Exploring The Richmond Arts District Car-Free

by | Jul 22, 2019 | ART

From its highly walkable layout to easy access by bus and bike, the Richmond Arts District makes it easy to leave your car at home.

Finding parking and navigating one-way streets downtown can seem daunting and inconvenient to even the most experienced Richmond drivers. Luckily, the Richmond Arts District is easily accessible without the use of a car. With its own bus station, multiple bike share locations nearby, and a multitude of activities in one space, it’ll leave people questioning why they ever bought a car to begin with.

Even if cost and ease of parking are not concerns for the prospective Arts District visitor, there is another important factor to keep in mind when making transportation choices: carbon. Cars release harmful air pollutants like carbon dioxide, which can contribute to global warming. Having less vehicles on the road will alleviate some of the pressure put on the environment.

“Transportation is Virginia’s largest source of carbon pollution; about 45% of all of Virginia’s carbon emissions come from transportation,” said David Oglethorpe, Communications Manager for Virginia Conservation Network

Public transportation offers a way to get from place to place quickly and reduce the carbon footprint of transportation. GRTC offers public transportation for the City of Richmond, including the GRTC Pulse, which was introduced the summer of 2018. 

“Our [Pulse] buses are fueled by compressed natural gas, CNG for short, and that has lower emissions than of course gasoline would,” said Carrie Rose Pace, GRTC Pulse Director of Communications. “It’s a shared ride, which means you are taking advantage of sharing a ride with a vehicle deliberately placed to mitigate your footprint.” 

The GRTC Pulse is a modern, high quality, high capacity rapid transit system that serves a 7.6-mile route along Broad Street and Main Street, from Rocketts Landing in the City of Richmond to Willow Lawn in Henrico County. It’s straight up and down Broad — just make sure to get on the bus going the correct direction and you’ll soon arrive at your destination.

“The Pulse is definitely the easiest route if you’re not used to using [mass] transit,” said Pace. “All of the stations were intentionally selected to connect with what are called activity centers” — parts of Richmond that offer a lot of things to do within a small area. The Arts District has its own station located right beside Tarrant’s Cafe, Max’s on Broad, the Maggie Walker statue, and The Mix Gallery.

Each ride costs only $1.50 for standard customers and there are opportunities for seniors, minors, and people with disabilities to qualify for a reduced fare ride. Tickets can be purchased from kiosks at any Pulse station. “You can get a day pass for $3.50 to use to hop on and off whenever you want, which is great if you’re trying to explore Richmond,” Pace said. The GRTC even has an app that tracks the busses, shows stations, and can help with purchasing a bus pass.  

To get some extra exercise, there is also the option of walking or biking through the Arts District. “If you can bike, if you can walk, think about that first,” Oglethorpe said. “It’s going to be more cost effective and significantly cut down and reduce your carbon footprint.” 

Richmond is making strides to becoming a more bike-friendly city. On Franklin Street there is a two-way protected bike lane. Louise Lockett Gordon, the director of Bike Walk RVA, suggests that new bikers try a cycling class with the Richmond Area Bicycling Association to help them get used to biking in the city. 

Bikes are available for rent all over Richmond through RVA Bike Share. They have two stations in or near the Arts District. There is a station beside Abner Clay Park in Jackson Ward, one by the Dominion Energy Center at the corner of Grace and Sixth Street, and one at City Hall. RVA Bike Share offers memberships, daily and weekly passes, or just a one-way trip. With 20 stations, the bike share service allows you to bike into the Arts District all the way from Scott’s Addition or Church Hill. 

“Being out of a car and walking or biking, you’re not in a sedentary position,” said Gordon. “We’re using our cardiovascular system, we’re using our muscles, all of our systems are being used if we’re walking or biking, as opposed to just sitting in our car.”

Walking and running isn’t easy everywhere in Richmond — there are lots of uneven sidewalks and busy roads. However, the Arts District has wide shady sidewalks on Broad and Grace Street, as well as wide open areas around the Virginia Capitol. You can also visit Abner Clay Park in Jackson Ward. 

Once you make it to the Arts District, there is plenty to do and see. True to its name, the Arts District is packed full of art galleries, including the 1708 Gallery, Gallery 5, Quirk Gallery, The Mix Gallery and more. At the beginning of every month all of the galleries stay open late for First Fridays, which is a great way to see all that the galleries have to offer. However, for those looking to avoid crowds, the galleries are open during normal business hours as well. In additional to visual art, there are opportunities to see performing arts at the Virginia Repertory Theatre and the National Theater.

For history buffs, there are museums such as the Black History Museum and Cultural Center of Virginia, and the Maggie L. Walker National Historic Site. Both of these are located in the Jackson Ward neighborhood which is a National Historic Landmark district. 

In between all of the art galleries and museums there are plenty of places to eat. The Arts District is home to a variety of restaurants including classics like Tarrant’s Cafe and Perly’s, fine dining like Max’s on Broad and Bistro 27, and fun spots like Bar Solita.  

If all of this seems like too much to do in a day there are plenty of hotels including the boutique hotel Quirk, where visitors can stay overnight.

Regardless of how you make the trip, the Richmond Arts District is always worth a visit. And that visit will be easier, more pleasant, and way better for the environment if you go car-free.

Emma North

Emma North

Emma is a senior Print/Online Journalism major at VCU. She is interning with RVA Hospitality and writing blog posts for them this summer. In her free time she likes to spend time at the river and eat good food.

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