allow the Department of General Services screw up downtown Richmond’s bike network. More on that below, but, if you’re in a hurry, feel free to email Mayor Stoney (RVAmayor@richmondgov.com) something along the lines of: “A safe and protected bike path connecting Franklin Street to Bank & 12th must be part of any proposal to redesign the area around the Capitol. The City should do everything in its power to alter the State’s current plan for 9th Street.”

Here’s what DGS has planned: They want to build a dedicated vehicle slip lane and floating sidewalk on the east side of 9th Street between Grace and Franklin. To do this, they’ll take the right-most lane on 9th Street and flip-flop it with the sidewalk, creating a protected place for vehicles (similar to that of the Federal Reserve entrance on E. Byrd Street) entering the Capitol while maintaining a sidewalks for folks walking up the hill or catching the bus. Essentially, this removes a travel lane from 9th Street (more on that later) and would also make 9th Street a one-way, northbound street from Canal Street to Leigh Street. This will also create a dual-left turn from Franklin onto 9th Street, which is double the murder trouble for people trying to cross the street right there.

If you can wrap your head around engineering diagrams, here’s what it’ll look like:

State, Y U NO LIKE BIKES?

The purpose behind DGS’s plan to remake 9th is, ostensibly, safety and security. From their application to UDC (UDC 2019-26):

To modify both vehicular approach and screening capabilities for vehicles seeking entry to the Capitol Campus. To harden the security of Commonwealth Gate #1 thereby addressing security concerns and vulnerabilities that currently exist to pedestrians and Commonwealth of Virginia facilities (i.e. the State Capitol and the Governor’s Mansion).

Unfortunately, this proposal punches a huge hole into the City’s long-planned bicycle network and prevents a safe and easy connection from the Franklin Street bike lane to Bank Street and points east. If 9th Street is modified as shown, there is no safe way to ride a bike from the Franklin Street bike lane on to Bank Street. Your safest bet is to dismount, walk across 9th in the crosswalk, walk down the sidewalk to Bank, and get back on your bike. This sounds terrible, unrealistic, and will most likely result in an uncomfortable mixing of bikes and pedestrians. The alternative most folks will end up taking is to exit the Franklin Street bike lane a couple streets early, which unnecessarily puts riders in mixed traffic and obviates several blocks of our city’s best bike infrastructure.

Additionally, because DGS’s plan already includes removing a vehicle travel lane on 9th Street, the likelihood of taking another lane to build a bike lane on 9th—something that’s been recommended in the Bicycle Master Plan since 2014 (see below)—is close to zero.

Here’s what we want: A safe and protected bike path connecting Franklin Street to Bank & 12th. This is what’s recommended in Richmond’s Bicycle Master Plan, and it opens up both east-west and north-south connections for folks on bikes—plus it just makes a ton of sense. The Department of General Services’ proposal breaks existing and future bike connections, puts people on bikes in unsafe situations, and prioritizes vehicular entry into the Capitol Grounds over the people who use Richmond’s streets every day.

Ahhhh that’s better. A simple, safe way to move east-west through Downtown by bike.

There are a couple of different ways to go about creating a safe bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure on 9th Street, but it all begins with getting DGS to modify their current plan to include safe bike infrastructure.

So, if you’d prefer that the State government not waltz into town and blow up our bike network, here’s how you can help:

  1. The City’s Urban Design Committee will consider this plan on October 10th. Email the UDC secretary, Josh Son (Joshua.Son@richmondgov.com), to let them know that you do NOT support the current proposal. Shoot for something simple and short, along the lines of: “A safe and protected bike path connecting Franklin Street to Bank & 12th must be part of any proposal to redesign the area around the Capitol.”
  2. The City’s Planning Commission will consider this plan on October 21st. Email the Planning Commission’s secretary, Matthew Ebinger, (Matthew.Ebinger@richmondgov.com), and let them know that you do NOT support the current proposal. Feel free to use the same email you sent to UDC.
  3. One of the Mayor’s roles—and something he talks about frequently—is being a champion for Richmond across the street at the General Assembly. This is a perfect opportunity for him to do just that, and you can let him know you’d like to advocate for the City’s bike network by sending an email to RVAmayor@richmondgov.com.
  4. Finally, since this is a State plan, you can email your representatives at the General Assembly and ask them to get DGS to change their plan. You can find your legislator’s contact information here.
Look at all of those bike lanes we should have Downtown!

New bike parking on Grace Street!

Check out these new, rad-looking bike racks on Grace Street—a commercial corridor that, until today, had no bike parking.

Thanks to Venture Richmond and Bike Walk RVA for making this happen. Also thanks to the Richmond Volunteer Bike Squad (not a real thing, but totally should be!) for putting them together and getting them installed.

The southeast corner of Grace and 4th Streets.
The southwest corner of Grace and 5th Streets.
He who takes the pics, gets to put his new bike in all of the pics.

RVA Transit Week!

This coming week, September 16th—22nd, RVA Rapid Transit is hosting an in-town celebration of public transportation as part of the Department of Rail and Public Transportation’s Try Transit Week. They’ve got a handful of things to put on your calendar, but we want to highlight three:

  1. Monday: Bus to Work Day; Ride the bus to work, take a selfie, tell your friends.
  2. Tuesday: Brown-bag lunch at the Observation Deck; Bring your lunch to the City Hall Observation Deck and eat it while staring out across the entire city.
  3. Thursday: Scooter Symposium + Social; Listen to a panel of folks discuss the pros, the cons, and the zooms of Richmond’s nascent dockless scooter system (RSVP for that event here).

Check out the full list of events over on RVA Rapid Transit’s website. Oh, also! Make sure you enter to win an entire year of free transit through DRPT’s statewide giveaway.

#sadsidewalksigns, Part 3

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.

#sadsidewalksigns, Part 2

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.

Ross Catrow & Max Hepp-Buchanan

Streets Cred — streetscred.com