GRTC answers 17 questions about the $54 million Bus Rapid Transit plan

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RICHMOND, Va. — The GRTC plan to develop a rapid bus transit line running along Broad Street, from Willow Lawn to Rockett’s Landing, has been met with approval and resistance. Many in the public are confused, or curious, over certain elements of the plan.

CBS 6 reached out to GRTC and asked spokesperson Carrie Rose Pace to answer 17 question you may want answered about the bus rapid transit (BRT) plan, called the GRTC Pulse.

1. There is criticism that GRTC is incorporating their vision of the Rapid Bus Transit and disregarding community input.

A: GRTC and the project partners (the City of Richmond, Henrico County, the Commonwealth of Virginia and the US government) have been engaged, remain engaged, and will continue to be engaged with the public participation process. The community input received since 2010 has been essential to the conceptual design you see today, and will continue to be tremendously helpful to the engineers and project team as they move forward with the next phase of design. The public outreach plan has included Public Meetings since 2010, access to documentation online, door-to-door outreach along the 7.6 mile corridor, letter mailings to those along the project corridor, numerous community meetings and one-on-one engagement. The partners listen and receive public comments made, taking them from the “Street Beat” level to the project team and up the appropriate chain of design review.

2. The city has secured a $24.9 million grant. The total estimated cost is $53.8 million. The state will provide $16.9 million, Richmond will provide $7.6 million, and Henrico County will provide $400,000. Once the project is completed, the estimated cost of annual operation will be between $2.7 and $3.7 million. How can citizens be convinced that GRTC can cover the cost of annual operations? What facts and figures can you offer? How is this project being passed along to taxpayers?

A: (Correction, it’s not the City alone who secured the $24.9 million grant; it’s the Project Team of the City of Richmond, Henrico County, GRTC and the Commonwealth of Virginia, who were all listed on the TIGER application. Here is the first sentence of the application: “The Broad Street Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) project is a regional collaboration between Greater Richmond Transit Company (GRTC), the Department of Rail and Public Transportation (DRPT), the City of Richmond, and Henrico County.” Read more, here. 

GRTC’s funding is a combination of Federal, State, and local funding, plus Farebox (i.e., passenger fares). Farebox recovery is about 20 cents on every $1, with the other 80 cents coming from the Federal, State and local subsidized funding. As I understand it, the project partners are working through the future operational funding agreement now. Also at this time, I am not aware of any increase in taxes to taxpayers, and will defer to the jurisdictions for this question.

3. Some say there are just seven authentic BRT lines in the country:  Cleveland, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Eugene Ore., and several in Pittsburgh. Cleveland’s cost around $50 million to build, in 2008. Will Richmond’s BRT be like any of these cities? Is any significant expansion of the bus line occurring, or is the trip time just going to be decreased?

A: The project partners studied other BRT systems in the country, as well as internationally, and the team continues to study how other systems have been successful and what lessons they learned during implementation of this service.  The Greater Richmond Area’s first BRT line is the first step in a much broader transit vision to improve the overall quality of life, starting with our existing bus services and this new BRT service.

With on-peak arrivals at BRT stations every 10 minutes and off-peak arrivals every 15 minutes, even until late at night, this is a tremendous improvement to existing services. The latest traffic engineering analysis (which will be shown at the Public Meetings through Vissim) has the total eastbound BRT travel time from end-to-end at 31.0 minutes, and the westbound BRT travel time from end-to-end at 28.2 minutes. |

This is a significant improvement in travel time for our customers. (This analysis takes into account 2017 projected traffic volumes in the corridor. Per the City of Richmond, the model used a 1% traffic volume growth and reflects the BRT operations and continued other bus route operations. Another note: currently, buses account for only 1% of all vehicular traffic on Broad Street. 98% are two or four tire vehicles. The remaining 1% are big trucks).

This service will bring benefits like improved connectivity, improved local and regional mobility (shorter travel times; affordable, rapid transit option; more transit reliability and arrivals when you expect them; easier transit connections between a variety of transit choices; movement of more people more efficiently along the corridor; better access to healthcare/education/retail/food/community centers), support multi-modal development and planning (i.e., safety and use of the corridor for all users, whether pedestrian, bicycle, bus or automobile), provide attractive and affordable transit options to an aging-in-place Boomer population and a new workforce of Millennials (both groups have a decreasing dependency on automobiles and an increased desire for other reliable transit solutions to maintain or improve independence and quality of life), coordinate with ongoing local, regional and state current and future plans (like the City Bike Plan, City Downtown Plan, Richmond Strategic Multimodal Transportation Plan, City Master Plan, Richmond Regional Transit Vision Plan, U.S. Department of Transportation LadderSTEP Transportation Empowerment Pilot). The U.S. Department of Transportation says projects like this BRT really can: revitalize economically distressed neighborhoods; support economic development; connect people from where they live to where they work; connect people to essential services; create jobs in the transportation industry.

