Monday, April 6, 2015

The Wheels on the Bus

I don't ride the bus often.

In fact, the last day I rode GRTC was the day O.J. Simpson was acquitted and let's just say I was in the minority with my opinion of the verdict as I rode home.

It's nothing personal. My infrequent bus riding can be attributed to two main factors: I have a car (albeit a 15-year old one) and I love to walk. So rarely do I need public transportation.

Even so, I was downright curious about tonight's community meeting at UR Downtown about the Broad Street Bus Rapid Transit, joining a diverse crowd to hear a presentation and discuss our concerns with the project.

Because the Pulse (the dreadful generic name they're using for the rapid buses) will use dedicated lanes on Broad Street, 250 parking spaces along it will have to be eliminated (the good news is that's down from their original plan of 750!).

As someone who lives two blocks off of Broad, I have little doubt that parking will get even tighter in my little corner of Jackson Ward.

And, frankly, it's already tight enough what with VCU students parking here and walking over to campus and downtown workers parking here and walking to their offices. A friend who owns an art gallery on Broad is terrified customers will give up on ever coming by.

Don't get me wrong, the idea of rapid transit between Rocketts Landing and Willow Lawn has merit but based on the prolonged discussion tonight, it doesn't sound like all of the potential issues have been worked out on this project.

But I went to learn and I did. One of the most striking differences I thought between the Pulse and local buses is that Pulse routes can never shift. No detours ever.

They explained transit signal priority, some sort of technology that will allow the Pulse buses to sail through lights which will stay green longer for them. That sounds smart.

Discussion revealed that despite claims of multiple jurisdictions working together, Chesterfield County is completely uninvolved and Henrico County's involvement is minimal. That sounds very lame.

I was probably most fascinated by the map of the line with the 14 stations already earmarked. The closest one to me will be at Adams and Broad, a mere five blocks away. Next closest will be at Shafer, barely half a mile away. I'll never need either.

Many business owners were understandably worried about the project, including the owner of the Camel who questioned how the transit line could possibly spur redevelopment if parking spaces were taken away.

A real estate agent in the Fan challenged the speaker on what it meant for new businesses which are required by the city to prove they have street parking for their customers.

An upset restaurant owner cited what is happening in Manchester with all the construction going on there and how the city is doing nothing to help those businesses out. How will officials react when the years-long construction of the Pulse is wrecking their businesses?

One man said no one was going to ride a bus to go out to dinner or a show. Another said that's exactly what he'd do.

I asked how late the system would run and was told 11:30, although they're considering 1 a.m. Realistically, if they want people who don't currently ride the bus to use Pulse to go out to eat, drink and hear music, 11:30 is not going to cut it.

Tonight's three-hour meeting involved a lot of accusations on the public's part and far too many pat non- answers from the "team."

And yet, I want Richmond to have some sort of rapid transit. We've got this $24.9 million dollar grant and that's not enough for light rail, so fast buses are our only option. I just hope we do it right.

No one is a bigger supporter of Richmond than J-Ward Girl.

Just don't ask me to get behind a bland name liked Pulse. A city full of creative types and we settle for a meaningless moniker?

Really, Richmond, we can do better.

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