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PlanRVA recommends Pulse line extension into Henrico

A green bus with a digital sign that says "WESTBOUND" drives in an urban area with two bike on the front.
Ryan M. Kelly
For VPM News
A Pulse bus arrives at the VCU Medical Center station station on June 7, 2023 in Richmond.

The agency called for extending the route to where West Broad Street meets Parham Road.

A possible extension of the Pulse rapid transit bus line along West Broad Street to North Parham Road is in the works.

Before any passenger can hop on, there’s a ton of infrastructure work that needs to be done, including making the stops accessible for people with disabilities, said Dan Motta, transportation planner with Plan RVA — a regional transportation agency that collaborates with nine local governments, businesses and the public to improve how citizens move about in the area.

“Because of how the West Broad Street corridor was built out 50-plus years ago, it has been largely auto centric,” said Motta. “So, things like sidewalks, crosswalks, and for transit, bus shelters, benches, even things like trash cans have not really been prioritized in the past. Luckily, that is changing.”

He said Henrico County officials have been doing a great job expanding sidewalks and crosswalks in the area and making it safer for pedestrians and cyclists.

The report also states that there aren’t any streetlights or pedestrian lighting along the entire corridor, except for lighting from private developments.

PlanRVA recently released its analysis of a proposed Short Pump expansion. It found broad support for the project as well as several obstacles to its development, concluding that a phased approach would be best.

The idea to extend the Greater Richmond Transit Company’s rapid bus line, known as the BRT Pulse, along West Broad Street was first floated in the 2017 Greater RVA Transit Vision Plan. Currently, the line ends at Willow Lawn, near the Richmond-Henrico border.

GRTC requested PlanRVA complete a preliminary examination of the extension.

“This is certainly the preliminary step in the expansion. It's an important step,” said Motta.

Motta also said the agency started working on the report last November by looking at what it will take to prepare a roughly 10-mile stretch of West Broad Street for the proposed expansion. They looked at current roadway conditions, spoke to Henrico’s transportation officials and collected streams of data — such as economic, car travel and crash statistics.

Broad support for Broad expansion

After assessing challenges, PlanRVA engaged the public with multiple surveys.

Motta said the agency heard “a lot from individuals that enhanced transit in the Short Pump area is something that is definitely a need and something that people want and are excited about.”

People who responded to the survey ranked reliable public transit service, pedestrian accessibility and reducing traffic congestion as their top priorities, according to the report. Many respondents stated they’d use the Pulse line to go shopping or to work downtown.

“Overall, we found that roughly 65% support extending the Pulse and having more enhanced transit,” Motta said. “So, there's a big support there.”

PlanRVA also found that the Pulse logged more than 1.5 million rides in 2022, a 14% increase over 2021. And with more than 500,000 passengers as of April 2023, ridership is on pace to grow by a further 12% this year.

A green and blue bus that says "GRTC pulse" moves quickly through an intersection
Ryan M. Kelly
For VPM News
A Pulse bus drives through downtown on June 7, 2023 in Richmond, Virginia.

A step to Short Pump

Because it’s a preliminary report, Motta said, it’ll take quite some time before any construction on new platform stations begins or any infrastructure improvements are done. He also said in reviewing the 2017 Greater RVA Transit Vision Plan, taking the Pulse further west to Short Pump was the next logical step.

The next step, however, isn’t extending BRT all the way to Short Pump.

"For this analysis, we recommend that the current BRT Pulse line be extended to Parham Road as kind of the first phase of expansion,” Motta said. “And then our second recommendation, as part of this analysis, is to examine and further explore an extension to Short Pump as kind of the phase two.”

For the roughly four-mile extension to Parham Road, the analysis recommends adding Pulse platform stations at or near West Broad Street’s intersections with Horsepen Road, Glenside Drive, Wistar Road, and Parham Road.

“This would provide access to shopping centers, residential areas, and centers of employment,” Motta said.

The Greater RVA Transit Vision Plan also envisions the rapid line running east down Gayton Road and winding its way back toward downtown.

Motta added that PlanRVA also supports re-examining GRTC bus routes 18 and 19, which come close to West Broad Street along the proposed extension. Those two lines could complement connections to the Pulse rapid transit.

Now that the final report is finished, Motta said the next steps include PlanRVA giving presentations to the Richmond Regional Transportation Planning Organization as well as to GRTC’s Board of Directors, which could happen by July.

"Luckily, there's a lot of talk right now about expanding transit,” Motta said. “So, it's an exciting time. There's a lot to do. And hopefully people stay involved in the process and keep up to date with everything.”

Motta said starting next year, GRTC will seek grant funding for a planning study that will provide environmental clearance for the first phase of an extension towards Short Pump.

Ian M. Stewart previously was the transportation reporter and fill-in anchor for VPM News.
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