Economic Development and Travel & Tourism

Silver Line set to roll Monday

Rapid CEO predicts new transit service will ‘run as smoothly as possible.’

August 22, 2014
| By Pete Daly |
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Silver Line
The Rapid CEO Peter Varga, shown here with a new Silver Line bus, is planning the creation of a second bus rapid transit, or BRT, line that runs east and west. Photo by Johnny Quirin

The result of 11 years of planning will be out in the open in Greater Grand Rapids on Monday with the start of The Rapid transit authority’s $39 million Silver Line, a “bus rapid transit” or BRT service operating much like a light rail line, but at a much lower cost to build.

The Silver Line will travel up and down Division Avenue from 60th Street in Gaines Township to downtown Grand Rapids, where it veers east on Wealthy Street and then proceeds north to the Medical Mile on Michigan Street. It goes west on Michigan and then circles back around the downtown area, coming south on Monroe Avenue to the The Rapid Central Station on Ellsworth Avenue SW.

From 7 to 9 a.m. and 4 to 6 p.m. weekdays, both northbound and southbound right lanes on Division Avenue will be restricted to Silver Line use only. Motorists who use the Silver Line’s “dedicated” right lane may be ticketed by police; the only exception is for vehicles planning to make a right turn off Division.

Silver Line buses will run every 10 minutes during those peak commuter times and will have “traffic signal priority,” meaning the Silver Line drivers can electronically control stoplights ahead to allow more time to make it through green lights.

The Rapid CEO Peter Varga said a consulting firm was hired to do a traffic analysis to see if the dedicated lane proposal was feasible, and the data was shared with traffic engineers in the three municipalities on the route: Grand Rapids, Wyoming and Kentwood. He said the study determined where traffic signal priority would work and at what level, and also “how the dedicated lanes would work and where they would not work.”

Varga said the consultants determined that a dedicated Silver Line lane would not work on parts of the loop around downtown Grand Rapids: on Jefferson, Ransom and Michigan Street.

Like Division Avenue, Monroe Avenue also will have the right lane dedicated to the Silver Line during the morning and evening rush-hour period.

“We sat down with the traffic and safety folks (from the three municipalities) to make those determinations,” said Varga.

“With any kind of new service, there might be some things that come up, but we’re pretty optimistic that it will run as smoothly as possible,” he said. “As time goes by, we will be monitoring traffic results in the (Division Avenue) corridor and see if any amendments need to be made, but that was not the expectation” by the traffic engineers involved.

Varga told the Business Journal in May the Silver Line is “the first BRT in Michigan and pretty much the first dedicated lane in Michigan, as far as I know.” He added that because it’s so new, “people are going to have to get used to it.”

The project has been predicted to come in under the $39 million budget, and Varga said last week, “We know there will be more than $4 million under budget.”

Roughly 80 percent of the funding for the Silver Line came from the federal government, with the rest expected to come from fares, state funds and property-tax revenue approved by voters in six regional cities in 2011, good for seven years.

The Silver Line is designed to provide rapid and cost-effective transportation for the people most in need of it, to downtown Grand Rapids and, in particular, to the booming health care industry on Michigan Street where employment is still increasing.

The Silver Line has 10 new buses and 34 stations along its route. Among the features are elevated platforms at the stations that are level with the bus entry, making getting on and off much easier for the elderly, handicapped, people with strollers and those in wheelchairs.

All tickets must be purchased before boarding at automated machines at each station, so the driver won’t have to deal with passengers for change. The Silver Line buses are equipped to carry bicycles on the front.

Varga said that, once established, the Silver Line is expected to provide as many as 5,000 one-way rides per day.

Construction began on the Silver Line at a dedication in April 2013 attended by Gov. Rick Snyder. It is the first BRT in the state and is predicted to encourage increased property value and development along Division Avenue, parts of which have been blighted for years.

The Silver Line began with a 2003 study by The Rapid, looking at the options for public transit in the Grand Rapids metropolitan area. The main focus was on bus rapid transit, light rail and streetcars.

A second BRT line is expected to be built on Lake Michigan Drive going west out of downtown Grand Rapids.

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