How DO you cross Broad Street at the Staples Mill Pulse Station?

Richmond’s Pulse is one of America’s newest (and best!) bus rapid transit lines. In fact, just this week the ITDP—the mysteriously acronymed international organization that scores and ranks BRTs—awarded the Pulse a bronze ranking (PDF). The Pulse has a ton of features that helped it score that ranking (no American BRTs have scored gold only two have scored silver) and make it easy for folks to use: bus-only lanes, transit signal priority, platform-level boarding, off-board fare collection—all the good stuff.

Unfortunately, like almost all public transit that reaches out into suburban areas, it lacks the safe pedestrian infrastructure needed to access certain stations. The Pulse’s worst pedestrian offender is probably the Staples Mill set of stations. How DOES one safely cross Broad Street from either of these stations?

Surely we’re not the only superfan of CookOut milkshakes that want to ride the Pulse, grab a chocolate-peanut butter-and-banana shake, and then head back into town—all without getting splattered by a driver speeding down Broad Street. In fact, just this week we got an email from someone wondering the same exact thing:

Speaking of VCU, I am giving up my free parking pass and starting to commute on the Pulse. It’s a lot less convenient, but I’m doing it on principle. But I can’t get anyone at VCU to tell me how it’s possible to cross Broad Street safely at the Staples Mill station, especially after dark. Do you know of any plans (or strategies) to make crossing West Broad St. safe for the public?

First, major high fives for supporting public transportation over single-occupancy vehicles for your daily commute. Second…we don’t know what to tell you. Currently, there is not a safe way to cross W. Broad Street on foot at either Staples Mill Pulse station. Which is ridiculous! This is the region’s highest-quality transit line and the surrounding pedestrian environment is terrifying. Additionally, as far as we know, there’s no money allocated to build infrastructure to slow drivers down and make the crossing safer—and, again, as far as we know, there’s not even a plan to make a plan for safety improvements. We’ve even been told that the safest option is to ride the Pulse down to Willow Lawn and back around to avoid crossing Broad on foot. That’s not a great answer or option—but it’s unfortunately the best we’ve got??

This is definitely a problem, but what can we do about it? Maybe some or all of the following things:

Install a High-Intensity Activated Crosswalk (HAWK)

The most straightforward way to make sure traffic stops and stays stopped is to install a dang traffic signal. HAWKs are like stop lights, but specifically designed for crosswalks on major streets. They sit dark until they’re activated by a button, and would then present a solid double red light to drivers—theoretically, they all know what that means. A HAWK can even be installed mid-block—in fact, the first one in Richmond will soon be installed on Broad Street but way on the other side of town just east of N 16th Street (see below).

Site of Richmond’s first HAWK.
  • Pros: The solid double red commands drivers to stop, pedestrians can cross safely, milkshakes will be had.
  • Cons: It’s expensive, motorists will most likely complain about even the slightest delay in their commute, engineers will probably want to do a bunch of (also expensive) traffic studies.

Install a Rapid Flashing Beacon

These bright signs and flashing beacons have popped up in a couple spots around town—including on the notably terrifying Dock Street. They’re new to Richmond, and, for now, it’s unclear whether or not drivers give a crap about stopping for them.

  • Pros: It’s something, and it’s cheaper than a traffic signal, that’s for sure. 🤷‍♀️
  • Cons: Until driver culture shifts, RFBs feel like more of a suggestion, rather than a command to stop—and that’s not what pedestrians need when trying to cross six lanes of traffic, milkshake(s) in hand.

Take away a bunch of lanes so it doesn’t feel like the Richmond International Raceway out there

We’ve got six lanes to work with, three in each direction. Maybe for the area surrounding the two Pulse stations we could have a street cross-section that looks something more like this:

  • Pros: When drivers see the open road in front of them, they put the pedal to the metal. Bus-only lanes, street trees, and medians help slow down traffic (or take space way from cars) and make crossing easier. Less open road, means less pedal, means slower, safer streets that are easier to cross on foot.
  • Cons: Anytime you talk about taking away travel lanes, motorists arise, unite, and collectively lose their minds about the couple extra minutes it may now take them to get to work. This could also be very expensive, depending on just how much of the street you want to change.

Lower the speed limit on Broad Street in Henrico County

The Henrico County line is just north of Broad Street and just west of Staples Mill, and because reasons, the speed limit changes from 45 miles per hour to 35 miles per hour at the city/county line. This means drivers heading east from Henrico into the City zoom by at incredibly unsafe-for-pedestrians speeds.

  • Pros:  Slower speeds mean safer streets! This is also relatively cheap—replace a couple of signs and get the Henrico/Richmond Police Departments out there to enforce the new speed limits.
  • Cons: If you get hit by a driver going 35 mph, you still have a good chance of dying. Also, without appropriate traffic calming improvements (see above), drivers are unlikely to obey the new speed limit unless there is an ongoing enforcement campaign.

