Sunday, July 12

A bright future for Richmond

Tracks into Main Street Station
It looks more and more like some of the $8 billion in federal stimulus allocated for high-speed rail will be used for service between Richmond and Washington, and continuing south into North Carolina. This will bring the the travel time between Virginia's capital and the nation's capital to around 90 minutes with several more scheduling options for rail travelers. From the 1950's through 80's, the downtown was chopped into pieces by interstates to serve development in the metropolitan area. This time the tables are being turned. Rail infrastructure has a tendency to promote concentrated development around the station and feed into different localized modes of travel. This is a good thing for revitalizing downtown.

Map from Richmond Downtown Plan (full size pdf)
And the timing couldn't be better. A truly visionary plan was completed last year for the downtown of Richmond, and the city has been moving toward the first stages of implementation. With an agreed-upon blueprint firmly in place for redevelopment, the city could better handle an influx of funds and direct it in a way that benefits the whole community.

"Cities are naturally mixed-use, mixed-income, and multi-modal"

Richmond has decided to restore many of the traditional elements that made the city a vibrant place. Most of the two-way streets that were converted to one-way to increase vehicular traffic will revert back to their original form. The streetcar system that ran through Broad Street and many other corridors, shaping the form of the city, may be resurrected. According to the plan, the pedestrian will once again be honored and made to feel comfortable and safe.

Everything in this plan seems to be spot on. The parking strategy is sensible (paid parking will kick in when demand meets 85% of supply), traffic speeds are managed to be conducive for a livable environment, and cyclists are taken seriously. There is a robust plan for infill development (each of the red buildings on the map are proposed new buildings), an aggressive street tree planting regime, and an integrated system of small urban parks. The plan recommends form-based codes over zoning regulations, requiring attractive street frontages and architecture that integrates into the historic heritage of the city.

It appears as if principles from this plan will guide the improvements made to Main Street Station. Richmond is fortunate to still have it's historic rail station (even if it is literally partially underneath I-95). It could either be transformed into a multi-modal hub and woven seamlessly into the downtown, or it could be surrounded by parking lots and cut off from the downtown completely. With an adopted plan that has been thoroughly hashed out by the citizens, the city has a good chance of winning this battle when it arises.

After reading this plan, I made a return trip to Richmond. Walking around the downtown, I imagined how each little section could be transformed according to this blueprint. There is something exciting about a place that has combined potential with vision, and if a few million federal dollars start to arrive, a catalyst to make it happen.


LH said...

Daniel, thanks for the heads-up on Richmond, which I haven't been to in about five or six years. Have they done anything with that ghastly mall in the middle of downtown?

Anonymous said...

No doubt in my mind that the high-speed rail will be more than worth it. But they need to make sure it's not very elitist oriented. I'm originally from Spain, and I think this has been the only problem, but still has been a success to connect main cities.

Stuart said...

LH that ghastly mall, Sixth Street Marketplace, was razed in 2003. We are replacing it with a $75mil taxpayer funded corporate welfare boondoggle called CenterStage.

Stuart said...

It really is exciting that we're positioned to fix up rail service here. I've always been frustrated that the Northeast Corridor ends in DC, with the symbolic switching of locomotives from electric to diesel. It's like entering a third world country! (one with poor rail service anyway)

VA asked for $1.5bn to pay for a few different projects that will drastically improve service between DC, Richmond, Newport News, and Petersburg.

* $185 million to add a third rail track between Richmond and Fredericksburg;

* $152 million to improve conventional rail service between Main Street Station and Petersburg; and

* $195 million to upgrade the rail corridor between Richmond and Washington, D.C., to allow high-speed trains that could cut the trip to 90 minutes on a reliable basis.

MOST important to us locally is $491 million improvements in a six-mile stretch around Richmond's Acca rail yard and a 13-mile link between the yard and Main Street Station in the city's downtown. The improvements are necessary to remove bottlenecks that limit rail service to the renovated station.