Transit Plan Hits The Road

February 3, 2006
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GRAND RAPIDS — A coalition of public interest groups has developed a concrete plan to advance public transit in the Grand Valley metro area — and intends to take every opportunity to share its agenda by taking its message on the road.

“We’re going to get in front of as many people as we can,” said Andy Guy, who directs the Grand Rapids office of the Michigan Land Use Institute, one of the coalition members. Other members include Concerned Citizens for Improved Transit, Disability Advocates of Kent County, Faith in Motion, community leaders and other advocates of public transit.

“Getting There Together” lays out the coalition’s strategy for ramping up regional bus service. Its priorities include: complete “metro mobility” for the region, increased weekend bus service, creation of a regional transportation authority, and integration of sidewalks and paths to connect areas and encourage walking, rollerblading and biking as alternatives to riding. The coalition also envisions improved coordination between The Rapid and other civic groups that offer transportation services, such as Hope Network and Senior Neighbors.

“The rising cost of driving hurts families and businesses. And the lack of a quality regional transit system immobilizes many of our neighbors, particularly youngsters, senior citizens, workers and people with disabilities,” the report states. “It also disrupts our ability to lure talented workers, attract modern companies and compete successfully in the global economy.”

Guy said coalition members will present their plan to residents of the region, organized civic groups and, more specifically, elected officials at the township, city, county and state levels. The coalition’s goal is to expand transportation alternatives in the metro area and reduce the public’s dependence on automobiles.

The breadth of the organizations and individuals backing the plan is a clear indication that West Michigan residents want a modern transit system, the coalition believes.

The job of supporters now is to go out there and fight for transit dollars, Guy said. Money is tight and the state’s in a budget pinch, yet the state spends millions of dollars a year on economic development initiatives, he pointed out.

“At a time when people here in Grand Rapids are raising their own taxes to pay for transit, the Michigan Department of Transportation’s investment strategy basically ignores that. There are pots of money out there; we just have to be real clear about what our priorities are. That’s what we’re going to be out there trying to convey, and to build support for The Rapid in its efforts to expand service.”

More than 220 advocates of public transit participated in a one-day Citizens Transit Summit forum last October, and the collective result of their efforts is the Citizens Agenda for Transit, which was unveiled at a press conference Monday at The Rapid Central Station. Among those on hand to show their support for the plan were State Senator Bill Hardiman, State Representatives Michael Sak, Jerry Kooiman and Dave Hildenbrand, Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell, Grandville Mayor Jim Buck, Kentwood Mayor Richard Root and Kent County Commissioner Dick Bulkowski.

In its report, “Getting There Together,” the coalition contends that the state largely refuses to take public transportation planning and investment seriously. It observes that the Michigan Department of Transportation intends to invest hundreds of millions of dollars into the region’s infrastructure over the next two decades.

“But the agency’s plans are narrowly focused on widening existing roads and building new highways, while basically ignoring public transit and other alternatives,” the report states. “Michigan’s roads-only approach directly threatens the standard of living in the Grand Valley region.”

The coalition’s agenda calls for a fully funded transit system; it outlines strategies for securing federal and state dollars for mass transit and for reforming public spending practices. It also suggests new approaches to zoning, development and road design, all with a goal of stimulating transit and pedestrian activity.

Judging by the feedback at last week’s press conference, Guy said, more and more local officials are on board with the ideas spelled out in “Getting There Together.”

“Most people around here believe public transit is essential to our economy, our environment and our culture,” he remarked. “Where we’re really having trouble getting traction is in Lansing.”    

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