Street Art for Slow Streets in Bellemeade
By: ShaCoria Shelton, Bike Walk RVA Lead Organizer
We’ve all probably said or heard someone else share a common observation in city neighborhood: “People drive too fast through here.” And unfortunately, we know that fast vehicle speeds mixed with students and families walking to neighborhood assets is a recipe for disaster. But what to do in the interim as neighborhoods await more permanent infrastructure designed to calm traffic and slow speeds? Enter the street mural: brightly colored art painted on streets to draw driver’s attention to the street, encouraging them to pay attention and slow down. For decades, communities across the country have made street intersections their canvas in an effort to make their neighborhoods safer for biking and walking. This has taken place in Richmond as well, including ARCA’s Mandala on Bainbridge in Manchester. With support from an AARP Liveable Communities grant, Bike Walk RVA partnered with local artist Silly Genius and community partners to install two new intersection murals to help improve bikeability and walkability in Richmond’s Bellemeade community this May.
Bellemeade Primed for Traffic Calming Measures to Aide in Travel to and From School
Nestled just off two main arterial highways, the Bellemeade neighborhood features nearby school Oak Grove-Bellemeade Elementary (OGBES), as well as other popular locations including a Community Center, Park, a Community Bike Shop and connections with a number of transit stops. The roughly 700 students who attend OGBES all live within a one-mile walk zone to school – making it the only Richmond Public School to hold this honor! Oak Grove-Bellemeade Assistant Principal, Christal Jordan, finds great value in students biking and walking to school and attributed it to providing social, emotional, academic and health benefits to students.
“In fact, many studies have shown that students who actively commute to school exhibit higher academic achievement, better reading fluency, are less likely to be overweight, all while building a sense of community,” said Jordan.
A number of before and after-school programs at Oak Grove-Bellemeade encourage students to bike and walk to and from school. The school’s bike club and crossing guard program continues to gain momentum with an increased number of participants yearly. Long-time community advocate Bob Argabright, affectionately known as Mr. Bob, agreed that the time is now to capitalize on the walk zone designation of the school’s student body.
“We need to make it a reality. Statistics show that this is a safe community, and the kids can and should be able to walk to and from home to school,” said Argabright.
Community Feedback Leads to Installation of Two Street Murals in Bellemeade
Through prior community engagement efforts, traffic calming measures have been repeatedly identified as a need by Bellemeade residents. Greater Richmond Fit4Kids has conducted several walk audits in the Bellemeade community and poor driver behavior, including speeding and distracted driving, has regularly been a common complaint amongst residents. Oak Grove-Bellemeade Principal James Gordon strongly acknowledged the potential to increase safety along routes his students travel to and from school.
Installation of road murals have demonstrated success in calming vehicular traffic through neighborhoods. A recent study by the University of Utah demonstrated a 12% reduction in speed after the installation of an intersection mural painting in a Salt Lake City neighborhood. In Bellemeade, the intersections of Lynhaven Avenue/Wright Avenue and Lynhaven Avenue/Afton Avenue were selected for their well-traveled activity to key community assets. Additionally, over half of the student population crosses a section of Lynhaven Avenue to reach school.
Since the installation of the murals, community members have cited slower vehicular speeds throughout the neighborhood. “They [the murals] slow traffic at the intersections and bring an element of beauty to the neighborhood,” noted Argabright.
About the Project
AARP Liveable Communities supports the efforts of neighborhoods, towns, cities, and rural areas to be great places for people of all ages. Last spring, Bike Walk RVA received an AARP Community Challenge Grant to deliver transportation and mobility options through a temporary solution that increases connectivity, walkability, bikeability, and safety.
Bike Walk RVA partnered with Richmond-based artist Silly Genius of All City Art Club to design street mural art to install in the Bellemeade community. The Art Collaborative exists to bridge the gap between community and citizens by introducing street art to underserved communities. Community organizations such as Groundwork RVA, Greater Richmond Fit4Kids, VCU Ram Bikes, and local residents spent time canvassing the neighborhood ahead of painting days, and volunteered to paint and aid in traffic control during the two-day paint installation.
Next time you are in the Bellemeade area, be sure to check the murals out and look out for each other!