Bike Summit to Discuss Bike Communiting in Grand Rapids

Grand Rapids Bike Summit

Yesterday, we wrote about a millage to expand The Rapid to add a bus rapid transit (BRT) route and today we’re excited to share that the City of Grand Rapids is sponsoring a the “first annual” Grand Rapids Bike Summit next month.

The summit is free and will take place on April 24 at the Loosemore Auditorium on Grand Valley State University’s (GVSU) Grand Rapids campus.

Registration is required and is possible online.

The agenda:

  • 8-8:45 RegistrationWelcomeIntroductions–Rosalyn Bliss

    8:45 – 10:00 Keynote: Bill Nesper, League of Bicyclist: Becoming a Bicycle Friendly Community

  • 10:00-10:15 Break
  • 10:15-11:30 Speaker 2: Ann Freiwald,ASLA, Alta Planning and Design, Designing a Bicycle Friendly Community
  • 11:30-12:30 Lunch–Grouped by Breakout Groups
  • 12:30–1:45 Speaker 3: Susanne Schulz, City of Grand Rapids Green Grand Rapids
  • 1:45-2:45 pm Breakout sessions
    • On Road Facilities–status of on-road facilities; develop recommendations.
    • Off Road facilities–status of off-road facilities; develop recommendations.
    • PolicyLawEnforcement–status of current policies and regulations in Grand Rapids Metro area; develop goals recommendations
    • Advocacy and Education–status of current programs to promote and encourage biking; recommendations for current and future programs
  • 3:00-4:00pm Reports and Conclusions; Panel Discussion

Hopefully, the summit will lead to actual commitments by the City to do things like creating bike lanes.

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Proposed Rapid Route would Deliver Benefits Akin to Light Rail

Grand Rapids Silver Line Bus Rapid Transit (BRT)

The Rapid and transit advocates are encouraging area voters to approve a millage on May 5 that would secure $40 million in state and federal funding for a new “Silver Line” bus rapid transit (BRT) route. Supporters say that the route will deliver the efficiency of light rail at a fraction of the price.

The Silver Line would be a 9.87-mile route with 19 stops. Busses would come every 10 minutes during peak hours and every 15 minutes during off-peak hours. The busses would run in their own lanes and would be able to bypass some traffic signals. To further increase efficiency, riders would purchase tickets at bus stops rather than on the bus, as is the case with other Rapid routes. On top of it, the system will use hybrid busses.

Division Avenue was chosen for a number of reasons including current ridership, economic development potential, public input, and travel time savings. Since it runs parallel to US-131, it draws on high-value traffic and has the potential to bring people from adjacent communities into downtown.

According to the site, the route would benefit the community in many ways:

“Beyond easing traffic, reducing air pollution and enhancing the ability to move about in the metro area without cars, the Silver Line will have a tremendous economic impact on the region. First, it will create both temporary and permanent construction, technical and professional jobs. Roadway and station construction will add significant employment opportunities, as will the service jobs needed to run the line. Using an estimate of 405 permanent jobs and an average annual wage $37,000 per job, the total annual wage creation will be almost $15 million. Second, as development kicks in along the corridor, we estimate that return on Silver Line investment could be as high as 400%. According to a University of Michigan study the return on investment of the BRT in Cleveland has been estimated at a 1000%. In cities like Kansas City and York, Ontario, the return on investment was somewhere between 300% and 400%. The lowest return on a BRT system today has been in Pittsburg – and that was still an impressive 115%.”

A “yes” vote on the millage would secure $40 million in state and federal funding for the project. It’s estimated to cost the owner of a home with an assessed value of $100,000 $4.66 per month. Voting in favor of the millage would renew a previously levied millage and increase that millage by 0.16 mills–or $0.75 per month. The millage would go into effect in 2012 and would expire in 2016 (official ballot text).

To learn more, visit RapidSilverLine.org and RapidYes.org.

Study Ranks Michigan 12th in US for Bike Friendliness

A recent study by the League for American Bicyclists has ranked Michigan 12th in the US for bike friendliness.

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The League for American Bicyclists recently released a report on bicycling in the fifty states and ranked the state’s according to their “bike friendliness.” Based on an evaluation of six categories, Michigan ranked 12th overall in the national survey.

Michigan placed 7th in education, tied for 8th in infrastructure, tied for 14th in planning, tied for 15th in enforcement, tied for 19th in policies and programs and ranked 35th in legislation. The survey’s brief summary of Michigan’s ranking reads:

“Michigan has a rumble strip policy with a minimum 4 feet of clearance and dedicated state funding for bicycle projects. However, there is no routine accommodation or complete streets policy.”