4. Studies of the above-mentioned lines have shown that they leveraged $114.54 dollars of new transit-oriented investment for every dollar invested into the BRT system, adding jobs and revitalizing the city center. Yet most businesses fear they will lose clientele if people can’t park near their stores. What studies did GRTC do that made them feel business won’t suffer with the development of BRT?

A: Environmental impacts (environmental in this case isn’t talking about the air, water and land, but the total area affected like streets, neighborhoods, parking, traffic, etc.) were studied from 2009 – 2014 by the Commonwealth of Virginia. The Environmental Assessment documents are here, about halfway down the page. The project team has also been studying ways to both retain and encourage access to businesses during construction and is working with the City, State and County’s existing construction mitigation procedures. As growth continues along this corridor, BRT is part of the solution to bring more people to these businesses than can currently access them today. BRT means business.

5. Transit-oriented development has actually been shown to work best when people have to walk. Studies show that one of the best things that can be done is to limit parking – therefore forcing people onto the bus. Is there a point when Richmonders will have to accept that city growth may mean less parking than we’ve considered standard?

A: It is, as I understand it, a great sign for a city’s growth when parking becomes a “problem.” That means more people are coming back into previously economically distressed areas. An individual may perceive a parking problem during peak periods of parking needs if they have to park farther away than they are accustomed to during off-peak times, or frequent a location exclusively during the peak parking period. As I also understand it, the City’s development will need multiple solutions beyond building more parking. BRT is a part of the solution, as are multi-modal transit options.

We do know there is something called “mode-shift,” where when BRT is offered as a mobility choice, 10%-15% of existing vehicular drivers choose instead to ride the bus. With the connectivity offered by this BRT to bike routes, like the Capitol Trail, now a rider can use two modes of transportation – bus and bike to connect them between where they live, work and play. Another thing that has been shown in FHWA studies is that when densely populated, walkable corridors (like Broad Street between 195 through VCU and into the RVA Arts District) is that running the bus in the center of the roadway (i.e., a dedicated median-running lane) helps minimize conflicts between various vehicles and reduces crash rates. Using FHWA crash reduction factors, the value of safety benefits from reduced crashes will be $16,300 per year (2014 dollars), equivalent to $150,120 when discounted at 7% over 26 years.

As downtown redevelopment is pedestrian oriented, it will also be transit supportive. As the downtown continues to develop, GRTC’s regional connections will be a critical part of multi-modal transportation.

One of the great things about this project is the addition of brand new pedestrian/bicycle accommodations across Broad Street at six new controlled crossings with pedestrian refuge (at Strawberry, Goshen, Pine, Henry, Madison and Jefferson), plus at the other 37 signalized intersections. This project is improving north-south connectivity across Broad Street. BikeWalkRVA recently supported these improvements.

6. Are there any plans to expand the route to the airport or train station down the road?

A: This first line does connect with Amtrak at the Main Street Station BRT stop. Henrico County has expressed interest in exploring potential future expansion of this line from their two stations (Rocketts Landing and Willow Lawn) out east and west. With that potential, you are talking about destinations like RIC and Short Pump. There is also regional interest in future routes north and south, which are envisioned by advocacy groups like RVA Rapid Transit, for example, which could connect to even more destinations.

7. How complete is the plan at this point, and realistically what can the community do to join the planning process at this point?

A: The plan is currently at “conceptual 30% design,” also known as “preliminary engineering.” There is still ample need for public participation in the semi-final design phase next! We are already hearing great feedback about items that can be addressed in greater detail during the next phase of design.

8. Some people ask “Why not light rail?” yet studies show the return of investment with a BRT is more significant. Can you discuss this please?

A: It is expected that this investment in  BRT will generate $1.1 billion and increase property values by 12% over the next 20 years. In the near future, the City will be working on a new BRT Transit-Oriented Development study of land use and economic development policies along the corridor. BRT was also a game changer in Cleveland, OH with their 7.7 mile BRT system, resulting in a $5 billion economic impact, and an impressive $114.54 in new development for every dollar invested in the new system.  In comparison, although Portland’s TriMet Max Blue Line generated more investment (approx. $6.6 billion), the much higher light rail construction costs reduced the return on investment to $3.74 for every transit dollar spent. This shows how BRT is a better return on investment choice.

