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Planning to move more people more places faster: You in?

To promote conversation about mass transit in metro Grand Rapids, The Rapid has sponsored a series of articles and videos that will be published in Rapid Growth during the year. The articles were not written or edited by The Rapid's staff.

Few people will disagree that a mass transit system is key to the vitality of a large city. A convenient and safe means to move more people more places in a timely fashion is important for business, education and entertainment purposes. Any urban growth plan needs to consider how best to accommodate the movement of its inhabitants, its workforce, and its visitors.

Planning of mass transit in the Greater Grand Rapids area is on the front burner right now. Even the casual observer knows that the city's downtown has undergone a remarkable revitalization over the past decade, and that has spurred more interest in living, working, and being entertained at the city's core. That fact alone brings mass transit into focus. Add into that the growth of higher education options, the continued development of retail developments on the city's outskirts and an increasing awareness of the environmental impact of transportation, and mass transit rises higher and higher on people's priority lists.

Since the Mobile Metro 2020 (MM2020) Plan was created to guide the area's mass transit in 1998, transit ridership has more than doubled even as the city's population has decreased slightly. A dozen years ago, 4.2 million trips were made via Grand Rapids' bus system; last year The Rapid provided 9.3 million rides.

Perhaps it's the additional routes that have increased ridership, or the faster service, or the expanded weekend service. Agreements with the growing campuses of Grand Valley State University and Grand Rapids Community College have definitely added to the numbers. The fleet's grown from 70 buses to 119, and in 2004 the new Rapid Central Station replaced the former, inadequate, transfer facility on Ionia. One of the final improvements resulting from the MM2020 plan is the $32 million upgrade of the Wealthy Operations Center, announced in December.

Because the MM2020 vision has been realized, a new long-range plan is in development to guide The Rapids for the next 20 years.

The transit master plan (TMP) will include a review of the most recent comprehensive operational analysis, the development of a fleet management plan to determine vehicle needs, and a review of the paratransit service, aka GO!Bus. The TMP will link land use and transportation decision-making, identify current and future transit needs, examine alternate courses of action, and figure out what needs to be done when over the next 20 years to accommodate the region's growth and ensure an optimal quality of life. Oh, and how it'll all get paid for!

A task force representing riders, the business community, developers, non-profits, environmental activists, elected officials, city/country staff, educational and faith-based institutions, and the public at large has been assembled to lead the TMP process. And that task force wants the input of an even broader group – all of you! – to ensure that all voices and opinions and experiences are considered as they plan the future of transit in greater Grand Rapids.

In the year ahead, we're going to talk to people in the TMP task force, but we're also going to talk to people on the street and explore the role and impact of mass transit on the lives of all of us in the greater Grand Rapids area. And we're going to talk with you here!

So, let's start talking transit! What do you think of Grand Rapids' transit system? Does it meet your needs? And if not, do you want to be a part of the solution?

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