I am fascinated by how some of Richmond’s most famous and heavily travelled intersections have changed over the years. These intersections were widened to accommodate large volumes of vehicle traffic. In turn, those intersections have entirely lost their character and sense of place.
Not too long ago we showed the intersection at Cowardin Ave and Hull Street as a perfect example of this urban destruction. Cowardin Ave and Semmes Ave is another perfect example. This intersection use to be one of the city’s busiest. Look at that awesome railroad bridge in the cover photo that has been lost to time. With the onslaught of the automobile, this intersection became one of the most dangerous in the city. According to the Richmond Times-Dispatch archives:
“This January 1956 image shows the intersection of Cowardin and Semmes avenues in South Richmond, which officials called one of the city’s most accident-cursed locations. That month, traffic engineers announced plans for a four-way red traffic signal, which would show a red light in all directions for several seconds before any signal changed to green. In the year before, 21 of 32 collisions at the intersection were blamed on motorists going through red lights.”
Automobile induced mayhem created what we have now: a barren moonscape at the Cowardin and Semmes intersection that is entirely devoid of character. All that remains is a gas station and the ever present loiterers who stand outside 24 hours a day. Not exactly the type of inviting environment you want for one of the City’s main gateways.
As Richmond rebuilds itself for the next 100+ years, hopefully we can find some vision and money to turn these overly large and misguided suburban-esque intersections back into more appropriate versions of their former selves. Richmond isn’t Short Pump. We should stop trying to make it what it isn’t. Let’s celebrate what Richmond is-A Great City.