9. Some believe this plan is moving too fast. Cleveland’s BRT was built over three years, after 10 years of planning. Is the Richmond plan moving too fast? What can you offer to people who fear this will be implemented poorly because it will be implemented too quickly?

A: Bus Rapid Transit has been part of City planning for more than a decade with recommendations in the City Master Plan, Downtown Plan, Mayor’s Commission on Anti-Poverty and the Richmond Strategic Multimodal Transportation Plan.

BRT is also included in the transportation plans on a regional level to enhance quality transportation along the commercial corridors in the Richmond region.  The partners have also heard that the plan could move faster, rather than slower. Therefore, the partners have outlined a project plan that strives to accommodate a reasonable schedule that can meet the October 2017 arrival date of BRT in the Greater Richmond Area.

Bird's eye view. Blue is the station in the median, and green is the bus. SOURCE: GRTC.

Bird’s eye view. Blue is the station in the median, and green is the bus. SOURCE: GRTC.

10. How long will construction of the median lanes that will be dedicated to bus travel lanes reduce the number of general travel lanes from three to two in each direction to two? Will that just be between Thompson and Foushee Street?

A: The standard median width is four feet. Stations are about 10.5-foot wide. Median-running dedicated lanes will run from Thompson to Foushee Street. Blue is a station, green is a BRT bus. (The median width depicted in the image above is not to scale.).

Here’s the median width break-down:
Thompson to Sheppard: 4 ft. median, except 3 ft.  at vehicular protected left-turns and stations.
Sheppard to Harrison: 4 ft. median, except 2 ft. at vehicular protected left-turn places.
Harrison to Laurel: 6 ft. median
Laurel to Foushee: 4 ft. median, except 2 ft. at vehicular protected left-turns and stations.

Construction will be sequenced and localized to minimize impacts on businesses and properties. Road closures will be limited to temporary lane closures during non-peak hours during construction. Duration of work for stations will be typically three to four months per station. Most of the construction will be in the median area with the exception of curbside stations, ramp improvements, and signal upgrades at intersections. In order to provide parking accommodations during construction, the contractor will be required to maintain temporary parking spaces on Broad Street, except directly in front of proposed curb-side stations. Construction work will be performed in compliance with daytime and nighttime noise ordinances. A 24-hour hotline will be established for businesses and the public to contact the Construction Manager. Signs will be posted to inform the public that businesses are open during construction, and work will be monitored to make sure safe pedestrian access is provided at all times.

11. Many places along these stretches of Broad Street have their own parking lots, but many don’t. What do you say to a business that will lose dedicated parking along Broad?

A: The project partners continue to listen to these concerns and find solutions. BRT is a part of the solution in better-connecting the region’s growing population to businesses in the corridor. This system will provide better access to more people, connecting people from where they live to where they work, shop and play. Businesses stand to benefit from this improved connectivity to their destination.

((I will defer to the City on any comment about their long-term parking planning and zoning requirements for businesses))

Proposed traffic signal and media modifications for BRT. SOURCE: GRTC

Proposed traffic signal and media modifications for BRT. SOURCE: GRTC (Click to enlarge)

12. Currently, left turns are restricted at a number of intersections along Broad Street to manage traffic flow and delays. Will BRT make this situation worse? Will residents still be able to access their neighborhoods?

A: The project partners received specific feedback about neighborhood access, which helped them determine with the City of Richmond traffic engineers traffic flow solutions for access.

The proposed left-turns are as follows:
Westbound from Adams to Thompson: Seven new left turns – Monroe, Belvidere, Harrison, Meadow, Robinson, Sheppard and Tilden.
Eastbound from Thompson to Adams: Ten new left turns – Roseneath, Shepard, Terminal, Davis, DMV, Allison, Meadow, Allen, Bowe and Belvidere.

New traffic signals are proposed at Tilden, Monroe and Madison (under review), and also in the East End at Orleans.

The traffic engineers have analyzed the City of Richmond’s traffic data for existing traffic flow and future 2017 traffic volume in the corridor. During the evening peak with BRT implemented, they see traffic flow is managed to the city’s levels of service.

13. How many new riders is the project slated to bring? How many already ride GRTC?

A: 3,500 riders are expected to ride the BRT service each day in the first year of operation. This estimate includes 500 brand new daily riders who don’t currently use the system today.

The average total GRTC system ridership today across all routes on a weekday is 28,240 riders. Saturdays it’s 15,097 and Sunday’s it’s 10,476.

One of the common requests we get from our riders is to extend service later in the evening, which BRT will do, and also offer more frequent service, which BRT will do. Knowing that our riders want more frequent and later service, we can reasonably expect our riders will utilize and benefit from the BRT.

