A reason to read Councilman Baliles’s 1st District Newsletter

Baliles’s district newsletter is a good place to go and get a feel for how his brain works.

Here’s a tiny peek into mayoral candidate Jon Baliles’s decision-making process on tough, contested issues—in his own words!

From his 1st District Newsletter, about the mixed-use development at the Westhampton Theater (RIP):

Some have criticized me for not asking questions during the presentation on Monday. That happened because my questions had already been asked and answered during the many months being involved with this issue. The city council formal meeting on Monday was the opportunity for my colleagues on council to ask their questions. Earlier that day, I had discussed issues raised by concerned neighbors about parking, traffic flow, and line of sight with City of Richmond staff. These were the same questions later raised by some of my colleagues on Council during the 6:00 pm formal meeting.

Had major new information been presented at this meeting, a continuance would have been warranted. There wasn’t. I understand that some neighbors are disappointed about our decision. However, please remember that there has also been much support for this project from neighbors and associations.

This newsletter is as close as you’re going to get to a first-person mayoral candidate blog*, which is a thing I wish all of the candidates had.

* Levar Stoney does have a Medium, but it’s only got one post and it’s not really bloggy, more Mediumy.

Why Scott’s Addition needs better sidewalks

In two images.

From TransitCenter’s Who’s On Board 2016 report comes this graph that shows if someone can walk to transit they are more likely to be a frequent transit rider.

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And then, from the Richmond Transit Network Plan’s High Ridership concept, comes this map of bus lines near Scott’s Addition:

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Most of Scott’s Addition is within walking distance of either BRT (the black line) or the #10 (the red line). It’d certainly help encourage transit ridership in and out of the neighborhood if the sidewalks weren’t all crumbly and nonexistent.

Say something nice

Transportation people work hard at their jobs, too. We should say thanks.

From Jarrett Walker’s Human Transit:

When I redesigned Corvallis, Oregon’s bus system in 1995, the local newspaper’s coverage of the change focused on one senior housing complex, where people were enraged because I’d moved their bus stop around the corner to a different side of their building. Nobody in the local media cared about the dramatic improvements to mobility that the new network would provide. There are two morals to this story: (1) If your transit agency proposes a service change that looks to you like an improvement, send them a positive comment, because regardless of the proposal’s benefits, they’ll probably be bombarded by negative ones from people objecting to any kind of change. (2) We need better tools for making the benefits of a transit proposal visible to the ordinary citizen, so that a larger share of the population can make self-interested judgments that will weigh the advantages of a change, not just its inconvenience.

I realize Jarrett Walker (the very same Jarrett Walker who’s rejiggering our bus system as we speak!) is coming at this from a policy perspective. We need the folks with decision making power to hear from the people who support these projects, because they’re definitely hearing from the people who don’t.

But I think there’s more to it than that! It’s super draining to work long and hard on something you believe in only to end up with an inbox full of angry, grammatically-incorrect emails. I empathize! And, at least for me, while my brain knew that there existed people who were supportive of what I was doing, the casual “you suck” emails stuck with me—especially in the absence of a resounding number of “you’re great!” emails.

With that in mind: Here’s a (extremely short and totally incomplete) list of local folks pushing Richmond’s transportation systems forward (with all of their might!), and they deserve your kind words!

Who else am I missing? Who else do we need to shower with praise for their hard work?

And, as always, you can contact your elected officials (here are all of their email addresses plus the email addresses of everyone running for office) to tell them how much you love the Floyd Avenue Bike/Walk Street, or how excited you are about the impending bike share program, or how you just can’t wait for BRT to launch next fall. Those cats are on the receiving end of a lot of negative vibes, so a kind supportive word would be well received. Plus it lets them know that real people really do support these projects.

Update(s)

  • Sam reminds me to say thank you to your bus driver as you get off the bus.

WANTED: Someone to read the PDFs

Do you have what it takes to decipher endless and inscrutable city finance-related documents?

From the Richmond Forward blog (which you can and should totally get by email):

More than money, we need to elevate this conversation and understanding of our City’s finances. We need a Teresa-Cole-like investigation to “decode Davenport” and provide analysis from a neutral source on the long-term financial future of our city. I’ve received input from those on [Multi-Year School Investment Funding Team] committees that further scrutiny was needed to evaluate numbers provided by Davenport. Please contact us today if you want to take the lead or be involved in this effort.

Although, maybe if we all just bought Teresa some beers (or gave her stacks of American currency) she’d do this for us…

Make public transportation part of Chesterfield’s blueprint

If you’re a Chesterfieldian, here’s your easy-to-do civic action for the week.

If you live, work, worship, or chill in Chesterfield, you’ve got a great opportunity to inform the direction the county is headed over the next couple of years.

The county’s Board of Supervisors and School Board recently released Blueprint Chesterfield, an open survey that county leaders will use “to shape the five-year plan during the upcoming budget process.” Unfortunately, public transportation is completely missing from the survey! This bums me out and should bum you out as well. To get a feel for the true bummerness of it all, read this Q&A with Todd Wilson of Cornerstone Revitalization Center:

As impoverished areas persist, goods and services leave the area, forcing residents to travel farther for the necessities they need to purchase. This dramatically increases the cost and further stretches the limited income they have. As tax income decreases, those goods and services tend to decline as well. Schools in these areas are hard-pressed to offer the same educational experience as those in more affluent areas.

