I grew up in Richmond, and it’s safe to say multimodal transportation was not a common term during my childhood.
Fast forward to 2018. After 13 years away, I moved back to Richmond for my new role as Lyft’s first market manager in Virginia and found multimodal transportation now seemed to be the topic du jour.
2018 was a seminal year in Richmond’s transportation evolution: the launch of GRTC Pulse, the emergence of e-scooters, the establishment of additional protected bike lanes, and the further adoption of rideshare. Richmond seemed to be embracing a truly multimodal future.
While considerable progress was made in 2018, I write today, now as the outgoing market manager for Lyft in Virginia, to encourage all stakeholders to continue pressing toward even more bold multimodal goals so our city’s transportation ecosystem meets the needs of all Richmonders. In particular, I see three opportunities: curb access, bikes and scooters, and transportation equality.
If multimodal was the hot transportation topic of the last few years, I expect curb access to supplant it. Ensuring that Richmond residents have adequate access to curb space — whether getting on or off the bus, performing a delivery, or doing rideshare pickup or drop-off — is critical to developing safety for all.
Historically, curb space has been largely reserved for street parking. As the transportation needs evolve, so must our use of the curb space. For example, reallocating curb space along Main Street in the Fan during weekend evening hours would improve the safety of those exiting bars in search of rideshare vehicles, taxis or the bus. Reserving curb space for pickup and drop-off would move these activities out of the flow of normal traffic.
To be clear, I’m not in favor of unlimited access. There are parts of the city where curb space should be free of pickups, drop-offs and deliveries, such as stretches of Broad Street in the Pulse corridor. Instead, moving those activities to side streets would improve safety and reduce congestion on one of Richmond’s busiest thoroughfares.
Bikes and scooters
As Richmond is one of America’s great outdoor towns, we should challenge ourselves to extend the openness of our outdoor spaces to our city streets. The Capital Trail and the Franklin Street bike lane stand as examples of how we may do this.
While bikes are not new to the streets of Richmond, scooters are. With both modes, the key is providing safe spaces for riders to travel, separate and apart from vehicles — as with the Brook Road bike lane and the proposed lane along Malvern Avenue.
Our goal should be equal opportunity streets for all modes, with this ideal embedded deeply in our city’s master plan. Adding physical barriers that separate lanes for modes and stepping up enforcement of bad behavior for both motorists and riders would aid in establishing safe streets for all.
Access to affordable and reliable transportation should not be an impediment to Richmond residents getting to and from work, doctor’s office or grocery store. Consider that 58% of local Lyft rides start or end in low-income areas. And 34% of health care riders in Richmond say without Lyft they would be less likely to make it to their appointments regularly.
Locally, Lyft is working to improve transportation equality by working with companies and nonprofits. Initiatives like Lyft’s Grocery Access Program (manifested in Richmond through a partnership with The Market @ 25th) and Community Grants (awarding local nonprofits $1,000 of Lyft credit to support transportation needs) exemplify efforts to bridge the gap of transportation equality.
Beyond Lyft’s efforts, GRTC, VanGo, our city government and others are working towards similar goals — yet there is more to be done.
Richmond has come a long way since the days when streetcars rolled west along Grove Avenue and over the hills in Eastern Richmond. The rise of alternative modes of transportation is occurring largely due to the changing needs and use cases of Richmond residents. Thus far, Richmond has proved largely supportive of alternative transportation modes that meet growing market demand.
As I depart my role in Richmond and head to New York to help shape Lyft’s strategy across the East Coast, I encourage local leaders, Richmonders and key stakeholders to capitalize on the momentum propelling Richmond toward a two- and four-wheeled future that we can all be proud of. One where safety, access and equality intersect with the growing needs of a region poised for not just a transportation renaissance, but an economic and cultural one as well.