Richmond is getting a new bus rapid transit system, but one neighborhood group is against the project because it will mean some lost parking spaces. But the new line won’t even run through their neighborhood, and there’s plenty of parking in the city already.

Broad Street today. Image by Jeff Auth on Wikipedia Commons.

The Bus Rapid Transit project is called the Pulse, and it will connect the city’s east and west ends along Broad Street, one of Richmond main avenues. In some sections, the line will run in its own lanes along Broad Street’s median. One of these sections borders a neighborhood in Richmond known as the Fan.

Work on the Pulse will definitely mean cutting parking on Broad Street, some of it for construction and some of it permanently. The Fan District Association says it’s already hard enough to find parking in the neighborhood and that the Pulse would only make it harder. The group recently sent a letter to the Greater Richmond Transit Company (GRTC) saying it’s opposed to the project.

Blame bad parking management, not transit, for parking trouble

It may be harder to park in the Fan in the future, but the Pulse won’t be to blame if that happens. Lots of people park on the street because parking there is usually convenient and cheap, or even free. In most cities, parking is drastically underpriced given how valuable the space spots take up is.

This is especially true for Fan District residents since the city introduced a permit parking progam (which is similar to DC’s) where residents can park wherever they want for twenty five dollars per year, per car. That’s an incredibly low price for parking in an otherwise high-demand area, which it incentivizes people to park there rather than somewhere else.

For those concerned about the availability of street parking in the Fan, stopping the Pulse would actually be counterproductive because the service will give people an alternative to driving. It’d be smarter to focus efforts on finding ways manage street parking in a way that matches the demand for it.

This is how Broad Street might look once the Pulse arrives. Rendering from GRTC.

This could include things like limiting the number of passes per household, expanding permit-only hours, or raising the price of a permit so that a parking spot isn’t nearly free. Combined with new transit, solutions like those could alleviate some of the parking pressure that’s there today.

These kinds of measures would also keep the neighborhood from having to rely on nearby streets for relief from parking pressure. They’d solve the problem directly, by making sure people who really needed parking in the Fan had it available to them, rather than by trying make it easy to park in other areas.

Richmond is primed to be less car-dependent

Richmond has a lot of similarities to DC. It has a number of historic neighborhoods where buildings don’t have dedicated parking and residents and visitors alike have grown to rely on street parking in front of or near their homes. In downtown Richmond, large spaces are devoted to parking, and elevated highways have created some huge barriers between neighborhoods.

Despite it being fairly dense and urban, large parts of Richmond are car-dependent. In the Fan, parking pressures have grown as the neighborhood has gentrified and new businesses and residents have moved in.

Also like DC, though, much of Richmond is perfectly suited for car-lite or car-free lifestyles. And more transit, like the Pulse, could make it easier for Richmonders to use a carless often.

It’s almost understandable why residents would be wary of any proposal that, on the surface, seems like it could make it harder to park than it already is. But blocking better transit would ensure that the problem remains. One neighborhood’s fear over parking shouldn’t stop an entire city’s plan for running more smoothly.


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Canaan Merchant was born and raised in Powhatan, Virginia and attended George Mason University where he studied English. He became interested in urban design and transportation issues when listening to a presentation by Jeff Speck while attending GMU. He lives in Reston.