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Four-lane section of Church Road set to undergo strategic ‘road diet’ to allow for bike lanes

The 1.8-mile portion between Wilde Lake Drive, near Lauderdale Drive, and Chapelwood Lane, near John Rolfe Parkway, will be repaved and restriped to create two travel lanes, a center turn lane and a buffered bike lane on each side.  

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A four-lane stretch of Church Road will be reconfigured this summer in a “road diet” conversion aimed at enhancing safety as well as connectivity for bicyclists and pedestrians.

The 1.8-mile portion between Wilde Lake Drive, near Lauderdale Drive, and Chapelwood Lane, near John Rolfe Parkway, will be repaved and restriped to create two travel lanes, a center turn lane and a buffered bike lane on each side.

The project, approved July 13 by the Board of Supervisors, also will provide curb ramps, median islands, signs and traffic signal modifications. Finley Asphalt & Sealing is expected to start work in August and finish in 45 days.

Church’s conversion is the type of project that can be replicated easily on four-lane, undivided roads with excess capacity because it reallocates how the pavement is used, said Terrell Hughes, director of the Department of Public Works.

In relative terms, it is an economical way to create bike lanes. Seventy-five percent of the project’s $1.2 million cost will cover the repaving, which was already slated to occur.

“That’s our big thing,” Hughes said. “As opportunities arise, we’re trying to increase our pedestrian and bike connectivity.”

Traffic engineers use “road diet” to describe the conversion of an undivided, four-lane road to a three-lane road, with two through lanes and a center lane for left turns. The redesign can bring a 19% to 47% reduction in crashes as well as lower speeds and improved access and mobility for all users, according to the Federal Highway Administration.

Church was a strong candidate for conversion because it is due for resurfacing and residents recognized the benefits, Hughes said. In a survey, 71% of 426 respondents preferred the Option 3 proposal for dual bike lanes and a median over two alternatives. Church’s four-lane stretch attracts about 8,500 vehicles per day and connects two-lane sections to its east and west.

The pending reconfiguration also dovetails with earlier initiatives to address safety concerns along the curvy road, which is home to Gayton Elementary School and provides access to Deep Run Park and nearby stores and restaurants.

In June 2019, Public Works reduced the posted speed limit to 35 mph on Church’s 3-mile stretch between Three Chopt Road and Lauderdale Drive as well as on Park Terrace. The speed limit in those areas had been 45 mph.

“Immediately, we started seeing improvements,” Hughes said.

Vehicle crashes on Church dropped from 14 in 2018 – before the change – to five in 2019, none in 2020 and two in the first six months of 2021. In addition, the average speed dropped by 5.8 mph, from 49.8 mph in 2016 and 2018 to 44 mph in 2019.

Hughes credited residents and the homeowners’ associations along the corridor for helping to shape the plan.

“We hear the residents of the county, and we’re actively working countywide on improvements that can be made,” he said.

Public Works sees the potential for similar road conversions on Dumbarton and Dickens roads in Lakeside and hopes to present proposals to the community late this year or early next year.

“We’re starting to see the benefits of slowing things down a bit,” Hughes said. “You can accommodate both cars and pedestrians without sacrificing either.”

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Trevor Dickerson is the co-founder and editor of RVAhub.com, lover of all things Richmond, and a master of karate and friendship for everyone.

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GRTC Continues Zero Fare Operations for Another Year

Hop on the bus, Gus. You don’t need to discuss much cuz this ride is free.

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Press Release from GRTC made the announcement that no fares through June 30th of 2022.

GRTC will remain Zero Fare through June 30, 2022, as approved by the Board of Directors this morning. Using State and Federal COVID relief funding, GRTC has been fareless to ride Local Bus, Pulse (Bus Rapid Transit), Express Bus, and CARE/Paratransit vans since March 19, 2020 in response to public health measures and in the interest of economically distressed communities who rely on public transit services to reach jobs, food, healthcare, and other critical community resources.

GRTC’s annual operating and capital expenditures for FY2022 are expected to approach $100 million, including $5.8 million enabling Zero Fare operations from Federal relief funding.  In FY2019 before the pandemic, GRTC received $6.8 million in fare revenue directly from riders and paid $1.6 million in expenses associated with fare collection, resulting in a $5.2 million net fare box revenue.  For FY2022, non-staffing fare expenses were removed from the budget. Fare collection staff have been offered essential non-fare job functions within GRTC. The projected net revenue difference of $5.8 million will be replaced in the budget by federal COVID relief funds as the region continues to recover economically from the pandemic.

