Study Looks To Transits Future

June 18, 2003
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WYOMING — The Interurban Transit Partnership kicked off its "Great Transit, Grand Tomorrows" study this month and is calling on residents for help in planning the future of public transit in greater Grand Rapids.

Dubbed "GT2," the study is designed to gather public input on where the transit system should concentrate future expansion and what transit modes would be best suited for each of the metro area's eight primary corridors, as identified by current ridership levels, current and projected population and employment levels, and the location of activity centers.

The goal is to achieve a balanced, affordable and cost-effective transportation system that offers many travel choices and access to transit throughout the metro area.

The Rapid is undertaking the study, along with consultants DMJM+Harris. They took their initial presentation on the road with three community forums held June 5, 9 and 10 in Grand Rapids, Wyoming and Walker, respectively.

The forum at the Wyoming Public Library last Monday included a lot of give and take between presenters and audience members, whose comments and suggestions were duly noted. About 10 residents turned out for Monday's forum.

"We really want to hear your ideas," said Mary Taylor Raulerson, project manager for DMJM+Harris. "The challenge is to create community consensus for a feasible public transportation system that supports growth and revitalization of the entire greater Grand Rapids metropolitan area."

Preliminary goals include:

  • Improving mobility, connections and transportation choices.
  • Preserving and enhancing communities and neighborhoods.
  • Protecting and improving the environment.
  • Promoting transit-supportive land use patterns.
  • Stimulating economic development and revitalization.

All eight corridors under study intersect in downtown Grand Rapids.

"One of the unique things about this region is that the downtown is extremely strong and it's a very viable part of the scene," Raulerson said. "We wanted to make sure we included downtown in all of the corridors."

The study area extends beyond the six-city area currently served by The Rapid.

It extends to Rockford to the north, Byron and Gaines townships to the south, Allendale Township in Ottawa County to the west and Cascade Township to the southeast.

It also extends southwest to Hudsonville.

The move into Ottawa county stems from a partnership The Rapid and Grand Valley State University formed three years ago, said Jim Fetzer, director of development for the transit system.

"They hired us to do hourly service. We're actually doing 20-minute service right now, and ridership has tripled since we started this," he said.

"But the study area is really defined by what we call the federal urban aid boundaries, and it's the area that is expected to be urbanized within the next 20 years. We really are confining this study to the urbanized, concentrated area where any type of fixed capital investments would work."

Of a dozen possible transit modes, transit officials are proposing to drop four from consideration because they seem either unfeasible or inappropriate.

Heavy rail and monorail, at $80 million per mile to construct, could be deemed financially out of reach for the region.

Personal Rapid Transit and the high-speed MagLev system might be eliminated due to high or unknown capital costs and their unproven track records.

The eight transit choices remaining would be: local bus; enhanced bus; express bus; bus rapid transit; light rail transit; streetcar; commuter rail; and automated guideway transit.

Some modes operate in exclusive right-of-ways separate from other traffic, while others operate on the street, either along with traffic or in separate right-of-way traffic lanes, Raulerson explained.

There could be different modes that fit better for certain corridors, but all modes would feed into one another, she said.

"There are certain modes that can feed into your existing bus service very well and certain modes that fit very well into an interstate or freeway type of system, and then there are some that work better on local streets. We want to build on what is already working."

Raulerson also noted that the modes being evaluated are Michigan-weather resistant and the evaluation process will include each mode's capability to expand and grow into something else in the future.

Evaluation criteria also include capital investment and operational costs, capacity, safety, average speed, right-of-way requirements, and the mode's environmental and economic development impact.

The study will use a phased evaluation process that narrows down the field of options for each corridor, based on public input and technical analysis.

"What we're trying to understand right now is how people are moving about on a regular day," Raulerson said. What modes of transportation are people using on a daily basis and what are their travel destinations?

"With these types of capital investments, if you decided today what you wanted, you're 10 to 12 years down the road from having it — if all your stars are aligned and your funding is in place. Grand Rapids is really thinking out ahead on this."

Additional public forums are expected to be held in either August or September, in October and in January of next year.

"We need as much participation as we can possibly get on this," Fetzer added.

Ultimately, The Rapid board of directors will select the preferred transit plan, based on recommendations from the Public Transportation Tomorrow (PTT) Advisory Committee and PTT Task Force, as well as regional planning organizations.

To find out more about the study or to register a comment, visit www.ridetherapid.org or call the GT2 hotline at (616) 774-1298.   

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