By JULIE MINDA
Assessments have shown that transportation is a chief concern in the greater Richmond, Va., area, and so Bon Secours Richmond Health System is making multiple investments and entering into partnerships to increase access to transportation and to improve pedestrian and bike safety in the community.
Bon Secours Richmond Health System of Richmond, Va., is a sponsor of Richmond's new bus line, Pulse.
GRTC Transit System
Its recent top projects include a naming rights partnership connected with a bus rapid transit system that began operating June 24, investments in bus stop and pedestrian safety improvements and in bike-friendly thoroughfares.
Tyler Agee is director of community development for Bon Secours Richmond Health System, part of Bon Secours Mercy Health System. He says, "We have heard very clearly and emphatically that transportation is a need, and so we decided to invest in transportation here."
A 2016 community health needs assessment conducted by Bon Secours Richmond Health System says that through community surveys and town hall meetings, the system confirmed a lack of transportation options. The report said the transportation gap "has a greater adverse effect on vulnerable populations including the poor, the elderly, people who have disabilities, and children. This immobility results in limited access to jobs, health care, social interactions, and healthy foods." The assessment cites a Harvard University study that says, "transportation related factors proved to have a stronger relationship to upward social mobility than crime, elementary-school test scores and single-parent households."
Agee explains that the specific problems in Richmond have to do with community members who do not have their own reliable transportation and who also lack safe access to public transportation. While Richmond has bus lines, until recently they were not always reliable, convenient and safe for most residents. Some lines were considered unsafe because many of their stops were on busy roads or were in the middle of streets without crosswalks or lights to slow traffic.
Such concerns are particularly pressing in Richmond's East End, Agee says. That community is home to many low-income people and other vulnerable populations. One of Bon Secours Richmond's four Richmond-area hospitals and a Bon Secours Richmond health and community center are in the East End.
Bon Secours and GRTC, the transportation authority run by the city of Richmond and by Chesterfield County, Va., are each investing $100,000 to make bus stop and pedestrian improvements on Richmond's East End. This includes installing new bus stops, adding amenities like benches and trash cans to existing bus stops and improving pedestrian safety around the bus stops. The two partners are engaging the public in identifying what improvements are most needed.
Bon Secours is making its biggest investment in mass transit through a joint sponsorship agreement with competitor VCU Health of Richmond. The two have a naming rights agreement with GRTC that will provide up to $6.4 million total to GRTC operations for a period of up to 15 years. GRTC will use the funding to operate its new bus line, Pulse.
According to GRTC's website, the Pulse buses run a 7.6-mile route that traverses Richmond's central business district where businesses, services and restaurants are clustered. The transportation authority has been creating bus-only lanes, timing traffic lights and making road improvements to make Pulse a quick method of getting around Richmond.
The Pulse transit system is bike friendly. Bikers transport bicycles on bus racks and take advantage of bike share locations at some bus stations.
GRTC Transit System
Agee says the transportation authority redesigned all its pre-existing routes to align with the new Pulse route, so that Pulse is now the "backbone" with all feeder routes connecting that route to neighborhoods. "This significant redesign not only allows for better access for low-income individuals but also provides for more frequent travel," since buses now run more frequently and more efficiently.
Pulse project planners say the transit system will stimulate economic activity along the route and beyond, reduce travel time, attract new riders and make jobs more accessible to residents, among other benefits.
The naming rights allowed Bon Secours and VCU Health to brand the buses and bus stops. The two chose the "Pulse" brand because the line "serves as the heartbeat of the city" and the word also connects to the health care work of the two organizations, says Agee. The health systems' names ap-pear on the buses, and the organizations are posting messages on the buses and bus stops about health topics, such as information on maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
Bon Secours also has been working with Sports Backers, a Richmond community organization, and the transportation advocacy group RVA Rapid Transit to make Richmond more bike- and pedestrian-friendly. This includes creating dedicated lanes for biking and adding more safety features on local streets to make them conducive to walking — including near Bon Secours' East End facilities.
Toni Ardabell, chief executive of Bon Secours Virginia Health System, of which Bon Secours Richmond is a part, says in a press release on the transportation investments, "Quality transportation provides access to jobs, health care, affordable housing and educational institutions." This will further the missions of Bon Secours and its partners to bring "health and wholeness to the communities we serve."
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