Construction activities for the long-anticipated Bus Rapid Transit project, dubbed the GRTC Pulse, are scheduled to begin today. The major transportation project will bring rapid bus service to the city from Willow Lawn in Henrico County to Rocketts Landing just east of Downtown Richmond.
The project and overall vision
The GRTC Pulse will be a 7.6 mile high capacity, bus-based rapid transit system that offers some of the advantages of rail transit but at a lower and more affordable cost. Rather than building out a track- or rail-based system, the Pulse line will focus on improvements to the area’s roadways, bus stations, and route plans with the ultimate goal of speeding up the city’s bus system and offering a faster and higher quality bus service. While the new project will result in changes to the city’s traditional bus system, GRTC busses will continue to operate separate of the actual BRT line as they always have. The project will take existing services and upgrade them with “a spectrum of service enhancements,” according to planners.
The Pulse will feature dedicated bus lanes along W. Broad Street, traffic signal priority for buses, upgraded bus stations, better signage, and more, with the overall goal of making the line more accessible, attractive, reliable, and, most of all, faster. The BRT is designed to serve as a starting point for regional improvements to the transit system, which can expand in future years to serve other major “activity centers” in the region.
There will be a total of 14 BRT stations stretching from Willow Lawn to Rocketts Landing. The upgraded stations will be covered and feature upgraded signage and other amenities that don’t currently exist.
Parking controversy and mitigation
As could be expected with any major project, the BRT has not been without its share of controversy. A number of neighborhood associations, businesses, and other groups along and near the BRT corridor have expressed concerns with construction, loss of parking, altered traffic patterns, and more.
By working with these entities, project planners have partially mitigated the issue, preserving 401 parking spaces that were originally to be lost along the route. However, all on-street parking will be lost along W. Broad Street from 4th through 14th streets to accommodate curb-running busses in that area. On-street parking is already prohibited during peak rush hour times in the morning and evening in this area.
In the locations where parking/loading spaces will be lost, BRT project partners are working with City staff from Parking, Planning and Development Review; Public Works; and Economic and Community Development to work on solutions to the loss of parking. Virginia Commonwealth University will also open to-be-determined lots and/or decks for public use during, and possibly after, construction takes place.
Parking mitigation options will consider safety of Pulse operations, road lane widths and median width for pedestrian refuge, and accommodations of bicycle and pedestrian movements. The team says the overarching goal is to preserve nearly 60% of the on-street parking along W. Broad Street. GRTC estimates there are 1,015 existing on-street parking spaces on the side streets within one block of W. Broad Street between Thompson Street and 14th Street, and more than 8,000 off-street parking spaces within one block of the route. Of these spaces, 6,461 comprise short-term and long-term public and private off-street parking facilities. Construction of the BRT will neither change nor affect these off street parking spaces.
The project’s necessity
With renewed development along W. Broad Street and in the downtown area as a whole, the corridor has become more important as an activity center and economic engine for the region, GRTC says. More than 33,000 people live along or near the route and over 77,000 jobs are located within a half‐mile radius of the planned Pulse stations–a figure which is expected to grow rapidly through 2035, as the below map illustrates. Planners also hope the service will create economic opportunities for the City of Richmond, which is saddled with the highest poverty rate in the Commonwealth.
The BRT project aims to drastically reduce many of the changes GRTC’s current system faces, including the following (in the system’s own words):
- Long travel times for local bus riders
- Service delays due to bunching of buses
- Substandard bus lane widths
- Lack of exclusive bus lanes during off‐peak times
- Reduced level of service for motor vehicles and buses
- Congested regional interstates increasing travel time delay and commute costs for motor vehicles.
