Image by BeyondDC on Flickr licensed under Creative Commons.

Officials in Richmond have adopted a plan that outlines what a regional bus rapid transit network there could look like. They envision 80 miles of BRT on five lines, fanning out in all directions from downtown Richmond.

Despite having 1.3 million people in its metropolitan area, a strong office downtown, and relatively dense urban neighborhoods, Richmond's transit system is notoriously underdeveloped. Their bus system, GRTC, gets only about 28,000 total riders per day, region-wide.

That's about the same as Northern Virginia's Fairfax County Connector suburban bus system, which covers secondary routes unsuitable for Metrobus, and shuttles people to rail stations. It's not much higher than WMATA's busiest individual bus lines, which each carry around 20,000 riders per day.

But Richmond has the urban bones to support better transit, and is working hard to catch up.

The catch up

Richmond is taking a three-step approach to better transit.

Step one: A recently completed bus network redesign by Jarrett Walker. Richmond officials redrew their local bus lines so major streets will have more frequent buses. That will make the existing bus system more convenient to more people, boosting ridership.

Richmond's redesigned local bus network. Image by GRTC and the City of Richmond.

That's great, but local buses only get Richmond so far. To become a bona fide transit city, Richmond needs regional rapid transit. That's where BRT comes in.

Step two: The first BRT line, under construction now.  It will run along Broad Street, Richmond's busiest existing bus corridor.

The first line, under construction now on Broad Street. Image by GRTC.

It'll be a nice line, and Broad Street is the sensible place to start with a high quality transit system. But it's only one line, 7.6 miles. Without a better citywide network, it won't be transformative.

Thus, step three: The full 80-mile BRT network. If it becomes reality, five lines will fan out from downtown Richmond, covering all its major urban neighborhoods and several important suburban areas.

After the Broad Street line, there would be a second line west of downtown, through the heart of Richmond's fabulous Fan neighborhood. Another line would go northeast to Mechanicsville. Two more would cross the James River south into Manchester before splitting, one to Midlothian and Westchester, the other to Brandermill. 

The Broad Street BRT line, under construction now. Other lines could look similar. Image by GRTC.

Take all three steps and Richmond would have a vastly improved transit system, one that would be convenient to ride for a many more people making much more diverse types of trips, compared to today.

For now, that third step is just a vision. Although the local bus redesign and the Broad Street BRT are happening, the full BRT network is just an idea. The plan isn't binding and comes with no money for construction. It merely lays the groundwork for future corridor-specific planning, if the political will and funding materialize.

But it's an important step forward. Good for Richmond.

Thumbnail: Image by the author.

Dan Malouff is a transportation planner for Arlington and an adjunct professor at George Washington University. He has a degree in urban planning from the University of Colorado and lives in Trinidad, DC. He runs BeyondDC and contributes to the Washington Post. Dan blogs to express personal views, and does not take part in GGWash's political endorsement decisions.