As Grand Rapids enjoys a bit of an economic boom, the city is looking to continue to grow and attract by revitalizing the face of public transportation, with streetcars.
Emboldened by rave reviews from a delegation sent to Portland, Ore., to study the economic effects of that city’s highly popular streetcar system, the board of directors of Grand Rapids’ regional public transit agency has voted to approve accelerating the study and design of a similar system of its own.At the same meeting, held two days ago, the board that directs the regional system, known as The Rapid, also took two other steps: It decided to ask local voters to approve a property tax increase to improve existing bus service, and directed its staff to pursue federal funding for constructing a new â€œrapid busâ€ system.
The three decisions are meant to enhance urban mobility, unleash another wave of private downtown investment, and boost economic competitiveness in this rapidly de-industrializing Midwestern city, which is working to transform itself into a major player in the burgeoning global knowledge economy.
The board’s action is another step forward in a long, arduous effort that could eventually lead to the construction of a proposed 2.4-mile streetcar system that would circulate throughout the central city. The currently proposed route would link commuters to a convention center, an arena, numerous bars and clubs, new hotels and residences, and several other popular destinations in the city’s central business district.
The project, estimated to cost approximately $69 million, is strikingly similar in terms of scale and cost to a number of streetcar systems already built or underway in cities across the United States. Portland’s, for example, cost $54 million, is 4.8 miles long, and in 10 years stimulated nearly $3 billion in new downtown investment, including the largest economic development project in that city’s history.
“Wherever the track goes down becomes ground zero for massive development,” said former Grand Rapids Mayor John Logie, one of the local leaders who went to Portland to study the streetcars and their effect on that city. “But private investment ripples about four blocks away on either side of the streetcar line. So you want to go where development has yet to occur.
Article reprinted with permission from the Michigan Land Use Institute.