Transit Parking Needs Now Urgent

April 24, 2006
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Grand Rapids Parking Services Director Pam Ritsema is congratulated on her long-term overview of "the parking situation" in downtown and in sounding the alarm for consequences of current development. The director's warning should be heard, too, by the KentCounty representatives serving as board members for The Rapid transportation service. The Michigan legislative agreement announced late last week, which offers communities the opportunity to extend transit millages from to 20 years — and procure federal funds as reward for long-range planning — is welcome news at this juncture.

Ritsema has advised the city economic development team that proposed downtown development and that which is already underway is gradually usurping the city's flat parking areas.

One Ionia Avenue
parking lot has been sold for a condominium and retail development, another on
Oakes Street
is up for bid, and this month developers announced that a multiple-screen movie house is proposed for another lot just south of Oakes. The problem will be more immediate than not, as those lots are transformed and no new lots are constructed or open. "What I fear happening is, there won't be sufficient parking," Ritsema said.

The city is paying for development of two ramp parking lots, and while Deputy City Manager Eric DeLong indicates the city has the option to build more, ramps are 10 times more expensive for twice the parking, compared to flat lots.

With additional development being eyed along the river, where the city has a request for proposals for 15.8 acres and another 11 acres are under option, the city has comparatively little time to consider alternatives. Those developments are meant to encourage additional traffic. The West Michigan "traffic" isn't fond of perceived long walks, or high parking rates. Ramps may not be the answer to family friendly parking for the many events beckoning them to downtown.

The fast pace of development (throughout the county) sets the pace for The Rapid and transportation planning agencies, including the Grand Valley Metropolitan Council and the West Michigan Strategic Alliance. The efforts of those agencies should be part of the city planning.

The Rapid, recognized by the American Public Transportation Association with a 2004 award as the national Outstanding Transit System, has proven its leadership with a diverse list of services. Those include van pooling for business employees, an after-school transit service to deliver students to the YMCA for programs and services, service to GrandValleyStateUniversity and DavenportUniversity students, and its "Greenride" carpooling service announced this year.

The agency's long-range plan for the possible inclusion of light rail from the suburbs into downtown should be pulled up to the short-term agenda. The plan, favored by former Mayor John Logie and anticipated by Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell, provides demonstrated support. It also provides an "entertainment" value to those who would or should use it to participate in the vibrancy of downtown.   

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