Street Talk

Street Talk: Going with the flow

The Golden Shoe.

May 8, 2015
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The Grand River restoration bandwagon keeps picking up passengers.

Grand Valley Metro Council is the latest to hop aboard with a formal resolution at its monthly meeting to support the restoration of the rapids.

“This proposed project has the potential to have a positive impact on the entire Grand River watershed,” said John Weiss, GVMC executive director. “It’s important that our organization be engaged with the various groups associated with the project to ensure our member communities are well informed as this vision moves closer to reality.”

The idea to restore the rapids originated with the founders of the Grand Rapids Whitewater group more than six years ago. Since then, local, state and national agencies have become involved in the project, including the city of Grand Rapids, State Department of Natural Resources, Department of Environmental Quality, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Urban Waters Federal Partnership, and, most recently, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

“Our goal is to restore the rapids to the Grand River, creating a waterway that is ecologically healthy, is accessible to a variety of water activities, and brings new tourism and economic development to the region,” said Chris Muller, who along with Chip Richards is co-founder of Grand Rapids Whitewater. “We’re pleased that the Grand Valley Metro Council has chosen to put its powerful voice behind our vision.”

The GVMC is a council of governments dedicated to enhancing the quality of life of the people in the metropolitan area through collaboration among regional partners. It represents 36 communities in five counties in West Michigan. In addition to passing a resolution supporting the project, GVMC will provide staff and research support to the river restoration planning process under a grant from The Wege Foundation, according to Weiss.

“The Grand River is an important waterway for our communities, and its ecological and economic vitality are critical to our overall regional prosperity,” he said. “We see this as an idea that could have a great impact on our residents for decades to come.”

Road less traveled

By almost a 4-to-1 margin, Michigan voters made two things abundantly clear May 5: Michigan’s roads and bridges must be fixed, but Proposal 1 was not the solution they were looking for.

“It is critically important that we do not return to the failed solutions of the previous decade,” said Rob Fowler, president and CEO of the Small Business Association of Michigan, which counts 23,000 members. “The worst possible solution is to pile additional tax burdens on the small business owners who are moving our economy forward.”

Fowler said most small business owners are in favor of maintaining and improving the state’s roads and bridges, but not by using a tax hike proposed by legislators that could reflect poorly on Michigan’s economic turnaround.

“Let’s fix our roads the right way and keep jobs and economic growth growing in our great state,” he said.

Do it yourself

While Gov. Rick Snyder expressed disappointment in the resounding defeat of Proposal 1, he might do well to look to West Michigan for inspiration.

East Grand Rapids’ proposed street and sidewalk millage was approved by voters May 5 — the same day voters across Michigan rejected Proposal 1, a ballot initiative seeking an increase in the sales tax to raise money for roads.

The EGR proposal passed with 64 percent of the vote and will allow the city to collect 2.0 mills beginning with the July 2015 summer tax bill. This translates to $300 per year for a $300,000 home — the average value of a home in East Grand Rapids.

“We are committed to keeping our streets and sidewalks in good condition, but it has been increasingly difficult to do so with rising costs,” said Mayor Amna Seibold. “We are thrilled that voters recognized the time to act is now — and that the longer we wait, the worse our roads become and the more expensive it is to make needed repairs.”

She said the city has a host of street and sidewalk improvements on its to-do list, as well as traffic signal upgrades and storm sewer repairs.

City officials must have seen how the political winds were blowing early this year.

The East Grand Rapids City Commission voted in January to put the millage proposal on the May ballot, citing a Citizen Task Force’s recommendation following a study of the road conditions and current funding levels. The proposal was initially tied to Michigan’s sales tax proposal, allowing the city to collect a lower millage of 1.23 mills if the state proposal had passed.

Fifty-two percent of East’s streets were rated “poor” on the Grand Valley Metro Council’s Pavement Surface Evaluation and Rating scale in 2013 — before the past two winters left the roads in even worse shape.

East Grand Rapids has 47 miles of streets and 80 miles of sidewalks.

Step up

After another cold winter, the Kent County Health Department wants people to get out and enjoy their neighborhoods.

To get people moving in the right direction, KCHD is promoting a fun initiative designed to encourage healthy communities and promote the health benefits of walking. As an added bonus, participants could find themselves walking away with a new pair of athletic shoes.

Designated walking routes have been established in the Roosevelt and Garfield Park neighborhoods. From now through June 29, a golden shoe will be hidden somewhere along one of the routes every week. Walkers who find one can exchange it for a free pair of athletic shoes (valued at $100) at Gazelle Sports, 3930 28thSt. SE, Grand Rapids.

“We have chosen to focus our efforts on the Roosevelt and Garfield Park neighborhoods because we know these areas are underserved when it comes to access to safe areas for physical activity,” said Jill Myer, supervisor of the department’s Obesity Initiative.

Many of the people living in the targeted areas are Hispanic or African-American.

“We know these groups are not enjoying good health in the same percentages as their white counterparts in Kent County. We also know a simple 30-minute walk every day reduces obesity and diabetes risks dramatically,” said Adam London, health officer for KCHD. “Our hope is that people who take up walking during the Golden Shoe campaign find it so enjoyable that they will continue for a lifetime.”

Route maps in English and Spanish will be placed in local businesses, libraries, the West Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and Gazelle Sports. The maps will describe points of interest along the way and provide walking safety tips.

Walkers can connect with each other by sharing photos and joining the conversation on Facebook and Twitter using the hashtags #GoldenShoeGR and #ZapatoDeOroGR.

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