Do nothing until someone dies

This is, for the moment, the course of action we’ve decided to take, and that’s really terrible.

  • Pros: …?
  • Cons: Someone will die or be seriously injured here trying to use our public transportation system until we decide to change the street and make it safer for people.

There are certainly other solutions to providing a safe crossing at the Staples Mill Pulse stations that aren’t included here—and some of the solutions listed above may be real dumb for various engineering reasons. But, for example, cities like Phoenix are doing something, getting creative, and using a combination of technologies to make their streets safer for humans:

A Phoenix HAWK in action. Notice the high-visibility crosswalk and pedestrian refuge. —www.pedbikeimages.org / Mike Cynecki

The Richmond region’s transportation engineers could do this too! When empowered by elected officials, they could definitely solve this problem quickly and efficiently. Our public officials just need to know that this problem exists (which they totally may not) and that getting it fixed is a life-saving priority.

Lucky for us, at least one of our elected officials—Richmond City 1st District Councilmember Andreas Addison—is definitely aware of the problem. We asked him about this particular bad-for-pedestrian location, which sits in the 1st District, and here’s what he had to say:

It is time for us to intentionally design streets for pedestrians first. As our city grows, we must prioritize safety and equitable access to public transit. The lack of safe infrastructure for pedestrians to access the Staples Mill Pulse stations is just another example of how we have consistently prioritized personal vehicle use over people. It’s time to change that trend.”

Councilmember Andreas Addison

Yes! We totally agree, Councilmember.

So, if you’ve ever taken your life in your own hands and Froggered all the way across W. Broad, consider emailing one or both of the following elected officials. Let them know that they need to make fixing this portion of Broad Street a priority.

A crosswalk love story, in stills

It all began with a simple Twitter exchange between a transit agency and an engaged resident, who, according to her handle, “believes in Jesus, bicycling, and the oxford comma.”

Monument Ave & Meadow St before.
Monument Ave & Meadow St after.

Fin.

The Art of a Good Crosswalk

WTAF is this crosswalk near the MCV campus?

That… is clearly not what a real crosswalk should look like. But it’s not just the region’s medical college that can’t settle on a simple, standard way to build a crosswalk. (BTW, there have been a number of complaints about pedestrian safety in that area of town over the past few weeks. From sidewalk closures to potholes to VCU employees blocking sidewalks with their big-ass vehicles, it does seem recently that VCU is walking all over us (weird pun intended?)). Richmond has gone back and forth over the years when it comes to crosswalks. At one point, we fell in love with brick crosswalks but haven’t done the best job maintaining them in some areas. Brick-red stamped asphalt crosswalks are less maintenance but collect dirt and become less visible over time, which is not what you want out of a crosswalk.

Good news: the City of Richmond has started retrofitting the the Fan’s traditional parallel line crosswalks (boo!) with high-visibility, ladder-design crosswalks (yay!). This is similar to a campaign recently undertaken by the District of Columbia to make sure that pedestrians have a clear place to cross and that drivers can see that crosswalk from as far away as possible. This is great because, according to NACTO, “High­-visibility ladder, zebra, and continental crosswalk markings are preferable to standard parallel or dashed pavement markings. These are more visible to approaching vehicles and have been shown to improve yielding behavior.”

And since we’re talking about the “art of a good crosswalk,” what about this masterpiece in Scott’s Addition? Is it more effective than a ladder-style crosswalk? Who knows?! No data! But it is the first and only artistic crosswalk intersection in Richmond (that we know of), and it looks cool. Why not experiment more with our street design?

Speaking of experiments: the City installed a new Rapid Flashing Beacon (RFB) crosswalk at 17th and Dock Street, where cars fly by on their way to and through downtown. A push of a button will cause yellow lights to flash, warning drivers that you, a human, are crossing the street. It’s pretty new, so too soon to say if it is effective at that location (you can find another RFB on Forest Hill Ave), but it will definitely take a change in driver culture before we see drivers immediately stop when those flashing lights come on.

But at least—AT LEAST—we haven’t started demanding that people look like nervous air traffic controllers at every crosswalk by offering them courtesy crossing flags (“Take It To Make It,” as Kirkland, WA helpfully suggests). We shouldn’t send folks out into traffic waving a flag while we ignore the real problems plaguing our streets: bad infrastructure design and distracted/selfish driving. 

Everyone uses crosswalks—no matter where you live, where you’re going, or what you’re doing. Cities should install them at every intersection that needs them, get creative with their design (without compromising their integrity — ahem, VCU), and, please, keep their paint fresh and visible.  

Thanks for reading the first post in our new project, Streets Cred.