Driving Community Advancement: BRT Systems as Economic Engines

How do you catalyze the redevelopment and revitalization of a city? It may be as simple as introducing a modern form of transportation. The City of Richmond, Virginia is learning this firsthand thanks to its new high-quality and high-capacity Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system GRTC Pulse—connecting riders to destinations in Richmond and Henrico County.

Kimley-Horn was the lead consultant for the $65-million BRT project—a collaborative effort by the City of Richmond, Henrico County, GRTC Transit System, and the Commonwealth of Virginia—funded by a TIGER Grant. Kimley-Horn’s Ashley Lickliter, P.E. and GRTC’s Steve McNally presented about the economic and mobility benefits of GRTC Pulse at the 2018 American Public Transportation Agency (APTA) Bus and Paratransit Conference. Read on to learn how BRT systems can help cities enhance economic development, improve educational opportunities, provide access to employment and healthcare, and advance quality private investment.

Transit by the Numbers

GRTC Pulse BRT is a technology-forward transit solution, with more than 50 traffic signals that accommodate transit signal priority and queue jump technologies and totem arrival lights at BRT stations that gradually turn on when buses are approaching. In its first three months of operation, GRTC Pulse ridership far exceeded expectations, welcoming more than 6,000 riders each day. Residents and visitors were eager to explore the 7.6-mile route, waiting at one of 26 station platforms (10 median, 16 curbside) for the modern compressed natural gas (CNG) buses to arrive. Though rides were free during the system’s opening week, riders now use off-board fare collection, including ticket vending machines (TVMs), smart cards, and mobile payment. With 3.2 miles of dedicated bus-only lanes, level boarding, and service every 10 minutes throughout the day and every 15 minutes during off-peak, riders will quickly reach their destinations.

Transit for Education

The BRT system also carries college students, employees, providers, and visitors of Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) – Monroe Park Campus and MCV Campus and Virginia Union University (VUU) to and from the campuses, making educational opportunities more accessible. Pulse BRT helps to alleviate some parking constraints faced by VCU and lessens the strain on university-run shuttle buses that serve more than 50,000 students, faculty, and staff across the Monroe Park and MCV Campuses.

Transit for Employment

GRTC Pulse can also connect people from where they live to where they work, providing an affordable, sustainable, and efficient alternative to driving. According to the U.S Census Bureau and the Virginia Employment Commission, two-thirds of the jobs in the City of Richmond are located along the Pulse corridor—including Kimley-Horn’s Richmond office. The Main Street BRT station near Richmond’s Main Street Station multi-modal transportation hub helps make longer distance commutes even easier. Many BRT stations feature an RVA Bike Share station as well, which provides first mile and last mile solutions to BRT riders. Each GRTC Pulse bus can hold three bikes.

Transit for Healthcare

VCU Health System and Bon Secours Richmond Health System have pooled their resources in a joint sponsorship of GRTC Pulse to address social conditions, such as limited access to transportation, that impact health. The naming rights agreement will generate up to $6.4 million for GRTC operations over a term of up to 15 years. VCU also plans to use GRTC Pulse buses and stations for health education, improving the overall quality of life of community members. Thanks to GRTC Pulse, those who may have limited means of transportation now have an easier way to obtain health services.

Transit for Groceries & Craft Beer

People looking for a bite to eat can travel by GRTC Pulse to visit one of the many award-winning local restaurants along the corridor, soon to include the highly anticipated Stone World Gardens and Bistro. The restaurant will be operated by Stone Brewing Co., the company behind the third-most visited destination in San Diego. Realizing the benefit of a GRTC Pulse station by its brewery and restaurant, Stone Brewing Co. formally requested one. Now the East Riverfront BRT Station is just a stone’s throw away from the brewery. Another transit-oriented development (TOD) is the Sauer Center near the Allison Street BRT station. Anchored by a Whole Foods grocery store currently under construction, the development is a center for community activity and employment.

BRT systems such as GRTC Pulse do so much more than take riders from one location to another. They have the power to connect people to their communities, helping in the effort to revitalize cities. With the mobility provided by Richmond’s BRT system, the city’s residents and visitors have access to retail locations, jobs, schools, healthcare, and more—all while seeing the city from a new perspective.