Planning director driving urban study

September 13, 2010
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The stretch commonly tagged the Medical Mile, the roughly mile-long stretch of medical developments on Michigan Street, has apparently turned into “Headache Hill” for motorists, bicyclists, pedestrians and residents who live in nearby neighborhoods.

“We have some intersections that are close to failure,” said Grand Rapids Planning Director Suzanne Schulz, who added that overflowing traffic is spilling into the Heritage Hill and Belknap neighborhoods, as are drivers looking for a parking space. There are roughly 7,000 housing units in the corridor along both sides of Michigan Street.

“We’re at about 30,000 cars a day now and we could go up to 50,000 by 2040. We can’t build our way out of it.”

So Schulz made the rounds to the Downtown Development Authority and the Parking Commission last week to express her future concerns for an area she called the “Michigan Street Corridor” and defined as running east from the Grand River to the East Beltline and south from Leonard Street to Fulton Street. Schulz also told both panels that her department wants to undertake an all-inclusive study of the area that would include separate analyses of residential, retail, traffic, parking and public transportation and would develop a strategic plan for each.

“It’s going to be a pretty extensive review of the corridor,” said Schulz.

“We’ve put over 3,500 parking spaces on the hill in the last three years. The cars have got to move and we have to get (public) transit, otherwise we’ll get more cars,” she said. “We really want to have a mixed-use, walkable community.”

Schulz estimated the study will cost $579,000 and has applied for a federal sustainability grant worth $379,000 with the Departments of Housing and Urban Development and Transportation. And it looks like she has raised the remaining $200,000 locally. With a pair of $25,000 commitments made by the DDA and Parking Services last week, she has pledges totaling $200,000 from seven sources.

Schulz wasn’t certain when she would learn the fate of her grant application, but she said she plans to go ahead with the study, at least on a smaller scale, even if she doesn’t get the federal money. “I think we have a really strong application,” she said.

Grand Valley State University, the Michigan Street Corridor Association, the Michigan State University College of Social Science and the school’s Urban Regional Planning graduate program will lend their time and talents to the study. She also has a stack of letters that support the effort.

“The long range growth of the neighborhood is east of Lafayette (Avenue). If the corridor begins to break down (because of congestion), future development will go elsewhere,” Schulz said.

“The blocks surrounding the Michigan Street Corridor, within the Downtown Development Authority’s scope, represent extremely significant redevelopment opportunities in Grand Rapids. Recognizing the combined influence that land use and transportation have over future redevelopment initiatives is the primary purpose for this proposed study.”

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