14. Can you explain why the Rocketts Landing to Willow Lawn corridor was chosen to for BRT, and are there any hopes of it extending to Short Pump ever?

A: This corridor was identified as the best first BRT line from the Richmond Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (RAMPO) Regional Mass Transit Study, completed in 2008, where a variety of routes were examined for potential first lines of a BRT in the area.

The study proposed BRT from Rocketts Landing to Willow Lawn. The study also recommended extending the BRT line to Short Pump, nine miles west of Willow Lawn, by 2031. Henrico County, one of the project partners, continues to discuss and explore this option. The Broad Street corridor was recommended for transit improvements because it has the highest existing and projected population and employment densities and the most transit supportive land use in the Richmond region.

The Broad Street corridor has become more important in recent years again as an activity center and economic engine for the region, of which BRT can be the workhorse. More than 33,000 people live and more than 77,000 jobs are located within a half-mile of the BRT stations. Importantly, the BRT will create economic opportunity in a city with the highest poverty rate in Virginia, connecting people from where they live to where they work and access critical services (medical, food, retail, education, etc). Simultaneous improvements in local fixed route service with BRT implementation can address existing challenges and provide benefits to the entire system’s residents, commuters, businesses and institutions.

15. Will this mean that events like Broad Apetit won’t happen anymore?

A: The decision to grant access to any event causing a road closure (on which local fixed route or GRTC Pulse service) will operate is up to the City of Richmond’s Special Events procedures. That includes involvement from the Richmond Police Department, The CAO Office, the Director of City Parks & Rec, Chief of Fire, and Chief of Police. GRTC Pulse will be capable of moving lots of people quickly, conveniently and in a multi-modal-friendly capacity to and from special events.

16. When is construction slated to begin?

A: Construction is expected to begin in August 2016. Operations are expected to begin in October 2017.

17. Will business owners lose loading zones?

A:  Loading zones were studied, just like parking, by the traffic engineers. The most recent loading zone study was conducted in July 2015. Where loading zone occupancy was 0%, loading zones were typically removed, unless future redevelopment is anticipated within that particular block.

The data indicates that roughly 35% of loading zones are used regularly, but the City and the other partners are listening closely to business feedback on how they use loading zones on Broad Street.

The conceptual 30% design proposes keeping 33 loading zones (21 remain on Broad Street, with 12 shifting to side streets). This is an ongoing discussion where the project partners are requesting continued feedback from businesses about loading zones, as it factors into the City’s loading zone plans for the future. An additional 105 loading zones currently exist on side streets within one block of Broad Street, and will not be impacted by the BRT project design.

***Other details should answered by Department of Public works on their Loading Zone plans for the future.

The next public BRT meetings will be held at the University of Richmond Downtown location at 626 East Broad Street, Suite 100.

The Monday, July 27 meeting will be from noon – 1:30 p.m. and the second, Tuesday, July 28 from 6 p.m. – 7:30 p.m.

There will be a City Council briefing on Monday July 27, from 4 – 6 p.m. at Richmond City Hall.

In advance of these meetings, new documents have been added to the website:
Conceptual 30% Design

Public Meetings (get a sneak preview of the display boards, featuring new information about BRT travel times, lights, medians, parking and new station images)

The public outreach plan with staff going door-to-door along the 7.6-mile corridor is complete. Click here. 

Public outreach efforts have been ongoing since 2010, and will continue throughout the project implementation, GRTC said.

 

 

 

2 comments

  • Stuart S

    “BRT was also a game changer in Cleveland, OH with their 7.7 mile BRT system, resulting in a $5 billion economic impact, and an impressive $114.54 in new development for every dollar invested in the new system.”
    ****
    These numbers are just plain wrong. Cleveland’s BRT cost $200mil to build. Divide the claimed $5bil economic impact by the $200mil BRT cost and you get only $25 in new development for every BRT dollar, not the $115 that is claimed. What they did is break out the cost of guideway paving and other street work from the total system cost. So they just write off $150mil and claim the BRT only cost $50mil, that’s how they get the higher $115 number. It’s a common way BRT marketers mislead the public about the true cost of these expensive buses.

  • Stuart S

    Comparing Cleveland BRT with Portland Max Blue Line is also ridiculous. Max Blue Line is 33 miles long, travels 20mph, and averages over 65,000 passengers a day. Cleveland BRT is 6.8 miles long, travels 10.2mph, and averages less than 15,000 riders a day. So the BRT marketers want to compare costs of a modest surface bus and a partially tunneled light metro, clearly one is more expensive. But of course they don’t tell you the two systems are vastly different in performance, a surface bus cannot compete with the capacity and mobility of a tunneled light metro.

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