A few weeks ago, we came across a mock up of a light rail map designed for Richmond while perusing the ridiculous world that is Reddit.
A few weeks ago, we came across a mock up of a light rail map designed for Richmond while perusing the ridiculous world that is Reddit. While the artist, Reddit user Twwalter (AKA Tyler Walter), called the railway system a pipe dream, the dream of better mass transit for Richmond may come true sooner than we thought.
But by soon I mean in about three years. And by “the dream of better mass transit” I mean one seemingly small project. But, hey, I don’t know if y’all have ever heard this before, but Rome wasn’t built in a day.
If Richmond keeps growing at its current rate, the metro Richmond area will be home to over 1.3 million people by 2020. And all those people gotta get around somehow.
Currently, plans are underway to install a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) line on Broad St. that would travel 7.4 miles from Rocketts Landing to Willow Lawn. This BRT line will serve as a kind of experiment by GRTC to see if something like BRT would work for the rest of Richmond.
“The purpose of this study is to identify a package of improvements that will provide rapid, reliable transit service to increase overall mobility and serve existing patterns of transit-oriented development and redevelopment in the corridor,” explains the project’s website.
But what the hell is bus rapid transit and how does it differ from the current system? First, the buses are smaller than average and will travel along what is currently the median (at least on Broad St because that’s the least invasive area to put them). Also, since we’re talking rapid transit, the stops will be roughly a half-mile apart from one another, amounting to a projected 13 stops in 7.4 miles. Lastly, the buses will be synced with traffic lights. The point of all this? Faster travel time.
“Bus rapid transit, since it’s a dedicated lane, the way that the traffic signaling will be done, it will speed up the traffic,” said Garland Williams, director of planning and scheduling for GRTC. “If you’re going from Willow Lawn to downtown, it’ll reduce your travel time by 14 minutes.”
Construction on the line should start in 2016, and is estimated to cost about $49.8 million up front. Since the project will require a change in infrastructure on Broad St., there’s some concern that it’ll cause even more congestion and chaos.
“This is a very well planned, detailed project,” said Stephen McNally, the BRT project administrator. “Yes, there will be some changes… it will impact traffic, but I’m not anticipating this to go beyond a two-year construction – if that. I think most people will live with it and realize that this is a community project and that it’s for the greater good of the city.”
Brent Merritt, communications coordinator for the grassroots organization RVA Rapid Transit, believes the Richmond community will tolerate the construction for similar reasons. “The permanence [of a system like this] is what drives economic development,” said Merritt. People know it’s not going anywhere because the BRT system is physically built into the roadways, so they’re willing to invest in developing areas where BRT exists.”
So, if the BRT line works on Broad St., will we see more BRT lines throughout the city? The folks at RVA Rapid Transit have high hopes. “We support a plan where four major BRT trunk lines will run along the four major arteries of metro Richmond – 250 (Broad Street), 60 (Midlothian Turnpike), 360 (Hull Street), and 1 (Jeff Davis /Chamberlayne/ Brook Road,” said Merritt. “The routes would run in Henrico, Chesterfield, Hanover, and Richmond, extending to the beltway.”
The developers at GRTC are still just looking at the Broad St. Project itself. “If this project is successful – and we hope that it is – we would definitely entertain the possibility of doing more BRT. BRT in many instances has been a precursor to light rail, and we would like to see either one of those come to fruition.”
He said it! A light rail! Wha-hoa! Cool stuff right there, my friends. Twwalter’s light rail map is what peeked our interest in Richmond’s mass transit situation in the first place. So, what would it take for the River City to get a light rail system?
“We’d have to get to a certain level. People would have to start using transit,” said Williams. “The BRT is a way to hopefully measure how successfully and how quickly we can move people around. But hopefully in the future – if you’re thinking about how we expand – our GRTC services are going to want to get out to the counties. Light rail is certainly that option… We want Richmond to get light rail.”
Light rail! Light rail! He said light rail again! When can we expect to see something like this happen? 15 to 20 years from now, according to McNally, and that’s if people start using the BRT.