Michigan Hill Parking Study Well Underway

December 20, 2002
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GRAND RAPIDS — The most expensive and extensive parking study ever undertaken in the city is looking to change commuter behavior by coming up with an uncommon solution.

Walker Parking Consultants of Kalamazoo finished the focus-group portion of the study last month with seven groups in the Michigan Street hill area, and the results showed there wasn’t enough parking for most and a severe shortage for some.

The participants also reported that they were concerned for the safety of pedestrians and were tired of the constant traffic congestion, mainly at the corners of College and Michigan and Bostwick and Michigan.

On the positive side, each group commented that they wanted to be part of the solution. They also noted that the city doesn’t have a parking facility in the area and were willing to work with City Hall to improve parking conditions.

But Mayor John Logie told parking commissioners recently that he didn’t want an “easy” solution to the problems in the area, meaning the answer can’t be the city building another parking ramp.

In fact, the mayor told commissioners that they needed to help him and the parking consultants come up with an “unfamiliar” solution, one that features public transit.

“I don’t have an answer today. But I’m suggesting that we push the Walker people because we’re paying them,” he said.

Logie reminded commissioners of the shuttle service the city put together with the Interurban Transit Partnership (ITP) that made some successful runs while the U.S. 131 S-Curve was closed for reconstruction.

Logie thought something along that line, shuttling people to Michigan Street from various points, was a better route to take than putting up a new ramp. Besides, he said, the city can’t afford to build another parking facility now.

Parking Commission Chairman Jack Hoffman, who attended some of the focus-group sessions, said Walker was trying to push mass transit at those sessions. He said managers told the consultants that their employees wouldn’t use a shuttle service, but many employees said they were already using public transit. So Hoffman concluded there was a misperception of the role that transit could play in the area.

Parking Commissioner Michael Ellis, president of the Ellis Parking Co., said as long as parking remained relatively inexpensive and was subsidized by the city, commuters would continue to drive and not use mass transit. Logie added that the same could be said for gasoline pump prices.

Ellis and Betsy Westman, co-owner of Westman Realty, each completed their six-year terms as parking commissioners this month.

Questionnaires will be distributed to the seven groups as the next part of the study, which could cost as much as $153,800. Spectrum Health, the Van Andel Institute, Grand Valley State University, Grand Rapids Community College, ITP and the city — through Parking Services — will each pay up to $25,633 for it. The Michigan Street Business Association gave $500 to the project.

The study area roughly runs south from Michigan to Fountain and east from Division to College. Walker, URS Corp. and Gaines Associates are conducting the study. Acting Parking Services Director Pam Ritsema said the study should be done by March 24, the initial target date for its completion.           

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