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Drivers warned to stay out of GRTC Pulse bus lanes

RICHMOND, Va. -- The GRTC took a major step to transform public transportation along one of Richmond's busiest thoroughfares during Monday's morning rush.

The Pulse (bus rapid transit) buses began testing along the 3.2 miles of dedicated bus lanes over the 7.6 mile route that stretches from Rockett’s Landing to Willow Lawn.

GRTC Director of Communications Carrie Rose Pace warned Richmonders to be mindful and watch out for the big green and blue Pulse buses driving through the city.

"If you're a cyclist, a pedestrian, a person in a automobile, or a skateboarder stay out of the bus only lanes," Rose Pace said. "The only time that there are shared vehicles in a bus only lane is downtown between 4th and 14th street."

Contractors removed the orange barrels along West Broad Street over the weekend in preparation for the operational exercises. Those exercises included running through new traffic signals and inspectors measuring the distance from the bus door to the platform.

However, work on the Pulse project is far from over.

"Lane Construction will continue with some remaining work at the stations, such as: landscaping; lights; totem signage; station glass; station ceilings; and more," officials said. "Some roadway work is expected to continue, including forming pedestrian curb ramps, as well as sidewalk repairs."

Rose Pace cautioned drivers to watch out for workers who may be in working in the road, along sidewalks or at the docking stations.

Public transportation in the middle of the street is nothing new for Richmond.

In 1949, passengers hopped on trolleys that ran up the middle of West Broad Street, according to Rose Pace.

Officials recognized the major changes that drivers are expected to get used to during and after the Pulse construction.

Morgan Hafer, a bike courier who said he worked in larger cities like Washington D.C. and Boston prior to moving to Richmond, has reservations about the project.

He argued that bicyclists should be able to use the bus only lanes. Despite being warned against doing so, Hafer said he would bike in the lanes regardless.

This phase of the project, which first broke ground in August 2016, also includes outreach and signage in addition to observation and testing.

GRTC needs 90 days to test routes, officials previously said, and on that timeline, a July 1 launch is possible. Contractually, the project must be done by June 30, 2018, but they could finish earlier.

Ten new 40-foot buses running on compressed natural gas will operate along the route when it is complete. The modern buses will have 38 seats as well as room for 15 standees. Bike capacity in the front will be slightly increased to hold three.

The buses will run every 10 minutes during peak hours and every 15 during off-peak hours. There are 14 station locations; five median and nine curbside.

Lane Construction won the bid for the project. The federal government is contributing close to $25 million, the city will cover $7.6 million, state funding equals $32 million and Henrico County will contribute $400,000.