Brookland District candidates sound off on safer streets and regional connectivity
On November 6, voters in Henrico County’s Brookland District will elect a new member of the Board of Supervisors. Henrico County boasts welcoming neighborhoods and great schools and parks, but residents know the County also has some very unsafe streets – there have already been over 4,300 crashes on Henrico roads this year resulting in over 1,900 injuries and 22 deaths.
According to the U.S. Census, approximately one-third of Richmond area residents do not own a car or do not drive on a regular basis because they can’t afford it, are not mentally or physically able, have had their license revoked, or are not yet driving age. Whether by choice or out of necessity, many Henrico County residents walk or ride bikes for transportation to get to essential destinations such as work, school, to run errands, or to shop. Many families and residents also enjoy walking or riding a bike for recreation or exercise.
The next member of the Board of Supervisors from the Brookland District will have the opportunity to make the County’s roads safer for all users – people in cars, on bikes, and people walking. To find out where the candidates stand on issues of street safety, Bike Walk RVA administered a candidate questionnaire to Danny Plaugher and Dan Schmitt. Their answers are below. We hope residents in Henrico turn out to VOTE on November 6. We’ll be there on November 7 ready to push for safer streets with the help of the newest member of the Board of Supervisors.
Question 1 – Safe Streets
Some of the most dangerous streets in the Brookland District include Hungary Road, Broad Street, and Staples Mill Road. These roads are also home to many important destinations such as shopping centers, schools, and churches, and each of them have been the site of numerous pedestrian fatalities and serious injuries in recent years. In fact, the rate of traffic-related pedestrian deaths continues to rise in Henrico County.
What will you do to see that these streets are made safer for all users?
“In high-school, my mom and I lived in section 8 housing, and to help her pay the bills I worked fast food after school, frequently getting off late at night. I would then have to walk in the dark through front yards and overgrown fields to get back to our apartment complex. Anytime I see someone walking along Broad Street or Staples Mill Road in their work shirt just trying to support their family, I want to let them know that I know what they’re going through because I’ve been there. We need to make getting around Henrico easier and safer because 2 out of every 5 households have 1 or fewer vehicles.
“We need to make investing in the low hanging fruit first like curbcuts and signalized crosswalks. We also need to bring all the interested parties together to create a strategy for fully identifying all the needs and options and begin seriously chipping away at the problem with the goal being zero accidents. Further, we also need to bring together regional partners. Staples Mill Road, the backbone of the Brookland District, runs from the City to Hanover County. So, we need to do our part but also work with our partners to create a functioning and safe transportation network that includes more than just cars.”
“Safety for our citizens is always a top priority. This specific safety issue is especially important to me because my own family takes advantage of enjoying Henrico outdoors by running on these streets. I will always be a dependable ear and even stronger voice for safety initiatives across Brookland.
“Some of my proposed initiatives once elected are prioritizing better street markings to ensure better visibility, widening roads for bikers whenever possible, safer shoulders for pedestrians on all roads that are improved, planning sidewalks and/or bike paths in both new and maintenance projects whenever feasible, and installing more signaled crossing locations around the county.
“Two of these three roads specifically mentioned, Broad Street and Staples Mill Road, are state managed. For these roads, I will work with VDOT directly to pursue similar safety measures for our citizens. I will always be a tireless advocate for Henrico residents who choose to bike, run, or walk to have a safer place to live, work, and play as they enjoy the outdoors in our beautiful county.”
Question 2 – Funding
Making changes to roads in Henrico County will sometimes require funding for capital projects. Federal grants, state revenue sharing, or local capital improvement dollars can be used in combination to both retrofit existing infrastructure and to build new, safe streets.
Do you support pursuing funding for biking and walking infrastructure projects? If so, how?
“Yes! In 2015, less than 9 percent of the roadways in the Brookland district had pedestrian facilities. Since then the county has invested $2.5 million annually to begin moving the needle but there are always opportunities to do more. There are still a lot of easy wins to improve our pedestrian and bike infrastructure in cost-effective and responsible ways.
“As Supervisor, I will work hard to ensure that Henrico leverages our tax dollars in a fiscally responsible way to get the best return on investment for our community. I will encourage our planning staff to aggressively pursue federal “Congestion Management and Air Quality” grants through our Transportation Planning Organization, state “Smart Scale” grants, and Federal Department of Transportation “Safe Routes to School” grants that improve our neighborhood connectivity to our schools. I will also work with our community to identify and pursue other funding options as they become available. Enhancing Brookland’s quality of life is one of my top priorities because it makes sure that Henrico is a great place to live, work, and play for years to come.”
“I fully understand the importance of a first-class infrastructure for Henrico residents and believe that safe places for biking and walking are key to not only such an infrastructure, but also to maintaining a happy and healthy culture in our county.
“I will prioritize funding these important infrastructure projects through working to identify and secure all federal and state funding for such projects, taking a proactive budgeting approach by measuring the annual budgeting expenditures in these areas and seeking to maximize their impact and benefit, and working with community partners and county personnel to pursue future development towards a well-planned, functional, and future driven inter-connected network of safe options for our cycling and walking population.
“I recognize the importance of these projects and the impact they have on Henrico and the surrounding region as a whole and will work to find innovative solutions to fund and prioritize these important infrastructure projects while continuing to keep our tax rates low.”
