My #nocarnovember Experience

For the month of November, I took the challenge of not using my car. I used GRTC, the Pulse, and walked. I walked a lot actually. Over 125 miles during the month. I even used a scooter when I could find one. I did use my car on three occasions. One to go to Ashland for a Committee meeting, another to run errands and make returns prior to expiring receipts, and lastly to prepare for the Thanksgiving holiday. Want to be honest and transparent.

I traveled to Chicago, Boston, and DC during the month which aided in my challenge. These cities provided a strong comparison to what getting around Richmond could be like. I flew to both Chicago and Boston and used both city metro systems to get from the airport to my destination. This highlights the need for an airport bus route to Richmond International Airport. I attempted to use the GRTC 7 route but the once an hour bus and over an hour-long ride was not conducive to my scheduled travel. The 90-minute trip created a conflict with the work meetings scheduled prior to my flight as well. I took Amtrak to DC and used the Metro almost exclusively during my work visit and to see friends. Again, a seamless interconnected multimodal network.

Over the course of the month, I observed many great things about Richmond’s multi-modal transportation options. My access to the Pulse was not only convenient, but it was dependable even for my early morning bible study in Shockoe Bottom on Tuesdays. I used GRTC as well and had a mostly positive experience. The Transit app was great for trip planning. Especially using the “Arrive by” feature to help plan my departures. The new bus stop signs are easy to find. I enjoyed using the GRTC Mobile Pass app. Buying my pass and using it each day was easy. The GRTC app is a great way to find the nearest bus stops and arrival times for buses. Integrating the two would be a huge step forward and a needed investment.

Highlights from my 30 Day Challenge.

In a meeting with fellow City Council representative Michael Jones during my no car challenge, he voiced his encouraging support, but along with a problem. He simply stated “Love what you are doing to experience having no car in Richmond. But this can’t be done in Southside. You have Pulse, the time needed to truly not use a car would make life incredibly challenging.” I really appreciated this comparison as my observations are from a privileged point of easy access to options that are not available to everyone.

I also experienced several frustrations that many Richmonders face daily while using our multi-modal transportation options. I missed three Pulse buses due to waiting for the light to change. I had a GRTC bus not show up. I also realized how fortunate I am to live four blocks away from the Pulse. To do the #nocarnovember challenge living south of the James would be difficult, especially with my board, committee, City Council, and work meetings being all over the city. The Pulse works but not for all of Richmond yet. In addition to improving frequency, coverage, and reliability throughout our entire system, we must prioritize the expansion of the Pulse routes east and west and begin plans for our north/south BRT route.

I believe that pedestrian crosswalks near GRTC and Pulse stops should not only have Lead Pedestrian Intervals, but also priority to cross sooner. I have noticed the pedestrian crosswalk at Broad and Arthur Ashe Blvd only shows the “walk” sign if initiated. Many of the pedestrian signal buttons are not even near the crosswalks either; several are hard to interpret which light or direction they are for. I have seen many people standing at intersections watching the lights cycle through without the “walk” sign turning on and then just crossing when traffic clears. They are not aware that the button has to be pushed, in many instances there is not a button nearby to push. Some are even hidden by the new large control boxes for the new intersections. We definitely need to re-evaluate this design and practice for our pedestrian crosswalks.

The City of Richmond made a commitment to Vision Zero in November 2017 with a pledge I joined Mayor Stoney in signing. This was the catalyst for the pathway to today. This pledge set in motion a meeting I convened between RPD, DPW, VCU PD, VCU leadership, GRTC, Bike/WalkRVA, and others to discuss the next steps. Out of that meeting came a capstone project for Brandcenter students at VCU to focus on Vision Zero recommendations. Two groups of students got to work during Fall 2018 to work on outlining a plan. Their creativity, research, and community engagement created a wealth of new ideas and approaches. All the parties involved were encouraged to see these recommendations come to reality. The Safe and Healthy Streets Commission and I worked on identifying policy changes needed to support their recommendations with new positions and funding. VCU stepped up to create a website to educate, inform, and engage students around how to be a safe and aware pedestrian. This website is in the final stages for launch and will be an example for more additional needed resources for bicyclists, car drivers, and others. I have been asked if I am happy with the progress being made in Richmond since the 2017 Vision Zero pledge, and I can say that I am. Creating good sustainable and implemented solutions to the challenges of growing into a Vision Zero city takes time. It takes intentional engagement, strategic visioning, and a plan. All of which have been in process since our public commitment. Many strides have been made by both Richmond Police and Public Works to support this initiative and many more in process. It will not happen overnight but is a conversation that we will continue to have for a while.

On November 11th, I introduced a “Safe Streets for All” omnibus package of legislation designed to elevate our Vision Zero, Complete Streets, and safety enforcement for Richmond. There are 28 separate items outlined for improvements, changes, staffing, and resource requests to support making our streets safer for all. I observed many instances where these improvements if passed by Council and supported in our upcoming FY2021 budget, will make a big difference. Here are a couple of highlights:

  1. Creating NO “Turn on Red” zones in highly trafficked areas of our city — I myself have almost been hit by a driver looking left at oncoming traffic to turn right at a red light. I had the “Walk” signal yet had to be aware of the driver not yielding to the right of way.
  2. Increasing Streetlight lumens in our High Injury Street Network — at night crossing the street is treacherous, let alone when you have the “Walk” signal as a pedestrian at an unlit intersection. Drivers can’t yield to pedestrians they cannot see. I observed several close calls due to this issue in many parts of our city.
  3. Speeding cars — I cannot emphasize enough how our neighborhood streets are being overtaken by speeding cars. I have seen too many cars driving excessively fast on our 25mph streets. The speed limit signs aren’t an average of your speed, but the max. Most times they are speeding between stoplights or stop signs. Are a couple of seconds saved worth causing a crash with a pedestrian, jogger, or bike?
  4. Distracted Drivers — as Captain Davenport from RPD has coined for Richmond, the stoplight prayer of drivers. Where a car pulls up to a stoplight and pulls out their phone to have the glow of their phone light up their face as they look down in ‘prayer’. I will be following closely this General Assembly session to see if the State of Virginia bans handheld phones in use while driving.
  5. Crosswalks are not for stopping — routinely I would be walking up to an intersection only to have a car pull directly into the crosswalk gazing left as they are looking to turn right. I have been a huge proponent for installing the painted stop bars at Stop signs as well as the large crosswalk bars at intersections. This visual connection to where cars are supposed to stop and that the area

There are several other observations to share, but these were the most frequently observed. My month as a multimodal resident was very revealing. Richmond has a long way to go to become a truly equitable and inclusive multimodal city, but we have taken many strides forward. Now is the time for the intentional adjustments, adapting to these new changes to allow for everyone to travel our city safely. I look forward to furthering this and other policies, programs, and funding efforts to make our city equitable in access for everyone. Together, we can make ‘Safe Streets for All.’

Recovering bureaucrat. Pioneered as Civic Innovator. Now serving a second term on City Council in Richmond, VA. Words are my own.