Once hostile to public transit, counties surrounding Richmond are now expanding bus service – Greater Greater Washington

A stop without a cushion, bench or shelter at Short Pump along GRTC Route 19. Author’s picture.

After Richmond’s extensive streetcar network burned down in 1949, one of the most defining features of the city’s public transit system hasn’t been where its buses go but rather where they don’t: beyond the city lines. Since Richmond’s launch of redesigned bus routes and the award-winning Pulse bus rapid transit line, counties surrounding Virginia’s capital have softened their opposition to public transit and are beginning to view expanding bus service as the key to their continued prosperity.

Back when Richmond launched the nation’s first electric streetcar system, one could cross five municipal boundaries from Ashland in the north to Petersburg in the south entirely via public transit. But waves of white leaks triggered by fears of school integration have pushed central Virginia to balkanize itself into opposition localities. While Henrico County – Richmond’s northern neighbor – chose to avoid taking a stake in the Greater Richmond Transit Company altogether, Chesterfield County to the south bought half of the city’s sole transit provider. region in order to have a right of veto over any potential bus line within its territory.

The momentum eventually returned to a regional transportation approach with the creation of the Central Virginia Transportation Authority in 2020. Although the vast majority of the newly created funding will go to road widening, the 15% dedicated to the GRTC has focused minds on how to expand a bus system that still has 90% of its service just inside the city limits into a true regional transit system.

County of Henrico

Through the regional tax collection mechanisms of the CVTA, Henrico County became the primary funder of the GRTC. Just this month, county leaders leveraged that fact to convince Richmond and Chesterfield to create three additional seats on the GRTC board, giving each locality an equal voice on the city’s sole transit provider. RWA.

Henrico’s top priority is to set up service for a new Amazon fulfillment center just north of Richmond International Raceway, which is expected to create 1,000 jobs in the county by the end of 2022. Three options could make this objective a reality:

  1. Henrico could reroute the barely used Route 93 Azalea Connector that runs along the site to provide service to the new facility.
  2. The county could expand the well-trafficked Route 3 to give more people a single-seater ride to work.
  3. A microtransit pilot could be tried to provide on-demand food service from the Azalea Mall at the end of GRTC Route 1.

The answer may hinge on whether Amazon, with its $1.4 trillion net worth, is willing to help fund transportation options for its employees.

Over the next few years, Henrico also wants to expand bus service to another mega-site development: the $2.3 billion GreenCity project, which will include a 17,000-seat, 2.2 million square foot arena. of offices and 2,100 residential units. To get there, the county can gradually expand Route 1 of the GRTC – first to the existing Parham Road mall, then to GreenCity, and finally to Virginia Center Commons (a dying mall slated for residential redevelopment). Another question on the minds of county leaders is how best to connect to nearby Reynolds Community College.

With additional state dollars, Henrico is also exploring increasing frequencies on several other routes that serve county residents, including Route 7 to the airport, Route 19 to Short Pump, and possibly even Route 18. – an hourly route to the busiest center in Virginia. station that does not even operate on weekends.

In addition to the new North-South Pulse which is currently in the planning phase, Henrico is also considering extending the existing Pulse line further west to support the burgeoning transit-focused development that radiates down Broad Street to from Scott’s Addition. As long as developers are willing to continue building dense housing that underpins high footfall, the county appears interested in expanding transit service.

“The future as we see it is much denser in designated areas and more urban mixed-use,” said Todd Eure, assistant director of public works for Henrico and one of the new board members of the County GRTC. “These projects are all doing well while office complexes and big box stores are not doing well.”

Wyatt Gordon is a correspondent for the Virginia Mercury through a grant from the Coalition for Smarter Growth and the Piedmont Environmental Council. He is also responsible for land use and transportation policy at the Virginia Conservation Network. He was born and raised in Richmond with a master’s degree in urban planning from the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa and a bachelor’s degree in international political economy from American University. He writes for The Times of India, Nairobi News, Style Weekly, GGWash and RVA Magazine.

Melvin Z. Madore