City Council Recap - February 8, 2016
Spanning over five hours, City Council approved an ordinance to begin the development of the GRTC Pulse. Bus Rapid Transit, and its related implications, attracted the highest turnout in recent memory, even requiring an overflow room for citizens to watch the proceedings. In addition, the interaction between the city and state administrations was made present through the attendance of both Chief Administrative Officer Selena Cuffee-Glenn and Secretary of Transportation Aubrey Layne.
Mayor Jones was in attendance to present the following awards along with City Council:
Richmond Police Department
Council recognized four RPD officers for their commitment to the city after having been injured in the line of duty over the past year. A standing ovation followed the presentation of their award.
In her congratulating remarks, President Mosby thanked them for their work, particularly because of the effect preventative measures have in saving children from fatal burns.
Council issued two proclamations for the month of February, one in recognition of African American History Month, and another on Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention.
Some of the meeting’s citizen comments advocated for causes such as shifting toward energy renewability and literacy awareness. The most vocal presence during the session was that of Richmond Public Schools teachers, who advocated for better salaries and an overall increase in funding for schools.
GRTC Pulse: Ord. No. 2015-263
Councilman Samuels suggested addressing key provisions of the ordinance separately, and council agreed.
Effects on Businesses
Councilman Samuels first considered the plan's negative effects on businesses along the Broad Street corridor during the three to six months of construction of the GRTC Pulse. Virginia Secretary of Transportation Aubrey Layne spoke on behalf of the state, emphasizing both outreach efforts to businesses as well as the need for prompt action. A three month delay to the execution of the GRTC Pulse plan, he said, could cost around $400,000, and that of a year $1.5 million. He also stated that the state administration would be able to pay for advertisement related to construction. However, he also said that the current federal TIGER grant funds are dependent on the start of the project, and could go away.
Vice President Hilbert aimed his attention to the city administration rather than the state to prepare ways to assist businesses for losses incurred during the construction project. Councilwoman Robertson then suggested proposing a separate paper requiring a study as an amendment, as Councilman Samuels proposed, in order to prevent the risk of losing the TIGER grant. Councilman Samuels agreed, and he, along with Councilwoman Robertson and Vice President HIlbert, is expected to introduce a resolution to address this concern in the next two weeks.
Another proposed amendment centered on the lack of a connectivity study regarding current GRTC buses to the Pulse. Councilman Samuels questioned whether adjustments to the Route 6 could more effectively fix the city’s transportation problem, and focus resources to improving connectivity instead. Council reiterated frustration over the lack of information regarding how other bus routes would connect to the BRT. However, Councilman Agelasto questioned these frustrations, pointing out that in 2013 council had decided to give GRTC control over its routes.
The amendment failed 7-2, with only Councilman Samuels and Councilwoman Trammel voting in favor.
Councilwoman Trammel expressed frustration over the plan’s lack of emphasis on the poorest in Richmond, and asked BRT supporters to show the same level of passion for school funding in the future. Councilman Samuels reiterated the problem of connectivity, stating that the plan did not get many people to jobs, in addition to his previous reservations about other possible improvements along the Route 6 that would not disrupt businesses.
Some members of council expressed support for the plan in spite of its shortcomings. Councilwoman Robertson stated, “This route is just the beginning,” and characterized the improvement of the city’s transportation as a continual process. Councilwoman Newbille and Councilman Baliles echoed her statements, expressing the need for greater connectivity to the route and a North-South connection, respectively, as next steps.
Other council members further stressed the need for the GRTC Pulse to be just a beginning. Both Councilman Agelasto and Vice President Hilbert expressed the need for regional transit as the destination of talks about transportation. President Mosby concluded the discussion by pointing out that while her district would not benefit from the Pulse, she remained excited for the benefits for other districts. “I have to do what I believe is a start,” she said.
The ordinance passed with a 7-1-1 vote, with Councilwoman Trammel abstaining, and Councilman Samuels opposing.