Jim Bacon at Bacon’s Rebellion e-zine has posted a lengthy and excellent discussion of the history and future of commuter rail in Chesterfield Co. Although the likelihood of any public tranist projects being actualized in the near future is almost nil, there is some promising news buried in this article and an accompanying blog post. Below are a few highlights:
- Two large planned communities, Roseland and Watkins Centre, would like to see commuter rail running along an underutilized Norfolk Southern railway track from downtown Richmond out to their projects near the Rt. 288 circumferential highway.
- The main virtue of the Midlothian route, which in the Richmond MPO study stops short of Roseland, is that the rail line already exists — it does not have to be built.
Of course, Jim Bacon is well aware of the barriers to successful transit operation in Chesterfield:
Development is spread out, land uses are strictly separated, and interconnectivity between cul de sac subdivisions and retail/office pods is poor. Outside of the small community of Chester, there are few interconnected sidewalks or bike lanes. No one walks in Chesterfield, other than for exercise, and very few ride the bus. The county has steadfastly resisted efforts by the Greater Richmond Transit Company to expand its bus service there.
In sum, very few of the proper conditions exist to support a viable commuter rail, which requires dense nodes of inter-connectivity and walkable development around train stations to support passenger volume.
And here is the real strength of his article. Instead of folks like me, who simply advocate for better transit without doing the intellectual work of identifying barriers and ways around them, Bacon makes several concrete suggestions for making transit work in a sprawled auto-centric county like Chesterfield. And although I disagree with his underlying conservative political philosophy, I absolutely agree with him that transit must create maximum economic returns for minimal investment (read: low taxes) in order to be politically feasible in metro Richmond. Other, softer goals of reduced emissions or increased transportation options are, unfortunately, goals that Richmonders do not seem willing to pay for.
For those with an interest in transit politics, planning, and economics, I encourage you to read Bacon’s post. You’ll find detailed analysis including proposed train station locations, zoning changes, and economic strategies. For those who are bored already (and yet inexplicably still reading), the take-home message is this: intelligent and civic-minded individuals from multiple political stripes are actively working to provide feasible mass-transit options for Richmond, and this is great news. Let’s hope those in power pay attention…