DDA postpones street work

May 13, 2011
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The discussion by members of the Downtown Development Authority last week regarding a street project clearly represents the changing times. In the past, these talks have usually focused on costs and timelines. But last week, bike lanes were the only issue.

The city of Grand Rapids wants to reconstruct a commercial stretch of Grandville Avenue from Oakes to Weston streets at a total cost of $1.26 million, with the DDA picking up $850,000 of that expense. The project would reconstruct the street’s brick surface and adjoining sidewalks, and upgrade the utilities. It would also keep the street’s angled parking on the west side but replace those spaces on the east side with parallel parking. The project would reduce the street’s width from 60 feet to 57 feet.

The surveying was done by Williams & Works, and OCBA & Associates designed the project. Wyoming Excavators was chosen from the bid system as the general contractor.

Rick DeVries of the city’s engineering department said he hoped to have the work done by the time ArtPrize starts in September.

“(But) there aren’t markings for bikes lanes,” said Mayor and DDA member George Heartwell. He added that the city is interested in following the state’s design initiative known as Complete Streets, a policy that recommends adding bike lanes wherever possible. “I think you’ll get some pushback on this at the City Commission. We’re pretty tough on (this issue).”

DeVries said the standard bike lane is 5 feet wide, and with one on each side of Grandville Avenue, the driving portion of the street would be reduced by 10 feet. At least some, if not all, of the street parking would have to be eliminated to make room for the lanes.

“There are some areas like this where we don’t have the space,” he said. DeVries added that low-volume, low-speed streets, like Grandville, normally don’t have bike lanes.

DDA Executive Director Jay Fowler said the building owners along Grandville Avenue don’t want to lose all of the angled parking spaces.

“If you have a restaurant or a business that really wants the on-street parking, what is that worth?” asked DeVries. “That’s the challenge.”

Fowler also said that delaying the project would make it difficult to get it done on schedule.

Still, the mayor said he couldn’t support the project unless it was redesigned to include the bike lanes, and DDA member Jim Dunlop supported his position.

“I’m not sure we need to do something just to get it done,” said DDA Vice Chairman Bryan Harris.

The DDA decided to postpone its decision until DeVries and Fowler can gauge the property owners’ feelings about adding the bike lanes to the street. The reconstruction project has been part of the board’s priority plan for years and has been budgeted for the past two years.

Fowler said the DDA and the Michigan Department of Transportation plan to go ahead with the narrowing of Division Avenue from underneath the Michigan Street overpass to Wealthy Street and would constantly evaluate the progress of the one-year pilot project, which would reduce Division from five traffic lanes to three on that stretch. The effort would add on-street parking for the businesses on Division and would have space for bicycles.

“My feeling is this will work just fine,” said Fowler.

The DDA also will receive a report in June on the project to extend Seward Avenue south from Fulton Street at an estimated cost of $2.3 million.

The board’s share is $750,000 and the extension project includes bike lanes.

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