Signaling Innovation Through Design
Richmond was once a leader in transportation innovation, constructing the world’s first electric streetcar system in 1888. But, under pressure from automotive companies, the system was abandoned and burned down in the 1950s in favor of the motorized bus. In the decades that followed, local bus service was the only transit option available to residents.
■ The most popular bus in Richmond was the 6, which ran through downtown and shared a six-lane roadway with cars. ■ In 2018, the route along Richmond’s busiest corridor was replaced with the Pulse bus. Funded in part by a federal grant, the Pulse incorporates many of the core components of B.R.T.
■ There are dedicated lanes in sections of the corridor, and buses receive signal priority at traffic lights.
■ Level boarding makes getting on easier, faster and more accessible.
■ Riders see real-time information at bus stops.
■ The Pulse buses are bright blue and green and run in the middle of the street on red lanes. The stations were designed to blend into Richmond’s architecture. The design says: These are not your typical buses.
The Pulse cost approximately $8.5 million per mile to build; light rail systems often cost more than $100 million per mile.
The investment paid off. A big marketing effort to reach “choice riders” — people who could easily take a car instead — helped draw more than 7,000 people per day to ride the Pulse, said Adrienne Torres, the chief of staff at Richmond’s transit agency, more than doubling the ridership of the bus route it replaced.
Officials now plan to build another rapid line running north to south. The new line will create important connections to the south side of Richmond which, they say, has suffered from the effects of redlining and a lack of investment.
New York Times