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.

I will stay in Michigan

I am staying because blighted neighborhood is not a death-sentence label. 20 years can change any place. We have full control of our urban environments. All we have to do is organize.

Grand Rapids is a beautiful city.

I’ll be paying close attention to Robert Israel’s plans for Bridge Street in the coming years.  The problem I stated in my last post about being able to do anything with enough money can also be a solution.

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?

My Top Ten ArtPrize Entries

We in Grand Rapids are waiting to hear who made it in the top 10 in Artprize. Voting ended last night and the B.O.B. was buzzing with last-minute viewers. I wanted to post my top 10 personal favorites–of what I’ve seen, mind you, which isn’t half of what’s out there.

10. The Car Chase – It makes you feel like you’re part of a Fantasy-Action movie scene. The women in the water are surprising and the flying insects are delightfully scary.

9. Triangle by Deborah Hyde – This piece is a quilt. I have never seen a quilt like that. Not only is it a beautiful image, but it’s intricately done. I don’t know. Something about it strikes me.

8. Clasp of Hands by Suzanne Jacobs John Forsythe – I love seeing a bronze sculpture that isn’t a bunch of kids saluting the American flag or reading books on a bench outside of a library. This one is just beautiful. The hands found throughout are mysterious and the angel-woman at the top is gorgeous and broken, her wings out of place. Love it!

7. Loss by Tad Mckillop – This one got an emotional reaction out of me. I have no idea what hydrocal is but the statue was life size and unmoving, just as the concept. How many of you have felt like that woman? I guess I love sculpture – especially the ones that look mythological and human at the same time.

6. Saugatuck Portrait Collection by James Brandess – This choice might seem unlikely to you, but if you went and saw this while a certain woman was there, you got to experience an overwhelming explanation of how interconnected all of the people in these portraits are. She started explaining the project and then went into a 15 minute spheel, pointing at a person, explaining them, pointing at another person, explaining their connection, and so on, while knowing all of their names and life stories. And when she was done, she said “So, you can see that everyone in Saugatuck is connected and it’s quite remarkable” as if she had only given 2 examples instead of fifty. I was amazed. And I love Saugatuck. It’s a great little town.  I love the Red Barn.

5. Time Cannot Exist Without Memory by John Magnan – We sat on this oversized bench the other day and I felt like a little kid again. Exactly the point. I like the concept behind this art. I like it when artists use simple concepts and let you sit on their pieces. Haha.

4. The Secret of Three Dimensional Ultraviolet by T. Mikey – He had two pieces in the B.O.B. and the first one I saw was the Wizard of Oz, which of course won me over immediately. I like these pieces because they use an unusual medium and frankly they look trippy. It does Alice in Wonderland justice by making it trippy/creepy, which the book totally is.  And then I think of Wizard of Oz, and I realize Baum may have been on drugs.

3. R. Temus by Norma Randazzo – This one had beautiful detail and I like the homage to Artemus–and that she wears a fur coat. Her arrows are beautiful! Reading the artist’s statement and, well, everything she wrote, she seems like an interesting person.

2. A Line through the Center of Space by Gary Pennock – In the basement of the B.O.B., one corner was really dark and surrounded by a partition. I went into it and looked down a tube and was sucked into another reality, never to return. Or, that was my experience. I loved this piece, it played this constant noise and made you feel like you were experiencing infinity. If I’ve ever told you about my infinity dream, this was the closest thing to it. Quite an accomplishment there.

1. The Sharing Tree by Michael Glenn Monroe – I met this artist and he gave me a children’s book he illustrated and his wife wrote. It was adorable. I am forever partial to children’s art and felt it needed to be on here. The tree isn’t necessarily children’s art, but it definitely accommodates them.

AND

Rise Up Grand Rapids by Charlie Brouwer – I had to put this one on because it’s my great uncle’s work!  I love that the ladders are borrowed and that from a certain angle, my church looks like it’s growing out of a nest of ladders. I love the mindfulness of the state of Grand Rapids and Michigan in general, the hope it embodies, and the truth it speaks that we can only get out of this mess by helping each other. It is not sentimental or Barney-esque or mushy gushy or “gay,” I won’t let it be. It’s vital to our survival.

Both of these works are in Cathedral square and were the first ones I saw. This is by far the best thing to ever happen to Grand Rapids. It’s like a miracle. Grand Rapids has felt like a real city this past week, and now that we’ve seen what it can be, we can work toward the reality.

Woonerfs–Shared Streets

Firsly, the Grand Rapids Press had a big fat article on the front page on Wednesday about installing sidewalks on 28th Street. Is this not a direct response to my Letter to the Editor?  I’m going to say it is!!! YAY!

Also, I found this great webpage with tons of examples of “traffic calming” strategies, but most of them are actually encouraging towards bikes and pedestrians. From the Federal Highway Administration??! Fascinating!   My favorite new word is woonerf–a shared street found in Europe and Japan. Basically a street where people can walk and bike, and cars can mozy through, too, if need be.

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/

Grand Rapids Renewal Efforts

In my bubble of Grand Rapids, I was subjected to the “creation, fall, redemption, renewal” equation throughout my Christian education. It didn’t help that my church held the same beliefs. I became wary and tired of having to write all my papers through this perspective, including an especially ridiculous one about water, probably the broadest topic in the entire universe. Except the universe.

The Christian Reformed theology stresses that the world will be renewed before Christ comes back, and it is our job to help the Holy Spirit renew it. I can theologize about this forever, but I really wanted to write about my new internship with Grand Valley Metropolitan Council and what they’re doing to renew parts of our city.

First there’s the “complete streets” program, based on the demand/belief that roads should be ways of travel for cyclists, pedestrians, and automobile drivers. There are bike lanes on parts of Wealthy street in East Grand Rapids, and GVMC is one of many groups trying to make a law for bike lanes on all streets within the city. This is a dream come true for me, and it may seem small because it would only eliminate the walkers and bikers from cars’ way, but for the biker and walker, it is a world of difference. It could mean my being able to bike to the grocery store. Or for those who take the bus, it would mean not having to walk through fields and commercial lots and driveways to stand at the bus stop.

Also, GVMC has gotten Brownfield money (money from the government specifically for assessing and redeveloping contaminated lots) for the Division gateway into the city. Division is getting a rapid bus system by 2012 for commuters as an alternative to US-131, and this means, for developers, that the street will be a more desirable spot for developers. Add that to the brownfield incentives, and you will see renewal on Division.

As soon as new bike trails, buildings, sidewalks, and roads are built, they are simultaneously torn up, worn down, graffiti’d, and generally ruined. I’m not sure any place on earth will ever reach perfection, but that shouldn’t stop anyone from constantly growing, changing, and making mistakes.