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:
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.
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 As of today, we’ve received word that the State’s Department of General Services has withdrawn their proposal for 9th Street until further notice, and it will NOT be heard at the October 10th Urban Design Committee meeting.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.
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:
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.
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:
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.