Richmond isn’t prepared for the World

LLUSTRATION BY DANIEL TORRACA

STAFF EDITORIAL

LLUSTRATION BY DANIEL TORRACA
Illustration by Daniel Torraca

With the exception of public relations specialists and the VCU administrators pumping out emails regarding this “unique opportunity” to “showcase our global, urban, public research university and its premier academic medical center,” it seems very few Richmonders are genuinely excited for the brouhaha just five days away.

For us meager city-dwellers who don’t make a six (or even five) figure salary, this seems more akin to a “unique opportunity” to showcase hell.

For three years, Richmond 2015, the nonprofit organizing the UCI World Championships, has worked with the cities of Richmond, Henrico and Hanover county to welcome 1,000 cyclists from seventy countries, an anticipated 450,000 visitors and 300 million worldwide television viewers with big smiles and half-open arms.

In an alternate universe, parking and transit plans would have been finalized months before this “pinnacle event in cycling” takes course. Residents, students and community members would have had many weeks to plan their lives around the onslaught of more visitors than there are residents in the first place. The city, Richmond 2015 and VCU would have worked in synergy to effectively inform the community as well as develop plans of action and preparedness.

Instead, on Aug. 5, the city of Richmond held a “Transportation Plan Briefing,” hosted by Richmond 2015. Here, the organizers unveiled “navigate.richmond2015. com” — a color-coordinated platform with high-resolution photos of excited cycling fans. Shortly after the transportation briefing, the VCU Police Department emailed the community explaining that VCU Parking and Transportation officials will use this freshly released information to finalize the VCU transportation plan.

Almost a half million people from outside the city would be in Richmond a little more than a month from when this email hit inboxes … and there wasn’t even a finalized transportation plan?

That’s okay though, because on Sept. 1 (18 days away!) VCU Human Resources sent out an email to faculty and staff letting “you know that university officials have approved the liberal use of telecommuting during the entire UCI bike race week,” but that telecommuting is especially encouraged on Friday, Sept. 25, and for the remainder of that weekend.

This is a strange contradiction to the message the school had been sending students, which strongly encouraged students to stay through the races and take special bike-race-specific courses, or volunteer, or generally enjoy their lack of mobility as 300 million viewers worldwide get glimpses of the city from their front row seat on the couch, in a country far, far away.

According to Richmond magazine, $1.42 million is budgeted for police, fire and rescue services overtime pay during the week of the races. Do the city’s public safety departments even know what to expect? Students and residents certainly don’t. Sure, if you can afford a VCU parking pass, or your job downtown allows you to park in an unaffected lot, then it seems you’re taken care of.

But what about all the tenants who unfortunately signed their leases before the Aug. 5 launch of navigate.richmond2015.com and had no idea that Monument Avenue and Franklin Street from Boulevard to Belvidere, along Broad, Main and “various cross streets downtown” would be shut down? Or the people who use the city bus lines as their primary form of transportation?

These parking restrictions and road closures manage to essentially encapsulate the entirety of the off-campus student population who aren’t commuters.

Have no fear, though! As of Sept. 13, the Richmond 2015 website explains that, “other supplemental parking locations are being developed to increase parking capacity across the city.” Very proactive.

Surely we can walk from place to place, though? Yes! Not only are pedestrians encouraged to use sidewalks, the UCI website even says you should bike. This goes back to the original point about only PR specialists sounding excited about next week’s happenings.

This year, 4,050 freshman acquainted themselves with higher education, and in the process proved that very few of their parents taught them how to properly cross the street.

Multiply that number by 100 and we’re in the ballpark number of people who are expected to walk (or bike!) down the sidewalks (has anyone thought to fix the bricks-of-death that cobble some of these streets?) in an orderly and expedited fashion.

A stoplight went out downtown a few weeks ago and intersections turned into functional death traps, complete with an eloquent car-horn-blaring-brakes-screeching-profanity-yelling soundtrack. Now add thousands more people, many of whom are likely intoxicated from an overindulgence in the downtown “beer gardens” and you’ve got the makings for a really awful comedy — or horror flick.

Luckily, not all hope is lost. Just two weeks ago, VCU announced the installment of two “temporary pedestrian bridges” to allow spectators and people who generally just want to get across the street a way to do so. These structures went up in a matter of hours and are by no means handicap-accessible, because their height requirement restricts the implementation of any feasible ramp.

The Office of Equity and Access services has, however, implemented a shuttle system to alleviate this hindrance. RamSafe and the campus connector will also continue to run, with a round-trip time of somewhere around 90 minutes, and the GRTC bus lines will be in service, although only two city bus routes remain unaltered. Maybe a better solution could have materialized if the event organizers had given the school more than a month-and-some-change of notice to finalize a transportation plan?

But all this last minute scrambling is really just the icing on the cake. Anyone naive enough to believe Google Maps’ projected arrival time for locations within the “high impact areas” is familiar with the street construction that made them perpetually late these last few months. In fact, according to Richmond magazine, this construction stretched 27 miles in total and cost the city around $2.7 million.

Add that number to the $1.42 million budgeted for emergency service personnel and it seems like maybe there would be enough for the city or state to drop some scratch on making sure the Ricmond public school system has things like teachers who are paid on par with the national average — not an average of $6,800 less a year, which is currently the trend across Virginia.

Alas, even if the city’s cycle of poverty and lack of access to fortifying public education remains unbroken, we can all rest assured that the children of our future created the “parade flags” for the Opening Ceremony at Brown’s Island this Friday. And while all indicators point toward a very cumbersome week for the people who will still be in Richmond after the colorful flags come down and streets reopen — there’s no doubt that the River City is on the come up.

Our city is the first in the U.S. in nearly three decades to host an event that organizers liken to the scope of the World Cup. Richmond 2015 Vice President Lee Kallman said the event will bring in $160 million to the state, with 81 percent allocated to the city. Let’s hope he’s right, and that the long-term gains outweigh

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