For the 2016 City of Richmond elections, Bike Walk RVA administered a candidate questionnaire to each person running for City Council to see where they stand on issues relating to biking and walking in Richmond. We asked questions on the following five topics, and the responses from candidates running in the 2nd District are recorded below:
Note: Sports Backers is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization and does not support or oppose candidates or political parties. Bike Walk RVA’s candidate questionnaire is strictly educational in nature.
QUESTION 1 – TRANSPORTATION EQUITY
Biking and walking not only improves public health, but it is a prevalent form of transportation for people who can’t afford a car and/or gas, are too young to drive, or are not mentally or physically able to drive. According to Census data, nearly 22 percent of Richmond households do not own or otherwise have access to a car. The challenge for Richmond is to increase access to safe biking and walking opportunities for all citizens.
What measures can we expect your administration to take to expand access to safe walking and biking infrastructure for all residents?
Charlie Diradour: I realize this may sound a little flip, but the first thing we need to do is fund and repair our sidewalks and roads to make safe and inviting surfaces for walking and biking. The second is recognizing the change in perspective going on in Richmond. In your statement you point out many current needs are based on income, age and health issues; I would add that walking and biking are increasingly a chosen mode of transportation. The city needs to incorporate this shift into the planning process.
Kim Gray: I will strongly support infrastructure projects for improved biking and pedestrian transportation, though I would favor this development to coincide with a schedule set to replace older infrastructure. As for new projects, I think that priority needs to be given to the resources that affect people’s lives the most, especially Education, Social Services, and Public Safety. As long as we are doing all we can for those three areas, public transportation facilities, alternative transportation infrastructure, and anything that provides an incentive to move people out of their cars will likely receive my full support.
Rebecca Keel: My visual impairment leaves me reliant on public forms of transit such as walking and biking. I am both politically invested in Richmond’s transportation infrastructure and personally affected by the outcomes. Access to biking infrastructure includes access to education in bicycle safety and maintenance. Equitable transportation means investing in the bike culture of Richmond across race, class, sexuality, age, gender, and ability. Conditions for walking are heavily dependent on public space and sidewalks. I hope to make ADA accessible sidewalks a goal for Public Works.
QUESTION 2 – COMPLETE STREETS
In October of 2014, Richmond City Council passed a Complete Streets Resolution (No. 2014-R172-170) that states the City will – within one year – modify street design and construction manuals, codes, ordinances, and standards to reflect that “all transportation improvement projects in the city be planned for, designed, and constructed to provide appropriate accommodation for persons of all ages and abilities, including pedestrians, bicyclists, transit passengers, and motorists, while promoting safe operations for all users.” Nearly two years later, these changes have not been adopted.
If elected to City Council, how would you work with the administration to help implement the City’s Complete Streets Policy?
Charlie Diradour: It is important that each city agency work through the details toward building a better bike/walk city. As you know, development and execution of any ordinance is the mayor’s responsibility. City Council can, and should, hold the mayor accountable by using its authority to direct funding as needed to create compliance with such city ordinances.
Kim Gray: The Complete Streets policy as a way to redesign our public space to be more efficient is an excellent way to evolve the city’s transportation infrastructure and public spaces going forward. The policy encompasses many different design implementations. I would have to look at each one carefully, rely on input from residents and business owners most impacted by the new designs, and find the consensus. But I am really looking forward to evolving infrastructure design in a direction that makes more sense for Richmond in the future. All replacement and repair operations need to be seen as an opportunity to enhance and change for the better. I prefer consistent, incremental, and fiscally responsible change.
Rebecca Keel: It is assumed that city planners know the lives and needs of the diverse communities they serve. Knowing the historical devastation that bad design has wrought on African American and working class communities in the past, it is critical for City Council to connect to marginalized voices. My candidacy is based in listening sessions with affected communities to help inform and move the work of the Green City Commission, the Complete Streets Committee, the Director of Public Works, and the Department of Planning and Development Review.
