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Grand Rapids' new multi-million-dollar economic boon? The Silver Line BRT construction begins

An artist's rendering of the new Silver Line bus and station.

The long-anticipated construction of what could be Grand Rapids' biggest economic generator yet begins in two weeks as Michigan's first Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) line breaks ground on the first three of 33 high-tech bus stations.

If Grand Rapids reaps the economic boons that other cities like Cleveland, OH and Eugene, OR experienced with construction of their own BRT lines, property values along the line could soar 30 percent to 150 percent in three years, according to research referenced by The Rapid regional transit agency.

Grand Rapids' BRT, The Silver Line, is an express transit service much like light rail. It will operate with eight hybrid electric buses and run in dedicated bus lanes. The buses, equipped with technology that senses an approaching traffic light, will "hold' green lights to reduce stoppages and wait times. They will also travel in lanes that are reserved for the buses and right turn drivers only during peak hours.

Buses will pick up passengers at the stations every ten minutes during peak hours (6 a.m. to 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. to 6 p.m.) and every 20 to 30 minutes off-peak.

Click here for an interactive map of the route.

The route runs mostly along S. Division Avenue from 60th St. in Wyoming, north through Kentwood to Wealthy St. SE. There it turns east, then loops north along Jefferson SE and Ransom NE. The route makes a quick jog west on Crescent St. NE, then back north on Bostwick to Michigan St., west to Monroe Avenue N., south to Market SW/Grandville SW to The Rapid Central Station. Then the route reverses.

As buses get close to downtown, they'll have stations at or near new apartments along S. Division and at Tapestry Square, the new University Preparatory High School, Saint Mary's Health Care, Grand Rapids Community College, Van Andel Institute, the Medical Mile, the Michigan State University College of Human Medicine, DeVos Place Convention Center, and in downtown Grand Rapids near restaurants, shops, and banks. Some stations are just a few blocks from Cooley Law School, Kendall College of Art & Design, and Grand Valley State University. And the buses will also pass miles and miles of vacant land, underused buildings, abandoned buildings, and decaying urban properties.

It's along this route, two or three blocks deep, that millions of dollars of economic development is projected.  

"The key is economic development, not just moving people," says Conrad Venema, strategic planning manager for The Rapid. "Other cities have seen great returns on property value increases around the stations. This is a tool the city can use to really turn Division Avenue around by giving riders fast access to employment and to schools and colleges."

A July 2012 study by the Government Accountability Office revealed huge increases in property values near transit infrastructure. After three years of BRT service, property values in Cleveland's University Circle area spiked 30 percent. In downtown Eugene, OR, land values jumped 105 percent in three years. Around the University of Oregon, values soared to 130 percent.

Station areas are coveted locations for restaurants, coffee shops, convenience stores, bakeries, and retail boutiques -- riders will pop into a coffee shop or bakery on the way to work or school, or run errands at a grocery store on the way home.

A rider survey by The Rapid revealed that 80 percent of its riders use transit to get to work. With a projected BRT ridership of 5,000 rides per day by the second year, that could mean record numbers of customers for many new and established businesses near the BRT stations.

"The Silver Line is the first BRT in Michigan, and it's going to look and feel and smell unlike anything in the state," Venema says. "We'll have express boarding so passengers don't have to interact with the fare box -- they'll prepay for tickets at the station kiosks. And each station will have electronic signs with real-time arrival countdowns."

The Silver Line's stations will consist of 33 stainless steel and glass street-level structures with roofs and seating. The 33 stations will be in 18 locations, many with an inbound station on one side of the street and an outbound station on the other.

Construction of the first three stations begins the first week of April with Station 9 at Fulton/Ransom, Station 23 at Southview/Division, and Station 33 at 60th/Division. Construction will take eight to 12 weeks per station. Throughout 2013, 29 of the stations will be completed. The BRT will roll out with its first passengers aboard in August 2014.

The complete construction schedule is on The Rapid's website, here.

The stations are high-tech centers built to give riders convenient access to tickets, bus schedules, and security while waiting for their rides. Each station features:

•    Ticket kiosks that accept credit cards and cash
•    Real-time arrival times via electronic signs
•    Lights that flash or turn color to signal an incoming bus's arrival
•    24/7 camera surveillance
•    Emergency phone that dials directly to 9-1-1
•    Sidewalk snowmelt systems
•    Seating
•    Bike parking
•    Level boarding on buses for easy wheelchair access
•    Next Bus arrival information
•    Route/schedule information
•    Lighting
•    Landscaping

"Some improvements will be in areas that haven't seen new sidewalks in years," Venema says. "It all adds up to something that's pretty magnificent."

Isaac V. Norris Architects: station design
Christman Construction: construction manager
Parsons Brinkerhoff: environmental assessment
CDM Smith: preliminary engineering and final design
URS: landscaping and hardscaping design

Source: Conrad Venema, Bill Kirk, and Jennifer Kalczuk, The Rapid
Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor
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