The Rapidian

Interview With Jim Bruckbauer of the Michigan Land Use Institute

Jim Bruckbauser works as a public transportation policy specialist
The Rapid Central Station

The Rapid Central Station /Aaron Webb

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On Tuesday, May 3rd, voters in Grand Rapids, East Grand Rapids, Kentwood, Wyoming, Grandville and Walker will vote on a millage to increase service on The Rapid, the area's public transit bus service.  To help voters who may be confused by some of the information I did an interview with Jim Bruckbauer, who works as a transportation policy specialist with the Michigan Land Use Institute

Nick Manes: If you could tell me a little about your position with the Michigan Land Use Institute and why the Institute views the Rapid Yes millage as being important?

Jim Bruckbauer: MLUI has been creating strategies to combat sprawl since 1994. A major part of our work is centered around transportation. Development follows transportation. If you build highways, you’ll get car-dependent development. If you build communities around transit, you’ll get walkable, bike-friendly communities. We’re helping communities create solutions to mobility challenges we face today. We work mostly in Northern Michigan, but also in other regions of the state.

In my position, I’m doing everything I can to make sure someone is able to enjoy all our cities and natural resources and not have to own a car. That involves having quality transit systems in each of our regions, then connecting those regions with rail. We’ll get there. It’s just a matter of when.

A quality transit system in Grand Rapids is good for the entire state and all the other cities and villages within the state.

NM:  What the millage would mean for the GR metro area?

JB: I look at this from an economic development standpoint. What are we doing to take Grand Rapids to the next level? To a level where young talent will choose to live. It’s going to come from having the mobility options that compliment the vibrant downtown. The downtown properties have obviously done a great job reinventing themselves into a 21st century city. Now it’s time for 21st century transportation to connect those properties.

NM: Do you view the contents of the bill as being too ambitious for a city the size of Grand Rapids? Not ambitious enough? In other words is the heightened level of service on The Rapid appropriate for Grand Rapids’ needs?  Examples from other similar sized cities?

JB: Personally, I don’t feel that it’s not [sic?] ambitious enough. I believe the proposed streetcar should be higher on the list of priorities. Detroit will be building light-rail by the end of this year. Five years ago, it wasn’t even a thought. Grand Rapids has been kicking around the idea since the great Mayor Logie brought it up in the 90’s. It’s time to get serious. Cities we compete with for talent are building streetcar lines. It shouldn’t be in Rapid’s 30-year plan. It should be in their 5-year plan. That said, I certainly understand the political challenges and would never point fingers. But a strong movement from an organized young demographic could move that process along.

We had one of the best urban transit systems in the world in the 1920’s. I don’t think we should settle for less.

The improved service is a step in the right direction. The Rapid will increase riders of choice, and you’ll see a decrease in the need for car storage downtown.

NM: Do you view any of the claims made by opposition (ITP Watch, Families For Fiscal Responsibility) as being valid? Claims that I have heard include buses running currently at little to no capacity, the “Silver Line” would actually run slower than the current Division St bus.

JB: Most of the material created by the Families for Fiscal Responsibility is misleading. When the group compares the Rapid to other modes of transportation, it greatly underestimates the cost of the other modes. It’s frankly quite silly to think that everyone could and should be able to get around with their own cars, carpooling, or taxi.

Not one of their reports includes the cost of storing and maintaining the storage for this many vehicles. Yet they insist on including the Rapid’s cost for storing it’s busses. The storage of cars in high-value, downtown real estate represents one of the most inefficient uses of space a city can have. The opportunity cost for that space is huge. I’d argue that the opportunity cost for downtown car storage is far greater than the millage increase per family.

Besides, more than one-third of residents don’t have a driver’s license, and even more are financially or physically unable to drive. We need more options. Fiscal responsibility is about families having choices.  

A dedicated right-of-way lane is the next best thing to a streetcar. If you know your bus will get to a destination at a predictable time. You are more likely to use the system.

 

NM: Anything else you view as important or pertinent that would be worth pointing out?

JB: Transit money is seriously under attack in Lansing. If your readers are interested in seeing Michigan take mobility seriously they need to take action this weekend and early next week. Whether you like him or hate him, Governor Snyder’s proposed budget calls for an increase in transit funding.  We are urging people to ask their reps to maintain transit funding at last year’s levels.

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Comments

another great article by Mr Manes. Thoughtful and articulate info on what is quintessentially a no-brainer issue that somehow people just don't fully get... our car-centric culture has really shaped our thinking as a community for far too long... i hope that the young people in our city really keep pushing this progressive agenda farther

Thank you Scott

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