Boarding Soon: New GR Silver Line Rolls Out this Month
Michigan’s first bus rapid transit (BRT) line is set to begin boarding passengers on August 25. The Rapid’s Silver Line will connect the cities of Grand Rapids, Kentwood, and Wyoming, mainly serving the busy Division Avenue corridor. The route heads north from 60th Street to stops along Division and throughout downtown. Stations are in place at popular entertainment locations and major employment centers, such as the Medical Mile on Michigan Street.
A public happy hour to celebrate the BRT launch is planned on opening day from 4-6 p.m. at Grand Rapids Brewing Company. All rides on the Silver Line are free during its first week of operation.
The bus route’s path situated mainly along Division Avenue is no accident. Michael Bulthuis, Public Outreach Coordinator for The Rapid said it is currently the system’s most heavily traveled route and offered the largest potential for cross-town connections to other fixed bus routes. It also has the greatest potential for economic impact and revitalization, and offers a more efficient service to connect the southern region of The Rapid’s service area to downtown medical services and events.
“Activity on the Medical Mile has soared in the last decade, as well as entertainment venues and events in the downtown core,” Bulthuis said. “The Silver Line route directly serves this growth.”
Silver Line buses will help to alleviate existing bus overcrowding, especially during peak hours, Bulthuis said. A new park and ride lot at 60th Street and Division Avenue is expected to draw a large commuter crowd from the south, reducing traffic coming into downtown on a daily basis and offering a much more affordable alternative for employees currently paying for downtown parking.
Land and property values around BRT stations tend to be slightly higher than properties not adjacent to a station. Other cities have seen a rise in business and housing investment near stations.
“Nationwide, other cities with BRT service have seen millions of dollars in investment, in some cases billions, along their route. What that exact number is for Division Avenue, we are excited to see over the next 10, 15, 20 years,” Bulthuis said. “We expect to see that growth here as well, from residents and businesses that recognize the Silver Line as a valuable tool for safe and efficient travel around the city without having to use an automobile.”
The new fleet of ten hybrid electric buses will operate on a 10-minute frequency during peak hours, with eight buses running, and 20-minute frequency off-peak. Weekend service is still being finalized. Each bus is equipped with technology that allows it to communicate with traffic lights. Green lights may be lengthened and red lights could be shortened to let a bus pass through, allowing for faster travel. During rush hour – 7-9 a.m. and 4-6 p.m., Monday through Friday – the right lane on Division Avenue will be reserved for BRT buses and right-turning vehicles only. Once the buses are off Division Avenue, they’ll operate in mixed traffic just as current buses do.
Check out this animated video that shows how the new buses will interact with traffic.
Passengers will be able to stay connected while they ride with free Wi-Fi service and the new buses also feature racks for people who want to board their bike. Thirty-four newly constructed BRT stations and platforms offer more amenities than The Rapid’s current bus shelters. Real-time arrival signage, level boarding, lighting, sidewalk snow melt, bike parking, camera surveillance, and emergency phones will heighten the experience for BRT passengers. Each station is equipped with a ticket vending machine that allows passengers to pay the fare before boarding, which will also save time on the commute.
Staff from The Rapid looked at other high-speed transportation options including light rail and streetcar, but determined BRT to be the best option, Bulthuis said. Staff visited Cleveland to study their Health Line BRT to learn from an established system.
“Certainly some of their experiences helped us navigate our own project, but what works for one city might not necessarily work for another. The great thing about the BRT mode, however, is that it is highly customizable, so being able to tweak the different elements of BRT and fit them together to form our own line that meets our specific needs was critical,” he said.
Bulthuis said The Rapid projects an average daily ridership of 5,000 passengers by the end of 2015.
Are you planning to board the new Silver Line? Tell us where you go!
Photo credit: James Willamor