The only city in the state to receive a designation as a “bike friendly community” was Ann Arbor.

Michigan’s Department of Transportation took partial credit for the ranking, stating:

“Michigan’s high ranking was achieved through the many partnerships we have in our state between state and local government, nonprofit and private agencies, and the thousands of dedicated citizens and bicyclists across the state.”

For those interested in taking steps to improve the state’s biking, the League of Michigan Bicyclists has an “advocacy center” with details on a number of bills designed to improve bicycling in Michigan. These bills range from ones that enhance penalties on drivers who injure or kill cyclists to bills requiring that the state provide more funding for pedestrian construction projects.

Bike to Work Day

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We’re a little late on promoting this, but we wanted to take a minute to let everyone know that today is “National Bike/Walk to Work Day.” While biking is only an individual response to the destruction of the environment and cannot make up for organizing against the systemic destruction, it is a good and healthy first step towards reducing your ecological footprint.

To that end, Mediamouse.org highly encourages folks to consider commuting via bike, especially now that the warmer months have arrived here in Grand Rapids. Surprisingly, the City of Grand Rapids has some useful resources for folks commuting via bicycle:

* Grand Rapids Bicycle Map (1, 2)

* Bicycle Information Packet (laws, tips, etc)

* How to Take Bikes on City Busses

Finally, it’s worth remembering driving costs an average of $7,823 per year — and that doesn’t include hidden costs such as the destruction of the environment via emissions and other car-related pollution.

Study: Public Transit Saves Gas in Michigan

Last week, the Public Interest Research Group in Michigan (PIGRIM) released a study titled “A Better Way to Go: Meeting America’s 21st Century Transportation Challenges with Modern Public Transit” that explores how public transit can reduce fossil fuel usage, improve the environment, and lessen commuting times. The study primarily addresses transit at the national level, but does include some information specific to Michigan. It reports that overall, transit saves Michigan 4.5 million gallons of gasoline (a cost of $11.8 million) and reduces carbon dioxide emissions by 18,200 metric tons. Additionally, at a press release announcing the study, a PIGRIM representative said that recent public transportation improvements in Grand Rapids have decreased highway congestion by about 2%. It has also reduced the total length of “rush hour” by twenty minutes.

For those interested in public transit, the entire study is worth reading, but there are a few facts that stand out:

* Two out of every three barrels of oil the United States consumes each year are used to fuel our transportation system. Personal cars and trucks account for 40 percent of our oil consumption. The United States remains by far the world’s largest consumer of oil.

* The average American living in an urban area spent 38 hours–nearly a full work week–stuck in traffic delays in 2005, twice as much t ime as in 1982. Traffic congestion costs America’s economy approximately $78 billion and results in 4.2 billion lost hours each year.

* America’s transportation system produces more carbon dioxide–the leading global warming pollutant–than the entire economy of any other nation in the world, except China. America must reduce emissions from its transportation system if the world is to avoid the most catastrophic impacts of global warming.

* The extraordinary expense of building and maintaining highways, which requires more than $150 billion in government expenditures each year, and the cost of owning and operating private vehicles, which costs American households $900 billion annually.

* The extraordinary expense of building and maintaining highways, which requires more than $150 billion in government expenditures each year, and the cost of owning and operating private vehicles, which costs American households $900 billion annually.

* In 2005, transit prevented 540.8 million hours of traffic delay, according to the Texas Transportation Institute, equivalent to more than 61,700 people sitting in traffic for an entire year. The monetary value of those savings was $10.2 billion.

* Transit reduced global warming emissions by nearly 26 million metric tons in 2006.

* Highways have received the vast bulk of public investment over the last half century. Since 1956, federal, state and local governments have invested nine times more capital funding.

* State funding is even more out of line with 21st century transportation priorities. In 2004, state governments spent nearly 13 times more public funds on highways than on transit.

Rapid Calling for Public Input on Service Improvements

Following the passage of a millage increase last fall, the Rapid–the public transportation system covering Grand Rapids and five adjacent cities in West Michigan–has granted preliminary approval to a series service improvements. The improvements will go into effect in late August of this year. They tentatively include:

“New Route:

A new route is proposed to serve northwest Grand Rapids.