Even our road system in Chesterfield County enables most of its middle class to navigate throughout its geography without even having to see the impoverished communities it hosts. These areas become economic wastelands where little or no opportunities exist. Pair that with a largely driverless population without any means of transportation, or even sidewalks, and you’ve created a desert island of poverty that is “out of sight and out of mind.”

The lack of public transportation in Chesterfield County is a Real Thing that needs to be discussed, so it’s Real Unfortunate that it’s not included as an option on the Blueprint Chesterfield survey. Luckily, free-entry text fields to the rescue!

OK, here’s my transit advocate-y call-to-action: If you’re a Chesterfieldian, fill out the survey and do these things:

  1. List “public transportation” as one of the three most important priorities for the county to focus on over the next five years (that’s question #1).
  2. Write in “public transportation” as a county service that is important to you (that’s question #3).

Bring a full plan to the table

Will this past week’s awful events change the local political conversation?

Amy George on her Facebook:

City council members/candidates and mayoral candidates need to bring a full plan to the table.

I want to know how you’re going to actively work to make our schools less segregated, our courts and policing more just, and ensure economic growth benefits those who need it the most.

I need to know what plans are in place to ensure residents of public housing are not carelessly scattered when places like Creighton Court are redeveloped. I want to see great bus access between high poverty communities and areas with high concentrations of jobs.

And most of all, I want to know what review procedures are in place to ensure that any misconduct by the Richmond Police Department sees the full light of day.

I’m really interested to see if any of the awful events of this past week push the local political conversations beyond cutting the grass.

Busin’ to books

How would a ridership-focused GRTC affect access to Richmond’s libraries?

I read this eye-opening thing about libraries, shared by Hayley, and immediately thought about how Richmond’s Transit Network Plan would affect access to our libraries.

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If we adopted something akin to the High Ridership Concept of the Richmond Transit Network Plan, seven of nine of Richmond’s libraries would sit on top of frequent (every 15 minutes) service. Compare that to today (see below), where most of the libraries are accessibly by 30-minute service.

Doubling the frequency of bus service is a huge benefit of the High Ridership Concept, but also! Glory in its more grid-like structure! From my house on the Northside I would be able to get to all nine libraries with at most one transfer—while avoiding the downtown transfer plaza completely! In the current setup, to get to the North Avenue library for my house would take about 27 minutes and 17 minutes of that would be walking. It’d only take 49 minutes to walk the entire way there.

A more frequent, faster, and easier to understandable GRTC means better access to all sorts of things for all sorts of people. Just look at all of those red lines in the High Ridership Concept, and start to imagine all of the places you’ll go!

Below

Here’s the Familiar Concept of the Richmond Transit Network Plan, which is close to what we’ve got now. Notice that while you can still get to the libraries by bus, it’s not always super clear how one would go about doing that (say you want to check out a book on brewing after a visit to Hardywood?). Also note that service to the West End library is better in the Familiar Concept than it is in the High Ridership Concept. It’s an example of the types of decisions we’ll have to make as we work through adopting one of these concepts.

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Does the City have a say when a new mural goes up?

#notallmurals

Photo by: Sky Noir

Mark Holmberg, writing for the paper, takes issue with a mural near the convention center and wonders why the City doesn’t have more control over what property owners do with their own property:

I’ve also been wondering why one artist and a building owner can change the vibe of a block or even a neighborhood, when buildings, signage and just about everything else has to go through a permitting process.

Not exactly false (signage is deeply covered in the City’s Zoning Ordinance), but the idea that anyone can paint anything anywhere is certainly misleading. Any murals done in one of Richmond’s Old and Historic Districts must go through the Commission of Architectural Review. In fact, there were three such papers in front of CAR just last week in preparation for this year’s Richmond Mural Project (1331 E. Canal Street, 11 W. Broad Street, and 708 N. Meadow Street). You can read through CAR’s nine-point mural guidelines on page 75 of the Old & Historic Districts Handbook and Design Review Guidelines (PDF)—most of the guideline ensure that folks don’t go painting murals right on top of old and original surfaces.

Btw, and this is unrelated to the legalities of painting murals, but Ron English is an internationally known artist. You’ll probably recognize his “Abraham Obama,” he’s been on The Simpsons, and he’s collaborated with Pearl Jam. The mural in question is an interpretation of Guernica. He’s definitely not just some guy with a paint bucket.

You can read more about Ron English and his involvement in the 2014 Richmond Mural Project in this interview with RVA Mag, in which he says these possibly prophetic words:

Richmond’s very nice. They have a lot of walls here. Looks like [the Richmond Mural Project] can keep expanding for quite awhile without covering mine up. Mine will be the first to get covered up, mark my words.


As Holmberg points out, Richmond’s in the midst of putting together our very first Public Art Master plan. While I’m pretty sure it’ll won’t have the authority to keep private citizens from painting their own property (remember Ham’s Recession 2009?), there will definitely be opportunities to exercise your public feedback muscle throughout the process.