Transportation Options: Bus Rapid Transit in Grand Rapids?

ast year, Grand Rapids voted down the Silver Line. Thankfully, we are getting another chance to get Bus Rapid Transit in our city, something that would save households money (for all you Dave Ramsey worshippers) and revitalize Division Avenue.

We would get federal money for this project, not only for the bus but to revitalize the buildings surrounding it (already in the works!). The dense commercial area will create much more revenue. And this change would affect properties on Division all the way down to 60th Street.

Please Note: this is not a bus in the same sense as The Rapid is a bus system. This thing would go fast. It’d be more like a subway than a bus.

To continue only driving our cars to get around, building cities for cars, and pouring money into cars is a backwards way of thinking. If Michigan really wants to rebuild its economy, it has to move forward and forget its autocentric past.

Vote yes on Bus Rapid Transit. Grand Rapids deserves options for transportation. It’s nice to be able to walk places. It’s nice to read on the bus and not have to find a parking spot. It’s healthier. It’s cheaper. It looks better. It keeps you sane. It’s more efficient. It provides more equal opportunity. Even if you’re Republican. Even if you couldn’t or wouldn’t use it. Please vote yes.

Five Ideas to make Grand Rapids more Liveable

or Livelittleable.

I’m having a blogstorm kind of day. Some days, the urban planning blogworld overwhelms me and I ignore it, but today I patiently sifted through my Google Reader and found so many good ideas.

I wanted to apply them to my home city.  Grand Rapids has a sizeable downtown but probably 4 or 5 times more land dedicated to suburbs. Streets like East Beltline and 28th Street and Plainfield suffer incredible blight and traffic problems, mainly because they’re stuck in the 1950s. There are so many suburbs that walking anywhere for many residents is impossible. Division Street looks like hell in most places. Homelessness is rampant.

But back to the good ideas. Heere are five I’ve read about today that could work in Good Ole GR:

1. Google Maps should include Bike and Transit directions/estimations. And they are working on it. Chicago’s Transit Authority is set up so you can google directions that find the best combination of subway and bus transit to get to where you need to be. I used it all the time in Chicago. Grand Rapid’s bus system is used  and functional, but it’s not practical for quick trips. Aside from most buses having half hour between stops, it’s hard to know which routes to connect to get where we need to be. Google Transit has four cities from Michigan participating (Ann Arbor, Holland, Lansing, Detroit) but not Grand Rapids. Come on now!

As for bikes, there are plenty of trails in Grand Rapids, and one brochure that tells you where they all are. But what if you could use trails to get places? What if they were used for more than just recreation? The trail by my house on 28th and Eastern connects me to Division street in a much safer (and more pleasant) way than using 28th. If we had the trails on Google Maps, we could measure distance, map routes, and with our buses’ bike racks, fluidly use bike and transit instead of cars.

2. LEED-ND for new neighborhoods. LEED-ND is the newly approved system for neighborhoods, grading them on diversity, walkability, and green infrastructure. It’s like LEED for buildings and done by the same company. With Grand Rapids still expanding, this could be a good tool to create more neighborhoods where people actually want to live (real estate demand is proven to have moved from suburbs to walkable neighborhoods). So if new neighborhoods get to market themselves as LEED-ND Platinum instead of garages with rooms in the back, maybe we’ll get more residents and more money flowing around.

If you don’t believe me about walkable places, look at Woodland Mall. That place was failing once Rivertown was built. It was seriously suffering. But then the Bar Louie/Red Robin/Cheap Theatre/On the Border square popped up and the mall is doing great. So great, that Barnes and Noble wanted in on the action, reversing the trend of big box retailers moving farther and farther out into the boonies (like TARGET). Yeah, it’s still a mall surrounded by a sea of parking lot, but at least it’s showcasing the success of a good common area.

3. Bypassing Suburb Roads. Plans for an Oregon suburb to make it more connected really excited me, especially since the connections were not for cars.

The point of this is to cut down the distance one would have to walk or bike to get somewhere. The mess that is suburbs-on-a-map would not be less of a mess, however.

4. Better bike parking is an overlooked need when thinking about alternative transportation. I can easily bike to Meijer for most of my needs, but I don’t usually because there’s nowhere to put it. The Artprize-featured tree bike racks are not only made and designed locally, but they provide parking and shelter for bikes while not being an eyesore.

Talk about a community identifier. Bike parking is so easy and cheap. It takes one parking space for a car to park roughly ten bikes.

5. Using the River. At Green Grand Rapids, an idea charrette I attended in May, I loved the ideas of better farmer’s markets, bike lanes, and storm water management. I shot down the white-water rafting on the Grand River idea, though, because when it was lined up with other ideas, it didn’t seem as important. But as I walked up and down the Grand River during Artprize, I realized how beautiful parts of the riverside are. The park off of Monroe is nice, and there’s a waterfall by the pedestrian bridge. But there’s no reason for people to be by the river except for to walk. What if we did use it for canoeing or kayaking or white water rafting? Or energy?  Is it possible? I have no idea. But it could add to a list of things to do in GR, and generate more revenue.

The bottom line here is that we all know how badly this state is doing. But leaving isn’t the solution. Time for new dreams. What are your ideas?