- Limited and unreliable local access to employment, retail, educational institutions and health care services for transit‐dependent populations
- Lack of permanent infrastructure investment to support development and redevelopment initiatives that would stimulate the economy of the metropolitan region
GRTC’s overall goal is to have The Pulse be a part of a multi-modal transportation solution that is pedestrian oriented but also transit supportive. The entity hopes the new bus line will (again, in their own words):
- Expand the range of job opportunities for transit‐ dependent populations by increasing the areas accessible within a reasonable commute time
- Provide a permanent transit investment in the Broad Street corridor that will encourage economic development and stimulate property values
- Leverage opportunities for mixed‐use, transit‐oriented development that will revitalize an economically distressed corridor and improve jobs‐housing balance
- Create additional opportunities to increase system‐wide efficiency for GRTC and further improve service on local bus routes
- Attract new riders by providing a service with travel times that are competitive with motor vehicles or passenger vehicles
- Increase bus speeds by approximately 65%
- Improve pedestrian safety at station areas with improved crosswalks and pedestrian refuge areas at station platforms. Also add new pedestrian crosswalks in the corridor
- Improve the reliability of transit operations on Broad Street by providing a dedicated lane for BRT vehicles from Thompson Street to Foushee Street and by improving the dedicated bus lane between 4th Street and 14th Street
- Reduce travel time for riders on BRT by approximately 33%
Initial construction & upcoming work zones
The project’s contractor, Lane Construction, will perform utility relocation work in tandem with local utilities in preparation for site work. Said activities are set to begin on the south side of W. Broad Street at Thompson Street, progressing eastward. Temporary work zones will be set up surrounding construction activities, involving closing one curb and/or parking lane of Broad Street and a portion of the adjacent sidewalk for approximately 500 to 550 feet around the site Mondays through Saturdays from 7:00 AM – 5:00 PM through October 16th.
Pedestrian pathway detours and street lane closure signs will be posted accordingly. GRTC asks pedestrians and motorists alike to follow construction signage and be aware of construction workers and vehicles within all work zones, which will be clearly marked.
Next week, the week of August 22nd, work zones will be set up on the south side of W. Broad Street, from Cleveland Street to North Boulevard. The week of August 29th, expect work zones on the south side of W. Broad Street, from North Boulevard to North Davis Street. During construction, the public will continue to have access to businesses, organizations and services located along the Project route, as required by regulations Virginia Department of Transportation.
“Any activity that would impact parking, loading zones, access, utilities and other business-related functions must receive approval from VDOT who will ensure that continuous access will be provided to all businesses at all times,” says GRTC Public Relations manager Ashley Mason. “All Project team members are committed to providing prompt information to ensure a smooth construction phase for businesses, residents and patrons of the region as part of the overall success of the project.”
Overall project timeline
The Pulse project team expects major construction work will progress within the following approximate timeframes, which will be weather dependent:
- Thompson Street to Laurel Street: August 2016 – October 2016. Work occurs on eastbound Broad Street on the south side sidewalk and adjacent lane.
- Allison Street to 5th Street: October 2016 – April 2017. Work occurs in the median area.
- I-195 to Allison Street: March 2017 – July 2017. Work occurs in the median area.
- Curbside Stations (Willow Lawn, Staples Mill, Main Street Station, Shockoe Bottom, East Riverfront and Orleans St): November 2016 – October 2017. Work occurs in the sidewalk area and adjacent lane only at station locations.
- 4th Street to 12th Street Westbound: June 2017 – October 2017. Work occurs in the sidewalk area. Westbound outside lane is closed.
- 4th Street to 12th Street Eastbound: August 2017 – October 2017. Work occurs in the sidewalk area. Eastbound outside lane is closed.
Pulse service is expected to begin in October of 2017–a fairly aggressive timeline.
BRT video simulation
This video simulation demonstrates how the BRT line will work, where the system’s dedicated lanes will be, how stations will operate, and how busses will be prioritized over motor vehicles along the route.
Construction information and updates
The Pulse section of GRTC’s website offers a bevy of continuously-updated information, graphics, charts, news, and more. Check it out here and be sure to sign up for updates on construction activity, which will be sent throughout the project timeline.
A construction phone hotline is also available at 804.980.0084. The automated system will provide updates on construction and expected impacts.
Project resources (PDF format)
- Basics of the Pulse
- Pulse Rotue Map
- Pulse Station Locations
- Broad Benefits of the Pulse
- Frequently Asked Questions