Grand Rapids Leaders Consider Plan to Make City More Bike-able

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Grand Rapids City Commissioners will vote on the Bike Action Plan in September.
Grand Rapids City Commissioners will vote on the Bike Action Plan in September.

Safety is a key concern for Grand Rapids residents who are interested in trading in their car – at least some of the time – for a bicycle.

“A lot of people are interested in bicycling for lots of reasons, but it didn’t really matter who we were talking to, the biggest concerns were safety and maintenance,” said Kristin Bennett, the city’s transportation planning and programs supervisor.

Bennett has been doing a lot of listening during her time with the city and now she and her colleagues have put forth a Bike Action Plan, a 295-page document that lays out how Grand Rapids can become a more bike-friendly city and convert more would be car commutes to bicycle trips.

Its no wonder people are concerned with safety. According to the Bike Action Plan, in 2012, Grand Rapids and the Grand Rapids region had among the worst bicycle‐related reported crash rates in Michigan. The city has been working to address those numbers and some progress has been made.

Bennett said the Bike Action Plan continues to address safety in numerous ways.

Separated Bike Lanes

For instance, while the current biking system is made up mostly of a striped bike lane or paved shoulder paths, separated bike lanes are being explored.

Bennett pointed to the city’s first two‐way separated bikeway along Monroe Avenue between Guild Street and North Park as well as the Division Corridor north of the highway, between Coldbrook and Lyon Streets, which was recently converted to include protected bike lanes on both sides of the roadway as part of a pilot program. The city is collecting feedback on the corridor and its bike lanes at A Better Bikeway.

The city has also installed experimental advisory bicycle lanes on Jefferson Street between Hall and Burton, some intersection bicycle boxes, and green pavement markings at some higher conflict locations.

Bennett said moving bike lanes off of major driving routes and onto secondary streets is also an idea the city is exploring.

Biking is gaining interest, but safety remains a key concern.
Biking is gaining interest, but safety remains a key concern.

Where to Park

She said in the next several years another big goal the Bike Action Plan addresses is how to make the city’s biking network more continuous and how to build the network outward so that it connects with the greater Grand Rapids area, allowing for more people to utilize biking as a form of transportation. That includes working with neighboring communities to improve continuity.

Parking and bicycle storage is another big issue the city is considering. “Bike parking [infrastructure] is not well documented,” she said, noting the Bike Action Plan calls for collecting data on bike parking and on what types of parking will be needed, from short-term to overnight spaces.

Are We Getting a Bike Share Program or What?

And if you are wondering what ever happened to plans for a bike share program like Divvy, Bennett said that is still a possibility for Grand Rapids.

Bike share was a recommendation of the GR Forward plan drafted by Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. and adopted by the city in 2015.

“What we found with the feasibility study is several commissioners want it to be part of a larger bike plan,” Bennett explained. A certain amount of density is needed to support a bike share program, which does present a challenge with a wider system.

“The less dense areas are harder to serve,” Bennett said. She noted that The Spoke Folks teamed up a few years ago with a private investor on a bike share program in downtown Grand Rapids. Ultimately the program didn’t work out, but Kent District Library (KDL) is now utilizing the bicycles from that program, allowing library cardholders to check out a bicycle for the day.

“Perhaps the KDL program can serve the less dense areas,” Bennett said. She thinks the program might represent a way forward where a traditional bike share program is supplemented with other programs like KDL’s, ultimately serving a greater variety of riders and their needs.

Grand Rapids Mayor Rosalynn Bliss bikes through the city.
Grand Rapids Mayor Rosalynn Bliss bikes through the city.

Transportation Options Abound

Finally, if you’ve been to any of the larger cities around the country lately, like San Francisco, Washington D.C. or Indianapolis, you may have notice Bird scooters dotting the sidewalks. While Grand Rapids is grappling with how to create bike-friendly streets, transportation options continue to evolve at a rapid pace.

While Bennett said electric scooter companies haven’t come knocking yet, there is no reason to expect that they won’t. She noted electric bicycles and electric longboards are also becoming more popular. All of these forms of transportation, along with future autonomous vehicles, have to be part of the conversation as Grand Rapids looks to invest millions of dollars in infrastructure and mobility options.

“New things are coming out and we have to think about how do we establish the amenities to support these types of changing mobility options,” she said.

Give Your Feedback

Bennett said the biggest thing Grand Rapids residents can do to ensure the city creates a bicycle system and overall mobility plan that meets their needs is to share their input.

You can provide input to Bennett and the City of Grand Rapids through Aug. 17. Feedback may be emailed to mobilegr@grcity.us, mailed to the City’s Mobile GR-Parking Services Department, 50 Ottawa Ave. NW, Grand Rapids, MI 49503 or called into the City’s 311 Customer Service at 311 or 616.456.3000.

A public hearing on the plan is proposed for Aug. 14 during the 7 p.m. Grand Rapids City Commission meeting in the ninth floor commission chambers of City Hall, 300 Monroe Ave. NW. A vote on the plan is proposed for Sept. 18.

*Photos courtesy of the City of Grand Rapids

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