Why Grand Rapids needs Bus Rapid Transit

It’s been embarrassingly long since I’ve posted. I’ve been doing some cool stuff with GVMC. For the past two weeks we have been going around to different townships and planning out how we’d want future populations to be allocated (10 acre lots? Suburbs? Towns?).

We’ve also been doing stuff with Brownfield money, and today after an interesting conversation, I’ve realized how important the Silver Line was.

The Silver Line was a proposed bus route that would run up and down Division, a main corridor of Grand Rapids. It’s also a crumbling corridor. Division has a rep of vacant buildings, XXX stores, and homelessness. It got voted down, and everyone I know was saying “they already have a bus, and no one new would use it.”

What didn’t get communicated, back in May, was that this bus-line was more than a bus-line. It was going to be fast–it’d have its own lane, control over traffic lights, go as fast as a subway. It’d essentially be a subway but in bus form. Commuters could take this bus rapid transit to work downtown, instead of driving themselves up and down US-131 every day (which, by experience, I KNOW gets really bad during rush hour).

Along with bringing hundreds of people downtown, where they don’t have to worry about parking, this line would make the surrounding properties tons more valuable. With office-job people commuting and looking out the window at stores, this ignored street would not be ignored anymore, by default.

The government has already given us money to rebuild and clean up contaminated and blighted sites along Division. The structure is already there–it is a walkable street with churches, clubs, restaurants, and infrastructure. All it needs is a new face.

Imagine Division Ave becoming like State Street (that great street) in Chicago. It would add a whole new dimension to Grand Rapids. It would connect towns south of Grand Rapids, too.

The main point is, you older people with families may want a big yard and no people around, but that kind of landscape alone sucks the economy dry. You’ve forgotten the young people, who want a place that’s a place (so many have left Michigan for Chicago, what does that tell you?), these young people who become young professionals who almost drive our economy. No wonder Michigan is doing so poorly, all the legislation supports penny-pinching families! Where’s any thought to any other age group? We need our places back.

But all of that rested on a BRT line, which all of you voted down. Tsk tsk tsk.

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What all these new bills mean for urban planning

A press release from Center for Clean Air Policy (CCAP) reports that “smart growth best practices and improved transportation choices” could lessen the amount Americans drive by 10%.  Sell all the clunkers you want, this is tons more effective.

The disconnection of our government got a little more connected this year. HUD, DOT, EPA, everyone’s starting to work together, having realized that different aspects of life are deeply interconnected. Here’s my little summary of what the different bills would do for urban planning (money! yay!).

Transportation

The H.R. 3288: Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2010 has been passed by the House. More about this under “Sustainable Communities.”

The Surface Transportation Authorization Act of 2009  is proposed to include an Office of Livability within the Federal Highway Administration, and would create a more holistic view of transportation within the DOT instead of viewing it as a fund for cars.

The Clean Low-Emissions Affordable New Transportation Equity Act (CLEAN TEA) is an effort to get more funds toward green transportation projects. An estimated ten percent of this bill’s funding would go toward improving transportation “and lower greenhouse gas emissions through strategies including funding new or expanded transit or passenger rail; supporting development around transit stops; and making neighborhoods safer for bikes and pedestrians.”  (COMPLETE STREETS PLEASE!)

Sustainable Communities

In March, HUD and DOT came together for a partner project: “Sustainable Communities.” The EPA has also joined this effort to “help improve access to affordable housing, more transportation options, and lower transportation costs while protecting the environment in communities nationwide.”
In short, the six principles Sustainable Communities promotes aim to

provide more transportation choices,
promote equitable, affordable housing,
enhance economic competitiveness,
support existing communities,
coordinate policies and leverage investment, and
value communities and neighborhoods.

H.R. 3288 has provided funds for this project: of the $150 million dedicated to this account, $100 million would be used for grants to link transportation and land use planning at the regional level and $40 million would be used for competitive Metropolitan Challenge Grants to promote local reform and reduce barriers to building affordable and sustainable communities.

Energy

The ACES bill has a cap and trade system for large sources of carbon. The system trades  permits as a market-based approach to capping greenhouse gas emissions. This means that possibly,  developers who use smart growth practices could also get emission allowances for creating places where driving is reduced.
The GREEN bill (HR 2336) was introduced on June 11 and has not been passed by the house yet. It would include information on energy-efficient location mortgages, grants funding only applicants who meet the green community criteria checklist and the green buildings certification system, the residential energy efficient block program, which would grant funds to communities to improve energy efficiency of single- and multi-family housing, and sustainable development and transportation strategies in comprehensive housing affordability strategies.

There you have it. Yes, the government is spending gazillions of dollars, but if any area needs it, it’s housing and transportation. Have you SEEN Division Avenue?????

Freedom of Mobility

Americans always seem to be incredibly afraid of losing their freedoms. Some responses to my anti-car transportation ideas have been “they might start controlling what kind of cars we buy!”

Guess what. They’re already controlling the very fact that we buy cars. It’s not even a choice for most people.

Also, Many are confused by the idea that we’re addicted to oil. They see cars as a necessity, therefore, it’s like saying we’re addicted to air.

Guess what. Cars are a necessity here.

And that’s a crime.

It’s an infringement on freedom to force one mode of transportation on a person. One that causes 40,000 deaths a year, one that costs $6000 a year, one lonely, frustrating, stressful, and unsustainable mode of transportation. It’s either that or walking/biking dangerously close to these dangerous shells. It’s either that or, if you’re lucky, the bus.

We’re addicted to oil, we’re dependent on it, and other countries are making sure we stay dependent on it.

Do you know how cheap it is to install parking lots for bikes?  How expensive it is to build parking lots for cars?  Do you know what amazing good a Bus Rapid Transit line would do for your city? This country is insane. Such potential–youngsters and disabled people and old people could get around on their own.

This is not about being “GREEN,” it’s a real look at our freedoms.  This wasteland is holding us back from rebuilding the economy. Time to rebuild the wasteland.

Bike Vs. Car – It Will Only Get Worse

Incidents like these are not likely to calm down as cities incorporate bike lanes more and more. It reminds me of the transition from horses to cars at the beginning of the 20th century: one road for two extremely different modes of transportation. I now agree with David Lagrand’s efforts here in Grand Rapids to make every cyclist wear a helmet–sharing the road with fast, ignorant, and pissed-off cars is DANGEROUS. 

When I get caught be hind a person on a bike on the city street (with no bike lane), I get very annoyed. I do wish they’d take the sidewalk. They are not going the speed of an automobile, but they are going much faster than a pedestrian, so where are they to go?  I’d still say with the pedestrians–it is safer and easier to pass pedestrians (shouting “on your right!”), especially in a nation where there aren’t that many pedestrians OR bikes on the sidewalks, where sidewalks exist, at least.

It’s simply going to be a difficult transition, no way around it. But bikes are not going anywhere. They’re a cheap, healthy, enjoyable, and sustainable way to get around.

Website for Michigan Complete Streets Program

Introducing the Michigan Complete Streets Program website, which features an effort to give Michigan residents transportation choices: bicycling, walking, transit, and driving.

This is the most exciting project in Michigan right now. Imagine being able to feasibly bike, walk, bus, AND drive anywhere. (Or as far as your legs/lungs can take you!)

Keep updated on this legislation, participate in the polls, spread the word, support this project!  http://www.michigancompletestreets.com/