After living abroad for a decade, a hometown Richmonder will take one GRTC bus route a month to explore neighborhoods at opposite ends of the track — and showcase what’s near and dear to locals’ hearts at each stop along the way.
What would New York be without the subway, or San Francisco without its streetcars? Just hearing the phrase “mind the gap” makes people across the globe dream of London’s Underground.
Transit is iconic. Transit is often the first thing visitors to a city come in contact with. Whether you catch a cab, take a public train, or ride a private bus into town from the airport says a lot about the culture — and the priorities — of those who live there. Taking transit around a city gives you an unfiltered look at the way people live and move about that place.
Last June, Richmond’s GRTC ushered in a new era of investment in our region’s long-neglected and underfunded transit system, when it launched the Pulse Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) line and rolled out redesigned routes. The chic new BRT and more efficient routes represent an effort not only to provide better service, but also to grow ridership through attracting “choice riders” — people who can afford a car, but would choose to ride a bus if it’s convenient.
The new focus on streamlining service and expanding ridership over sheer coverage has triggered necessary conversations about equity, an official study, and even a federal civil rights complaint. Controversy aside, GRTC’s bet on “choice riders” seems to be paying off: ridership increased 11% over last year, and Richmond is being hailed as a model of how to buck the national trend of declining ridership. These policy discussions at the macro level, however, miss the tangible ways in which transit connects individuals and neighborhoods — weaving together diverse communities across space to create a shared notion of “RVA.”
I was born and raised in Richmond long before our region adopted this moniker, but I never once took GRTC. Growing up in Chesterfield in the 1990s, I lived in a suburban bubble that provided me few opportunities to explore our region.
After living abroad for the past decade, I moved back to my hometown a few months ago, eager to finally see a more complete picture of the city I’ve been telling people I’m from. That is why I decided to launch this series: GRTC Connects.
Armed with the newly launched transit app, each month I’ll be taking one of GRTC’s bus routes from end to end and exploring two neighborhoods at opposite ends of the route. In each neighborhood, I hope to paint a picture of the architectural identity, culinary highlights, and historic sites that make these places dear to Richmonders’ hearts. Beyond showcasing Richmond’s geographic and cultural diversity, I’ll be choosing neighborhoods with varying demographics and histories to foster conversations on the legacy of redlining, disinvestment, and gentrification within our region.
In recent years, Richmond has risen up the rankings of the “Best Places to Live” lists and solidified its reputation as one of the top towns in America in which to get a degree, raise a family, or just enjoy a weekend getaway. The newfound national attention being lavished on our city should serve as a reminder to Richmonders that we have an exciting urban landscape filled with many distinct, vibrant neighborhoods just a bus ride away. For just $1.50 you can join me and take transit on an adventure to see how GRTC connects us all.