‘Disjointed’ downtown plan replaces realities with idealization

November 20, 2015
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Grand Rapids Business Journal has since last year expressed concerns in regard to components of the GR Forward plan that would amend the Grand Rapids Master Plan if approved by the commission Dec. 15. Consultants last week expressed some of the same concerns regarding the Vital Streets portion as integrated in the GR Forward plan written by Downtown Grand Rapids Inc.

The San Francisco consultants, paid $610,000 for their analysis, noted the Vital Streets plan is not well integrated and, among other concerns, lacks efficient freight movement that is “vital to the local and regional economy.”

Further, the consultants note the plan lacks sufficient capital and operating funds to implement enhanced transit. The city’s unfunded liabilities for pensions and retiree health care, millions borrowed for roadwork in advance of the voter-approved street tax, and work on city flood walls among other fiscal concerns became an issue between mayoral candidates prior to the primary election.

The consultants’ noted challenges include: a general lack of interagency understanding of lane widths and operational needs of trucks and their integration with other street users; no cohesive structure for placement of loading zones; and the conversion of several abandoned rail corridors for non-motorized travel could inhibit future use for freight or passenger mobility.

While Nelson\Nygaard Project Manager and Principal Katrina Ricks was complimentary of the city, as any paid consultant might be, she noted it lacks a transportation plan establishing “an integrated multimodal network” with performance metrics. The consultants advise greater transparency, as has the Business Journal.

At this time last year the Business Journal reported stakeholder meetings conducted by Desman Associates regarding the parking recommendations in the GR Forward plan were (and are) hotly contended. Consultants told the city many business owners don’t believe the city can develop existing parking lots into commercial properties (as proposed) because employers can’t get the parking permits they require for their workforce in current conditions. That remains a big concern for business owners in the downtown. The Business Journal expects such concerns also impact any plans to build a movie theater of consequence within downtown. It is fair to note city leaders and members of the DGRI have paid parking privileges.

Ricks noted the Vital Streets plan, which includes the 2015 GR Forward plan, the 2013 Sustainable Streets Task Force Report, the 2011 Green Rapids Plan, and the city’s 2002 Master Plan, “appear to have been developed in isolation from one another” and that the present system is disjointed and lacks a coordinated and comprehensive plan for a defined network. Ricks told commissioners, “You have many different plans for transit and for bicycles and for vehicle travel and trucks. The problem is, when you lay these different plans on top of each other, you call on the same corridor to serve all of them, and that is very difficult to do in a quality and comfortable way.”

Grand Rapids Business Journal has the same concerns in regard to many parts of the GR Forward plan. Neighborhood meetings should not be considered replacements for full city public hearings guided by the several laws enacted to provide public transparency and open meetings — and laws that emphasize the accountability of elected leaders to the community. 

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