QUESTION 3 – VISION ZERO
Vision Zero is a strategy to eliminate all traffic fatalities and severe injuries, while increasing safe, healthy, equitable mobility for all. On March 7, 2016, Richmond City Council passed a Vision Zero Resolution (No. 2016-R011) that “supports the development of a Vision Zero program for the City of Richmond with the goal of reducing traffic fatalities and serious injuries in road traffic to zero by the year 2030.”
If elected to City Council, what additional policy steps would you work to put in place to improve education, engineering, enforcement, and emergency response with the purpose of achieving zero traffic-related deaths and serious injuries by 2030?
Charlie Diradour: I think the quick areas we can improve to move closer to the Vision Zero goal are: 1) zoning and planning so safe bike/walk neighborhoods are built that include housing, work and entertainment 2) act on a citywide transportation plan to increase and promote use of public transportation, walking and biking options, and 3) better communicate upfront the need for such changes in speed limits, lanes and circles, and curbing to the residents in affected neighborhoods, and going forward transparently share resulting metrics about injuries and fatalities.
Kim Gray: Our first step is to assess how big of a hole we are in before we commit to any new projects. After we begin to turn the city around, I want to look at more public/private partnerships that could put more resources into this and other similar problems. Increased signage, redesign of certain intersections, policy changes such as increasing the enforcement of bicycle laws, and redesign of streets are all things to look at. Providing a means for citing vehicles that park in bike lanes is an immediate need and a low cost change. Bikes, walking, and public transportation need to be the highest priority.
Rebecca Keel: In VA in 2014, 39.4% of all traffic fatalities involved alcohol (DMV, 2014, Virginia Traffic Crash Facts). Fatal accidents in Richmond involving drunk persons are even more severe per capita. City efforts to combat drunk driving and traffic fatalities need to consider: alternative forms of transportation, the locations of drinking centers, promoting alternatives to drunk driving, educating drivers about safety around bikes, and examining on- and off-ramps to major highways where collisions and congestion happen frequently.
QUESTION 4 – INFRASTRUCTURE PROJECTS
In May of 2015, the City of Richmond finished work on the city’s first Bicycle Master Plan, which calls for the implementation of 135 miles of new bikeways by 2025. By the end of 2016, the city will have 25 miles of bikeways on the ground, all of which have been “low hanging fruit”. However, the Bicycle Master Plan has yet to be officially adopted by Richmond City Council. In addition, few if any of our new bikeways connect to each other or major destinations.
If elected to City Council, would you support adoption of the Bicycle Master Plan? If so, how would you work with the administration to grow the mileage of bikeways in Richmond to fill in the gaps and form a connected network?
Charlie Diradour: I would support adoption of a Bicycle Master Plan, in conjunction with a thorough review and updating of the neglected Richmond master plan and its sector plans. We need to consider any and all plans and opportunities as they apply to a greater vision for Richmond as it transitions into a modern city. As you are aware, Richmond has often gotten in trouble by trying to develop its growth in silos and without fiscal discipline. The amazing UCI Worlds event was a double-edged example. Going forward, bike mileage can be gained in conjunction, for example, with changes to zoning, school locations, transportation grids, and the development of old commercial areas, such as the Boulevard corridor and the industrial areas in Southside Richmond.
Kim Gray: The Bicycle Master Plan should have a path to evolve into a complete bicycle infrastructure. If it doesn’t, then we’ll need to add an incremental implementation strategy to the plan and grow the infrastructure within a schedule that is most efficient. The city is in serious financial crisis, and all non-critical projects will experience delays. Once the city is on firmer footing, I would put the Bicycle Master Plan at a higher priority than any sports stadium, arena, or public theater, and on equal footing with the parks.
Rebecca Keel: I appreciate the intention of the Bike Master Plan, however many of the projects that have been completed or are set for completion neglect communities in Northside, Southside, and the East End. My council seat hopes to consider underserved communities and incorporate their priorities in order to work collaboratively with Bike Walk and city planners to fulfill these goals equitably. We need a City Council that responds to ALL of Richmond.
