HOLMBERG: Is newly okayed pedestrian bridge over I-95 on-ramp enough?

Posted on: 12:39 am, September 24, 2013, by , updated on: 07:27am, September 24, 2013

RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR) – Twice a day, state workers and others Broad Street pedestrians walk, run and stutter-step across the busy Interstate 95 on-ramps downtown during rush hour, creating  what many believe is a dangerous brew of hurrying, distracted motorists and pedestrians anxious to get to work or home.

“Very, very dangerous,” says VCU Medical Center worker Tiffany Fells, who – like hundreds of others do every workday – walks a tightrope median in the middle of six lanes of Broad Street, trying to cross the onramps as well as Broad Street to get to scant state parking in Shockoe Bottom.

It’s like two-a-day meetings of jaywalkers anonymous. There are no pedestrian lights, signs warning of crossing walkers, and in some of the busier walking lanes, not even crosswalk street markings. Pedestrians wait for breaks in the rush hour flow, or count on kindly drivers who stop at the entrances of the on-ramps, waving them on.

Sharron Powers, an ultrasound tech at VCU Medical Center, readily admits she’s part of the jaywalk jam. “We do what we have to do in order to get to work.”

Monday night Richmond city council gave the okay for a $380,000 pedestrian bridge that would cross over the eastbound Broad Street ramp to I-95 northbound and southbound.  The city will have to pay about $75,000 of that Virginia Department of Transportation project.

“There’s definitely need for some improvement there,” said Jonathan T. Baliles, 1st District councilman. “People are stepping out in front of cars. Cars aren’t paying attention trying to get on 95.”

But does that really fix the problem?

State workers and others on the south side of Broad will have to cross that busy six-lane road to get to the ramp, since their crosswalk across the westbound Broad Street ramp to I-95 will be closed.

And many of those walkers will have to re-cross E. Broad Street down the hill  to get the big state parking lot beside Main Street station where most everybody has to park, since the old state parking lot on the north side of Broad Street was closed down because of concerns that it was built atop of an old slave burial site.

That’s why VCU school and medical center workers on the north side of Broad brave the narrow, scary median to get to the other side on their way to the Main Street Station parking lot.

It is the most congested and parking-starved area of the city, with the vast Virginia Commonwealth University campus, the sprawling Medical Center, the Museum of the Confederacy, numerous state and city office buildings, the General Assembly complex and private businesses all vying for parking spaces.

Many VCU employees have to either ride the bus or park down the hill in the Bottom. “This is the sacrifice we make every day,” Tiffany Fells said as she walked the median tightrope, part of the 5 p.m. flock of Broad Street crossers.

Hopefully it’s not sacrificing her life.

“Exactly,” she said, waving at the cars, trucks and buses whizzing by just inches away. “I call it the autobahn. You know, like in Germany, going 90 miles an hour. You never know.”