Weekday Improvements:

* All Routes except Route 17/44: Extend weekday 30-minute service from 6:15 PM to 7:15 PM

* Route 4 – Eastern: Add 1 bus on long pattern to 60th Street to fix schedule adherence issue

* Route 5 – Wealthy: Add 60-minute weekday evening service to Breton Village Mall until 11:30 PM

* Route 8 – Rivertown: Improve weekday off-peak frequency from 60 to 30 minutes (8:45 AM – 3:45 PM)

* Route 11 – Plainfield: Improve weekday peak frequency from 30 to 15 minutes (6:15-8:45 AM, 3:45-7:15 PM)

* Route 13 – Fuller: Add 60-minute weekday evening service from 7:15 PM – 11:30 PM

* Route 16 – Wyoming: Improve weekday off-peak frequency from 60 to 30 minutes (8:45 AM – 3:45 PM)

* Route 18 – Westside (New Route): 30-minute weekday peak service from 6:15-8:45 AM, 3:45-7:15 PM; 60-minute weekday off-peak service from 8:45 AM – 3:45 PM

* Route 24 – Burton: Improve weekday off-peak frequency from 60 to 30 minutes (8:45 AM – 3:45 PM)

Saturday Improvements:

* Route 3 – Madison: Add Saturday 60-minute service from 5:30 AM – 6:00 PM

* Route 5 – Wealthy: Add Saturday 60-minute service to Woodland Mall from 5:30 AM – 6:00 PM

* Route 12 – West Fulton: Extend Saturday 60-minute service to 10:00 PM

* Route 16 – Wyoming: Add Saturday evening 60-minute service until 10:00 PM

* Route 18 – Westside (New Route): 60-minute Saturday service from 5:30 AM – 10:00 PM

* Route 17/44 – 44th Street/Airport: Add Saturday 60-minute service from 5:30 AM – 6:00 PM

Sunday Improvements:

* Route 10 – Clyde Park: Add Sunday 60-minute service with 1.5 buses from 8:00 AM – 7:00 PM (interline with Route 16)

* Route 16 – Wyoming: Add Sunday 60-minute service with 1.5 buses from 8:00 AM – 7:00 PM (interline with Route 10)”

The Rapid is now seeking public comment on the improvements. Comments can be sent to:

The Rapid

Attn: Planning Department

300 Ellsworth Avenue SW

Grand Rapids, MI 49503

info [@] ridetherapid.org

Stabenow and Levin Vote against Tougher Fuel Standards

photo of traffic

Yesterday, Michigan Senators Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow voted against the CLEAN Energy Act of 2007. The bill contains a number of provisions aimed at curbing price gouging, requiring that half of the new cars manufactured by 2015 can run on E85 or biodiesel fuel, creating new standards for appliance and lighting efficiency, and some federal money for research into fuel efficient vehicles. The most significant part of the bill is an increase in fuel economy (CAFE) standards by 40% by 2020 from the current 27.5 MPG for cars and 22.2 MPG for SUVs and small trucks to 35 MPG.

Levin and Stabenow were two of the only three Democrats to vote against the bill. Both Levin and Stabenow cited the new CAFE standards expressed disappointment that a compromise measure favored by the two Senators could not be reached. Stabenow and Levin favored a measure that would required a 30% increase in fuel economy standards for cars by 2022 and a 35% increase for trucks by 2025, in addition to requiring automobile manufacturers to make a percentage of their vehicles flexible fuel or advanced technology vehicles. Instead, Levin asserted that he would not support the bill because it “will unfairly disadvantage our American manufacturers against their global competitors.” Levin also objected to the bill’s combining of standards for cars and trucks, as he favored a distinction between the two rather than the fuel standards in the final bill that he described as “overly aggressive and unachievable.” Senator Stabenow said “we need a plan that stretches the industry, not breaks it.”

The higher standards were strongly opposed by automakers that have claimed it threatens the viability of the industry. Both Levin and Stabenow have received campaign contributions from individuals and PACs associated with the “Big Three” automakers according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

New Report on Public Transportation in West Michigan

Today, the Community Research Institute released a brief report examining public transportation usage in West Michigan. The report describes how interest in public transportation is increasing in West Michigan, citing Congressional funding for public transit projects, the opening of The Rapid’s Central Station, and the recognition of The Rapid as 2004’s “Outstanding Public Transportation System” by the American Public Transportation Association. The report’s statistics are based on survey responses solicited by the Community Research Institute as part of the 2005/2006 Greater Grand Rapids Community Survey.

