A letter to Mayor Jones from Stewart Schwartz, Executive Director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth:
Mayor Dwight C. Jones
City of Richmond
900 East Broad Street, Suite 201
Richmond, VA 23219
Re: Route 5 Proposals Harm Richmond Residents and Economic Development
Dear Mayor Jones:
I write to you to share serious concerns about the Route 5 expansion proposal both as a resident of the City of Richmond (2711 East Broad Street in Church Hill) and as an experienced planner in my capacity as the 14-year Executive Director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth.
Your intervention in the Route 5 planning is urgently needed and I hope you will order delay to the study and consideration of alternatives which will better serve the city. City of Richmond planners are currently engaging in final negotiations with planners from Henrico County and the Richmond Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) with an aim to selecting a final concept in February for approval by the Policy Board of the MPO in March. Yet, at a briefing for the Church Hill Association on Tuesday night it was clear that most of the residents were not familiar with the plan and have very strong concerns about both road concepts being proposed.
We first met during your chairmanship of the General Assembly’s Black Caucus and we have spoken at a number of events since, including Richmond’s Arbor Day and the East End Charette. My wife, Alli Alligood, and I have adopted Richmond as our home and the community in which we wish to make a long-term investment. We are committed to assisting in the inclusive revitalization of the city, ensuring that all who live here can benefit from an improved economy, education and jobs, affordable housing, a vibrant urban life, and a green, sustainable community.
The proposed expansion of Route 5 is at odds with these goals. In some ways it reflects the same planning of the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s that led to the large highways and one-way streets that today speed suburban commuters in and out of the city, dividing our neighborhoods, and harming our local retail and the pedestrian environment. These traffic volumes require massive parking structures that contribute little to the tax base and take land from productive commercial and residential uses, and leave the city empty, uninviting and unsafe at night.
Both of the concepts for Route 5 are designed to increase the number and speed of vehicles entering the city from the east. These four lane roadways will fuel sprawling development in rural areas of eastern Henrico at the expense of residents, businesses, and investment in Fulton, Shockoe Bottom and the Downtown Central Business District. The study calls for levels of service for vehicles during peak rush hour ranging from A (free-flowing) and B, to C and D, moving as many as 2400 cars in the peak hour, or 40 cars per minute at some intersections. Most economically successful urban centers operate with a level of service of E. Both concepts would require more wasteful parking structures.
Vibrant, successful cities depend on an active, lively streetscape with heavy pedestrian activity. Yet, the strong emphasis on moving vehicles quickly through our downtown along Main Street depends on signal timing that favors vehicles at the expense of pedestrians. The loss of more on-street parking for longer periods of time will undermine existing and potential retailers in the corridor. The high volumes of traffic and the harm to the pedestrian and retail environment could very well inhibit the revitalization of Fulton, Shockoe Bottom and the Central Business District.
The City should be focusing on the people who currently live in the city and our local businesses, as well as the people and businesses we wish to attract. City residents have the opportunity to walk, bicycle and take transit to work, they pay property taxes to the city, and they will spend more money in the city than those who live outside the city. Changing demographics and market demand offer a tremendous opportunity to attract more residents and investment to the city, but not if our transportation policy is focused on simply moving cars into and out of the city as fast as possible.
Both concepts proposed by the planners and consultants assume levels of growth in eastern Henrico that might not happen given the dramatic shifts in the real estate market, or could create a self-fulfilling prophesy by facilitating growth and higher traffic volumes in an area that still retains rural character. The study area was also so narrowly defined that it failed to evaluate the potential for focusing future development in eastern Henrico in the Williamsburg Road, airport and Mechanicsville Turnpike areas that so desperately need revitalization. It also failed to develop concepts for utilizing I-64 and I-95 to handle a larger share of the traffic.
The planners intend to funnel a major share of the traffic from eastern Henrico through just one chokepoint, the intersection of Main Street and Williamsburg Road below Libby Hill Park. Concept 1 would make Main Street the main road into the city from the east, and includes one option for a 60-foot high bridge for Main Street OVER the CSX tracks, requiring Williamsburg Road and the intersection to be raised 30 feet at the base of Libby Hill Park. A 55-foot embankment would be built on the river side of Main Street. The intersection would be significantly wider, with Main Street increased to four through-lanes and the addition of turn lanes in all directions. The barrier between Church Hill and access to the river would be significant.
Concept 2 would expand the wooded two-lane New Osborne Turnpike to four lanes from its intersection with Route 5 east of the city, would add a 60 foot high bridge over the eastern end of the CSX rail yard, and direct the traffic onto Williamsburg Avenue and into the city. The intersection below Libby Hill Park would be expanded. Again, the large intersection and the volume of traffic would create a barrier between Church Hill and the river. But the impact on Fulton would be particularly significant, dividing revitalizing residential areas north of Williamsburg Avenue from potential mixed-use revitalization areas south of the road, and creating a dangerous barrier for children who may wish to walk or bicycle to our greener and more public riverfront.
The City should be concerned as well about the potential impact on historic tourism and the upcoming World Bicycling Championships. Despite some haphazard suburban development, the rural, two-lane Route 5 is still a scenic byway to the east connecting the significant history of the city to the history downriver to Williamsburg and Jamestown. Conversion to a high speed, four-lane divided highway would undermine the rural and historic character of the corridor, diminishing the experience of bicyclists on the future Capital to Capital Trail and tourists who drive the corridor. Maintaining a rural, agricultural area like that of eastern Henrico so close to the city would offer a significant boon to the City and Henrico County in terms of tourism, recreation, and local, sustainable agriculture. Retaining the current scale of the roadways will provide a more appropriate historic context for the interconnected history of the City and communities downriver, including Colonial history, the tragic history of slavery, and President Lincoln’s historic walk from Rockett’s Landing to the State Capitol.
Please call for delay in the study, while calling for:
- Study of: 1) the potential impact on residents, businesses, pedestrians and investment in Fulton, Church Hill, the riverfront, Shockoe Bottom, and the Central Business District; 2) consideration of alternatives with different growth scenarios and locations for growth in eastern Henrico; 3) analysis of a broader study area and other travel alternatives including access to and use of I-64.
- 3-D visualizations of the proposals – particularly to show the impact on Libby Hill Park;
- Maintaining Route 5 as a two-lane rural road, using roundabouts at key intersections. A two lane road with roundabouts functions better and more safely than a four lane road with traffic lights.
- Evaluation of a design for the Main Street/Williamsburg Road intersection that is appropriate for the historic context of the area and is a welcoming gateway into the city that honors the beautiful setting and form of Libby Hill Park and the view from the park to the river. It is simply not appropriate to install a standard, oversized suburban intersection.
- A concept for both Williamsburg Avenue in Fulton and our Main Street that favors pedestrians, bicyclists, and the economic development of the Shockoe Bottom, Tobacco Row and Fulton as vibrant, safe and livable communities, rather than just a commuter corridor.
I would be pleased to discuss these issues with you and your staff and the city’s planners. Thank you for your time and for your focus on the continued revitalization of our city for all who live here.
(Resident: 2711 East Broad Street, Richmond, VA 23223)