Question 3: Policies & Programs
In addition to on-the-ground infrastructure, what policies and programs need to be put in place to make biking and walking safer and more enjoyable for people of all ages in Henrico County? What steps will you take to see that these policies and programs are approved or put into practice?
“My next door neighbors were part of my inspiration that got me interested in running for local office. My neighbor’s children would get on a school bus to go less than a quarter of a mile to our local elementary school which was on our street. In high school I would walk or bike the 1.2 miles to school every day. One core policy and program are making sure that we better connect our county facilities to our surrounding neighborhoods.
“Take Glen Allen Library and Glen Allen High School, for example. Today, if a student doesn’t drive and wants to go the library to study after school they have to walk from the school down a paved sidewalk which ends 2/10 of a mile before Saluda Ave/Courtney Rd where they have to walk on a dirt trail the rest of the way. Then the students have to play real life Frogger trying to cross the 4 lanes of Staples Mill Road.
“I will work in a commonsense, cooperative, and fiscally responsible manner to solve real world problems like this by pushing for a policy that consider opportunities to better connect the county’s attraction points (schools, parks, offices) to our surrounding neighborhoods and community.”
“In addition to the physical infrastructure, there should be an educational component to help Henrico citizens become aware of the amenities provided; understand how to safely run, walk, or cycle around our county; and recognize the health and emotional benefits of enjoying Henrico outdoors.
“I will utilize my existing relationships with local partners (such as Sports Backers) and develop additional collaborative efforts to support these initiatives. I will also lead to ensure that Henrico is using communication resources already available such as websites and social media to spread the word and help connect and educate.
“I will also pursue ways to discover, establish, and promote additional educational opportunities through our schools and Recreation and Parks that would promote safety principles and encourage more interest in walking, running, and cycling to help our residents discover a healthy lifestyle, reduce obesity, and encourage more physical activity outdoors.
“To further promote safety, I will also utilize my 20+ years of experience in working with the law enforcement community to find ways that our police can help focus on high incident areas for speeding, driving under the influence enforcement initiatives, and other driver violations that will lead to incident reductions and promote more attention and safety in those areas.”
Question 4: Vision Zero
Henrico County leads the region in pedestrian deaths and injuries this year (six fatalities and 71 injuries), and saw eight pedestrian fatalities and 81 injuries last year. Vision Zero is a strategy to eliminate all traffic fatalities and severe injuries, while increasing safe, healthy, equitable mobility for all.
Will you support the creation of a Vision Zero Action Plan by Henrico County leadership to coordinate the participation of multiple County agencies in contributing to eliminating fatalities and injuries on County roads?
“Absolutely, I will push for Henrico to become the third locality in the Commonwealth to adopt a vision zero action plan. We must eliminate traffic fatalities, because one death is one too many. In addition to working with my colleagues on the Board of Supervisors and our staff to draft an action plan and a schedule for how we can accomplish our goals by 2030, I will work with the Richmond Transportation Planning Organization as well to create a Greater Richmond regional vision zero plan. Many of our citizens do not think about jurisdictional boundaries when biking and walking, so it is important that our region is on the same page regarding pedestrian and bicyclist safety.”
“I have always been a strong believer in important efforts such as Vision Zero to reduce tragic incidents. All incidents are ultimately avoidable and any loss of life is one too many. The Vision Zero initiative already has a dynamic foothold coast to coast from Seattle and San Diego to New York City and Washington DC.
“Several opportunities this program has already identified in other localities have highlighted needs and fostered discussions that have resulted in proactive solutions reducing incidents. Some of these identified priorities are things such as speed considerations, driver distraction reduction, road maintenance and improvements, and first responder response time. I fully support initiatives such as this in Henrico and look forward to doing everything possible to make our community safer on your behalf.”
Question 5 – Regional Connectivity
Henrico County is currently pursuing the study and design of a new north-south paved multi-use trail that has the potential to connect several localities and intersect with the Virginia Capital Trail, contributing to what will ultimately become a regional trail network. This project would have major safety benefits for people biking and walking, as well as significant economic development potential for nearby communities in Henrico County.
If elected, what will you do to advance this project?
“I would absolutely support a new north-south paved multi-use trail connecting Henrico County and our region. This is one of those projects that greatly enhance our quality of life and make Henrico a vibrant community. My wife and I love biking and walking the dogs on the Capital Trail, and it’s been easy to see that it has been an economic boon for new and small businesses along the route.
“Once the north-south connector is completed, I would like to study how we can eventually build a Capital Trail extension into western Henrico to continue to generate even more adventure tourism for the County. ”
“As the Brookland District Supervisor, I will make myself personally available to foster this discussion and support this project.
“The utilization and existing success of the Virginia Capital Trail will be multiplied exponentially when it is networked via a new north-south connector. Localities will be rewarded for tapping into this network and the benefits to district, county, and regional residents will be evident.
“Residents in Henrico will benefit with expanded access to a safe trail and path network, while our business communities can benefit from the newfound accessibility options. I am very fond of this initiative for the way it clearly supports the continued promotion of a healthy and active community.”
Sports Backers is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization and does not endorse candidates running for public office. For more information about safer streets projects and policies, join our email list! We’re always talking about opportunities to improve our region’s roads and infrastructure.