In planning the future of public transit, The Rapid is seeking feedback and input from residents of communities it serves throughout the Grand Rapids metropolitan area. During four Division Avenue Design Workshops on February 27 and 28, conversations with people living and working in Wyoming and Kentwood took place at Supermercado Mexico, Golden Bridge Market, Brann’s Steak House, and New Beginnings Restaurant.
“We want to engage residents and business owners in conversations about how public transportation could best serve their needs,” says Bill Kirk, business affairs specialist for The Rapid. “We want to get out there and talk to residents and business owners and people that utilize The Rapid so that we can understand what is their vision for the future.”
Kirk says that the people living and working along Division Avenue have a wealth of practical and historical knowledge about the corridor that can inform that future. In years past, the corridor bustled with retail and entertainment activities that were destinations for individuals and families from across the area. When shopping malls cropped up and middle-class homeowners set sights on outlying suburbs, local urban retail wound down. In the future, a robust public transportation system could be an essential piece to bringing that bustle back.
“This project is unique from a partnership perspective. We have to be really collaborative because we’re involving the City of Grand Rapids, Kentwood, and Wyoming. They’re key partners on this project and they provide funding, as well,” Kirk says. “We want to make sure that the Division Avenue that we are trying to cast aligns with those partner cities, with their vision for the corridor.”
Since 2014, The Rapid has embraced a transit-oriented development model to inform improvements to the area’s public transit system. This type of development increases the number of homes, businesses, and leisure spaces that are walkable from public transport. As the Grand Rapids metropolitan area’s public transit system, The Rapid realized early on that effective transit-oriented development requires input from the community it serves.
“Accessibility plays a huge role in trying to build more affordable housing and create better retail activity on corridors like Division Avenue. All these other things we are trying to build, this is another way to make those opportunities accessible,” Kirk says. “Housing and transportation costs play a huge part in anyone’s budget. The extent we can provide a more affordable option for transit, that makes these opportunities easier to access.”
The Rapid will host more events to garner community input from other neighborhoods on the Silverline route throughout the year. In addition, its project team is taking neighborhood walking tours to scout out additional opportunities for increasing walkability, housing options, and retail spaces.
“When you think about the huge development projects like the [South Division, Burton, Hall, Grandville Avenue Corridor Improvement Authority], there are also concerns around equity,” Kirk says. “We want to ensure any future development does not displace current residents and current businesses. That’s where this engagement piece comes in so critically.”
As the region moves into the future, Kirk sees community perception of public transit evolving. Instead of perceiving it as a social service, people are beginning to recognize public transit as a more practical way to commute to work or travel to leisure activities.
“More people are recognizing public transportation as a viable option for how they get around. It’s becoming a more attractive option and it cuts across cultural and generational lines. People are understanding it as a critical piece,” Kirk says. “And, when you think about the effects of moving one person in one car compared to moving 50 people in one bus, that can really cut away at our carbon footprint. Public transportation is also a critical piece of a climate-resilient infrastructure. “
Written by Estelle Slootmaker, Development News Editor
Photos courtesy The Rapid