Bus rapid transit seen as economic catalyst

January 12, 2009
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Local civic and business leaders and developers anticipate that the bus rapid transit line scheduled to open in summer 2012 will be a catalyst for new jobs in the three-city area it serves and that its 19 station stops will be sweet spots for development.

The BRT line is scheduled to open in summer 2012 along Division Avenue from 60th Street north to Wealthy Street, connecting the borders of Grand Rapids, Wyoming and Kentwood.

Bus rapid transit is a high-capacity, higher-speed, cost-effective public transit solution that can achieve the performance of a more costly light rail system, according to Peter Varga, executive director of The Rapid transit system. BRT projects have been shown to spur development: Pittsburgh, for instance, experienced $300 million in new development around its BRT stations and Boston witnessed $650 million in new investment around its stations.

All in all, the local BRT route will be just less than 10 miles, with 19 station stops and 10-minute service frequency during peak hours. The route will have a dedicated traffic lane and will use hybrid electric buses.

The project will cost slightly more than $40 million: The Federal Transportation Administration will pay 80 percent of the cost and state officials have assured the required 20 percent match, which translates to slightly more than $8 million over a four-year period for the state.

Kentwood and Wyoming officials held a series of charrettes in October to figure out how they might use the BRT line to reinvent their cities and make them "places where people want to go." The charrettes were attended by representatives of Kentwood, Wyoming, Gaines Township, Grand Valley Metro Council, The Rapid transit system, potential developers and surrounding business and property owners. The group of nearly 50 looked specifically at what would have to be done to accommodate bus rapid transit, right down to what kind of density would be needed to support the line.

The stretch of Division that runs through both Kentwood and Wyoming suffers from disinvestment, according to City Planner Lisa Golder. Both Wyoming and Kentwood want to revitalize the corridor and redevelop residential and commercial properties, and they're working together to develop a coordinated vision. Their visioning process applies to an area of about 280 acres — probably the largest area available for redevelopment along the BRT route, according to GVMC. The area is lightly developed, with some unoccupied land, parking lots and buildings. Many of the buildings in the area suffer from a lack of character and lack of architectural excellence, Kentwood Mayor Richard Root said.

Two station locations have been identified: one on Jefferson Avenue on Saint Mary's Health Care property, and one at Grand Central Station. The charrette group also identified the areas of Division Avenue and 55th Street and Division Avenue and 60th Street as potential locations.

Kentwood is talking about establishing new ordinances that would allow for three- and four-story buildings and a mixture of building types, making Division Avenue "walkable," creating more green space, and fashioning it into a destination spot.

"We're on the cusp of something very special here," Root said recently about the BRT. "They say for every dollar you put into developing a bus rapid transit system, you get back four times that in new development. When we're looking at the window of the future, this is where we have to start."

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