Monday, August 26, 2013

Grand Rapids is Making a Push for Public Transportation

Most great cities have a comprehensive public transit system. New York City has its iconic subways, Chicago has its color-coded lines, and Washington, D.C. has the Metro. In these cities, owning and driving a car is typically more of a hassle than it's worth. This isn't the case in most Michigan cities though and many have blamed the motor vehicle industry for this. But in past years, the Motor City has shifted its focus from building cars and trucks and has begun putting its eggs into different baskets. Because of this, Grand Rapids may be able to craft a convenient and well-used public transit system, and it seems that the city is trying to do just that.

Officials expect that the Silver Line will be completed by the end of next summer. According to the Rapid's website, service for the Division Avenue Bus Rapid Transit--another name for the Silver Line--will begin in August 2014. There will be more than 30 stops in three cities: Grand Rapids, Kentwood, and Wyoming. Residents in each city will be able to make use of the BRT line, allowing them to leave the car at home when they commute to work. This could lessen the parking problem that has plagued the downtown area for years and will certainly save money for individuals who have a single-occupant commute. In addition, this option will be more environmentally friendly.

A BRT system is different from the traditional bus system in many ways, but the one detail that is most important is that there is often a dedicated lane for the bus. This means that during peak traffic hours, the bus system will usually have an open lane, allowing its expected arrival and departure times to remain both constant and reliable. There are many successful BRT systems throughout the U.S. as well as many more throughout the world. For instance, MetroBus--the BRT system in Istanbul--is reportedly used by 800,000 people each weekday on a 45-stop route that covers a 50-kilometer stretch.

This is the planned route for the Silver Line,
also known as the Division Avenue Bus
Rapid Transit. | Courtesy of the Rapid
Many people say that the success of a BRT system relies on the flexibility that is inherent in the idea.
BRT combines the best of a traditional bus system with the efficiency of a rail system. The infrastructure and subsequent upkeep for a BRT system is much cheaper than a rail system, and this is quite advantageous, especially for a city the size of GR.

But the BRT system is still a year away. In July, city officials including city planning director Suzanne Schulz and director of the Downtown Development Authority Kristopher Larson were hoping to shift a considerable portion of annual revenue from six of the city's parking lots to the DDA so that the funds can be used to design and implement a plan to get more people to walk, bike, carpool, or bus to their downtown workplaces. The details are still hazy but it seems that the idea is to help employers create programs that will influence their employees into using more sustainable forms of transportation. Ideas include a monthly payment of $60 to employees who do not drive to work, discounts on bulk purchases of bus passes, and bike-to-work days. Such programs would certainly contribute to the success of the Silver Line and turn Grand Rapids into a better city than it already is.