GRTC CEO Julie Timm explains, “Although bus ridership did decline in 2020 across the nation during the pandemic, GRTC local ridership drops were modest by comparison and are already approaching pre-COVID levels.  I attribute the ridership rebound to three areas: 1) the strength of the 2018 network redesign connecting essential workers to jobs; 2) the extensive COVID protective measures enacted early and throughout the pandemic to protect staff and riders; and 3) the ongoing commitment to Zero Fare operations to protect the health and financial stability of our riders. GRTC’s focus on connecting people to essential resources resulted in higher sustained ridership. Higher ridership translates into increased Federal and State formula funding and creates a positive feedback loop for GRTC to improve and grow the region’s mobility network.”

GRTC is a public service corporation providing mobility services in the Greater Richmond area. GRTC’s current operational budget (FY21) of $60.3 million primarily funds daily mobility operations and vehicle maintenance. GRTC has provided 7.1 million trips during this FY21 (July 1, 2020 – May 31, 2021).

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Government

A quirky ‘yield to pedestrians’ sign on Brookland Park Boulevard is serving as an experiment in driver behavior

An interesting experiment is taking place in the Brookland Park area at the intersection of traffic, human behavior, and safety – and it’s all playing out on the r/rva Subreddit.

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An interesting experiment is taking place in the Brookland Park area at the intersection of traffic, human behavior, and safety – and it’s all playing out on the r/rva Subreddit.

After a yield for pedestrians sign was placed in the middle of Brookland Park Boulevard at Richmond-Henrico Turnpike, intrepid citizens, and Reddit user AndrewTheGovtDrone specifically, have documented drivers’ awareness (or lack thereof) of the sign, placed hats, balloons, and other items on or around the sign to see if or how it affects driver behavior, and witnessed it be struck by vehicles more than 30 times – and those were just the incidents caught on a video camera set up for a mere 16 hours.

Some stats about the sign and what affected driver behavior from the original post:

General Stats

The videos were taken on Thursday, April 8th (4/8/21). Saturday, April 10th (4/10/21) and Monday, April 12th (4/12/21). Altogether, the videos captured over 16 hours of intersection activity. The below stats are derived from the review of that footage. During this period:

  • 655 vehicles made the left turn off of Richmond-Henrico Tpk onto Brookland Park Blvd.

  • Of the 655 vehicles, 29 were “Commercial vehicles”( i.e. trucks, vans, uHauls, box-trucks, delivery trucks, buses, etc.). Pickup trucks and SUVs were not considered “Commercial vehicles” unless they were towing a trailer.

  • The sign was struck at least 22 times during these three days. It is entirely possible that additional collisions happened before the camera was deployed and/or after the camera died.

  • No commercial vehicles ever struck the the sign. All were able to navigate the intersection without colliding with the pedestrian sign.

  • Based on the data, drivers turning left onto BPB navigate the intersection without issue 96.6% of the time. In other words, the overwhelming majority of drivers are able to make a proper and safe turn. Collisions were not related to type of car being driven as all car types were shown to be capable of making the turn successfully if driven correctly.

  • During this period, 229 pedestrians were recorded crossing the intersection. This is likely a significant undercount due to the placement of the camera. The majority of pedestrians were bikers and dog-walkers.

Additional Information
  • As silly as the balloons were, they had a significant positive impact on driver behavior. Prior to the balloons, the sign was hit six (6) times on Monday. Following the balloon placement, the sign was hit only one (1) time.

  • Interestingly, drivers seemed to make the turn “most appropriately” (i.e. a squared-off turn) during high-traffic periods. When there was oncoming traffic, users took extra precaution to not cross the yellow lines and complete their turn “inside” the intersection. Drivers were generally more “reckless” when the roads were open.

  • The majority of pedestrians using the intersection crossed in the intersection on the “other” crosswalk, the one not being desecrated. However, the crosswalk that our champion guards is high-volume for users of the bus system.

  • At least one (1) couple hung out at the intersection for about 30 minutes waiting to see someone run our sign over. Fortunately for our sign and unfortunately for them, no one trampled him.

  • There were either two (2) separate Carvana deliveries observed or someone returned their Carvana vehicle a few days after receiving it. I’d love to get to the bottom of this.

  • As many have anecdotally reported, drivers seem unsure about what is expected of them when they approach these signs. Some slow down, most carry on without changing behavior, a small subset come to a complete stop. The City may do well to better communicate the expectations for both drivers and pedestrians related to the signs.

Based on what I saw, the takeaway is pretty clear: the sign is not the problem. #RVASIGNGANG #SIGNMEUP

As one commenter said in the original post, data is sexy, and while these experiments are entertaining, the more important outcome is that it’s all bringing attention to Richmond’s lack of pedestrian infrastructure and drivers’ carelessness at particularly nefarious intersections such as this one.

You can follow along with the sign’s saga here. A a few photos from the great experiment are below.

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Virginia public transit grapples with reduced ridership, zero fare

Virginia public transit systems from Northern Virginia to Hampton Roads are looking for a path forward after losing riders and revenue during the pandemic. Some transit systems have been harder hit than others.

