Hill Needs More Transit And Spaces

February 20, 2004
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GRAND RAPIDS — R. Jake Jeppesen, a principal with Walker Parking Consultants of Kalamazoo, got right to the point.

“The idea is to limit the number of vehicles coming into the area,” he said.

For Jeppesen, that means public transit has to play just as vital of a role as parking spaces will, if the traffic congestion and parking shortages that plague the Michigan Street hill area are ever to be eliminated.

“The recommendations are not mutually exclusive of each other. You can’t just do transit demand management and you can’t just do parking,” Jeppesen recently told the city’s Parking Commission.

Commissioners learned that the hill area needs 8,297 spaces to meet the current parking demand, but is short of meeting that requirement by 837 spaces. To make matters worse, at least another 153 spaces will be needed by the end of this year. And by 2007, that deficit will climb to 1,711 parking spaces.

The area roughly runs east from Bostwick to College and south from Michigan to Fountain, and has rapidly become the center for health care, higher education, and medical research and education. Spectrum Health, Grand Valley State University, the Van Andel Institute and Grand Rapids Community College all are located within its boundary.

The surge in traffic from recent expansion projects has been a nightmare for members of the Michigan Street Business Association, which brought the problem to the city’s attention, and for residents in the adjacent neighborhoods.

“Parking in the hill area is somewhat abused by construction workers,” said S. Khurshid Hoda, a parking consultant with Walker Parking.

Hoda also said he expected that situation to continue, as more construction is planned there for much of the next decade.

But Hoda hoped that a new ramp GVSU is putting up on Seward and Lake Michigan Drive would relieve some of the traffic tie-ups and lower the demand for parking on the hill.

The ramp will have 2,000 spaces when it is built, and Parking Commissioner Lisa Haynes confirmed that the university would run a shuttle from the ramp to the Cook-DeVos Center for Health Sciences building at Michigan and Lafayette. Haynes directs operations for the school’s downtown campuses.

Hoda also hoped that more relief could come from building shuttle lots along I-196. ZIP Code data revealed that many who work in the hill area travel along I-196 and U.S. 131. He said setting up shuttle lots near the highways could cut out the need for 360 spaces and relocate another 700 parkers.

As for other recommendations, Hoda said the DASH South route should be extended to the M-TEC Center and the Michigan Hill Task Force should become permanent. Both of those have been done. He also suggested raising parking rates in the area to force some commuters to use transit, and for GRCC to eliminate free parking for its faculty and staff. Both of those ideas are expected to be met with some resistance.

The hill area study was the most extensive and expensive ever done in the city. The effort took 17 months and cost $154,000. And compiling the results was, well, like “trying to stuff 100 pounds into a 50-pound sack,” said Jeppesen.

Spectrum Health, VAI, GVSU, GRCC, the Interurban Transit Partnership and Parking Services pitched in and paid for the study after the business association made a contribution to it. Members of those groups, along with parking commissioners Kevin Denhof and Haynes and the Neighborhood Business Specialist Program, made up the task force that worked with Walker Parking on the study.

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