Among the issues examined in the report is the link between a person’s race and the likelihood that they use public transportation. Only 0.7% of white, non-Hispanic workers use public transportation to travel to work, whereas 5.2% of African American and 2.6% of Hispanic workers used public transportation. While 15% of Kent County residents declared that transportation is a problem, these numbers are heavily skewed along racial lines. 33% of Native Americans and 32% of African-Americans indicated that transportation is occasionally a problem, compared to only 12% of whites. The report cites the 2000 US Census as further proof transportation issues have a more substantial impact on people of color, with Native Americans and African-Americans (82.1% and 80.9%) being less likely than whites (94.3%) to have access to a second vehicle. Transportation was also more likely to be a problem for urban rather than suburban residents.

In a section titled “Kent County’s Million Dollar Commute,” the report examined the costs associated with the daily commutes of workers in Kent County. The report cites the United States Census to show that the average community for Kent County residents is 21 minutes for a daily total of 190,621 hours. Of those commuting to work each day, 83% travel alone by private vehicle. The report estimates that these daily commutes use 398,720 gallons of gasoline and cost $917,000 in fuel alone.

Local campaign for Transit Millage Kicks off in Grand Rapids

Yesterday in the upstairs portion of The Rapid transit station in downtown Grand Rapids, members of the Friends of Transit made a formal kick-off to a campaign to get a Transit Millage for the area passed on May 8. The millage includes a renewal cost and an enhancement cost that together is 1.12 mills, a cost that averages out to $4.66 per month for the owner of a $100,000 home.

The campaign, which is called “Moving People Forward,” featured several speakers from the community, such as the Mayor of Wyoming, a representative from the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce, Rev. Smith from the Inter-denominational Ministerial Alliance, and a senior citizen who is a bus rider. The speakers emphasized the importance of having a good transit system for people to get to work, for accessibility, for community building, and as a matter of justice. According to one of the members of Friends of Transit the bus system saw an increase of 1 million rides in 2006, a 15% increase, which is nearly 5 times the national average.

If the millage passes on May 8 it will also mean expanded weekday evening services, expanded weekend services, increased frequency on five main routes, new regional transfer points, and a new bus route to northwest Grand Rapids and Union High School. Helen Marshall, a senior citizen, told her story of how important a vibrant bus service is to people. Her husband died a few years ago and she never learned to drive, so she started to use the buses to get around. Within months not only was she able to use the bus system for doctor appointments, she began volunteering at the VA hospital. Helen said that her discovery of the bus system “changed her life.”

For more information about ways to support the campaign go to www.rapidyes.org.

Mall Responds to Citizen Objecting to Bus Stop Move

A Wyoming resident who contacted Rivertown Crossings’ owners about their moving of the Rapid bus stop received an interesting response from the mall’s owners.

A Wyoming resident emailed John Bucksbaum, Chief Executive Officer of General Growth, parent company of RiverTown Mall, to protest the recent moving of the bus stop 100 yards away from the mall entrance. While surprised to receive a phone call from Bucksbaum’s assistant, Brian McCarthy, that surprise turned quickly to disappointment as his response went beyond the expected brush off.

McCarthy emphasized that the Grandville Police had responded to 69 incidents at the bus stop over the past five years–including an assault on Nov. 13. The Grand Rapid Press quoted the Grandville police department as saying no real problem exists.

“That article was wrong,” McCarthy said. “We’ve had several assaults, rowdy behavior and the bus stop’s location near a main mall entrance makes it easier for shoplifters to get away.”

Perhaps something on the order of the movie “Speed”? Hard to believe Grandville’s boys in blue missed that. Perhaps they were in line at Panera Bread waiting for pastries.

McCarthy went on to say that the decision does not affect senior citizens or the disabled because the Go! Bus still stops at the entrance. Of course, he failed to consider that many seniors and handicapped persons ride the Rapid busses, as well.

The Wyoming resident repeated the statement that moving the bus stop discriminated against people of color and those with lower incomes. McCarthy sees no discrimination because, after all, employees have to park in the same area as the bus stop and many mall shoppers have to walk more than a hundred yards from their parking spots. (Of course, those with cars didn’t have to wait for a bus on a cold street corner with no bus shelter or spend nearly as much time traveling to and from the mall.)

On the positive side, receiving a response from General Growth indicates that they are listening to public reaction. If the reaction is strong enough, maybe the damage control staff in their PR department won’t be able to smooth this one over.

Meanwhile, let’s all shop local businesses.

Bucksbaum’s email:

john.bucksbaum@generalgrowth.com