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Sunday, 18 August 2013 22:00

The Rapid plans for BRT line to GVSU campus in Allendale

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The Rapid is two months into a 15-month study about adding a bus rapid transit line between downtown Grand Rapids and the Grand Valley State University campus in Allendale. Enhanced bus routes such as BRT lines are part of a national discussion of the role of mass transit in economic development. The Rapid is currently building a BRT route from downtown Grand Rapids and along the Division Avenue corridor to the south. The Rapid is two months into a 15-month study about adding a bus rapid transit line between downtown Grand Rapids and the Grand Valley State University campus in Allendale. Enhanced bus routes such as BRT lines are part of a national discussion of the role of mass transit in economic development. The Rapid is currently building a BRT route from downtown Grand Rapids and along the Division Avenue corridor to the south. COURTESY PHOTO

As construction ramps up for a new bus rapid transit line in greater Grand Rapids, the area’s regional transit authority is busy studying whether it should implement a similar system along its route with the highest ridership.

The study falls in line with current national transit policy discussions about the role increased mass transit plays in economic development efforts. The Interurban Transit Partnership (ITP), better known as The Rapid, seems to believe this as well, as the transit authority seeks to bolster its service offerings.

At present, The Rapid has started construction and is preparing for the 2014 launch of the long-planned and much-discussed Silver Line. The new route, which will run from downtown to 60th Street and Division Avenue in Kentwood, mostly along the Division corridor, is the region’s first so-called bus rapid transit (BRT) line.

The key components of BRT include faster service by way of dedicated lanes and priority signaling at lights for buses during rush hour. Each station includes pay stations so riders pay their fare ahead of boarding, removing the inefficiency of each person paying one at a time as the bus makes its stop.

The Rapid is wasting no time in engaging the community as it plans for its next project, an enhanced route from downtown Grand Rapids to the Grand Valley State University campus in Allendale, the busiest route in the transit system.

“We always knew that Grand Valley campus connector route would be a great candidate for enhanced services,” said Nick Monoyios, long range planner for The Rapid.

Unlike the Silver Line, the proposed new BRT line to GVSU would not require the same millage process because GVSU foots the bill for the existing service.

“It’s a little bit easier because it’s a contracted service,” Monoyios said. “It is not funded through property taxes. Grand Valley solely funds … that route (and) The Rapid provides the service.”

Essentially, BRT operates in much the same way as light-rail service popping up in many midsize and larger cities. The advantage BRT provides over light rail is primarily the fact that it costs less and alleviates having to add significant infrastructure, such as rail.

The Rapid is currently about two months into a 15-month advanced conceptual engineering study being conducted by URS Corp., a provider of engineering, construction, and technical services for the public and private sector. The study’s goal is to determine what Monoyios called “the alignment” for how an enhanced route along Lake Michigan Drive could look. From there, Monoyios said he believes The Rapid and its partners will have a very strong case to take to the Department of Transportation for funding.

“We want everybody’s perspective at the table.” Monoyios said of the 15-month study. “Every spoke is accounted for so that the wheel at the end is true.”

Monoyios said the study is being funded by a $600,000 federal Department of Transportation grant.

It is the economic development potential of the Grand Rapids-to-GVSU BRT route that interests Frank Wash, planning director for the City of Walker. Wash told MiBiz the city has been working on a long-term master plan since 2005, a significant part of which is giving the Standale area more of a “downtown” feel. The initial BRT study proposes the route to GVSU could go through the heart of Standale.

“To hear that a BRT route is proposed matches with the kind of planning we are doing,” Wash said. “The Silver Line is triggering redevelopment on Division. It is an example of what BRT can do if the necessary planning is in place, which it is (in Walker).”

Monoyios said The Rapid and URS are in the process of gathering data, interviewing stakeholders, and establishing an advisory committee comprised of people from both the public and private sectors along the Lake Michigan Drive corridor. The study will also consider economic development and traffic safety along the corridor, Monoyios said.

The existing bus route from downtown Grand Rapids to GVSU — which spans parts of Kent and Ottawa counties — is currently funded by GVSU as a means to connect the school’s two campuses. However, depending on the findings of the study and what the alignment shows, the planners may choose to make variations on the route, such as making buses more prevalent on Grand Rapids’ west side, connecting with the Silver Line BRT, or running the bus all the way into Allendale just west of the actual campus, Monoyios said.

While the current route is comprised almost entirely of students, Monoyios said he can imagine some significant opportunities to grow beyond serving just people bound for GVSU.

“Standale wants to develop their core. They really want to encourage a mixed-use, neighborhood, village environment,” Monoyios said.

He said that part of the goal of adding enhanced service in the Standale corridor will be to accelerate the urbanization the area hopes to achieve.

There is also the potential for people who live in Ottawa County but work in Grand Rapids to park at one of the existing or planned park-and-ride lots along Lake Michigan Drive, and ride the bus right into downtown, Monoyios said.

“The convenience and the frequency of that robust service will open the doors above and beyond just students,” he said.

Data provided by The Rapid does show that the Campus Connector line, or Route 50, which currently runs between GVSU’s Pew Campus on the west side of downtown and the Allendale campus, is by far the busiest route in its system.

In fiscal year 2012, the route had more than 1.4 million riders and is at about 1.1 million riders through eight months of fiscal year 2013, according to The Rapid. The only other route in the system even approaching that kind of ridership was the Division Avenue Route 1 — soon to become the Silver Line — which had 995,429 riders in fiscal year 2012.

Mark Rambo, director of operations for GVSU’s Pew Campus and regional centers, said this growth in ridership is having a positive impact on alleviating the demand for parking at the school’s campuses.

Over the last two to three years, every route within The Rapid’s district has seen growth, according to the data provided by the transit authority.

“The difficulty is that nationwide, there is only so much money to go toward transit,” Monoyios said. “So much of our transportation money just goes towards roads. That ideology is starting to change.”

Read 4278 times Last modified on Saturday, 17 August 2013 10:22
Nick Manes

Staff writer

[email protected]

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