QUESTION 5 – FUNDING
Establishing safe and accessible places for people to bike and walk for transportation will require additional funding for capital projects, either in the form of Federal grants, State revenue-sharing, or the City’s Capital Improvement Program (CIP). In May of 2016, Mayor Jones proposed $500,000 in the FY2017 CIP budget for bicycle infrastructure – more than any previous fiscal year – in addition to funding for sidewalks, crosswalks, and traffic calming. Furthermore, City Council added $300,000 to the FY 2017 CIP budget to fully fund the T. Tyler Potterfield Memorial Bridge, a walking and biking bridge from Brown’s Island to Manchester.
Do you support pursuing additional funding (in the CIP or other sources) for biking and walking infrastructure? If yes, how much?
Charlie Diradour: Funding for bike/walk initiatives needs to occur in two ways, and both require a functioning master plan to be in place. The first is the funding of specific high-priority projects, especially connecting sections. We need to be realistic that, with the city bond capacity maxed out and the pressing school infrastructure needs, funds are very limited. There is a second option, which I feel is the most realistic opportunity to move forward at this time. We need to have a plan in place and have set out the standards to develop proper bike/walk infrastructure. With the amount of necessary road and sidewalk improvements to be done, we have the opportunity to do these repair/rebuild projects in a way that also builds bike/walk infrastructure at the same time. This course, if undertaken properly, should lower the total cost by reducing duplicate work.
Kim Gray: The financial crisis demands that I support a delay in all projects until we gain full knowledge of how critical the situation is. If we are going to prioritize Complete Streets, that will incorporate the bicycle and pedestrian changes that we need, and that should be a priority over temporary changes imposed on our existing infrastructure. We need to stop writing new master plans and stick to one. One idea might be to incorporate the various master plans into one, and that might raise priority for bike lanes, safety, and traffic infrastructure.
Rebecca Keel: I support providing adequate funding for bike lanes and transportation infrastructure and the existing 2016 plan with reservations. In this process, I and other city council and mayoral candidates highly recommend an audit within the first 95 days of taking office to identify how much is actually available for spending. I am also committed to pursuing funding alternatives (if necessary) to the CIP in order to realize needed biking and walking infrastructure, especially for communities that depend on it for their livelihoods.
QUESTION 6 – PARKS
Parks and recreation facilities provide opportunities for physical activity and can help people of all ages lead a more active lifestyle. People who live near parks are more likely to be active. However, some lower-income communities and communities of color tend to have less access to quality parks and recreation facilities. While park use has dramatically increased in the City of Richmond, the funding for maintaining the parks has stayed level or dropped.
Do you support the conversion of small parcels of city owned land into parks that serve the immediate neighborhood? Do you support increasing park maintenance funding? If yes, by how much?
Charlie Diradour: I share your view about the importance of parks in Richmond, and agree that they should be equitably shared throughout the city. Our current parks do need to be better maintained, and I am open to exploring additional funding and cooperative partnerships to improve them. Consideration for any additional parks, along with the resulting need to increase funding for maintenance, can only be made after completion of a full audit of the city budget with a cost savings analysis. Calling for such a full audit and asking city agency heads for 10% cost savings will be my first act as a councilman.
Kim Gray: Absolutely, this is a fantastic idea. Some of the land that could be converted to parks may be currently occupied by blighted houses. I would like to see more of these taken over by the city and utilized in a positive way. The funding will have to be managed on a case by case basis and carefully balanced with revenues, but parks should be a low cost way to improve neighborhoods. My campaign is focused on bringing people together to help get the city where it needs to be. The design and development of these parks could be opportunities for city personnel, neighborhood associations, and citizens to take joint responsibility of the care of public places, and that nearly always helps to foster a positive longer-term impact on the neighborhood.
Rebecca Keel: As an advocate of Public Health and Well-being, yes, I support the conversion of small parcels of city-owned land into public parks. There are small parks throughout the 2nd District and elsewhere in the city that serve as good models for this. I also support increased funding for park maintenance and assessing existing parks for their optimal use.
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Want to know how other City Council candidates responded to our questionnaire? Review their answers here!