Construction, Economic Development, and Government

Corridor draws city planners’ attention

Medical Mile’s growing pains are at center of proposal.

January 30, 2015
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(As seen on WZZM TV 13) The Michigan Street Corridor has seen $1 billion worth of development in the past decade, and if projections are correct, the area — also known as the Medical Mile — will see millions of dollars more in development over the course of the next decade.

Suzanne Schulz, city of Grand Rapids planning director, said in the not too distant future there might be as many as 15,000 daytime employees in the area. That number is double the 7,500 currently working in the institutions housed there.

In addition to employees, Michigan Street’s six neighborhoods could grow by 10,000 new residents, resulting in nearly 30,000 residents.

While this is mostly good news, the corridor, particularly the Michigan Street and College Street intersection, has already become overcrowded with traffic, causing significant congestion.

“More than 1.25 million employees, patients, visitors and shoppers travel into the area annually,” Schulz noted.

To support future growth of the area, both for residents and businesses, a plan is being created to address the area’s growing pains.

Rather than widening the streets, which is not a viable solution, the planning department and its outside consultants, along with a 35-member steering committee, have developed plans for how to reduce congestion in the area, focusing on increasing walking, biking, public transit and car pooling in the corridor, and creating more vibrant neighborhoods.

The plan stretches from the Grand River to East Beltline Avenue and takes into account the three distinct sectors that exist in between, from an urban setting to suburbia.

Schulz introduced the plan last week during the Grand Rapids City Commission’s Committee of the Whole meeting, where commissioners were asked to vote on allowing the planning commission to share it with the public and begin collecting feedback.

The plan’s multimodal transportation system will likely require the most adjustment from employees and residents of the area.

Schulz pointed out that, currently, 95 percent of people come in and out of the area via single-occupant vehicle, 3 to 5 percent on foot, 1 to 2 percent by transit and less than 1 percent by bike. The goal is to decrease single-occupant vehicle travel to 45 percent and increase other modes to 20 percent carpooling, 20 percent utilizing public transit, 5 percent biking and 10 percent walking.

“There are a lot of recommendations to improve the pedestrian experience in the plan,” Schulz said.

One option to help increase biking is to create a separate two-way bike lane on Lyon Street.

Housing is another major focus of the plan. Residents are essential to the continued development of Michigan Street and bringing back some of the smaller businesses, such as retail and restaurants, that used to be more prevalent there.

The introduction to the Michigan Street Corridor Plan notes some of the development that has occurred in the last decade has actually resulted in the demolition of dozens of affordable housing units, with additional housing losses expected in the future. It has also displaced service-oriented businesses, including a bank, restaurants, pharmacy and grocery store.

Currently, less than 3 percent of Michigan corridor employees live in the surrounding neighborhoods, and of the students attending the colleges and universities in the area, only 6.7 percent are living there.

Getting people to live along the corridor will take an investment in a mix of housing options, particularly flats and townhouse-style homes, according to Schulz. She said according to recent demographic studies, the area is drawing young, childless couples and empty-nesters. That will likely continue to be the case, but families could also be attracted to the area with the right housing stock.

To attract a variety of housing types, Schulz said the planning commission would be looking at ordinance revisions that might help.

City commissioners granted the request to allow the community to review and comment on the Michigan Street Corridor Plan, which is the next phase in moving the plan forward toward adoption.

To view the plan, go to grcity.us/design-and-development-services/Planning-Department and click on Michigan Street Corridor Project.

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