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By Katharine DeRosa

Virginia public transit systems from Northern Virginia to Hampton Roads are looking for a path forward after losing riders and revenue during the pandemic. Some transit systems have been harder hit than others.

“We are serving a market of essential workers that can’t stay home; they have to use our service,” said Greater Richmond Transit Co. CEO Julie Timm during a recent presentation.

Gov. Ralph Northam issued a state of emergency in March of last year in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The move prompted limits on public and private gatherings, telework policies and mandates to wear masks in public, although some restrictions have eased.

GRTC faced a “potentially catastrophic budget deficit” since eliminating fares last March in response to the pandemic and reductions in public funding starting in July of this year, according to the organization’s annual report. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act funding and Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation emergency funding covered the deficit, according to the report.

The transit system lost about 20% of riders when comparing March to November 2019 with the same 9-month period in 2020. Overall, fiscal year-to-date ridership on local-fixed routes decreased the least (-16%), compared to the bus-rapid transit line (-49%) and express routes (-84%), according to GRTC data. Local-fixed routes had a 7% increase from March 2020 to March 2021.

GRTC eliminated fares in March 2020 to avoid “close interactions at bus fareboxes,” Timm said in a statement at the time. CARES Act funding made the move possible. GRTC will offer free rides until the end of June.

GRTC will need an additional $5.3 million when federal funding ceases to continue operating with zero fare, Timm said. Zero fare can be supported through the third round of federal stimulus money and Department of Rail and Public Transportation funding, advertising revenue and other funding sources, Timm said.

“This is the conversation and it’s a hard conversation,” Timm said. “To fare or not to fare?”

GRTC serves a majority Black and majority female riders, according to the 2020 annual report. Commuters account for over half the trips taken on GRTC buses and almost three-quarters of commuter trips are five or more days per week. Nearly 80% of riders have a household income of less than $50,000 per year.

GRTC spends about $1.7 million to collect fares annually, according to Timm. Eliminating fares is more optimal than collecting fares, Timm said in March. She believes in zero fare operation because the bus rates act as a regressive tax, which takes a large percentage of income from low-income earners.

Free fares could lead to overcrowding on buses, opponents argue. However, Timm said that’s not a good reason to abolish the initiative.

“If we have a demand for more transit, I don’t think the answer is to put fares out to reduce the ridership,” Timm said. “I think the answer is to find additional funding sources and commitment to increase service to meet that demand.”

GRTC will continue to evaluate the effectiveness of the zero fare model, according to Timm.

“We’ll have a lot of conversations post-COVID about how we consider transit, how we invest in transit and how that investment in transit lifts up our entire region, not just our riders but all of our economy for a stronger marketplace,” Timm said.

GRTC added another bus route as the COVID-19 pandemic hit last March. Route 111 runs in Chesterfield from John Tyler Community College to the Food Lion off Chippenham Parkway. The route surpassed ridership expectations despite being launched during the pandemic, according to the annual report.

GRTC also will receive additional funding from the newly established Central Virginia Transit Authority. The entity will provide dedicated transportation funding for Richmond and eight other localities. The authority will draw money from a regional sales and use tax, as well as a gasoline and diesel fuel tax. GRTC is projected to receive $20 million in funds from the authority in fiscal year 2021. The next fiscal year it receives $28 million and funding will reach $30 million by fiscal year 2026.

These funds cannot be used to assist in zero fare operation, Timm said.

Almost 350,000 riders boarded the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority buses per day on average in 2019, which includes passengers in Northern Virginia. That number dipped to 91,000 average daily boardings in 2020, according to Metro statistics.

Metro’s $4.7 billion budget will maintain service at 80-85% of pre-pandemic levels, according to a Metro press release. Federal relief funds totaling almost $723 million filled Metro’s funding gap due to low ridership.

“The impact of the pandemic on ridership and revenue forced us to consider drastic cuts that would have been necessary absent federal relief funding,” stated Metro Board Chair Paul C. Smedberg. “Thankfully, the American Rescue Plan Act has provided a lifeline for Metro to serve customers and support the region’s economic recovery.”

Hampton Roads Transit buses served 10.7 million people in 2019 and 6.2 million people in 2020. The decline has carried into 2021. Almost 1.6 million passengers took HRT transit buses in January and February 2020 and just over 815,000 have in 2021, resulting in a nearly 50% decrease. HRT spokesperson Tom Holden said he can’t explain why HRT bus services saw a higher drop off than GRTC buses.

“We had a substantial decline in boardings in all our modes of transportation just as every transit agency in the U.S. did,” Holden said.

HRT operated with a zero fare system from April 10 to July 1, 2020. Ridership had a slight uptick from April to October, aside from an August dip. Fares for all HRT transit services were budgeted for 14.2% of HRT’s revenue for Fiscal Year 2020.

“We are hopeful that with vaccinations becoming more widespread, the overall economy will begin to recover, and we’ll see rates increase,” Holden said.

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